Throwback Thursday: When Bob Vander Plaats asked for money to promote his Iowa caucus endorsement

National Organization for Money photo IMG_5284_zpsddttbuk1.jpg

National Organization for Money graphic created by Rights Equal Rights and used with permission.

Donald Trump targeted Bob Vander Plaats on Twitter this week. He speculated that Ted Cruz, who landed Vander Plaats’ personal endorsement last month, may not know about past "dealings" by one of Iowa’s leading social conservatives. The billionaire called Vander Plaats a "bad guy" and a "phony," claiming the FAMiLY Leader’s front man had asked to stay in Trump hotels for free and tried to secure a $100,000 payment for himself after "begging" Trump to do an Iowa event. Jennifer Jacobs confirmed that Trump received a $100,000 fee for speaking to a real estate conference in West Des Moines last year, but Vander Plaats told the Des Moines Register "he was paid nothing" for introducing Trump to the head of the company that organized the event, and "no donation was made to the Family Leader."

The spat reminded me of big news from the final two weeks of the 2012 Iowa caucus campaign, when Rick Santorum confirmed that Vander Plaats had asked for money to promote his endorsement.

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice describes reforms to reduce racial disparity, improve juries

Last year, racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system were a major theme of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady’s annual Condition of the Judiciary report to state legislators. Today Cady followed up by telling Iowa House and Senate members how the judicial branch is addressing the problem through training judges and staff, pilot programs aimed at reducing school referrals to juvenile court, early steps to change the rules on pretrial release of those charged with crimes, and better jury selection procedures. I’ve posted the relevant sections of his 2016 Condition of the Judiciary speech (as prepared) below. The full text is available here. Click through to read sections focusing on what Cady has described as the justice system’s six priorities:

• Protect Iowa’s children
• Provide full-time access to justice
• Operate an efficient full-service court system
• Provide faster and less costly resolution of legal disputes
• Operate in an open and transparent way
• Provide fair and impartial justice for all

Near the end of his speech, Cady discussed the largely unknown problem of human trafficking, which "exists as a dark underworld in many communities across Iowa and is associated with some of Iowa’s most iconic places and events." I enclose those remarks at the end of this post. For more background on what trafficking looks like in Iowa, listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from 2012 or read Annie Easker’s investigative report for Iowa Watch. Bridget Garrity’s feature on a documentary film about trafficking is another good read. After advocates for trafficking victims raised awareness of Iowa’s poor legal framework for fighting such crimes, state legislators passed and Governor Terry Branstad signed major bills on trafficking during the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Chief Justice Cady is a contender for all-time best appointee during Branstad’s oh-so-long tenure as governor. Who else is in his league?

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Criminal justice reform is major theme of Branstad's Condition of the State address

Governor Terry Branstad delivered his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate and the Iowa Supreme Court justices yesterday. If you missed the speech, the full prepared text is here. Iowa Public Television posted the video and transcript here. The early part of the 30-minute address included one false or misleading assertion after another.

· "Sound budgeting practices and fiscal discipline now have us ranked as the 3rd best managed state in the nation." Contrary to the idea that Branstad markedly improved Iowa’s operation, a major investors group also ranked Iowa the third best-managed state in 2010 under Governor Chet Culver, recognizing Iowa’s good fiscal position, high credit ratings from leading agencies, and low debt per capita compared to most other states.

· "The Iowa Economy has created 214,000 new jobs; surpassing our 2010 goal." Sorry, no. That’s a fake statistic no economist would accept. It’s a shame the governor has instructed Iowa Workforce Development to keep cooking the books on employment.

· "If the state fails to implement managed care, the growth of Medicaid spending will consume virtually all of our revenue growth." The Branstad administration has not been able to demonstrate that managed care will save the state money. Florida’s Medicaid privatization turned out to be more costly without improving patient care.

I was also disappointed not to hear more specifics about how Branstad envisions spending funds he would like to divert from school infrastructure to water programs. What kind of water quality programs would be prioritized, and who would administer them? Then again, details about this plan may be irrelevant, because Iowa House and Senate leaders don’t sound open to the idea.

For now, I want to focus on a much more promising part of Branstad’s address. To my surprise, the governor devoted a major section—roughly eight minutes of speaking time—to advocating for criminal justice reforms proposed by a working group he appointed in August. The group was charged with developing ideas to increase fairness and reduce racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system. Click here to read the full recommendations released in November. Bleeding Heartland will discuss some of the proposals in more detail in future posts. Advocates for defendants’ rights and racial justice have generally welcomed the proposals.

Although some policies do not go far enough, and other important reforms are missing from the document, I’m encouraged to see the governor apply some political capital toward reducing systemic racism and inequities in the justice system. I enclose below the relevant portion of Branstad’s speech, with some annotations.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention one thing Branstad could do immediately to address a massive racial disparity in Iowa. His executive order making it extremely difficult for felons to regain their voting rights disenfranchises Iowans of all ethnic backgrounds but disproportionately affects racial minorities.

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Budget looms large, social issues largely absent on the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2016

Governor Terry Branstad wore a pink tie and many colleagues remarked on history made yesterday at the Capitol, as Linda Upmeyer became the first woman to preside over the Iowa House as speaker, as well as the first child of an Iowa legislative leader to rise to the same position. Erin Murphy’s take on the milestone is worth a read.

As in recent years, social issues were almost entirely absent from the leaders’ opening remarks to their Iowa House and Senate colleagues. State budget priorities dominated the comments relating to public policy, with Republicans emphasizing the importance of not spending too much and Democrats emphasizing the need to spend enough on education and other vital services. No one mentioned Branstad’s call to extend the penny sales tax for school infrastructure and divert part of the revenue stream to water programs.

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16 Iowa politics predictions for 2016

Hoping to improve on my percentages from last year, I offer sixteen Iowa politics predictions for 2016. Please spin your own scenarios in this thread.

I finally gave up on trying to predict whether Governor Terry Branstad will still be in office at the end of the year. Although his close adviser David Roederer "emphatically" says Branstad will serve out his sixth term, I am convinced the governor will resign early. But I can’t decide whether that will happen shortly after the November 2016 election or shortly after the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session.

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Weekend open thread: Gratitude and accountability edition

Happy new year, Bleeding Heartland readers! Here’s an open thread: all topics welcome.

I am grateful to everyone who contributed guest posts during 2015: Dave Swenson, Jon Muller, fladem, 2laneIA, ahawby, Julie Stauch, Susan Staed, Mike Owen, natewithglasses, sarased, frankly, Jane Kersch, aleand67, Matt Hauge, ModerateIADem, Leland Searles, Eileen Miller, Tracy Leone, Pari Kasotia, Roger Pedactor, Stacey Walker, Mike Draper, cocinero, AbramsMom, mrtyryn, desmoinesiowa15, moderatepachy, Joe Stutler, Zach Wahls, and State Representative Chuck Isenhart.

Guest authors can write about any political topic of state, local, or national importance. Pieces can be short or long, funny or serious. You do not need to contact me ahead of time with your story idea. Just register for a user account, log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit publish when you are ready. The piece will be "pending" until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares.

I also want to thank everyone who participates here by commenting on posts. If you’ve never done so, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so since this blog relaunched on a different software platform in October, you will need to reset your password. E-mail me with any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password; my address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

I wish everyone success in sticking to your new year’s resolutions. Keep in mind that new habits typically take a few months to establish. I’m still working on my list of Iowa politics predictions for 2016, but now seems like the right time to hold myself accountable for last year’s effort. Follow me after the jump to see how I did.

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