Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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Kent Sorenson's prison sentence will stand

A panel of judges on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found that U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt did not abuse his discretion by sentencing former State Senator Kent Sorenson to 15 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had recommended probation after Sorenson admitted to taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul for president, citing his cooperation with investigations of former Paul campaign operatives. But Pratt concluded that “Defendant’s conduct, viewed through the lens of America’s traditional understanding of the profound evils of political corruption, requires a substantial sentence.” A term of probation would not “reflect the seriousness” of his offenses, nor would it “deter others from engaging in similar criminal conduct.”

Sorenson appealed the sentence on several grounds. The Appeals Court found Pratt was not required to consider the value of Sorenson’s campaign work as a mitigating factor, nor was he wrong to consider the senator’s public office when imposing a sentence. I enclose below today’s full decision from the Eighth Circuit panel. You can read the District Court’s lengthy sentencing memorandum here.

Sorenson began serving time in March at a federal prison in Illinois. According to a September blog post by Shawnee Sorenson, her husband will transfer to a halfway house in January to finish his sentence. She had previously accused Judge Pratt of imposing a harsh punishment as “retribution for the work Kent did to unseat three unlawful Supreme Court Justices and unseat a current Supreme Court Justices [sic] wife.” Sorenson campaigned against retaining three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010, the same year he defeated Democratic State Senator Staci Appel. Her husband, Brent Appel, continues to serve on the high court.

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How Iowa could have lost three Supreme Court justices in 2016

Remember how awful you felt on November 9, 2016, as you started to grasp what we were up against following the most devastating Iowa election in decades?

Would you believe the results could have been even worse?

Imagine Governor Terry Branstad appointing three right-wingers to the Iowa Supreme Court. It could have happened if conservative groups had targeted Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel, and Justice Daryl Hecht with the resources and fervor they had applied against three justices in 2010.

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Muscatine official hides cost of crusade against mayor

Going into tomorrow’s mayoral and city council elections, citizens of Muscatine have no idea how much city leaders spent on the unsuccessful and unconstitutional attempt to remove Mayor Diana Broderson from office. Key internal correspondence related to the long-running power struggle and “kangaroo court” removal proceeding has also been shielded from public view.

City administrator Gregg Mandsager has thwarted records requests from local media by charging outrageous fees for obtaining documents or by redacting information from records provided.

Mandsager’s approach has subverted the spirit of the open records law, raising more questions about the advice Muscatine officials have received from city attorney Matthew Brick.

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