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Terry Branstad

School Start Dates Have Nothing to Do With Tourism

by: daveswen

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 10:15:00 AM CDT

(Not the first time and won't be the last that Iowa lawmakers get bogged down in a dispute based on a false premise. Click here to read the full text of the school start date bill and here for the bill history, which shows how it changed from the Iowa Senate version to what passed the House. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
 
We have a debate in the Iowa Assembly on constraining early school starts.  It arose after the Iowa Department of Education indicated it would no longer routinely approve school starts prior to the week containing the 1st day of September.  Governor Branstad weighed in as well indicating that early start dates negatively affected attendance at the State Fair and threatened tourism.   School districts squawked, and the legislature weighed-in. The current Iowa House bill wants no starts prior to the 23rd of August, which is around the time when the State Fair typically ends.  The Iowa Senate would allow districts to set school dates based on their localized preferences. Reconcilliation is in order.
 
Without citing any evidence at all, school start dates and tourism were pitted to be at odds with each other.  But it is a phony argument: there is no evidence that early start dates interfere in any meaningful sense with the Iowa State Fair or with any other tourism activity in Iowa.   
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Branstad insists he pressured Workers' Comp official because of business, not bias

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 19, 2015 at 10:17:05 AM CDT

New details have emerged about Governor Terry Branstad's testimony in the lawsuit Iowa's former Workers' Compensation Commissioner filed three years ago, charging discrimination, defamation, and other claims. Ryan Foley of the Associated Press reported highlights from the transcript of Branstad's deposition last November.
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Three ways to help save an important rule for Iowa water and soil

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 18, 2015 at 07:30:17 AM CDT

The next few weeks will be critically important for deciding whether Iowa keeps a statewide rule designed to preserve topsoil and reduce stormwater runoff, which carries pollution to our waterways. Bleeding Heartland discussed the 4-inch topsoil rule here and here. Todd Dorman has been on the case with several good columns for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, most recently here.

Follow me after the jump for background on the issue and details on how to weigh in. Submitting a comment takes only a few minutes, or Iowans may attend public hearings in Cedar Rapids tonight, Davenport on March 25, or Des Moines on March 27 (scroll down for times and locations).

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U.S. Department of Labor wants Branstad administration to clean up Teresa Wahlert's mess

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 12:16:30 PM CDT

The U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration has given Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend a list of tasks to "strengthen Iowa's compliance with Federal law" and address various concerns about the actions of Teresa Wahlert, Townsend's predecessor.

It's another sign that while Wahlert may not be Governor Terry Branstad's worst appointee during his current administration, she's a solid contender.

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New AFSCME contract: Branstad gets his way on salaries but not on health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 16, 2015 at 18:14:54 PM CDT

For the third time in a row, binding arbitration was needed to finalize a two-year contract for state workers covered by Iowa's largest labor union. For the first time in decades, workers covered by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will pay a small amount toward their health insurance premiums, but not nearly as large a share as Governor Terry Branstad wanted them to contribute.

On the other hand, the arbitrator accepted the state's final offer on salary increases for the roughly 40,000 public employees covered by AFSCME Iowa Council 61. Details are after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: New jobs for former Iowa lawmakers edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 09:56:11 AM CDT

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

Looking through Governor Terry Branstad's latest set of appointments and nominations, I was again struck by how many former Iowa House and Senate members end up on state boards and commissions. I remember Governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver appointing lawmakers to high-profile jobs too, but the trend seems more pronounced under the current governor. Background and details on the new appointees are after the jump.

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Iowa GOP chooses Boone site for revamped straw poll

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 11:40:00 AM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee voted this morning to hold this year's presidential candidate "straw poll" at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone on August 8. Three other sites were considered: the Iowa State Center in Ames, the Iowa Speedway in Newton, and Drake University in Des Moines. I figured Ames would be rejected to draw a clear line between the much-maligned "Ames Straw Poll" and the future. I figured Drake was out because it is the new home of the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement. The Newton Speedway is relatively accessible from all corners of the state, but Newton lies east of Des Moines area--the "wrong" direction from the perspective of the GOP base. Boone is more geographically central for the Republican activist community. The fact that Governor Terry Branstad used to live in Boone probably didn't hurt either.

In a press release I've enclosed below, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann said the Boone location will help "showcase" Iowa's agricultural heritage and "keep ticket prices affordable." Speaking to reporters this morning, Kaufmann said

"Now comes the brass tacks. Now comes the actual details of how the voting will occur," Kaufmann said. "How are we going to go about being fair to the candidates who decide to participate? How much we're going to be aggressive toward sponsors all the way to exactly what is it that we are going to have to charge in order to be fair to the Iowa Republicans that want to attend, but at the same time making sure that our bottom line is guarded."

I expect this summer's event will much resemble previous straw polls, perhaps with less of a "winnowing" effect. Poor showings at the 2008 and 2012 straw polls prompted Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty to make early exits from the presidential race.

UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Kathie Obradovich's commentary.

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Two ways 40,000 Iowans could lose their health insurance

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 14:40:13 PM CST

At least 40,000 Iowans are in danger of losing their health insurance later this year, and not only because of the King v Burwell case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Regardless of how justices decide that case, Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies they need to buy insurance policies.

State legislators and Governor Terry Branstad could eliminate the risk by working together to establish a fully state-run health insurance exchange this year. But for reasons I can't comprehend, I see no sense of urgency to prevent a potentially devastating outcome for thousands of families.  

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Iowa Democratic lawmakers seeking to expand medical cannabis law

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2015 at 16:15:45 PM CST

Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom has introduced a bill to make medical marijuana more broadly available to Iowans suffering from life-threatening or chronic illnesses. Senate Study Bill 1243 would allow the possession and use of medical cannabis (not just the cannabis oil derivative legalized last year) for any of the following "debilitating medical conditions": cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS or HIV, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (often known as Lou Gehrig's disease), Ehlers-danlos syndrome, or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Scroll to the end of this post for a detailed summary of the bill.

The latest Des Moines Register poll by Selzer & Co indicates that 70 percent of Iowans favor allowing medical marijuana use. Yet Iowa's new law allowing cannabis oil treatments has yet to benefit a single patient. Nevertheless, persuading Iowa House Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad to legalize marijuana for additional medical conditions may be an uphill battle. Follow me after the jump for more background on this issue, and excerpts from recent testimony before members of the Iowa Senate.

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Bakken pipeline links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 09:51:19 AM CST

The proposed Bakken pipeline is one of the most urgent issues facing Iowa's environmental community. The Texas-based company Energy Transfer Partners wants to build the pipeline to transport crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing eighteen Iowa counties in the process. Governor Terry Branstad has made clear he won't support any legislative action to stop the pipeline. That will leave the initial decision up to the Iowa Utilities Board, though approval by other state and federal agencies would be needed later; more details on that are below.

Two dozen non-profit groups have formed a coalition to fight the pipeline. You can keep up with their work on Facebook or at the No Bakken website. I'm active with several of the coalition members and enclosed the full list after the jump. The Sierra Club's Iowa chapter outlined some of the key concerns concisely and explained how members of the public can submit comments.

Former state legislator Ed Fallon, who ran for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, is kicking off a 400-mile walk along the proposed pipeline route today, starting from southeast Iowa and heading northwest over the next several weeks. I've enclosed below an excerpt from his first e-mail update about the walk, in which Fallon recounts a conversation with Lee County farmers whose land lies along the proposed pipeline route. Click here to view upcoming events, including a public meetings for residents of Lee County this evening, for Van Buren County residents in Birmingham on March 5, and for Jefferson County residents in Fairfield on March 6.

The latest Iowa poll conducted by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found that a majority of Iowans support the Bakken pipeline, but a larger majority oppose using eminent domain to seize land for the pipeline. Excerpts from the Iowa poll findings are at the end of this post.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - The company that wants to build the pipeline has claimed "the project would have an Iowa economic impact of $1.1 billion during two years of construction, creating enough work to keep 7,600 workers employed for a year." Economist Dave Swenson explained here why such estimates are misleading.

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Branstad signs gas tax hike, immediately calls for expediting new lane construction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 13:00:00 PM CST

This morning Governor Terry Branstad signed Senate File 257, which raises the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and includes several other provisions related to transportation funding, permit fees, and fuel taxes. The Iowa House and Senate just approved the bill yesterday, with substantial bipartisan support and opposition in both chambers.

Gas tax revenues go into Iowa's Road Use Tax Fund, which distributes money among state, county and local governments according to a set formula. Because Iowa lawmakers did not incorporate any  "fix it first" language in Senate File 257, I remain concerned that the bulk of the new money will be spent on new road construction or building new lanes on existing roads, rather than on fixing the crumbling infrastructure that was cited to justify this tax increase. Branstad already signaled as much this morning:

Branstad said having the tax hike go into effect March 1 means the state will collect more fuel taxes than expected in the last four months of the state fiscal year - and the starting date for some road and bridge projects may be moved up.

"Highway 20 is one of those that has been around for a long time and we want to see that completed and moved up," Branstad said, "and this is a way that hopefully that and other key projects can get priority and be expedited."

The project to expand all 300 miles of the Highway 20 route from Dubuque and Sioux City into a divided four-lane highway began 50 years ago. Branstad told reporters this morning that he's recently talked with the Iowa DOT's director about speeding up the Highway 20 project.

Current Road Use Tax Fund revenues fall an estimated $215 million short of what Iowa needs annually to maintain existing infrastructure. According to the fiscal note produced by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 257 will bring in a little more than $200 million in additional funds each year for the next several years. Money spent on new roads or new lanes on roads like Highway 20 won't help us catch up with ongoing maintenance needs. How many structurally deficient bridges won't be fixed because four-laning Highway 20 was expedited? The same dynamic could play out in many counties and local governments too, because new roads or road expansions are often seen as better economic development than fixing a road or bridge that's in bad shape.

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The Iowa Board of Medicine's grotesque double-standard on protecting women

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 14, 2015 at 15:00:00 PM CST

The Iowa Board of Medicine released a remarkable file on Thursday detailing its settlement agreement with Dr. Fredric Sager, an obstetrician/gynecologist based in Clive. You can read the full document here (pdf). After the jump I've enclosed the first five pages, which cover the charges of "unethical or unprofessional conduct" and "disruptive behavior," as well as the main terms of the settlement. Reading what Sager did with some of his patients, including staying with them at his vacation home in Florida, it's mind-boggling that his license to practice medicine was not revoked or at least suspended. Instead, he will pay a fine of $7,500 (a token amount for a well-compensated doctor in Iowa), undergo some counseling on "professional boundaries," transfer certain patients out of his care, and be forced to have a "female healthcare professional chaperone" present when treating female patients in the future.

Multiple acquaintances who work with vulnerable populations in Polk County have told me that Sager treated many patients without a strong support system, such as pregnant teens, homeless youth, and young single women. In fact, one person had heard a teen in Sager's care talk about possibly going to Florida with him, but brushed it off as delusional thinking. It makes me sick that the Iowa Board of Medicine is allowing him to continue to practice medicine as an OB/GYN--even with a chaperone--after establishing his pattern of predatory and inappropriate behavior with patients.  

In contrast, the state Board of Medicine rushed through without adequate public input a rule banning the use of "telemedicine" for medical abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics around Iowa. Board members moved to ban that procedure despite studies demonstrating the safety of telemedicine abortions. Advocates were not able to cite any evidence of adverse outcomes among more than 5,000 Iowa women who had used the teleconferencing system to receive abortifacients. Planned Parenthood's lawsuit challenging the state rule is pending before the Iowa Supreme Court.

Governor Terry Branstad appointed all ten current members of the Iowa Board of Medicine. Six are physicians, and four are members of the public.  

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Iowa legislative state of play on school funding

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 12:30:37 PM CST

A standoff over state funding for K-12 education appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has approved legislation setting "allowable growth" in state funding to school districts at 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016; the House Journal for January 27 includes details on the debate, during which members rejected on a party-line vote a Democratic amendment to increase school spending, and later approved House File 80, also along party lines. House Republicans reportedly support a 2.45 percent increase in school funding for fiscal year 2017 but have not brought legislation before the full chamber yet.

Meanwhile, Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are committed to setting allowable growth at 4 percent for each of the next two fiscal years. Many education groups have lobbied lawmakers for at least 4 percent allowable growth, and in a Senate Democratic survey of Iowa superintendents, 96 percent of respondents said the appropriate level of supplemental state aid for the coming fiscal year should be 4 percent or higher.

Yesterday four education funding bills passed the upper chamber; a statement enclosed after the jump covers the key points in each bill. The legislation setting allowable growth at 4 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2017 passed on party-line votes (roll calls are in the Senate Journal). Republicans joined their colleagues to unanimously approve the other two bills, which would "have the state pick up the 12.5 percent property tax share under the state's foundation aid formula for both fiscal years." Rod Boshart summed up the bottom line:

Under the GOP approach, current state per-pupil funding of $6,366 would grow by $80 in fiscal 2016 and another $158 in fiscal 2017. By contrast, the Senate's 4 percent position would boost per-pupil funding to $6,621 for the 2015-16 academic year and $6,886 the following school year.

Or to view it another way, the House approach would include nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school funding for fiscal year 2016, while the Senate approach would provide an additional $212 million this coming year and $217 million the following year.

The obvious compromise would be to increase school aid by somewhere between 2-3 percent for each of the next two years, but Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad insist there's no room in the state budget for that much additional spending. Note that no one questioned whether Iowans could afford an extra $100 million in tax cuts, mostly for business, which just passed the Iowa House unanimously.

During yesterday's debate, Democratic State Senator Tony Bisignano argued that the big commercial property tax cut approved in 2013 will shortchange Iowa students. (Indeed, when that commercial property tax bill passed, many people warned that it would lead to cuts in public services.) State Senator Joe Bolkcom also criticized "messed up" priorities that favor "special interests" in the state tax code. As long as I've been paying attention to the Iowa legislature, tax expenditures have always been an easier sell than more money for schools or other public services. That dynamic won't change this year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

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Tell us something we don't know, Governor Branstad

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 21:00:00 PM CST

While in central Iowa to cover New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's event with Dallas County Republicans this evening, Robert Costa of the Washington Post interviewed Governor Terry Branstad today. Here's what passes for breaking news: Branstad told Costa that he is not likely to seek a seventh term in 2018 and is "grooming" Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to succeed him.

"I've had the great honor and opportunity to serve the people of Iowa, and I want to do this job and do it well," Branstad said. "Kim Reynolds would be the best choice to be the next governor."

If Branstad serves through the end of this year, he will become the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, eclipsing George Clinton, who served 21 years as governor of New York during and after the Revolutionary War.

"I need to serve through December 14 or 15 of this year to break his record, so I'm on the way already, I just have to continue to serve one year into this term," he said.

Branstad has been saying for a long time that he is determined to make Reynolds the next governor. Breaking with Iowa tradition of sending the lieutenant governor to events the governor can't attend in person, he continues to bring Reynolds along to most of his public appearances. Press releases from the governor's office continue to refer to the governor and lieutenant governor as a single unit consistently in what appears to be a branding effort to associate Reynolds' name with Branstad's.

I am 100 percent convinced that Branstad will resign well before his term ends in order to allow Reynolds to run for governor in 2018 as an incumbent. (I see two likely windows for the resignation, either shortly after the 2016 general election or shortly after the 2017 Iowa legislative session.) Reynolds would struggle to win a statewide Republican primary if she were not the incumbent, because she didn't have a strong constituency within the GOP base before holding her current position. On the contrary, hardly anyone outside her Iowa Senate district had heard of Reynolds when Branstad picked her to be his running mate.

Even if Reynolds becomes governor before 2018, I doubt she will have smooth sailing in the GOP primary. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is likely to run for governor and will be well-funded. I expect some candidate to emerge from the social conservative wing as well.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Rand Paul's Iowa visit highlights, plus: should Rod Blum endorse?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 09, 2015 at 11:46:47 AM CST

U.S. Senator Rand Paul came to central Iowa this weekend. He drew more than 200 people to an event in Des Moines on Friday night, packed a restaurant in Marshalltown on Saturday morning, and took in the Iowa State men's basketball game that afternoon. It was Paul's first visit to our state since October, when he campaigned in eastern Iowa with Congressional candidate Rod Blum and Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Clips with more news from Paul's appearances are after the jump, along with excerpts from Shane Goldmacher's recent article for the National Journal, which depicted former Iowa GOP chair A.J. Spiker as an "albatross" for Paul's caucus campaign.

Before I get to the Rand Paul news, some quick thoughts about Representative Blum, who joined Paul for his Marshalltown event. Blum didn't endorse a candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses and told The Iowa Republican's Kevin Hall that he doesn't "plan to endorse anyone" before the upcoming caucuses, adding,

"I might at the very end. We need a strong leader. We need genuine, authentic leadership and I may rise or fall in my election in two years based on who this presidential candidate is."

I will be surprised if Blum doesn't officially back Paul sometime before the caucuses. The "Liberty" movement got behind him early in the GOP primary to represent IA-01. At that time, many Iowa politics watchers expected the nomination to go to a candidate with better establishment connections, such as Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen or State Representative Walt Rogers. Paulsen eventually chickened out of the race, and Rogers bailed out a few months before the primary after overspending on campaign staff. Arguably, Blum owes Liberty activists for helping him scare off the strongest Republican competition. Without them, he might be a two-time failed GOP primary candidate, rather than a first-term member of Congress.

The case against Blum endorsing Paul before the caucuses is that doing so might anger GOP supporters of other presidential candidates. Even if Paul remains in the top tier by this time next year, 70 percent to 80 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers will likely prefer someone else. Blum will need all hands on deck to be re-elected in Iowa's first district, which is now one of the most Democratic-leaning U.S. House seats held by a Republican (partisan voting index D+5). It will be a top target for House Democrats in 2016.

Still, I think Blum would be better off endorsing than staying neutral. Most Republicans in the IA-01 counties will vote for him in the general election either way. By getting behind Paul when it counts, Blum would give Liberty activists more reasons to go the extra mile supporting his campaign later in the year, regardless of whether Paul becomes the presidential nominee or (as I suspect) seeks another term as U.S. senator from Kentucky. Besides, if Blum really believes that Paul's outreach to youth and minorities has the potential to grow the GOP, he should invest some of his political capital in that project.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?  

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Iowans haven't heard the last from Brenna (Findley) Bird

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 07, 2015 at 16:18:43 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad's office announced on Thursday that Brenna Bird (whose maiden name was Findley) is stepping down as the governor's legal counsel "to pursue opportunities in the private sector." Her LinkedIn profile hasn't been updated yet, so it's not clear whether Bird is returning to the Des Moines-based Whitaker Hagenow law firm. She joined that firm in 2010 after leaving Representative Steve King's staff, but did not practice much law, since she was running for Iowa attorney general full-time.

Branstad named Bird as his legal counsel shortly after the 2010 election. She appears to have influenced several of the governor's policy choices. At one time, Branstad had supported a mandate to purchase health insurance, but soon after being inaugurated in 2011, he joined a lawsuit to overturn the federal health care reform law (a key issue in Bird's unsuccessful attorney general campaign). Branstad's legal counsel also appears to have helped convince Branstad to change his position on banning lead shot for hunting mourning doves in Iowa. When the state legislature refused to overturn a rule mandating non-toxic ammunition, Bird worked several angles to overturn a rule adopted by the state Natural Resource Commission.

Bird's work as legal counsel has also gotten the Branstad administration involved in some major litigation. In 2011, she participated in efforts to pressure Iowa's Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign before the end of his fixed term. As a result, she and the governor, along with other former staffers, are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by the former workers' compensation commissioner.

In 2013, Bird was a key contact for Iowans seeking to ban the use of telemedicine for providing medical abortions in Planned Parenthood clinics. As the Iowa Board of Medicine considered a new rule containing verbatim wording from anti-abortion activists, the state Attorney General's Office "cautioned the board against moving so quickly." But as the governor's counsel, Bird encouraged board members to adopt the telemedicine abortion ban immediately. Planned Parenthood's lawsuit challenging that rule is pending with the Iowa Supreme Court.

Bird may be leaving the public sector for now, but I suspect Iowans will see her name on a ballot before too long. She reportedly considered running for Congress last year in Iowa's third district and has served on the Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee since last June. I could easily see Bird running for a Republican-leaning Iowa House or Senate seat if one were to open up in central Iowa. Alternatively, she and 2014 attorney general nominee Adam Gregg (now Iowa's state public defender) are likely GOP candidates for attorney general in 2018.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I've enclosed a press release on Bird's departure from the governor's staff, with background on Michael Bousselot, her successor as legal counsel.  

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Democrats should skip Bruce Rastetter's Iowa Agriculture Forum

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 05, 2015 at 17:58:09 PM CST

Seven potential Republican presidential candidates have accepted Bruce Rastetter's invitation to attend an "Iowa Agricultural Forum" in Des Moines next month, Erin Murphy reported yesterday. The seven are Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and national laughingstock sorry, entrepreneur Donald Trump. No doubt more Republicans will show up to be heard as well.

Rastetter also invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as a half-dozen Democrats who may run for president this cycle or in the future: Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb. So far no Democrats have accepted the invitation.

I hope they all steer clear of this event.

It's a bit late for Rastetter to reinvent himself as some kind of non-partisan elder statesman. He provided the seed money for the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, which quickly grew into one of the biggest-spending and most deceptive dark money groups on the right. After leading an effort to bring Terry Branstad out of political retirement, Rastetter became the top individual donor to Branstad's 2010 campaign, landing a prestigious appointment to the influential Board of Regents. As a Regent, he has thrown his weight around more than most of his predecessors. In what many viewed as a conflict of interest, Rastetter continued to pursue a business project involving his biofuels company and Iowa State University in an extensive land acquisition in Tanzania. Later, he tried to get the University of Iowa's president to arrange a meeting where biofuels industry representatives could educate a prominent professor whom Rastetter considered "uninformed" about ethanol. Rastetter was also involved in the fiasco that eventually led to Senator Tom Harkin pulling his papers from Iowa State University.

Early in the 2012 election cycle, Rastetter led a group of Iowa businessmen who tried to recruit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Although he is now cultivating an image as a corporate leader who is above the political fray, he will always be seen as a Republican power-broker in Iowa. I don't see much upside to any Democrat showing up to kiss Rastetter's ring. At best, the national and local reporters covering the Agriculture Forum will write about the "frosty reception" Democratic speakers got from a conservative audience. Or more likely, disruption by hecklers will overshadow any Democratic message on agricultural policy.

Democrats who may run for president will have lots of opportunities this year to address Iowans who might actually listen to them.  

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Mid-week open thread, with more links on the vaccine controversy

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 04, 2015 at 19:15:00 PM CST

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

Both in the "real world" and on social media, it seems like everyone I know is talking about the controversy over mandatory vaccinations in light of the current measles outbreak. Following up on yesterday's post about some Republican presidential candidates' comments, here are more related links:

Over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard compiles reaction from other GOP presidential hopefuls, including Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. (Scot Walker also issued a strong pro-vaccination statement.) Rynard sees Christie and Paul getting "burned" on an issue they didn't handle well. I'm not so sure. Social conservatives do not agree with big government imposing its judgment on any aspect of child-rearing. Arguably Christie has no hope with that crowd anyway after signing the New Jersey law that banned gay conversion therapy for teenagers, but Paul has a shot with them.

A nurse-practitioner who survived measles as a child wrote this open letter to parents who aren't immunizing their children.

I believe it's a huge mistake to discount anti-vaxxers as "anti-science." I have encountered hundreds of parents who opt against vaccinating and talked with many of them about why we choose to vaccinate our children. My impression is similar to what German Lopez wrote after interviewing a prominent anti-vaccine activist:

Vaccine skeptics do think they believe in scientific evidence. They can cite dozens of studies and cases. They see themselves as the side in this debate that's actually following the evidence, while the pro-vaccine side is blindly trusting in authority and ultimately getting taken in by a massive pharmaceutical scam.

I also believe that images and accounts of vaccine-injured children (yes, there are some adverse reactions) evoke such a powerful emotional response that it becomes difficult for many parents to imagine deliberately injecting a vaccine into their child. Statistically, every time you put your baby in a car and drive somewhere, your baby is at greater risk of serious injury than when getting a shot at the doctor. Statistically, the number of lives saved by vaccinating against diseases like HiB and meningitis vastly outnumbers the serious adverse reactions to vaccines. But in all the times I have used those arguments, I don't think I have ever convinced a single skeptical parent to start vaccinating.

Since the year 2000, a growing number of Iowa families have sought medical or religious exemptions from state vaccination requirements. The Des Moines Register reports that there are no efforts in the Iowa House or Senate to tighten the rules on vaccine exemptions. Governor Terry Branstad is also satisfied with current policy, according to a statement from his office.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Four reasons Mike Gronstal will win another term in Iowa Senate district 8

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 02, 2015 at 09:07:00 AM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal celebrated his 65th birthday on January 29. The Des Moines Register's William Petroski caught up with Gronstal after fellow senators sang "Happy Birthday" and confirmed that the longtime Democratic leader has no plans to retire. He's up for re-election next year in Senate district 8, covering the Council Bluffs area and Carter Lake (scroll to the end of this post to view a detailed map).

Now that Tom Harkin has retired, Gronstal may be the Iowa Democrat whom Republicans most love to hate. But I have news for them: he's going to win another term in 2016, and here's why.

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Iowa caucus discussion thread: Romney reality check edition

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 30, 2015 at 11:46:12 AM CST

Speaking in "his best precinct, the top-level donor conference call," Mitt Romney announced this morning that he will not run for president a third time. Though the odds against a successful bid for the presidency would seem obvious to any casual politics watcher, Romney appears to have genuinely believed that he could win in 2016 with a sharper message. But many of his top donors, bundlers, and early-state volunteers were reluctant to board the Romney train one more time. In what may have been the last straw, yesterday news broke that David Kochel will soon move to Miami to work as "senior strategist" for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush's new political action committee. Kochel was Romney's top Iowa consultant during the 2008 and 2012 election cycles but is expected to become Bush's national campaign manager once Jeb makes his presidential race official.

Kochel told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that a lot of Iowans "will be interested in signing up" with Jeb Bush, adding that "You compete everywhere because that's how you win delegates." Some people had speculated that Bush might bypass the Iowa caucuses, seen to favor socially conservative candidates. He skipped Representative Steve King's cattle call "Iowa Freedom Summit" last weekend in Des Moines, where several of the speakers took shots at him.

In general, Bush has spent the last month on major donor contacts and strategizing rather than public appearances. Bank on him to raise far more money than anyone else in the large presidential field during the first half of this year. He could raise as much as the rest of the field combined.

With Romney out, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looks like the only person who can compete with Jeb for the "establishment Republican" niche. He reminded the audience at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he's visited this state eleven times since 2010. You can listen to that speech at Radio Iowa.

Iowa Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter spearheaded a "draft Christie" before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. So far this cycle, he is staking out a more neutral position. Last week Rastetter's public relations team announced plans to hold an Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines on March 7. About two dozen possible presidential candidates from both parties have been invited to participate; the full list is in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad told Radio Iowa this week that Jeb Bush is "very interested" in attending the forum.  

While most of the speakers at King's overly long Freedom Summit came to town solely for that occasion, 2012 Iowa caucuses winner Rick Santorum toured the state for several days afterward. He is still pushing a message I think Republicans should hear about how the GOP could better connect with working-class Americans. Radio Iowa posted the full audio here. According to Iowa Starting Line, Santorum didn't draw a lot of applause at the Freedom Summit but was well-received at his small events this past week. Nevertheless, I expect most of his 2012 supporters to flow to other candidates this year, especially Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz.

I still like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's chances to win the Iowa caucuses. By all accounts he made a good impression on the Freedom Summit crowd. So did Ben Carson, but I don't see Carson putting together a professional campaign operation. Radio Iowa posted the full audio and highlights from the Walker speech here. Click here to listen to Ted Cruz, another crowd favorite.

In contrast, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin bombed at the Freedom Summit, done in by a malfunctioning teleprompter. With her public speaking experience, she should have been able to wing it. I had to laugh when I saw Sam Clovis bash her to the Sioux City Journal's reading audience. He's probably still bitter that Palin endorsed Joni Ernst for Senate last spring when Clovis was campaigning as the true conservative in the GOP field.

The Republican Party of Iowa is accepting straw poll venue bids until Thursday, February 12. A recent press release said "Venue proposals should be able to accommodate large crowds and have ample parking." The major fundraiser coming this August has traditionally been held in Ames, but I'm hearing there will be a strong push for Farm Progress Show in Boone. The State Fairgrounds in Des Moines are another leading contender for the event.

In news from the Democratic side, Mike Allen reported for Politico that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July." A lot of Iowa Democrats are upset that Clinton has in effect frozen the field of play. They won't be happy if she leaves everyone hanging until mid-summer. By this point in 2007, several Democratic presidential candidates already were opening field offices in key Iowa cities.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley made his first Iowa hire recently. Jake Oeth, who served as political director for Bruce Braley's U.S. Senate campaign, is now doing outreach for O'Malley as a consultant to the O'Say Can You See PAC. According to Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line, O'Malley had been recruiting Oeth for some time. The former Maryland governor has Iowa connections going all the way back to Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign and paid his dues last year with several Iowa visits, including the keynote speech for the state Democratic Party convention and fundraisers for Democratic candidates. Although some consider the former Maryland governor a possible rival to Clinton, I see him more as a back-up candidate if some unexpected development prevents Clinton from running.

MoveOn.org Political Action opened a Des Moines office for the Run Warren Run effort two weeks ago. I've posted the announcement after the jump; it mentions the first Iowa staff hires. As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, I think the "draft Warren" effort is mostly a waste of progressive energy and resources. Not that I'm against house parties for liberals, but they could be organizing around a more practical political cause. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to recruit Warren won't change the fact that she is not running for president. Pat Rynard attended the Run Warren Run office kickoff party on January 29 and posted his thoughts on the campaign's "murky mission."

I haven't heard much lately about U.S. Senator Jim Webb, who formed an exploratory committee late last year to consider a presidential bid. I never bought into him as a serious rival to Clinton, and he didn't respond adeptly to the first real scrutiny of his PAC's activities. I'm keeping an open mind about the Democratic race until the field is set, but if Webb turns out to be the only alternative candidate, I will be caucusing for Hillary.

Any comments about the Iowa caucuses are welcome in this thread.

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