Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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Nothing says "civil discourse" like Steve King as your campaign co-chair

“There is no civil discourse left and it is really sad,” Governor Kim Reynolds said yesterday, adding, “We ought to be able to debate ideas because that’s how you get to consensus.” Reynolds lamented the “vitriol” that dominates the current “vicious” political climate.

Today the Reynolds/Gregg campaign announced that Representative Steve King will be a co-chair. A written statement described the governor as “humbled by the endorsement” from a “strong defender of freedom and our conservative values” who is “independent, principled, and is fighting the good fight in Washington, D.C.”

You can posture as a consensus-seeker, or you can brag about support from a walking highlight reel of mean-spirited and dehumanizing rhetoric. Not both.

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Reminder: State employees can't boost the Reynolds/Gregg campaign at work

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend instructed all her agency’s employees today “to be mindful of state and federal guidelines regarding prohibitions of participation in political activities while on state time or using state assets.”

The action followed Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry about a September 29 e-mail from an operations manager to more than 60 Iowa Workforce Development colleagues, recruiting volunteers for the Kim Reynolds/Adam Gregg campaign under the subject heading, “A Message from Governor Reynolds’ Office.”

State law prohibits using “public moneys for political purposes.” Administrative rules written to implement that portion of the Iowa Code forbid public employees from using public resources “to expressly advocate the nomination, election, or defeat of a candidate,” or “to solicit votes, engage in campaign work.”

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Why did Branstad and Reynolds request transition funds they didn't need?

Some surprising news arrived in the mail recently. In response to one of my records requests, Governor Kim Reynolds’ legal counsel Colin Smith informed me that “zero dollars” of a $150,000 appropriation for gubernatorial transition expenses “have been spent and there are no plans to spend any of that appropriated money.” I soon learned that the Department of Management had ordered a transfer of up to $40,000 in unspent Department of Revenue funds from the last fiscal year “to the Governor’s/Lt. Governor’s General Office to cover additional expenses associated with the gubernatorial transition.”

A Des Moines Register headline put a favorable spin on the story: “Reynolds pares back spending on office transition from lieutenant governor.” However, neither the governor’s office nor Republican lawmakers ever released documents showing how costs associated with the step up for Reynolds could have reached $150,000.

Currently available information raises questions about whether Branstad/Reynolds officials ever expected to spend that money, or whether they belatedly requested the fiscal year 2018 appropriation with a different political purpose in mind.

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