Ten Iowa legislative incumbents who raised surprisingly little for their re-election campaigns

Since the latest deadline for state legislative candidates to report to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board passed on May 19, I’ve been going through the forms filed by incumbents or challengers in potentially competitive races.

Some of the contribution totals were much lower than I expected to see.

Follow me after the jump for ten Iowa House or Senate incumbents who haven’t been focused on fundraising, even though they could face tough re-election campaigns.

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Weekend open thread: University politics

Congratulations to all the Bleeding Heartland readers who just finished a year of academic work and especially to those who completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees this month. Good luck with whatever you have planned for the summer and beyond, and remember, many people switch gears several times during their careers. What I spend my time on now is different from the work I did during and immediately after grad school and far from any future I imagined as an undergraduate.

Pat Rynard recently interviewed eight student journalists about their experiences covering the Iowa caucuses. Well done to all, and good luck to the four who are graduating: Brent Griffiths, Madeline Meyer, Rebecca Morin, and Lissandra Villa.

Congratulations are also in order for everyone involved with the Iowa State Daily, which just won the "Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper" award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld struck an odd note in his graduation message to faculty, staff, and students: "Although a university attempts to create a space for fruitful study for its faculty and students, it can’t escape reality. We have gone through a lot at the University of Iowa, particularly in the last year. And yet here we are, about to uphold a time-honored tradition."

Much of the turmoil and discontent at the University of Iowa this past year stemmed from Harreld’s hiring, against the wishes of most campus stakeholders. Unlike most of the people affected by his arrival, Harreld has been extremely well-compensated, receiving a substantially higher salary than the woman he replaced. He also presided over a generous contract extension for Athletics Director Gary Barta, despite troubling trends for women under Barta’s leadership and questionable decisions that have spawned multiple lawsuits and investigations of alleged gender discrimination. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa decided against complying with Johnson County’s latest minimum wage hike, a policy Harreld declined to explain in a public forum.

Seeing Harreld allude to what "we have gone through" at the University of Iowa (as if he were some passive bystander) reminded me of the president’s strange answer to the Daily Iowan’s recent questions about hate speech. As the Ditchwalk blog covered in more detail here, Harreld doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference between being insulted in public and being a target of hate speech.

Last week, some activists encouraged University of Iowa graduates not to shake Harreld’s hand while receiving their diplomas during the May 13 commencement ceremony. I understand the sentiment, but I would have encouraged students to deliver some concise verbal message while crossing the stage instead. Refusing a handshake makes a visible statement but also risks generating sympathy for Harreld.

Speaking of university leaders in the news, Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s approach to building relationships with lawmakers drew scrutiny recently. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on May 6, Leath provided tickets to sold-out ISU men’s basketball games to ten influential state legislators this year. Although the lawmakers paid face value for the tickets, the practice seems inconsistent with the spirit of Iowa’s gift law, since the courtside seats are normally available only to people who donate thousands of dollars to the university. Excerpts from Foley’s report and a recent Des Moines Register editorial on the subject are after the jump.

Simpson College political science Professor Kedron Bardwell recently flagged a disturbing interview Sam Clovis gave to Inside Higher Education. Clovis is on leave from his tenured position at Morningside College in Sioux City while he serves as a policy director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Absurdly, Clovis suggested that even though "The liberal arts education is the absolute foundation to success in life," perhaps student loans should not be available for those planning to major in the humanities. Presidential candidates bashing non-STEM education, especially philosophy majors, has long been a pet peeve for Bardwell. Many Simpson graduates who majored in philosophy or political science have gone on to successful careers. Research has shown that "philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa families get promises but no guarantee on autism insurance coverage

Iowa families hoping for guaranteed insurance coverage of autism services will have to wait at least one more year. Despite Democratic efforts to add an autism coverage mandate to the health and human services budget for fiscal year 2017, the compromise approved on the final day of this year’s legislative session excluded such language. Instead, lawmakers increased state funding for various autism-related grants and programs.

According to the lead Republican negotiator on the human services budget, families affected by autism will have insurance coverage by January 2017 without a mandate, thanks to Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s decision to sell policies through Iowa’s public insurance exchange. But those policies will not be available to Iowans living in dozens of counties, nor will they cover applied behavior analysis (ABA) interventions, which are effective but prohibitively expensive for many people with spectrum disorders.

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Never let it be said that the 2016 Iowa legislature accomplished nothing

In four months of work this year, Iowa lawmakers made no progress on improving water quality or expanding conservation programs, funded K-12 schools and higher education below levels needed to keep up with inflation, failed to increase the minimum wage or address wage theft, let most criminal justice reform proposals die in committee, didn’t approve adequate oversight for the newly-privatized Medicaid program, opted against making medical cannabis more available to sick and suffering Iowans, and left unaddressed several other issues that affect thousands of constituents.

But let the record reflect that bipartisan majorities in the Iowa House and Senate acted decisively to solve a non-existent problem. At a bill-signing ceremony yesterday, Governor Terry Branstad and supporters celebrated preventing something that probably never would have happened.

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Branstad names Bruce Rastetter ally Michael Richards to Board of Regents

Governor Terry Branstad appointed Michael Richards to the Iowa Board of Regents last Friday. Subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate, Richards will serve the last five years of Mary Andringa’s term on the nine-member board, which oversees Iowa’s state universities. Andringa announced her resignation in late April, saying she had "underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role." (It soon emerged that she is a paid director for the Herman Miller furniture company, which received a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract from the University of Iowa last year.)

An alumnus of the University of Iowa undergraduate college and medical school, Richards has held management positions in various corporations, inside and outside the health care field. The official announcement of his appointment mentions several of those jobs as well as Richards’ philanthropy.

Richards continues a long tradition of major political donors securing spots on the prestigious Board of Regents. He made contributions totaling more than $40,000 to Branstad’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns. (Details on that giving are after the jump, along with the May 6 press release.) Last year, Richards gave $10,000 to Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who is almost certain to run for governor in 2018, as well as $2,500 to Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. He has given nearly $100,000 to other Republican candidates around the country.

Richards has been a close political ally of Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. In 2011, he joined a small group of business Republicans led by Rastetter, who encouraged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Last year, he joined Rastetter and most of that group to endorse Christie’s presidential campaign.

The Iowa Senate has confirmed hundreds of Branstad’s nominees unanimously or nearly so. During the legislature’s 2017 session, I don’t expect Richards to have any trouble winning confirmation to serve out Andringa’s term on the Board of Regents. The two appointees to that board whom senators rejected in 2013 had political baggage that Richards lacks.

UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Vanessa Miller’s latest report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Democratic lawmakers see the Senate confirming Richards next year.

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Now he tells us: Hatch bashes property tax law he voted for, campaigned on

Jack Hatch isn’t happy with the work of his former colleagues in the Iowa Senate. Writing in the Sunday Des Moines Register, he declared the 2016 legislative session to be a "disaster for Democrats," who made no progress on improving water quality, protecting public employees, raising the minimum wage, or funding education adequately. In Hatch’s view, Governor Terry Branstad has "bullied" Senate Democrats "into siding with him in serving only the top 10 percent." In particular, he cited the "historic levels of tax relief for corporations" senators approved three years ago, part of a trend toward providing generous tax breaks for business while Iowa schools lack essential resources.

I couldn’t agree more that the commercial property tax cut lawmakers approved at the end of the 2013 legislative session was too expensive and mostly oriented toward businesses that didn’t need help, with foreseeable consequences for public services. Undoubtedly, that legislation and other corporate tax breaks are largely responsible for budget constraints that drove Democrats toward lousy deals on funding for K-12 school districts as well as higher education.

Just one question: why didn’t Hatch listen to the experts who warned at the time that the tax cut amounted to "Christmas for Walmart and McDonald’s"?

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