Mary Andringa stepping down from Iowa Board of Regents (updated)

Saying she had "underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role," Mary Andringa announced today she will step down from the Iowa Board of Regents, just one year into her six-year term. I enclose the official statement below, along with more background on Andringa, who has had a long and distinguished career in business and industry advocacy work. As a regent, she is best known for participating in a secret Ames meeting with Bruce Harreld and three other board members, then sending Harreld an effusive e-mail encouraging him to apply for the University of Iowa’s presidency.

Governor Terry Branstad will select Andringa’s successor on the nine-member Board of Regents, almost certainly after the state legislature has adjourned for this year. Consequently, the Iowa Senate will consider that nominee during the 2017 session.

Since 2011, state senators have confirmed the overwhelming majority of Branstad appointees unanimously or nearly so. However, Senate Democrats rejected two of Branstad’s picks for the Board of Regents in 2013. Craig Lang faced criticism for allegedly interfering with state university policies during his first term as a regent, while Robert Cramer drew fire for his record of social conservative activism, including as a member of the Johnston school board.

Branstad thinks highly of Andringa, naming her to a newly-created state economic development board a few years before appointing her to the even more prestigious board that oversees Iowa’s state universities. In fact, Branstad and his onetime chief of staff Doug Gross were said to have recruited Andringa to run for governor in 2009, a few months before GOP heavyweights persuaded Branstad to come out of political retirement. A poll commissioned by an organization linked to Gross had tested voters’ interest in female business leaders as potential gubernatorial candidates. Some news coverage in the spring of 2009 named Andringa among the possible GOP challengers to Governor Chet Culver.

UPDATE: Casting Andringa’s resignation in a new light, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 28 that the outgoing regent "has long been a director for a national furniture company but failed to publicly disclose that relationship before its local distributor signed a major no-bid contract with the University of Iowa last year." Excerpts from that story and from Jeff Charis-Carlson’s report on that no-bid contract are after the jump.

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a "national figure." Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread "discontentment" with King, who "has gone Washington." Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, "I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC."

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants "to see King defeated" in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, "It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees," O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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Stage set for another battle over Planned Parenthood funding in Iowa

Only days ago, some Iowa legislative sources indicated lawmakers were on track to adjourn by the end of this week. That never seemed likely, with the health and human services budget not yet approved by either chamber. Disagreements over abortion-related language in that bill have been one of the last sticking points between Iowa House Republicans and Senate Democrats in recent legislative sessions. The pattern is set to continue this year.

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Why is Iowa's secretary of state playing politics with felon voting case?

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is a defendant in Kelli Jo Griffin’s lawsuit claiming Iowa violates her constitutional rights by disenfranchising all felons. The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 30. Justices are expected to decide by the end of June whether to uphold the current system or declare that Iowa’s constitutional provision on "infamous crimes" should not apply to all felonies.

Defendants typically refrain from commenting on pending litigation, but during the past three weeks, Pate has carried out an extraordinary public effort to discredit the plaintiffs in the voting rights case. In his official capacity, he has addressed a large radio audience and authored an op-ed column run by many Iowa newspapers.

Pate amped up his attack on "the other side" in speeches at three of the four Iowa GOP district conventions on April 9. After misrepresenting the goals of Griffin’s allies and distorting how a ruling for the plaintiff could alter Iowa’s electorate, the secretary of state asked hundreds of Republican activists for their help in fighting against those consequences.

At a minimum, the secretary of state has used this lawsuit to boost his own standing. Even worse, his words could be aimed at intimidating the "unelected judges" who have yet to rule on the case. Regardless of Pate’s motives, his efforts to politicize a pending Supreme Court decision are disturbing.

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Weekend open thread: "The resources we have" edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Des Moines Register ran an extraordinary lead editorial on Saturday about a Des Moines police officer’s "pattern of misconduct" and "poor judgment." Click through to read the most strongly-worded warning about a law enforcement official I’ve seen in an Iowa newspaper.

An emerging compromise on higher education funding was one of the biggest state-level news stories of the week. The Iowa legislature’s joint Education Appropriations Subcommittee, co-chaired by Democratic State Senator Brian Schoenjahn and Republican State Representative Cecil Dolecheck, agreed on April 13 that the fiscal year 2017 budget for higher education will include an additional $6.3 million for public universities: $2.8 million for the University of Northern Iowa, $2.2 million for Iowa State University, and $1.3 million for the University of Iowa. Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell noted that the increases work out to a little less than 3 percent more state funding for UNI, 1.2 percent for ISU, and less than 1 percent for UI.

The Iowa Board of Regents had requested an extra $20 million in state funding for the coming fiscal year: $4.5 million for UI, $8.2 million for ISU, and $7.65 million for UNI. Governor Terry Branstad’s draft budget had included a combined $8 million in additional state funding for the public universities. Last month, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said at least $8 million would be needed to avoid raising tuition. In a statement released April 14, Rastetter said the board would "immediately start discussions regarding tuition increases at our universities for Fall 2016."

More background and details on the higher education funding compromise are after the jump, but I want to highlight a couple of misconceptions. Russell quoted Dolecheck as saying "we did the best we can with the resources that we have," and quoted Schoenjahn as saying lawmakers tried to stretch "the precious resources we had" but couldn’t do more without raising taxes.

No. Just last month, the Iowa House and Senate approved a tax bill that will reduce fiscal year 2017 revenues by nearly $120 million: $97.6 million by harmonizing Iowa tax code with federal statutes, and around $21 million by reducing state sales taxes for manufacturing companies. Another $280 million was taken off the table long before this year’s budget negotiations began, when most lawmakers in both chambers approved an expensive commercial property tax cut in 2013. Leaders of both parties bragged about that tax cut at the time but did not acknowledge how the windfall for commercial property owners would affect the state’s ability to pay for other priorities down the road.

Speaking on behalf of the union that represents UNI faculty, Professor Joe Gorton said this week, "It seems clear to me that the regent universities are being sacrificed on the altar of corporate welfare." An Iowa Fiscal Partnership analysis from January shows Gorton was closer to the truth than were Schoenjahn or Dolecheck. Business tax credits are expected to cost the state around $272 million during fiscal year 2017.

Writing at Blog for Iowa this weekend, Dave Bradley argued, "Had Branstad’s administration not given tax cuts to businesses without consulting the legislature we would probably [be] OK. […] while the special interests that the Republicans have given breaks to are no longer paying what they once did, Iowa’s parents will see higher tuition fees on their kids university bills." Fact-check: mostly false. Over many years, the legislature approved and failed to revise Iowa’s generous business tax breaks. Most Democrats in both chamber joined their GOP colleagues to pass the costly property tax cut three years ago. Just six state senators and thirteen representatives voted no; I’ve listed them after the jump. The Branstad administration did try to enact the manufacturing sales tax break without legislative approval last year, and was on track to succeed. However, the tax bill lawmakers negotiated and approved last month included a scaled-back sales tax break, superseding the Department of Revenue’s proposed administrative rule.

Speaking of money for state universities not living up to expectations, Ryan Foley of the Associated Press revealed on April 15 that Rastetter has paid only $1.5 million toward his 2008 pledge of $5 million to the University of Iowa’s football program. Before 2015, Rastetter had donated just $500,000 toward that pledge, raising "questions about whether the delay was part of the pressure he put on former university President Sally Mason." Excerpts from Foley’s article are at the end of this post.

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