Weekend open thread: Revisionist history

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Many cities and towns in northeast Iowa have been flooded over the last few days, and Cedar Rapids is bracing for the city’s second-worst flood in history. The latest forecast indicates the Cedar River will crest Tuesday morning around 23 feet, about two feet below the projected crest from a couple of days ago but still seven feet above "major flood" level. Many downtown streets are closed, National Guard members will assist local law enforcement, and a small army of volunteers have been sandbagging and trying to protect local landmarks. The Cedar Rapids Gazette is regularly updating this page with more 2016 flood coverage.

Several Iowa House Republican candidates began running television commercials this past week. Some GOP candidates for the Iowa Senate have been on the air for a couple of weeks now, and campaigns on both sides have begun to send out direct mail. Usually, those communications are not available online, so I appreciate reports on any direct mail pieces or state legislative campaign commercials you’ve seen or heard on radio and tv stations in your area. Whatever details you can remember are helpful, as are screen shots or pdf files showing images. My e-mail address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

In Iowa House district 43, one of the top targets for Democrats, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow is running a tv ad whitewashing his record on education. Several other Republicans are trying out similar talking points, which presumably tested well in polls that were in the field a few weeks ago. I’ll have more to say about Hagenow’s ad in a future post. A few key points for now:

• Five legislative sessions in a row, House Republicans have refused to pass bills setting state support for K-12 education ("allowable growth") on the timeline required by state law. Their delays left school district leaders unable to plan their budgets on time.
• Six legislative sessions in a row, Iowa House and Senate Democrats have fought House Republicans over education funding. Every year, House GOP leaders insisted on a final budget below what school districts, community colleges, and state universities would need to keep up with rising costs.
• Hagenow absurdly postures as a supporter of more funding for preschool. In reality, within weeks after Republicans took over the Iowa House in 2011, Hagenow and everyone else in his caucus voted to eliminate state preschool funding. If Hagenow had gotten his way, Iowa would not even have a state-supported preschool program for 4-year-olds.

Speaking of revisionist history, Donald Trump’s campaign is now claiming that Carter Page was never a foreign policy adviser to the presidential candidate. Both Trump and Page talked to journalists in March about his adviser role. Why the change? Probably because according to Michael Isikoff’s September 23 story for Yahoo News, "U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine" whether Page "has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials." Questions center on Page’s activities during a July visit to Moscow.

But how well-connected is Page in Russia anyway? Julia Ioffe talked to specialists in the U.S. and Moscow and reported in her must-read piece for Politico, "despite the tightly knit nature of the expat business community in Russia, no one I spoke to had ever heard of Carter Page." Several people who have worked in the Russian energy sector discounted Page’s self-described role with the gas monopoly Gazprom. People who knew Page from Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office or his work with Russia’s electricity monopoly were unimpressed. Talk about irony: the ultimate con man Trump, who lies about matters large and small, may have been tricked into elevating Page’s stature.

Ioffe’s reporting suggests that Iowa’s own Sam Clovis recruited Page on behalf of the Trump campaign. Clovis refused to answer the journalist’s questions.

Final note: Craig Robinson and I discussed the Trump campaign’s Russia connections with Dave Price for one of WHO-TV’s September 21 newscasts; click here to watch that video. Robinson and I talked about other aspects of the presidential race on today’s edition of "The Insiders." I’ll add links when they become available.

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Labor Day weekend open thread

Happy Labor Day, Bleeding Heartland readers! If you are enjoying a three-day weekend, thank the labor activists from past generations who made it possible. In fact, go ahead and thank the organized labor movement for every weekend off.

The Iowa Policy Project’s latest report on the Cost of Living in Iowa found that "Nearly 114,000 Iowa families"—close to 19 percent of the state’s working households—"do not earn enough to provide for a basic standard of living without public supports, despite one or more full-time wage earners in the family." Part 1 estimates how much a family needs to get by in Iowa, taking into account expenses for "rent, utilities, food prepared at home, child care, health care, transportation, clothing and other household necessities," but not "savings, loan payments, education expenses, any entertainment or vacation, social or recreational travel, or meals outside the home." Part 2 explores how many Iowa families aren’t earning enough to cover essentials, and shows that "rural regions have substantially higher shares of working families with incomes below self-sufficiency."

For political junkies, Labor Day kicks off the most intense phase of the general election campaign. Candidates at all levels can use help identifying supporters and getting them signed up to vote early. Direct voter contacts are particularly important for state legislative races. I highly recommend Laura Hubka’s 15 tips for volunteers knocking on doors. Two years ago, I posted my own canvassing dos and don’ts.

One of my funniest door-knocking experiences happened on this day last year. I was canvassing in Beaverdale for Des Moines school board candidate Heather Anderson. Normally I would not be out on a holiday, but the school board election was scheduled for September 8, the day after Labor Day. One house on my walk list already had a Heather Anderson sign in the yard. I decided to knock anyway, in case the supporter needed extra literature to give to friends and neighbors, or a reminder about the polling place location and opening hours. During our conversation, the voter said, "You know who else is for Heather? Bleeding Heartland. She’s on our side." Yeah, I heard that

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear at the Quad Cities Labor picnic later today. I’ll update later with a few links. I enclose below a video her campaign released this week featuring Ruline Steininger, a 103-year-old supporter in Des Moines. Echoing what I’ve heard from many women including former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and my mother-in-law, Steininger commented that when she was in high school, the only career options were to become a teacher or a nurse. She views Clinton as "more prepared" than anyone has ever been for the presidency, and also thinks her election would let "little girls know that you can be anything you want to be in this country. People won’t have to wonder whether they’re going to be a school teacher or a nurse. The sky’s the limit now. You can be president."

I only knew one of my grandparents well. Although I didn’t get many chances to talk politics with my grandmother, I’m confident that if she were still alive, she also would be voting for Clinton. Having been active in the Sioux City Maternal Women’s Health League (later a founding organization in Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa) during the 1940s, she probably would not need to hear more than "defund Planned Parenthood" to turn her off voting for any Republican.

Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush reported for National Public Radio this week on the Donald Trump campaign’s "jaw-dropping gap in the ground game." Clinton has "more than three times the number" of field offices in battleground states. In Iowa, Democrats have at least 25 "coordinated campaign" offices open around the state, possibly more by now. Trump and the Republican Party of Iowa have nine offices open, according to NPR’s data.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Trump’s volunteers, including those participating online, are being asked to sign an absurdly broad and in some places illegal "non disclosure form." Among other things, the volunteer must promise not to "demean or disparage" the Trump campaign or any member of Trump’s family or any Trump business, "during the time of your service and at all times thereafter." Attorneys tell me this document probably would not be enforceable because of legal flaws such as lack of consideration. The illegal part: requiring volunteers to promise that none of their employees will volunteer for Clinton.

Thanks to all the readers whose accounts informed Thursday’s post on Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races. Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard posted on Facebook that his wife was a respondent on one of these calls. Good news: she’s still voting for him, even after hearing all the awful things he supposedly did. I am seeking details about similar telephone surveys that may be ongoing in battleground Iowa Senate districts. My e-mail address is near the lower right corner of this screen.

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Walking, Knocking and Talking the Talk

Howard County Democratic Party chair Laura Hubka shares wisdom gained from knocking thousands of doors as a superstar volunteer in northeast Iowa and former candidate for the state legislature. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I was not always into politics and even though I was a "talker" in elementary school, I really was never into starting conversations, especially about politics, with anyone I did not know. In the last 8 years or so I have changed. Knocking doors and talking about local, state and national candidates are part of my life now on a regular basis. I have actually come to enjoy it. I understand how it can be scary and intimidating at times, but I also know the joy of having a great one on one conversation with my fellow Iowans. Here are some of my tips to those who want to put their boots on the ground and make a real difference.

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Iowa among the target states for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has begun airing radio commercials in Iowa. I heard some of the spots on stations in the Des Moines market over the weekend and will update this post with full transcripts if I can record them. Daniel Strauss reported for Politico on August 26 that the Libertarian candidate "is spending $806,195 this month on radio ads in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin."

One of the ads features Johnson arguing that “if a Democrat is elected president, if a Republican is elected president, in four years we will still be at war, America will be four years deeper in debt, we will have four more years of rising taxes.”

A second ad is Johnson arguing against a two-party system.

“Google me, 60 percent of you have said you want another choice in 2016 and now you have one in me,” Johnson says in the ad. “We the people have a chance to do something in 2016 that may not come again in our lifetime. We have a legitimate chance to elect one of our own to the highest office in the land.”

Iowa may be an appealing place to advertise because air time is less expensive here than in many other swing states.

Super-PACs supporting the Libertarian ticket have produced some television and radio commercials, but I haven’t seen or heard any of those yet. AUGUST 31 UPDATE: This Purple PAC ad is on the air in the Des Moines market. I’ve added the video below.

The early advertising push is designed to boost Johnson’s support in national polls to at least 15 percent. The Presidential Debate Commission has said candidates must hit that threshold to be included in the three debates featuring presidential nominees and the one vice presidential debate.

No Libertarian presidential candidate has ever won more than 1 percent of the vote in Iowa; I compiled our state’s results for all previous tickets here. In the last three public polls of likely Iowa voters, Johnson had support from 12 percent, 6 percent, and 12 percent of respondents in a four-way race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald Trump, and Jill Stein of the Green Party.

The Libertarian Party of Iowa has a far stronger organization than any other third party in this state. In addition to Johnson and vice presidential nominee Bill Weld, Libertarian candidates are running for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat, for the U.S. House in the third Congressional district, for six Iowa Senate seats, and for twelve Iowa House seats. Some of these candidates already have yard signs and other campaign materials.

In contrast, the Green Party did not nominate any candidates in Iowa other than Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka, even though access to the general election ballot is relatively easy here.

Johnson’s first rally in Iowa this election cycle is scheduled for this Saturday, September 3, at the Grand View University Johnson Wellness Center, 200 Grandview Avenue in Des Moines. Doors open at 1 pm. Stein will headline a Green Party rally at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Sunday, September 11.

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Prospects for electing more women to the Iowa legislature

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, let’s revisit the field of women candidates in the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that are up for grabs this year. Since Bleeding Heartland last surveyed the scene, a few more women candidates have emerged, while others are no longer in the running.

Following the 2014 election, the number of women in the Iowa House rose from 25 to 27 (six Republicans and 21 Democrats). The number of women in the Iowa Senate dropped from ten to seven (one Republican and six Democrats) because men replaced three retiring female Republican senators.

Iowa’s general assembly has fewer women as a percentage of lawmakers than do 29 other state legislatures. Despite efforts by the bipartisan group 50/50 in 2020 to promote political equity in Iowa and to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of government, next year’s legislature may have even fewer female state representatives and senators.

Speaking of Women’s Equality Day, did you know Iowa women came close to gaining the right to vote during the 1870s, and again in 1916? Neither did I before I researched this Throwback Thursday post last year.

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Dan Kelley files as third-party candidate in Iowa House district 29

A surprise popped up on the Secretary of State’s general election candidate list today. Dan Kelley, a three-term state representative from Newton, has filed to run as a third-party candidate in Iowa House district 29. He lost the June Democratic primary to Wes Breckenridge by nearly a two to one margin. That campaign turned nasty and personal, with supporters on both sides calling each other "bullies." In what has no recent precedent in Iowa politics, two major labor unions endorsed a challenger to a Democratic incumbent. Kelley was the only state legislative incumbent in either party to lose his party’s nomination this year.

At this writing, Kelley has not responded to my inquiries, nor has he posted anything on Twitter or Facebook to explain why he decided to run as a third-party candidate. The candidate list provides a big clue: Kelley is named as the candidate for the "Stand Up To Bullies" party. UPDATE: Added comments from Kelley below.

House district 29 covers most of Jasper County in central Iowa (scroll down for a map). The seat leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so. President Barack Obama won 56 percent of the vote here in 2012. Kelley defeated his Republican opponent that year with more than 62 percent of the vote. The district contains 7,645 active registered Democrats, 5,608 Republicans, and 6,864 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office.

Kelley wasn’t the most popular member of his caucus, and House Democratic leaders will surely back Breckenridge in the general election. But no one in the party will relish the thought of spending money on this district when there are so many competitive House races around the state. Moreover, even if the party establishment goes all in for Breckenridge, a split in the Democratic vote could give Republican Patrick Payton the opening he needs to take this seat for the GOP. (Republicans haven’t represented the Newton area for decades.) Democrats need a net gain of eight House seats to win control of the lower chamber.

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