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Iowa Senate

Someone should investigate state's role in Iowa's health insurance coop failure

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 26, 2015 at 09:59:10 AM CST

What has seemed likely since Christmas Eve was confirmed on Friday: Iowa's non-profit health insurance coop is liquidating. At the end of this post, I've enclosed the e-mail CoOportunity Health members received on January 23. Members are strongly encouraged to enroll in other health insurance before February 15, the end of 2015 Open Enrollment under the federal health care reform law. In Iowa, only Coventry now sells policies through the exchange, allowing eligible people to receive federal tax subsidies to help cover the cost of insurance.

CoOportunity Health was created to sell individual, family, and small-business health insurance policies in Iowa and Nebraska. Its membership greatly exceeded projections, but so did the costs of insuring a population that had largely been uninsured before the 2010 Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

Some politicians, like Senator Joni Ernst, have nothing to say about CoOportunity's collapse beyond empty talking points about Obamacare. Others, like Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), are digging for answers on why federal officials didn't do more to help the health insurance coop survive. Those are important questions.

As far as I can tell, no one in a position of power is examining how decisions by Iowa officials stacked the deck against CoOportunity ever becoming solvent. Did Iowa's insurance commissioner Nick Gerhart seal the coop's fate by bending over backwards to suit the 800-pound gorilla in Iowa's health insurance market (Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield)? Now that CoOportunity's failure leaves only one company selling policies on Iowa's health insurance exchange, what is Gerhart's "plan B" if Coventry decides later this year against continuing to participate on the exchange for 2016?

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Bully Bill Redux: 2015 Edition

by: natewithglasses

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 09:30:58 AM CST

(Thanks for this in-depth look at one of Governor Terry Branstad's top priorities for the legislative session. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For the past several legislative sessions - a bully bill in some form or another has been proposed and supported by Governor Branstad.  In each session, the bill has taken on many different forms and have gone from extreme (license to bully provision) to this year's shocking development.

Read on for the latest in the Governor's proposed 2015 Bully Free Iowa Act.  

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Three pros and three cons of Andy McGuire as Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 17, 2015 at 15:59:23 PM CST

Earlier today the Iowa Democratic Party's State Central Committee selected Dr. Andy McGuire to lead the party for the next two years. McGuire was the favorite going into the election and won on the third ballot against Kurt Meyer. Another candidate for state chair, former Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, then ran for first vice chair and was elected on the first ballot.

Dr. McGuire has been active in Iowa Democratic politics for more than 20 years, since working on her sister-in-law Sheila McGuire's 1994 Congressional campaign in Iowa's fifth district. (Sheila McGuire later served as state party chair for a term.) In the political world, Andy McGuire is best-known for being Mike Blouin's running mate during the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. The pro-choice mother of seven helped balance the ticket, as many Democratic activists were concerned about Blouin's stance on abortion rights.

In recent years, McGuire has often been mentioned as a possible Congressional candidate, but she ruled out running in Iowa's third district in 2016 if elected to lead the party. Many central Iowa Democrats expect her to run for governor in 2018.

Although I favored one of the other candidates, McGuire brings a lot to the table as a state party leader. My first thoughts on the pros and cons of her election are after the jump.  

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A dubious distinction for Teresa Wahlert

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 20:09:26 PM CST

Even after retiring as Iowa Workforce Development director (effective this past Sunday), Teresa Wahlert continues to leave her mark on state government. Yesterday Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa, Wahlert, and two judges Wahlert promoted. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from David Pitt's report for the Associated Press. Ackerman claims

That makes not one, not two, but three pending lawsuits against the State of Iowa in which Wahlert is a central figure. Former Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey named Wahlert as a co-defendant in his 2012 lawsuit against the state, alleging (among other things) that she "ostracized" him after he resisted pressure to resign before the end of his fixed term. Last year Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development, sued the state and Wahlert, claiming that she had "interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers," attempted "to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection," and eventually retaliated by removing him in "a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff."

In addition, Wahlert was on the wrong end of a November 2014 ruling by an arbitrator, who determined that the Iowa Workforce Development director had "overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment."

Just last week, unemployment appeals Judge Marlon Mormann announced his early retirement, telling the Associated Press that he was "ready to be done with it" after his worst year in a 24-year career in state government. Judge Mormann and Judge Ackerman were both witnesses at Iowa Senate Oversight Committee hearings last August on Branstad administrative officials (led by Wahlert) "pressuring judges to rule against unemployed Iowans."

Let's not forget that Wahlert presided over the governor's policy to close Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, which became an issue in a lawsuit that went all the way up to the Iowa Supreme Court.

I would guess that Wahlert's tenure has set some kind of record for legal entanglements involving an agency director for the State of Iowa. Yet every step of the way, including the day his office announced Wahlert's resignation, Branstad has heaped praise on her work. I'm convinced that the only reason she retired was everyone knew she'd never be confirmed to run Iowa Workforce Development again. Thank heaven for checks and balances.

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice calls for action on racial disparity, courthouse security

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 14:32:36 PM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered his annual State of the Judiciary address to Iowa House and Senate members this morning. The full text is available here (pdf), and I've posted important sections after the jump. Cady hailed progress the court system is making on helping Iowa children and improving efficiency and transparency. He described ongoing initiatives to improve how Iowa courts handle family law cases and review guardianship and conservatorship laws and procedures. Cady also asked lawmakers to appropriate 4.7 percent more funding for the court system in the next fiscal year.

Cady cited recent work within the judicial branch to "better understand and address the persistence of racial disparities" in the criminal justice system--a longstanding problem in Iowa. I enclosed below reaction from Assistant House Minority Leader Ako Abdul-Samad. Abdul-Samad is one of five African-American members of the Iowa House.

Finally, the chief justice alluded to a shooting last September during a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as he called for action "to make every courthouse in Iowa safer and more secure."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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The face of the medical marijuana fight in Iowa has died

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 22:05:00 PM CST

Benton Mackenzie passed away at home this morning, his wife Loretta Mackenzie told Brian Wellner of the Quad-City Times. Mackenzie was convicted last summer on drug charges, having grown dozens of marijuana plants in order to treat his terminal cancer. During the trial, the judge did not allow Mackenzie or his attorney to say that the defendant was seeking to use cannabis as a cancer treatment. Mackenzie was later sentenced to probation. The family had hoped to move to Oregon; Mackenzie had visited the state and received a valid Oregon medical marijuana card before his health deteriorated late last year.

Many Iowans who favor legalizing medical marijuana were outraged by the prosecution of a terminal cancer patient. State Senator Joe Bolkcom described the case as a waste of taxpayer money. During last year's legislative session, Bolkcom defied long odds to get a baby step toward legalizing medical cannabis approved in the Iowa House and Senate. However, the new law only permits the use of cannabis oil in order to treat certain seizure disorders, and even the affected families have been unable to obtain the treatment so far.  

Thousands of Iowans are battling cancer or suffering from chronic illnesses that can be treated with cannabis or its derivatives. They should not be subject to criminal prosecution merely for attempting to obtain marijuana for personal use. Benton Mackenzie's death may not be enough to spur a majority of lawmakers to act this year, but I hope his sad story will eventually create the political space to expand Iowa's medical marijuana law.

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Themes from the opening day of the Iowa legislature's 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 18:16:59 PM CST

Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.

Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.

Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.

As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."

None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."

Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.  

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 09:33:24 AM CST

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session begins today. Democrats maintained their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes from the previous committee assignments. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

I've also enclosed below details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators. The experience gap between the caucuses is striking, even more so since three of the longest-serving GOP state senators retired in 2014. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served in either the state House or Senate for more than four years, whereas nineteen of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Just seven of the 50 senators are women, down from ten women in the chamber two years ago. The Democratic caucus includes 20 men and six women; the Republican caucus 23 men and one woman.

All current Iowa senators are white. To my knowledge, no African-American has ever served in the Iowa Senate. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland reader northwest points out that I forgot Tom Mann, who represented part of Des Moines in the Iowa Senate during the 1980s.

No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 state senators include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).  

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Why did Debi Durham sack one of Iowa's leading clean energy experts? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 05, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CST

Iowa is already one of the top states for wind power and could become one of the country's solar power leaders as well. Unfortunately, Governor Terry Branstad has a mixed record on promoting alternative energy. On the plus side, Branstad has praised "tremendous potential for growth in solar energy." He has signed bipartisan legislation to provide state income tax credits for renewable energy, including a bill last spring that tripled the annual amount of solar tax credits in Iowa.

On the other hand, last year the Branstad administration "surrendered a $1 million grant designed to make Iowa a nationwide leader in solar energy after electric utilities lobbied for major changes," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press. You can view what that grant might have accomplished here. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Foley's report on the e-mail correspondence.

Now we find out that last month the Iowa Economic Development Authority quietly sacked Paritosh Kasotia as leader of the state energy office. The Associated Press reported that Kasotia was "informed of her ouster Dec. 8 and stopped working the same day."

Colleagues said Kasotia was not given an explanation for the termination, which came days after she returned from a national conference. An expert on alternative energy and energy efficiency, Kasotia oversaw tens of millions of dollars in funding for state and federal programs during her five-year state tenure. [...]

Kasotia, 32, also became active in the National Association of State Energy Officials and served on the advisory council of the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University.

Gary Steinke, who served with Kasotia on the advisory council, called her a "national leader in alternative energy."

"My reaction is that I'm shocked and disappointed," said Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "She brought a wealth of knowledge and information to the advisory council and she will be sorely missed."

Last year, Kasotia helped land a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make Iowa a leader in solar energy. Environmentalists said the grant would cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption. Branstad had written a letter in support. But state officials ended up giving up the grant after utility lobbyists complained they had not been consulted and objected to the grant's scope.

The move was seen as an embarrassment to the energy office, which started meeting routinely with representatives from utilities such as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican to get input on grant applications.

I sought comment from the governor's office on why Kasotia was fired. Governor Branstad's spokesman Jimmy Centers responded, "Iowa law prevents our office from commenting on personnel matters. It's important to note that state agencies, not the governor's office, handle personnel matters within their departments."

Raise your hand if you think Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham would fire a senior official in her department without running it by the governor's office.

Incidentally, Kasotia was a merit employee in the Office of Energy Independence under Governor Chet Culver. But when the Branstad administration restructured the office and assigned it to Durham's agency, Kasotia's job as team leader became an "at will" position. Democrats have criticized the governor's policy of making some 350 state employees at will, because those people can be fired for any reason or no reason. In addition, at will employees may be replaced without advertising the job. Senior officials in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals have challenged their change in job status, and the U.S. Department of Labor had to intervene to block the Iowa Workforce Development director's attempt to make that agency's chief administrative law judge an at will employee.

Someone with as much knowledge and expertise as Kasotia should not be shown the door without a valid reason. Branstad may be be a huge cheerleader for Durham, but when Iowa state senators consider whether to confirm her for another term as Iowa's top economic development official, they should question her about Kasotia's firing.

P.S.- Durham's confirmation hearing could be one of the most contentious during the upcoming legislative session. Democratic lawmakers will also challenge Durham on why she committed Iowa to more than $100 million in unnecessary state tax incentives for one foreign-owned corporation. They may also ask why she has taken several annual bonuses to put her total compensation well above the salary cap defined by state law.

P.P.S.- Kasotia's ouster makes me more concerned that the Iowa Utilities Board (now run entirely by Branstad appointees) will take administrative steps to overturn a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which went against utility companies' interests.

UPDATE: Added portions of the Des Moines Register's January 6 editorial after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Des Moines Cityview's Civic Skinny column discussed the firing as well. Scroll down for excerpts.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Governor Branstad's latest comments below.

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Mark Costello will represent Iowa Senate district 12

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 31, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CST

Republican State Representative Mark Costello easily won yesterday's special election to represent Iowa Senate district 12. The seat became vacant after Joni Ernst's victory in the U.S. Senate race. According to unofficial results posted on the Iowa Secretary of State's website, Costello received 3,068 votes, to 924 votes for Democrat Steve Adams and 131 votes for Libertarian Don Brantz. Adams deserves credit for stepping up to give voters a choice in the second- or third-most Republican Iowa Senate district. Although the Libertarians were smart to nominate a candidate here, they didn't have anything like the Iowa GOP's resources for voter turnout, and their nominee got the worst kind of publicity a candidate can have when he was charged with several crimes earlier this month.

Democrats retain a 26 to 24 majority in the Iowa Senate, but Costello told Radio Iowa he's optimistic and hopeful Republicans will win a majority after the 2016 elections. They certainly will have better opportunities to gain Iowa Senate seats in the coming cycle than they did in 2014. Blowing the chance to defeat GOP State Senator Mark Chelgren this year could prove costly for Iowa Democrats.

Costello's victory will force a special election in Iowa House district 23, which he has represented for the last two years. Like Senate district 12, the House district should be safe for Republicans, allowing them to maintain a 57 to 43 majority in the Iowa House next year.

I expect another crowded GOP nominating convention when House district 23 delegates meet to choose a new candidate. Several people who sought the GOP nomination in Senate district 12 live in communities Costello has represented. Republicans would do well to nominate a woman. It's embarrassing that Amy Sinclair is the only woman left in their Iowa Senate caucus, and the Iowa House GOP caucus includes 51 men (including Costello) to just six women.

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Iowa Senate district 12 special: Mark Costello vs. Steve Adams and Don Brantz

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 12, 2014 at 06:45:00 AM CST

Republicans nominated State Representative Mark Costello for the December 30 special election to replace Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12. The district covers Mills, Fremont, Montgomery, Page, Taylor, and Ringgold counties in southwest Iowa. This post includes a map.

Seven candidates sought the GOP nomination in this strongly Republican district, containing more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Besides the five candidates Bleeding Heartland discussed here, David Sieck and Charla Schmid joined the GOP race. Sieck is a Mills County farmer who has been active on Missouri River management issues. Schmid has served several terms on the Montgomery County School Board and is active in Business and Professional Women/Iowa. She also serves on the board of directors of 50/50 in 2020, a bipartisan group encouraging more Iowa women to run for office.

The Iowa Republican's Craig Robinson wrote up last night's nominating convention, where Costello led from the beginning and secured the nomination on the fourth ballot.

A Democratic district convention will meet this weekend to nominate Steve Adams of Red Oak. He is a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension.

Earlier this week, Libertarians nominated Don Brantz for the Senate district 12 special. He is "a longtime Mills County supervisor and southwest Iowa social worker" who is running on a platform of increasing funding for rural schools and abolishing the state Department of Education. It's smart for Libertarians to compete here. Odds are long, but anything can happen in a low-turnout environment, and how many people will show up to vote on December 30?

Costello is the heavy favorite. If he wins, a special election will be needed in Iowa House district 23, covering Mills and Fremont counties, plus most of Montgomery County. House Republican leaders did not assign any committee chairmanship to Costello, perhaps expecting that he would soon leave for the Iowa Senate.

Regardless of who wins the Senate district 12 special, the number of women in the Iowa Senate will drop from ten the past two years to seven for the next two years. First-termer Amy Sinclair will be the only woman in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus.  

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Mike Gronstal staying on as head of DLCC

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 19:30:49 PM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is staying on as board chairman of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the group announced today. I've enclosed the full statement after the jump.

The DLCC focuses on state legislative elections around the country. The group has its work cut out, because Republicans made huge gains in state legislatures in November. In fact, "The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers -- the highest number in the history of the party." Holding the 26-24 Iowa Senate majority was one of the few bright spots for Democrats, along with maintaining a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives (which complicates life for potential presidential candidate Rand Paul).

The Iowa GOP will have more state Senate pickup opportunities in 2016 than they did this year. Twelve Iowa Senate races saw significant spending by one or both parties in 2012, whereas only a half-dozen or so Senate seats looked competitive going into 2014. By October of this year, most of the spending by Iowa Democrats and Republicans was concentrated in four state Senate races. Depending on retirements and candidate recruitment, at least ten Iowa Senate districts will be potentially competitive during the 2016 cycle.

Incidentally, the only other Iowan on the DLCC's board of directors is Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids. Just re-elected to another four-year term in Senate district 35, Horn has served in the Iowa legislature for 42 years (10 in the state House and 32 in the Senate), longer than any other sitting lawmaker.

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Attorney general candidate Adam Gregg becoming Iowa's state public defender

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 10, 2014 at 18:45:00 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad has often appointed unsuccessful Republican candidates to state positions, and this week he named Adam Gregg, the GOP nominee for Iowa attorney general, to be Iowa State Public Defender. I've enclosed the press release after the jump. It contains background on Gregg, who worked as a staffer in the governor's office before running against longtime Democratic incumbent Tom Miller. I don't anticipate Gregg having any trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

The Des Moines rumor mill says Miller will retire at the end of his ninth term as attorney general. An race for that position would likely attract many candidates in both parties. I expect Gregg to seek the office in 2018, along with Branstad's legal counsel Brenna Findley, who was the GOP challenger to Miller in 2010. Several Republicans in the Iowa House or Senate might give this race a look, especially if there are no open Congressional seats on the horizon.

For those wondering whether Gregg or Findley performed better against Miller, the answer depends on how you look at it. Both of the challengers raised quite a bit of money for first-time candidates seeking a statewide office. Gregg raised $191,359 in his first month and a half as a candidate, then nearly another $200,000 before the election; see here and here. Findley also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her 2010 race; see here, here, and here.

Both Gregg and Findley campaigned energetically around the state, visiting all 99 counties and attending hundreds of public events. In 2010, when total turnout was 1,133,429 for the midterm election, Miller received 607,779 votes to 486,057 for Findley (there were a smattering of write-ins and 38,605 "under votes," meaning voters left that part of the ballot blank).

This year total turnout was a bit higher at 1,142,226, and Miller received 616,711 votes to 481,046 for Gregg (there were more write-ins and 43,016 under votes).

So Findley received a slightly higher share of the two-party vote, but she also had way more help. Branstad talked up her campaign all year and appeared in one of her television commercials. She was able to run far more radio and tv ads statewide, thanks to more than half a million dollars in transfers from the Republican Party of Iowa. Gregg didn't get anything like that kind of assistance or exposure, so arguably he got more bang for his campaign bucks.

I'm intrigued that an ambitious young conservative politician wanted to serve as the state public defender. It's an important job, and I hope Gregg does it well. Some of my favorite people have worked as public defenders. But there's no getting around the fact that his office will be defending some unsavory characters. The job is risky in that next time Gregg is a candidate for public office, rivals could run "Willie Horton" ads against him highlighting onetime clients who committed horrible crimes.

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Bleeding Heartland 2014 general election prediction contest results

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 09:00:50 AM CST

The last U.S. Senate election of 2014 concluded over the weekend, with Republican Bill Cassidy defeating Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. So, I was finally able to tabulate results from Bleeding Heartland's general election prediction contest.

Thanks to all who entered. Follow me after the jump for full results.  

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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At least five Republicans seeking to represent Iowa Senate district 12

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 18:04:50 PM CST

At least five people are openly seeking the GOP nomination in Iowa Senate district 12, where a special election will be held on December 30 to replace U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst. In addition to State Representative Mark Costello and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan, Clarinda School Board member Seth Watkins, Montgomery County GOP Chair Margaret Stoldorf, and Ringgold County GOP activist Tracee Knapp have all announced their candidacies. Watkins is a grain and livestock farmer as well as a 14-year incumbent on the school board. Stoldorf is a former Montgomery County supervisor and has managed a family farm as well. Knapp works for Children and Families of Iowa and operates a cattle farm, along with her husband.

KMA Radio 99.1 has invited all the candidates to take part in a one-hour radio forum at 7 pm on Monday, December 8.  Other candidates may declare before the GOP special nominating convention on December 11. I have not yet heard of any Democratic candidate in this overwhelmingly Republican district. Ernst ran unopposed in 2012.

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Special election in Iowa Senate district 12 coming on December 30

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 11:13:26 AM CST

Late last week, U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst finally sent Governor Terry Branstad a letter resigning her seat in the Iowa Senate. The governor announced today that the special election to replace Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12 will take place on December 30. The district covers six southwest Iowa counties; a detailed map is after the jump.

From a voter turnout perspective, it's not ideal to hold an election between Christmas and New Year's, when many people are out of town. However, the real competition in Iowa Senate district 12 will be at the GOP special nominating convention. Even in a low-turnout environment, there is almost no conceivable way Democrats could win a district containing more than twice as many registered Republicans. Just one state Senate district has fewer registered Democrats than Senate district 12, and only three contain more registered Republicans.

At least two Republicans will seek the nomination for the coming special election: State Representative Mark Costello, who was first elected to the Iowa House in 2012, and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan. I expect more people to throw their hats in. A few years ago, a special election in an Ankeny-based Iowa Senate district drew six GOP candidates.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I was surprised it took Ernst so long to resign her state senate seat. Her predecessor Kim Reynolds resigned more quickly after being elected lieutenant governor in 2010.  

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Kent Sorenson has more positive drug tests

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 17, 2014 at 09:15:00 AM CST

Awaiting sentencing for concealing payments received for helping Ron Paul's presidential campaign, former State Senator Kent Sorenson has now tested positive three times for marijuana use, the Associated Press reported last week. Sorenson's attorney had said the first positive test was caused by drug use prior to the plea agreement. In a more recent court document,

A lab toxicologist gave an opinion on Oct. 28 that Sorenson "reused marijuana prior to the collections on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21," which would amount to a second violation of his release conditions, she wrote.

I'd like to hear from members of the Bleeding Heartland community who are familiar with the criminal justice system: would evidence of more recent marijuana use likely affect the sentence Sorenson will receive, even though the crimes to which he pled guilty are unrelated to illegal drug use?

Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu reflected on Sorenson's "perfect hypocrisy," since as a state senator he "voted to subject welfare recipients to random drug tests, at their own expense, even if they had no history of drug abuse." I've enclosed excerpts from her latest piece after the jump.

Various states that have introduced drug testing for welfare recipients have found the tests "ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved and failed to curb the number of prospective applicants," and that welfare recipients use illegal drugs at rates significantly lower than the general population.  

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Five reasons Teresa Wahlert's days are numbered at Iowa Workforce Development

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 10:15:00 AM CST

I don't expect Governor Terry Branstad to replace many state agency leaders going into his sixth term, but before too long he will need to find a new head of Iowa Workforce Development. Although he will probably nominate Teresa Wahlert for that post again, the Iowa Senate will likely reject her confirmation. Here's why:

1. Wahlert needs at least ten Democrats to join the 24 incoming Iowa Senate Republicans in order to be confirmed. She was confirmed in 2011 with only two votes to spare; two of the twelve Democratic senators who backed her then no longer serve in the Iowa legislature, and several who remain in the Senate have been critical of various Branstad administration policies implemented by Wahlert.

2. Wahlert presided over dismantling staffed Iowa Workforce Development field offices in dozens of communities, following a Branstad line-item veto that was eventually struck down by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.

3. Wahlert is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. Depositions are happening soon in that case, following an Iowa Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

4. Wahlert is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Joseph Walsh, the former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development. Among other things, Walsh alleges that Wahlert "interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers," attempted "to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection," and eventually retaliated by removing him in "a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff."

5. Just this week, an arbitrator ruled that Wahlert "overstepped her bounds when she promoted a judge who had been demoted after complaints that she created a hostile work environment." After the jump I've posted excerpts from David Pitt's report for the Associated Press.

No wonder State Senator Janet Petersen has predicted that Wahlert would face a tough confirmation process if re-appointed by Branstad. He could save everyone a lot of time by choosing new leadership for Iowa Workforce Development.

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