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Terry Branstad

IA-Gov: PPP poll shows cronyism/hush money scandal hurting Branstad

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 17:51:00 PM CDT

I've been meaning to catch up on the various Branstad administration scandals involving alleged politically-motivated firings, cronyism affecting state contracting and hiring for certain public positions, "hush money" paid in exchange for non-disclosure agreements with fired state employees, blacklists that prevent former employees from gaining other state jobs, interference in what should be non-political work, and possible misuse of federal funds by the Department of Administrative Services in order to make some of the unauthorized secret settlement payments. Governor Terry Branstad realized nearly two weeks ago that his quickie internal review and executive order on secret settlements were not sufficient. He fired Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll after Carroll gave inaccurate testimony at a legislative hearing. But almost every day, the Des Moines Register or some other media outlet has a new angle on alleged wrongdoing.

Last week's Loras College survey of Iowa Republicans indicated that Branstad has nothing to worry about from his GOP primary challenger, Tom Hoefling. But a Public Policy Polling survey released today shows Branstad's approval as low as I can remember seeing it during his current term, and the incumbent barely ahead of Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Full results from the survey are here (pdf). Highlights are after the jump.  

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Mid-week open thread: Who could have imagined?

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 16, 2014 at 19:45:00 PM CDT

Here's your mid-week open thread, Bleeding Heartland readers: all topics welcome.

I have been thinking about the latest Iowa Supreme Court decision a lot today. A year ago, I would have sworn that as long as Terry Branstad remains governor, there's nothing anyone can do for the thousands of ex-felons permanently disenfranchised in this state. Branstad couldn't wait to sign that executive order as soon as he was back in office. Under the convoluted procedure he created, only a small fraction of 1 percent of those who have completed their prison terms have managed to regain their voting rights.

The day State Senator Jack Hatch declared his candidacy for governor, I could never have imagined the unlikely chain of events that followed. First, arch-rivals Tony Bisignano and Ned Chiodo set their sights on Hatch's Iowa Senate seat. Then, Bisignano was caught driving drunk again. Then, Chiodo not only challenged Bisignano's right to seek office but continued to pursue his case in court after losing before a panel of top state officials. (In contrast, the voter who challenged State Senator Joe Seng's registration as a candidate in IA-02 two years ago dropped his effort after the same panel determined Seng had qualified for the primary ballot.)

Then, Chiodo refused to take the Polk County District Court's no for an answer. Still I had no clue where all this was going--until yesterday, when three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices determined that not all felonies should be considered "infamous crimes," which justify stripping Iowans of their rights as electors. Very soon, one or more non-violent felons are likely to file suit, demanding that their rights be restored. Depending on where Justice Brent Appel comes down on the issue (he recused himself from the Chiodo/Bisignano case), the Iowa Supreme Court may eventually declare unconstitutional the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies.

We don't know whether a majority on the court will take this stance. As Ryan Koopmans points out, the Chiodo ruling came out incredibly quickly. One or more of the justices may change his mind after reflecting on the issues for a while. Still, the potential for a major advance in Iowa voting rights is mind-blowing.  

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Weekend open thread: Church and state edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 13, 2014 at 07:15:00 AM CDT

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

The non-profit advocacy group Secularity USA brought world-famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to Des Moines on Saturday. I couldn't make it to the event; if you were there, please share your impressions. The mission of Secularity USA is to raise public awareness "of the dangers of religious bias in government and promoting the traditional separation of church and state." While Dawkins is a well-known atheist, Secularity USA seeks to unite "religious and nonreligious supporters of church-state separation."

Governor Terry Branstad signed a proclamation this week inviting "all Iowans who choose to join in thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14 in favor of our state and nation to come together on July 14, 2014." I wouldn't go so far as one blogger, who declared that Branstad "signed away separation of church and state," but it does seem inappropriate for the governor to lend his support to such a specific religious movement. The "Prayer 7-14-14" group, which is calling for the national day of prayer, sounds pretty far out there. Endorsing this project is different from routine appearances by governors at prayer breakfasts, or the prayers that typically open daily sessions in the Iowa House and Senate.

I wonder whether the governor's staff sensed that he crossed a line, because I didn't see any announcement of this event on the governor's official news feed. Normally that feed highlights several proclamation signings each week. It mentioned more than half a dozen other documents Branstad signed this past week--including, ironically, a proclamation for Muslim Recognition Day. Perhaps Branstad viewed inviting Iowans to pray on July 14 as nothing more than empty pandering to the FAMiLY Leader contingent, which is promoting the national prayer day. The governor hasn't elevated social conservative goals in most of his public speeches or in his legislative agenda.

Former Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan headlined an Iowa GOP fundraiser in Cedar Rapids last night. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. As usual for Ryan, he said little about social conservative priorities, focusing instead on federal budget and tax issues, Obamacare, and the need for Republican unity. But he did nod to his religious heritage by urging his audience to give up "infighting," "tunnel vision," and "acrimony" for Lent.

Last month I never managed to post a thread on one of this year's biggest news stories related to church-state separation: the U.S. Supreme Court considering what has become known as the Hobby Lobby case. After the jump I've posted six links on the oral arguments in that case, which will determine whether two corporations are entitled to a religious exemption from the 2010 health care reform law's contraception mandate.  

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Branstad, key Iowa House Republicans more open to medical cannabis

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 11:23:06 AM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use in Iowa, but on Monday he he signaled that he is open to taking a small step forward this year.

[I]t looks like we could end up with something that's very limited in focus, like as passed recently in Utah and Alabama," Branstad said. "I'm certainly working with legislators to see if there's a possibility to work something out on that before the legislature adjourns."

The new Utah law allows extract in oil form, but not smoking marijuana to treat a medical condition. Along the same lines, James Q. Lynch reported stunning news: Iowa House Public Safety Committee Chair Clel Baudler is open to legalizing the use of medical cannabis, in oil form. After meeting with parents whose children suffer from seizure disorders, Baudler said, "These little kids are taking some drugs that are really hot [...] So if we educate ourselves and possibly we can give them some relief, that's a good thing."

Last summer, Baudler bragged that he would wear as a "badge of honor" his designation as one of the country's ten worst state legislators, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

He and Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen indicated that to have any chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, a bill to legalize the use of cannabis would have to exclude marijuana that can be smoked. That will disappoint Iowans suffering from cancer, severe pain, or debilitating chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis. Smoking marijuana can ease nausea and other symptoms in such patients. Speaking to Lynch, Baudler said people who want to use cannabis to treat conditions other than seizure disorders should "Move to Colorado."

Even limited progress on this issue is welcome, but I hope Iowa lawmakers will move forward with a broader study of medical cannabis programs.

UPDATE: Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is willing to help "move a limited bill on medical cannabis oil forward." Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix is non-committal for now.  

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by: Supervisor Brent Oleson

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 18:12:24 PM CDT

(The author has been a Linn County Supervisor since 2009 and previously worked with the Iowa Senate Minority leader. Bleeding Heartland discussed the bipartisan effort to increase REAP funding to $25 million here. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

I'm gonna go on a rant...about an attempted RAPE.

Yes, I mean every word and hyperbole I'm uttering on this post. REAP (Resource Enhancement & Protection) is being RAPED! For Agriculture...by agri-business...to correct it's mistakes in a supposedly free and private market of farming. How is this rape of taxpayer funds and DNR license plate fees occurring and for what specifically? Read on My friends. 

The Iowa House of Representatives wants to put REAP dollars toward... agri-terrace projects, forestry management (subject to logging), and water nutrient pollution clean-up programs because farmland soil is laden with fertilizer chemicals. These are all worthy issues to be addressed on their own I say, and should indeed be addressed and monies put toward mitigation efforts. The Iowa Dept. Of Ag has jurisdiction on all these problems, and they should since their policies and practices created them in the first place.

This isn't an indictment of farmers, because most are great conservationists of their own free will as it's good business and good citizenship. I commend those Iowa farmers, especially my Linn County ones, who work hard to be responsible neighbors, citizens and conservationists...voluntarily I might add! But I don't give a pass to bad apples, policy-makers, or special interest Ag industry lobbyists.

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IA-Sen, IA-Gov, Iowa caucus: Highlights from the new Suffolk poll

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 09, 2014 at 15:40:00 PM CDT

The Suffolk University Political Research Center asked 800 Iowa "likely voters" about this year's biggest races. The margin of error for the survey, conducted between April 3 and April 8, is plus or minus 3.5 percent. Suffolk's press release summarizing the highlights is here. Full results are here (pdf). Tables are here (pdf).

Representative Bruce Braley leads all Republican rivals for U.S. Senate in the first Iowa poll conducted after Braley's comments about Senator Chuck Grassley gained wide attention. Braley is still better-known than the GOP candidates, and more Iowans have a favorable than unfavorable impression of him. The bad news for Braley is that he is below 40 percent against each of the Republican candidates.

Suffolk's poll indicates that the GOP IA-Sen primary is now a two-tier race, with State Senator Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs each commanding more than 20 percent support, and the other candidates in the single digits. That makes sense, since Ernst and Jacobs have the most establishment support and are the only Senate candidates who have been able to raise their name recognition through paid advertising. But 40 percent of respondents were undecided.

Governor Terry Branstad's still in positive territory, with 48.5 percent of respondents viewing him favorably and about 35.4 percent unfavorably. His lead over Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch is smaller in this poll than in any other Iowa survey I've seen, though: 42.4 percent to 32.1 percent.

Among respondents who said they are likely to participate in the 2016 Democratic caucuses, 63 percent favor Hillary Clinton. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren was far behind with 12 percent, followed by Vice President Joe Biden with 10 percent. It's hard to say who is really in second place, since the margin of error for the Democratic caucus-goer subsample is quite large (plus or minus 8.4 percent). Nevertheless, Clinton clearly maintains a commanding lead.

I wouldn't read much into the Iowa GOP caucus results from this survey. All the potential presidential candidates (Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Sarah Palin, Marco Rubio, and Condoleezza Rice) are clumped close together, between 6 and 11 percent support. That's within the the margin of error of plus or minus 8.7 percent for that subset of the Suffolk poll.

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Do minority party state legislators need to show up for work?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 17:10:00 PM CDT

The Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature today on retiring Republican State Senator Hubert Houser. Having served for ten years in the Iowa House and twelve in the Iowa Senate, Houser stopped showing up for work at the statehouse in early March. He plans to return only for "a day or two" at the end of the session. He has taken on more responsibilities at his family farm and contends that he doesn't need to be at the capitol, since Republicans are the minority party. They can't bring their own bills to the Iowa Senate floor and don't need Houser's vote.

On the one hand, I can imagine minority lawmakers must get tired of spending days at the Capitol, not accomplishing much while thinking about all the work that needs to be done at home. On the other hand, the Iowa legislature is only in session a few months of the year. Houser's constituents elected him to do a job. He's collecting a salary for work he isn't doing.

Asked to comment on Houser's prolonged absence today, Governor Terry Branstad said, "I respect individual legislators' right to make the decisions that they make with regards to their vote and things like that," adding that Houser has been a "great representative for the people of southwest Iowa."

Missed Iowa Senate votes may become a salient issue in the U.S. Senate race. In early March, Rod Boshart was the first to start tallying GOP State Senator Joni Ernst's many excused absences during this year's legislative session. Only a few of the missed days could be chalked up to National Guard duty; others were related to campaigning or fundraising for her U.S. Senate bid. Ernst's short political career doesn't open up many lines for attack, but this will be a big one for Democratic candidate Bruce Braley if he faces Ernst in the general election. Republican blogger Craig Robinson, who is supporting Mark Jacobs in the IA-Sen GOP primary, has repeatedly called attention to Ernst missing Iowa Senate votes this year. I would not be surprised to see Jacobs' campaign, or some dark money entity supporting him, make this case against Ernst before the June primary. Nick Ryan (best known to Bleeding Heartland readers as the head of the American Future Fund) is handling direct mail for the Jacobs campaign.

UPDATE: Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Secretary of the Senate Michael Marshall said Houser is still taking both his legislator's salary ($25,000 annually) and per diem expense reimbursement payments. Marshall said Ernst "has sometimes asked not to be provided legislative per diem payments for certain days."

Speaking to WHO-TV, Ernst said she has missed five days in the Iowa Senate this year for campaign-related activities.

SECOND UPDATE: Sounds like Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix leaned on Houser, who is now planning to show up for work and indicated that he will return per diem expense payments for days he's missed.

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Former administrative law judge sues state, Iowa Workforce Development Director Wahlert

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 04, 2014 at 07:28:00 AM CDT

The former Chief Administrative Law Judge for Iowa Workforce Development filed suit yesterday in Polk County District Court against the State of Iowa and Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert. You can read the full text of Joseph Walsh's lawsuit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted an excerpt from his case. Walsh alleges that the IWD director "interfere[d] with the administrative judicial process in order to favor employers," attempted "to illegally strip [Walsh] of his merit protection," and eventually retaliated by removing him in "a political reorganization disguised as a budget layoff."

I've also enclosed below a statement Wahlert released yesterday, denouncing the "frivolous lawsuit." Wahlert contends that while serving as chief administrative law judge, Walsh failed in basic management responsibilities.

Last month, Democratic State Senator Bill Dotzler asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate claims that Wahlert interfered with the work of Iowa's administrative law judges, hoping to secure more favorable outcomes for employers in unemployment cases. Governor Terry Branstad rejected Dotzler's allegations against Wahlert without conducting any internal review of the matter.

At a press conference in Des Moines on April 3, Walsh asserted that "in many ways this administration is tearing the Department of Workforce Development down." Wahlert's agency was at the center of political controversy in 2011, when the Branstad administration moved to replace dozens of Iowa Workforce Development field offices around the state with hundreds of computer terminal access points. That reorganization led to a lawsuit and eventually an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the governor had overstepped his authority by striking legislative language about the IWD offices without vetoing the money allocated to fund those offices.  

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IA-Sen: Braley learns painful lesson in 21st century campaigning (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 17:59:19 PM CDT

Every candidate for public office has to learn basic rules of campaigning, such as, "Every mic is a live mic." In other words, always assume you may be overheard when you stand next to a microphone, even if you think it's not turned on.

In the age of camera phones and YouTube, candidates may be speaking into a live mic even when there's no microphone to be seen. Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, learned that lesson the hard way today.  

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No-brainer: fired Iowa DCI agent wants his job back

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 09:50:00 AM CDT

The career Division of Criminal Investigation agent who lost his job shortly after reporting a speeding incident involving Governor Terry Branstad's SUV is willing to drop his lawsuit against the state if he can get his old job back, James Q. Lynch reported yesterday for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

"He is interested in returning and it's our understanding the position is still available," said Tom Duff, a Des Moines attorney representing former DCI special agent Larry Hedlund.

Hedlund was a central figure in a high-profile incident last April where a state trooper driving an SUV carrying Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was clocked driving 84 mph in a 65-mph zone. [...]

Although officially retired now, Hedlund is interested in returning to work, Duff said. Since the incident, the director of the Department of Public Safety has left state employment and two others involved in the handling of the Hedlund case have moved to other jobs.

The former Department of Public Safety chief was Brian London, who stepped down last September. His tenure at the agency was a real train wreck. The Iowa Senate recently confirmed Larry Noble to run the department again; he was Branstad's first choice for that job.

By many accounts, Hedlund was a solid employee during his long career at the DCI. If he is willing to work there again, rehiring him seems like an easy call. I can't imagine why the state would prefer to roll the dice on expensive litigation. Court hearings would only generate more coverage of Hedlund being forced out. Hedlund's attorney told Lynch that he has not heard back yet from the Iowa Attorney General's Office.  

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"Accountability, openness, and transparency" are in the eye of the beholder (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 12:35:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad responded today to two political scandals that broke while he was on vacation last week. The big news was the governor signing an executive order "to increase accountability, openness and transparency of employee settlements."

Branstad's behavior reflects an odd understanding of those words. He is not holding anyone accountable for forcing out permanent employees and attempting to keep settlement deals a secret. His administration's alleged "thorough review" of the deals took place behind closed doors over the span of a few days. Branstad rejected any outside investigation of the matter and dismissed accusations against Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert without even basic fact-finding.  

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Spiker takes parting shot at Branstad over medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 09:56:39 AM CDT

A few days before he will formally step down as the Republican Party of Iowa's leader, A.J. Spiker advocated legalizing medical marijuana in a guest editorial for the Sunday Des Moines Register. Excerpts from Spiker's column are after the jump. Framing the case for medical cannabis in terms of personal freedom, Spiker rebuked Republicans who have been unwilling to acknowledge strong arguments for allowing doctors to prescribe the drug. While he didn't name names, his points came across as a rebuttal to Governor Terry Branstad, who would rather drag his feet on this issue.

Spiker and Branstad have clashed repeatedly, and it's an open secret that the governor hasn't been happy with the Iowa GOP's priorities or fundraising since Spiker took over from Matt Strawn in early 2012. It's shrewd for Spiker to stake a claim for medical marijuana, a position that is increasingly popular, especially with younger voters. Now his last impression as state party chair will be as a forward-thinking leader, rather than the guy who sometimes seemed to care more about Ron Paul's Liberty movement than about electing Republicans.  

Speaking of medical marijuana, the issue was the focus of last Friday's edition of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. Steve Lukan, director of the governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, appeared along with West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer and State Senator Joe Bolkcom, leading advocates for legalizing medical cannabis using the New Mexico model. The video and transcript are available here. I was disappointed to see Lukan basically repeat the same talking points throughout the program, without acknowledging that many legal drugs can also be abused and may have devastating side effects for patients. Branstad didn't search for anyone with expertise in drug policy before offering the state's top job in this area to Lukan.

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Weekend open thread: Infamous crimes and aggravated misdemeanors

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 22, 2014 at 17:31:10 PM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

Ned Chiodo's challenge to Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for Iowa Senate district 17 has brought new attention to some legal confusion over which crimes can cause Iowans to lose their voting rights. The Iowa Constitution does not specify which "infamous crimes" should disqualify citizens from voting or holding public office. Chiodo's attorney cites case law from the Iowa Supreme Court suggesting that aggravated misdemeanors as well as felonies can be considered "infamous crimes." Yet a law passed in 1994 defined "infamous crimes" as state or federal felonies.

State Representative Mary Wolfe, an Iowa House Democrat who is also a criminal defense attorney, just reposted a piece she wrote in 2012, explaining why aggravated misdemeanor convictions do not disqualify voters. (I recommend clicking through to read her whole analysis.) Wolfe notes with dismay the "complete and total disconnect between Iowa's Governor and Secretary of State on such a straightforward, yes or no issue." Secretary of State Matt Schultz's website correctly indicates that convicted felons whose rights have not been restored may not register to vote. However, Governor Terry Branstad's website states that "infamous crimes" may include aggravated misdemeanors and any crime that "may be punishable" by more than one year in prison. That could include a long list of offenses, including the second Operating While Intoxicated charge to which Bisignano pled guilty earlier this year.

At this writing, Branstad's website still contains that misinformation about some aggravated misdemeanors leading to the loss of voting rights, even though Branstad himself signed the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Speaking to reporters a few weeks ago in defense of his policy permanently disenfranchising all but a handful of ex-felons, the governor equated "infamous crimes" with felonies.

Because Chiodo plans to take his case to court, a Polk County District judge (and perhaps eventually the full Iowa Supreme Court) will settle any questions over whether Iowa's 1994 law supersedes previous court rulings on this issue.  

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Matt Schultz spins voter fraud acquittal as success

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 10:52:34 AM CDT

Most people familiar with the criminal justice system understand that a jury acquittal after less than an hour is an embarrassing loss for the prosecutor and a sign that the case should never have come to trial.

Then there's Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Having spent major political capital (not to mention hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars) to spin simple errors into grand criminal conspiracies, he managed to claim victory yesterday when a Lee County jury declared an ineligible voter not guilty of perjury.

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Bipartisan group pushing Iowa legislative study of medical marijuana

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 20, 2014 at 09:58:09 AM CDT

What a difference a month makes. Four weeks ago, State Senator Joe Bolkcom declared his bill to legalize the medical use of cannabis dead on the same day he introduced it. Now five Republican senators have joined Bolkcom and four other Iowa Senate Democrats seeking to advance the conversation about medical marijuana before next year's legislative session.

Click here to read the full text of Senate Resolution 112, which requests the creation of an interim study committee "to make recommendations on the feasibility of establishing a medical cannabis program in this state allowing qualifying resident patients to purchase and possess cannabis for medical purposes, and to file a final report including recommendations with the general assembly by December 30, 2014." If the Senate approves the resolution, the Iowa Legislative Council led by House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal will likely approve a study committee to evaluate medical marijuana later this year.

Depending on the study committee's conclusions, a medical marijuana bill might garner more bipartisan support during the 2015 legislative session. Kudos to Democrats Bolkcom, Matt McCoy, Bill Dotzler, Jack Hatch, and Tom Courtney, and Republicans Ken Rozenboom, Mike Breitbach, Brad Zaun, Amy Sinclair, and Charles Schneider for supporting this resolution. It's worth noting that all five Republican co-sponsors were elected to the Iowa Senate in 2012 and therefore will not face re-election again until 2016. Consequently, all five will be serving in the Iowa Senate next year, regardless of which party controls the chamber after the 2014 elections.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hatch has long been on record supporting medical marijuana in Iowa. Earlier this month, Governor Terry Branstad warned of "unintended consequences" and said much more study of the issue is needed.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that while Zaun isn't up for re-election to the state Senate this year, he is one of six GOP candidates running in Iowa's third Congressional district. I wonder whether any of his rivals in IA-03 will criticize this stance.

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Branstad administration scandal news and reaction thread (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 17:22:50 PM CDT

While Governor Terry Branstad vacations in Arizona this week, his administration is facing new allegations of misconduct. As first reported in the Sunday Des Moines Register, at least six former state employees were offered secret settlement deals after claiming they were forced out of their jobs for political reasons. Today, Democratic State Senator Bill Dotzler announced that he is seeking a federal investigation into the actions of Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert, whom Dotzler accused of interfering with the work of administrative law judges.

After the jump I've posted several links about both scandals as well as some political reaction. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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IA-Gov: Terry Branstad has primary challenger, Jack Hatch does not

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 15, 2014 at 15:36:30 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad's Republican challenger, Tom Hoefling, has qualified for the primary ballot after submitting his nominating petitions on March 14, the final day. I don't see any way Hoefling could win a primary, but it will be interesting to see how large the conservative protest vote is against Branstad. GOP turnout should be larger than usual on June 3, because of competitive primaries for the U.S. Senate seat and the first, second, and third Congressional districts.

Last night the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicated that Jonathan Narcisse filed papers to run for governor as a Democrat. However, his petitions must not have had enough valid signatures, because his name does not appear on the full candidate list (pdf). The other long-shot Democratic hopeful, Paul Dahl, apparently never filed petitions. That leaves State Senator Jack Hatch as the lone Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In other statewide candidate news, no Republicans stepped up to run against Attorney General Tom Miller or State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald. By this time in 2010, Brenna Findley was already campaigning around the state against Miller, and two Republicans were running for treasurer.

As expected, Sherrie Taha is the Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture; she will face GOP incumbent Bill Northey. Jon Neiderbach is the Democratic candidate for state auditor; he will face GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman, whom Branstad appointed last year. The secretary of state's race pits Democrat Brad Anderson against Republican Paul Pate. 2010 Libertarian nominee Jake Porter also plans to register for the ballot this summer.

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Medical marijuana links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 13:48:03 PM CDT

I've been meaning to put up a thread on efforts to legalize cannabis for medical use in Iowa. State Senator Joe Bolkcom has been the lead sponsor of a bill that would create "a state regulated system to provide medical cannabis to Iowans under a doctor's care." Senate File 2215 (full text) did not meet the Iowa legislature's first "funnel" deadline because of a lack of support from statehouse Republicans. However, more recently GOP lawmakers including Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, a nurse practitioner, have said they are open to discussions on the issue. Iowa House Republican Clel Baudler, who helped kill a similar bill last year, is dead-set against what he calls an "asinine" idea.

The Iowa Medical Marijuana website includes much more background on efforts to legalize the medical use of cannabis. The front page of that site includes links to recent news coverage and videos from an Iowa Senate hearing on March 5. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta changed his mind on the medical uses of marijuana while working on a documentary last year.

After the jump I've enclosed a statement from Bolkcom explaining the key points of SF 2215, highlights from the Des Moines Register's latest polling on the issue, and comments from Governor Terry Branstad, West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, and Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Any relevant thoughts or predictions are welcome in this thread. I expect advocates will have to work for at least a few more years before Iowa joins the 20 states and Washington, DC where medical marijuana is already legal.  

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Sioux City suing state to block traffic camera rules

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 13, 2014 at 09:35:31 AM CDT

As Bleeding Heartland has discussed before, I've long felt that Governor Terry Branstad's disregard for local government authority is one of the most under-reported Iowa political stories of the last few years. The Iowa Department of Transportation's new rules restricting cities' use of traffic cameras is one of many examples. Bills seeking to ban local governments from using traffic cameras for law enforcement stalled during the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions. The Iowa DOT's new rules went into effect last month; they do not prohibit all use of traffic cameras but require annual reviews to show the cameras are improving safety and not just serving as a revenue source for local government.

Sioux City is one of many Iowa municipalities that have installed traffic cameras on some major roads and intersections. The Iowa DOT gave Sioux City officials "until May 1 to justify the use of two speed cameras and seven of its 11 red-light cameras." Now the city government has filed a lawsuit claiming the state department exceeded its authority.

Assistant City attorney, Justin Vondrak, filed the judicial review action in Woodbury County District Court and says the DOT regulations make it almost impossible for the city to use speed cameras along Interstate 29 within the city limits. "What we're asking for is a review of the rules and to eventually have the rules determined to be unconstitutional based on the city's home rule authority, as well as other Iowa code sections which grant the city joint jurisdiction with the DOT for traffic enforcement upon the primary roadways within the city's jurisdiction," according to Vondrak.

More details on the lawsuit are after the jump.

Whatever the District Court rules, I expect the losing side to appeal and would not be surprised to see the Iowa Supreme Court eventually decide this matter. The case raises interesting questions about local and state government powers. On a related note, I still think some municipality should have challenged Governor Branstad's executive order on project labor agreements in court.

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Governor's Nomination for State Mental Health and Disability Commission leaves a lot to be desired.

by: Iowa_native

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 22:38:10 PM CDT

Despite a 2012 wave year for President Obama in Iowa, there were cracks down ticket and a perfect example is what happened in Boone County. Despite BOTH Christie Vilsack and Obama taking Boone County, the local GOP outworked and pushed a single vote effort on two possible County Supervisor seats and was able to unseat an incumbent Democrat County Supervisor with Republican Chet  Hollingshead, a local farmer with strong family ties to the county chapter of the Farm Bureau. Also on his list of major supporters was Governor Branstad and then Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn.

Already serving on the Ogden School Board as President when he won election to County Supervisor he refused to step down and served in both positions for almost a year.   However that year was not without increasing rumors of poor relations with other elected officials and a reported lack of focus on a number of issues. 

But it was in August of last year that Hollingshead outdid the rumors and was caught by police with a stolen neon bar sign worth $500. Caught may be a little harsh, he literally unplugged the sign, took it off the wall and went out the door but walking straight into the cops who happened to be across the street. (To see the local newspaper story and mugshot click here: http://newsrepublican.com/news/boone-county-supervisor-charged-theft.html)

What followed was what could be expected, bipartisan local outrage from many residents. Many people called for his resignation and with the original charge he would have had too, but it was pled down to a lesser charge and was given a fine with probation. At the same time this was happening, Hollingshead stated his intent not to run for reelection to the Ogden School Board but having missed the deadline to remove his name from the ballot was not unsurprisingly trounced last November. 

(To see the plea details: http://amestrib.com/sections/news/iowa/boone-county-supervisor-pleads-guilty-theft.html

Despite all his current personal issues and still serving probation Hollingshead has been nominated by the Governor's Office for the State Mental Health and Disability Commission. Once considered a rising star, the Governor has come to the rescue of a fellow Republican in dire need of salvaging his reputation. The State of Iowa is in the middle of a massive transition from a county based service model to a regional one in dealing with mental health services. It is increasingly becoming a front line issue at the local and state level and will no doubt bring increased media/press attention to leaders on the effort, a prime opportunity for a former rising star to shine again. 


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