IA-Gov: Sales tax hike for conservation may become fault line in 2018

Leaders of a campaign to provide a "permanent and constitutionally protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats" in Iowa touted support in the business and agriculture communities this week. You can watch Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy’s September 12 press conference here or listen to the audio at Radio Iowa. Under a state constitutional amendment Iowa voters adopted in 2010, revenues generated by the next 3/8th of a cent sales tax increase (estimated at more than $180 million per year) would flow into a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Scroll to the end of this post for a current list of IWLL coalition members and details on the formula for allocating trust fund money.

Without knowing which parties will control the Iowa House and Senate next year, it’s hard to gauge prospects for passing a sales tax increase. Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy commented on Monday, "The best time to move on a piece of legislation is just following an election. That’s when you get your best bipartisan compromises, and I think ultimately, this is something we can find a bipartisan compromise on."

Who might lead statehouse Republicans toward such a compromise is unclear. The GOP lawmaker most supportive of IWLL has been State Senator David Johnson. But he left the party this summer to protest presidential nominee Donald Trump and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent interview that he plans to remain an independent during the 2017 legislative session.

At least one Republican running for governor in 2018 will support the sales tax increase: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. That stance will put him in conflict with either Governor Terry Branstad or his chosen successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. In addition, support for funding IWLL among major farm lobby groups could create problems for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, also a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

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Iowa Senate district 32 preview: Brian Schoenjahn vs. Craig Johnson

To win control of the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have held a 26 to 24 majority for the last six years, Republicans will need to beat at least two Democratic incumbents. One of their top targets is Senator Brian Schoenjahn, who is seeking a fourth term in Senate district 32.

Follow me after the jump for a map and details on the political makeup of this northeast Iowa district, along with background on Schoenjahn and his challenger Craig Johnson, the key issues for each candidate, and a look at Johnson’s first television commercial.

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Iowa House district 95 preview: Richard Whitehead vs. Louis Zumbach

A wave of Republican retirements created more open seats in potentially competitive state House districts than in any election since Bleeding Heartland started following Iowa politics nearly ten years ago. Most of the battleground races are in the first Congressional district, including House district 95, where state Representative Quentin Stanerson announced last December that he would not seek a third term. The high school teacher was one of only two House Republicans to request a special session last summer to override Governor Terry Branstad’s education funding vetoes.

Stanerson’s seat is probably a must-win for Democrats to have any hope of gaining control of the Iowa House (currently 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats). House district 95 covers a large area in Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, along with some rural precincts in Buchanan County. I enclose a map below.

The 2012 presidential voting in this district almost perfectly matched the statewide results. President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa by 822,544 votes (51.99 percent) to 730,617 (46.18 percent). In House district 95, Obama won 52.01 percent of the vote to 46.69 percent for Romney. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the district contains 6,095 active registered Democrats, 6,224 Republicans, and 7,530 no-party voters.

Neither party had a competitive primary here. Democrat Richard Whitehead and Republican Louis Zumbach have backgrounds shared by many successful candidates for the Iowa legislature. Whitehead spent a career in education, rising from social studies teacher to principal to superintendent. Zumbach is a farmer and small business owner who operates an auctioneering company with his wife. Scroll down to read the official biographies and main talking points for each candidate.

Facebook feeds for Whitehead and Zumbach show that both contenders have shown up for lots of parades and summer festivals around the district. I don’t have access to voter contact data, but Whitehead is rumored to be one of the top Democratic House candidates in terms of number of doors knocked.

Zumbach will likely be able to outspend Whitehead during the final two months of the campaign—not by virtue of raising more money, but because House Republican leaders have accumulated a much larger war chest than their Democratic counterparts. The fundraising totals for the House district 95 candidates were remarkably similar. Whitehead reported $12,480.00 in campaign contributions by early May and another $2,895.00 during the next two months. As of mid-July, he had $14,179.60 cash on hand. Zumbach’s campaign brought in $12,950.00 by early May and another $950.00 by early July. His campaign spent more than Whitehead’s did, largely on signs, merchandise, and advertising, so as of July 14 he had just $5,290.76 cash on hand.

Any comments about this campaign are welcome in this thread.

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America Needs Lesbian Farmers

Donna Red Wing, executive director of the advocacy group One Iowa, explains what really happened at the recent LGBT Rural Summit in Des Moines. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Rush Limbaugh is all a-twitter about what he describes as an invasion of lesbian farmers. His conspiracy theory includes imagined government payments designed to recruit lesbians to leave urban America and flood ‘red’ states to farm.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Of all of the events in the LGBT Rural Summit Series since it began in June 2014, it was our 2016 event in Iowa, the 15th in the series, that really ticked him off. Why Iowa? Why our event?

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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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Branstad to be "unofficial" Trump adviser; Bruce Rastetter may have same role

New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner had the scoop today for NJ.com: Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-announced economic advisers include Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and "Bruce Rastetter, a multimillionaire livestock and bio-fuel tycoon who insiders say is also a leading candidate to be Trump’s agriculture secretary." They

will advise Trump on agribusiness and energy policy, according to a source within the Trump campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

“There’s a clear nexus between [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.

Rastetter helped talk Branstad into running for governor again in 2009 and was his campaign’s top donor in 2010. He has exerted substantial influence since Branstad returned to office in 2011, speaking to the governor "at least once a week." Rastetter tried to recruit Christie to run for president in 2011 and endorsed him in a highly-publicized event last September. Though Branstad did not endorse any presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, several people close to him were involved in Christie’s campaign.

Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes confirmed via e-mail that the governor "was asked to advise Mr. Trump in an unofficial role. He will be offering his advice on important issues to Iowa, none more important than renewable fuels." Iowa Republicans have seized on a recent report by Reuters, suggesting that as president, Hillary Clinton might change federal policy on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate for biofuels blends into gasoline. The governor’s son Eric Branstad is running Trump’s general election campaign in Iowa, having coordinated an ethanol industry group’s political efforts here before the caucuses.

Hammes declined to comment on Rastetter’s possible role in the Trump campaign or a prospective Trump cabinet. At this writing, Rastetter’s office has not responded to my inquiry. The man often described as an "ethanol baron" sought to enhance his reputation as an authority on agriculture policy last year, when he organized an Iowa Ag Summit, attended by nine presidential hopefuls and a who’s who of Iowa GOP elected officials. Though Rastetter would surely want to have a strong voice in any Republican administration, I have trouble seeing him in a cabinet secretary’s role, with many public events and press availabilities. The way Trump’s poll numbers are looking lately, we will likely never find out whether Rastetter was really the top contender to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

UPDATE: According to Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, Rastetter met privately with Trump not long before the nominee’s July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids. Excerpts from that story are after the jump, along with comments Hammes provided to Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller.

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