IA-Gov: Boulton, Hubbell lead in early legislative endorsements

State Senator Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell have locked up more support among state lawmakers than the five other Democrats running for governor combined.

Whether legislative endorsements will matter in the 2018 gubernatorial race is an open question. The overwhelming majority of state lawmakers backed Mike Blouin before the 2006 gubernatorial primary, which Chet Culver won. Last year, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge won the nomination for U.S. Senate, even though about 60 current and 30 former Democratic lawmakers had endorsed State Senator Rob Hogg.

Nevertheless, prominent supporters can provide a clue to activists or journalists about which primary contenders are well-positioned. Where things stand:

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Weekend open thread: Short-sighted elected officials edition

Who knew that when you tell a state agency leader to save another $1.3 million somehow, he might cut some important programs and services? Not State Representative Dave Heaton, the Republican chair of the Iowa legislature’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Who knew that when you impeach a mayor using a kangaroo court proceeding, a judge might order the mayor reinstated while her appeal is pending? Not Muscatine City Council members.

Follow me after the jump for more on those stories. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I’m also interested to know what readers think about Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen’s request to waive certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act in order to bring Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield back to Iowa’s individual insurance market for 2018. Elements of the “stopgap” measure violate federal law; health care law expert Timothy Jost told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys that some parts of Ommen’s proposal are “extremely problematic” and not likely “doable.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anna Wilde Mathews and Louise Radnofsky saw the Iowa developments as “a key test of the ability to modify the [Affordable Care Act] through executive authority.” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann agreed.

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Will Kim Reynolds change DHS policy, or just directors?

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer is retiring effective June 16, Governor Kim Reynolds announced today. Critics including Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy have called on Palmer to resign for months, charging that inadequate staffing at DHS facilitated more suffering and premature deaths among abused children. The department’s handling of Medicaid privatization has also drawn criticism. Despite Palmer’s promises to hold the line, the DHS agreed to pay private insurance companies more for managing Medicaid. In addition, DHS officials have downplayed numerous, ongoing reports of those companies cutting back on health care services and failing to reimburse providers promptly or adequately.

In keeping with Governor Terry Branstad’s playbook when Teresa Wahlert ended her disastrous tenure at Iowa Workforce Development, Reynolds didn’t acknowledge any problems with Palmer’s management of the DHS today. On the contrary, she and acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg praised Palmer’s work in the official press release, enclosed in full below.

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Branstad/Reynolds claims on Medicaid "not matching reality"

Real-world data don’t match figures Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds released yesterday in order to demonstrated the alleged “continued success of modernizing our state’s Medicaid program.”

April 1 marked a year since Iowa allowed three private insurance companies to manage care for more than half a million Medicaid recipients. The shift was disruptive for thousands of Iowans as well as for caseworkers and service providers, some of which went out of business. Reimbursement problems and cutbacks to care are still affecting many people, Chelsea Keenan reported in this retrospective on the first year of the policy.

Although privatization was supposedly designed to save money and bring predictability to the state budget, the Branstad administration agreed last fall and again in February to hand over millions more state dollars to the managed-care organizations (MCOs), unlocking some $225 million in extra federal funding for the corporations, which have much higher administrative costs than Iowa’s state-run Medicaid program did.

I enclose below the latest deceptive official statements about the “modernization,” along with a demolition fact-checking job by Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis. I’ve also included independent State Senator David Johnson’s reaction to what he called a “lousy, lousy” press release. While still a member of the Republican caucus during the 2016 legislative session, Johnson worked with Democrats trying to halt Medicaid privatization or at least provide stronger legislative oversight of the program.

The Iowa Hospital Association can’t substantiate the Branstad/Reynolds claims on hospitalization rates, Tony Leys reported yesterday for the Des Moines Register. Excerpts from that story are at the end of this post.

On a related note: thousands of Iowans who follow this issue closely are mourning Rhonda Shouse, who died unexpectedly in late March. I never met Rhonda in person, but we communicated through social media, and I admired her relentless advocacy on behalf of those adversely affected by Medicaid privatization. Keenan marked her passing in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Leys did so in the Des Moines Register. May her memory always be for a blessing.

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Iowa Democrats, talk less about ALEC and more about people's lives

Thousands of Iowans will suffer brutal consequences from the two major bills Republican senators approved Monday. House File 295 blocks local governments from raising the minimum wage. Once Governor Terry Branstad signs the bill, thousands of people working in Linn, Johnson, and Wapello counties will get an immediate pay cut. Some 25,000 people in Polk County will be stuck earning $7.25 an hour, instead of getting a raise to $8.75, beginning next week. House File 518 will make it harder for employees to file workers’ compensation claims and will vastly reduce benefits for those who do qualify, especially anyone with a shoulder injury.

Both bills passed on party-line 29-21 votes after Republicans had rejected every effort to mitigate the harm done to working people.

As each Democratic amendment went down during hours of debate on the Senate floor, feelings of sadness, disgust and anger came through in the speeches of some Democrats and independent State Senator David Johnson. Why are you doing this, several asked their GOP colleagues. You don’t have to follow your floor manager, some pleaded. You can reject the “shameful” attempt to target poor people or those affected by life-altering workplace accidents.

Another dismal day in the Iowa legislature provoked an outpouring on social media, where progressive activists have mobilized this year in response to the Republican agenda. A measurable wave of “greater grassroots activism on the political left” is one of the few bright spots in the national landscape. In Iowa too, ordinary people are contacting their state lawmakers in record numbers and showing up to challenge them at district forums.

Watching these discussions unfold, I’ve noticed a reflexive tendency to blame one destructive Iowa GOP bill after another on the Koch brothers or the American Legislative Exchange Council. The more Democrats make the conversation about Koch money or ALEC, the easier it is for Republicans to avoid talking about the real-world consequences of their actions.

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Everything you want to know about Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.

Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a “time certain” today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House–including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don’t know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.

Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature’s least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of “stalling” while his party had shown an “incredible amount of patience.” Nothing says “patient” like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.

Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad’s chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.

Iowa’s largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to “public safety” workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.

I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today’s action “will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century.”

GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson’s case against the bill is convincing.

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