Smooth sailing for Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2016

Three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the historic Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality lost their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. A fourth survived a similar campaign against retaining him in 2012.

The last three Varnum justices, including the author of the unanimous opinion striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act, will appear on Iowa ballots this November. At this writing, no one seems to be organizing any effort to vote them off the bench. Iowa’s anti-retention campaigns in 2010 and 2012 were well under way by the end of August, but the social conservatives who spearheaded those efforts have shown no interest in repeating the experience.

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Weekend open thread: Trump at the Ernst "Roast and Ride" edition

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was back in Des Moines yesterday as the headliner for Senator Joni Ernst’s second annual "Roast and Ride" fundraiser. Approximately 400 people rode their motorcycles to the state fairgrounds, where politicians addressed a crowd of about 1,800. Radio Iowa posted the full audio of Trump’s remarks and highlights here. Shane Vander Hart live-blogged the event for Caffeinated Thoughts.

I got a kick out of the Ernst Twitter feed, featuring photos of the rock band The Nadas, various other special guests and crowd shots, but not a single picture of headliner Trump.

Why so shy, Senator?

Not to worry, lots of other people got pictures of Ernst standing next to Trump and recorded her urging Iowans to get out the vote for the whole GOP ticket.

Representative Steve King (IA-04) was up there with Trump and Ernst, despite telling Radio Iowa on Friday he was "uneasy" about the presidential nominee seeming to backpedal lately on his promise to deport undocumented immigrants. ABC’s Meghan Keneally recapped Trump’s mixed messages about immigration policy this past week. For more, see Nick Corasaniti’s latest report for the New York Times and this piece by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic. Trump attempted to clean up the mess in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. His campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tried but failed to articulate a coherent position on CBS this morning.

At the Roast and Ride, Trump promised, "We’re gonna get rid of these people, day 1, before the wall [is built on the Mexican border], before anything." The family of Sarah Root, the inspiration for Steve King’s "Sarah’s law," joined Trump on stage. My heart goes out to them. Losing a loved one to a drunk driver would be devastating.

Senator Chuck Grassley and Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) all spoke to the Roast and Ride crowd but declined to stand on stage for the group photo with Trump. Who can blame them?

Speaking of Trump’s toxicity, Hillary Clinton delivered an excellent speech this week to connect the dots on how Trump has promoted racist and race-baiting ideas, giving hope and cover to white supremacists. The full transcript is here. Watching the white nationalist movement become emboldened by Trump’s campaign has been one of the most disturbing political developments of the last year.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. I skipped the Roast and Ride to go knock some doors on behalf of Jennifer Konfrst, the Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 43. Incumbents have a lot of advantages when running for re-election, especially a powerful legislator like Konfrst’s opponent, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow. But a leadership role has drawbacks in a campaign too. For instance, when a no-party voter in this district tells me at the door she’s upset the legislature hasn’t done anything on bike safety, it’s nice to be able to mention that as majority leader, Hagenow has a huge say in what bills come out of committee and up for votes on the House floor. So if you want the House to act on bills that have already passed the state Senate (like the safe passing law that’s a high priority for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, or real medical cannabis reform, or insurance coverage for autism services, or better oversight of privatized Medicaid), you need to change the House leadership.

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Throwback Thursday: Ed Fallon reflects on endorsing Ralph Nader for president

Before #BernieOrBust or any other hashtag existed to convey some activists’ feelings about the Democratic Party’s establishment candidate, there was Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Iowa’s best-known politician to endorse Nader rather than Al Gore was State Representative Ed Fallon. The Des Moines Democrat had found himself at odds with the rest of his Iowa House colleagues before. Some of his politically inexpedient decisions have aged well, most famously his heartfelt speech before casting the legislature’s only vote against our state’s Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

Supporting Nader caused more intense fallout.

Though Fallon no longer considers himself a Democrat and has devoted most of his energy lately to environmental activism, he still endorses some Democratic candidates, including Bernie Sanders before this year’s Iowa caucuses.

Fallon spoke with Bleeding Heartland recently about his decision to back Nader, how that choice affected his subsequent bids for public office, and his advice for activists drawn to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein instead of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

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Manafort's departure shouldn't end questions about Trump's Russia ties

Only two months after firing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump accepted Paul Manafort’s resignation this morning. Manafort had already been "sidelined" earlier this week, keeping the title of "campaign chairman" while pollster Kellyanne Conway was promoted to "campaign manager" and Stephen Bannon given the "chief executive" position. Bannon is best known as chairman of the none-too-reputable Breitbart News website.

For a Republican presidential nominee to give Bannon such an important role in a faltering campaign is itself newsworthy. Former Breitbart staffer Kurt Bardella told ABC News that Bannon "regularly disparaged minorities, women, and immigrants during daily editorial calls at the publication." Ben Shapiro, who spent four years as an editor-at-large for Breitbart before resigning in March, wrote this week that Bannon had "Turned Breitbart Into Trump Pravda For His Own Personal Gain" and had encouraged the website to embrace white supremacists.

But let’s get back to Manafort. He reportedly resigned so as not to become a "distraction" for Trump, as journalists have dug more deeply into his lobbying work for pro-Russian forces and business ties to shady "oligarchs" from Russia and Ukraine. Manafort may have committed a crime by not registering as a lobbyist for foreign entities during the years he "tried to sell" former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to U.S. policy-makers. Eric Trump said today, "my father just didn’t want the distraction looming over the campaign […]."

Ditching Manafort won’t resolve the many valid concerns about whether Russian entities could exert undue influence on Trump. Here are five questions journalists should keep investigating.

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Branstad, Rastetter, Northey join Donald Trump's Agricultural Advisory Committee

So much for an "unofficial" role: Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter are among more than 60 people named this morning to Donald Trump’s "Agricultural Advisory Committee." Its "executive board members will convene on a regular basis," according to a news release I’ve posted after the jump. Note that the campaign statement misspells Northey’s name and describes Rastetter as having hosted the "first Republican Presidential debate." Actually, Rastetter organized an Iowa Ag Summit at which nine presidential contenders (not including Trump) appeared in March 2015. New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner was the first to report Branstad’s and Rastetter’s involvement as Trump advisers last week.

The other Iowans on the list released today are:

• Sam Clovis, who traded in his conservative and religious principles last summer to become Trump’s "national chief policy advisor";

• former State Representative Annette Sweeney, a friend of Rastetter’s since childhood who chaired the Iowa House Agriculture Committee until redistricting forced her into a losing primary battle against fellow House Republican Pat Grassley. She was a key player in passing Iowa’s unconstitutional "ag gag bill," the first of its kind in the country. Soon after finishing her legislative service, Sweeney became president of a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women.

• Ron Heck, identified as an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Soybean Association.

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread. Northey is widely expected to run for governor in 2018 rather than seek a fourth term as secretary of agriculture. His likely opponents in a GOP gubernatorial primary include Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. While the lieutenant governor has repeatedly urged Iowans to vote for Trump at public events, Corbett has wisely kept some distance between himself and the presidential nominee. He steered clear of Trump’s rally in Cedar Rapids on July 28.

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Weekend open thread: More Iowa Republicans throwing in with Trump

While Republican insiders across the country despair about the presidential race, dozens urging the Republican National Committee to stop investing in Donald Trump, others wishing in vain that Trump would drop out, and some even quitting their political jobs, Iowa’s most influential Republicans continue to stand with the GOP nominee.

This week, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to advise Trump on policy; his major influencer Bruce Rastetter will reportedly do the same. In addition, two other well-known GOP operatives took on formal roles in Trump’s Iowa campaign. Jamie Johnson will be coalitions director and Jake Ketzner a senior advisor. Johnson is a veteran of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid. After a spell supporting Ted Cruz, he landed with Rick Perry’s short-lived campaign this cycle. An ordained minister, he will presumably focus on engaging evangelical Christians, a key constituency for Santorum in 2012 and for Cruz this year. Jake Ketzner managed Representative Steve King’s re-election campaign in 2012, the year he faced Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Ketzner left Branstad’s staff for a lobbying job last summer and soon became a senior adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Iowa caucus campaign.

Why are more respectable Republicans joining what looks like a sinking ship? For one thing, the latest public polls show Trump running better in Iowa than in national polls or surveys in swing states with more diverse populations. So even if Trump gets blown out nationally, working on his campaign here might not be a liability, especially if he carries Iowa or loses by a relatively small margin. Also, hitching your wagon to a toxic nominee is less risky when your state’s governor, lieutenant governor, GOP U.S. senators and representatives are giving you cover. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that going all-in for Trump helped our state’s establishment secure a promise from the nominee that if he’s elected, the Iowa caucuses will remain first in the nominating calendar.

Neither Branstad nor any Republicans who represent Iowa in Congress have responded to my questions about worrying aspects of Trump’s candidacy. To my knowledge, only two GOP elected officials in Iowa have publicly ruled out voting for Trump: State Senator David Johnson and Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara. Tips are welcome if readers know of other GOP officials willing to say #NeverTrump. I’ve sought comment from many whom I considered "likely suspects."

Several experienced Iowa campaign operatives have said they won’t vote for the GOP nominee, including David Kochel, a former strategist for Mitt Romney and senior figure in Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign. Justin Arnold, former state political director for Marco Rubio, explained in a March op-ed column for the Des Moines Register why he would not support Trump under any circumstances. He announced earlier this month that he has joined the direct mail and political consulting firm Majority Strategies. That company’s clients include U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) and at least one Iowa GOP state committee.

Joel Kurtinitis, a onetime staffer on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and former Republican State Central Committee member, published a blistering commentary at The Blaze on Friday: Five Things You Can Never Say Again After Voting Trump. I enclose below excerpts from a piece that social conservatives might describe as "convicting."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to build a strong field operation in Iowa and other battleground states, while Trump’s ground game is remarkably weak and in some areas literally missing in action.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Iowa State Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday, August 21. A summer cold moving systematically through our household has so far kept us from the fairgrounds, but we will get there once or twice this week. Bleeding Heartland has previously published my best advice for enjoying the fair, especially in the company of young children. The schedule of candidates speaking at the Des Moines Register’s "soapbox" near the administration building is here. Like Brad Anderson, I was surprised Senator Chuck Grassley passed on the opportunity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Grassley tends to avoid putting public events on his schedule in Polk and several other large-population counties.

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