Calling on RAGBRAI riders to help plant milkweed for monarchs

Monarch butterfly enthusiasts have prepared more than 50,000 balls containing common milkweed seeds for riders participating in next week’s Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). As its name suggests, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the most prevalent among the 17 types of milkweed found in Iowa. However, the use of genetically-modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans greatly diminished common milkweed on Iowa cropland. "Kelly Milkweed" Guilbeau and a friend scattered some milkweed seeds while doing RAGBRAI in 2014, then prepared about 2,000 balls of seed to hand out during last summer’s ride across Iowa.

Elizabeth Hill, who manages the Conard Environmental Research Area at Grinnell College, has collaborated with Guilbeau on the Milkweed Matters initiative, greatly expanded this year. I wish them every success; driving around Iowa last week, I saw huge stands of wild parsnip along too many roadsides.

I enclose below two pictures of common milkweed blooming, as well as a press release explaining where riders can pick up seed balls to toss in unmowed ditches along the RAGBRAI route, which runs across southern Iowa from July 24 through 30.

You can learn more at the Milkweed Matters website and receive regular updates on Twitter (@milkweedmatters) or Facebook. Butterfly fans can find more good links at the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa website. Although I’m not skilled at identifying butterflies, I enjoy the occasional "butterfly forecasts" by the Poweshiek Skipper Project.

P.S.- Hill will always have a special place in my heart as the accidental godmother of Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa wildflower Wednesday series.

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Weekend open thread: ISU cronyism and favoritism edition

Insider dealing at the University of Iowa has drawn intense scrutiny since President Bruce Harreld’s hiring last year. This week, several news reports cast an unflattering light on the culture President Steven Leath is fostering at Iowa State University.

The July 9 Des Moines Register carried a front-page story by Lee Rood on Leath’s recent purchase of land from one of the companies controlled by Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. After trying to weasel out of answering questions regarding what he called his "personal life," Leath insisted he got no "special deal" on the land. However, the arrangement appears highly irregular, as discussed below following excerpts from Rood’s article.

Two recent stories by Vanessa Miller for the Cedar Rapids Gazette raised further questions about what kind of operation Leath is running. Click through to read about the hiring of former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach for a high-paying job that was never advertised, as well as Kurtenbach’s restructuring of ISU’s information technology services unit, which involved eliminating 23 positions and paying 19 people not to work since May 25. Excerpts from those stories are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.- Speaking of cozy Republican networks, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on Friday that the University of Iowa "is retaining a social media startup company with Republican Party ties that benefited from earlier no-bid contracts." Wholecrowd is run by Jim Anderson, who served as Iowa GOP executive director during part of the time the University of Iowa’s current Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes was a staffer for the GOP state Senate caucus. Under no-bid contracts Matthes signed with former Iowa GOP state party chair Matt Strawn’s company, Wholecrowd did the same kind of "digital advocacy" work as a subcontractor. The university’s new contract, signed directly with Wholecrowd after a competitive bidding process, seems to have cut Strawn out as the middleman.

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Republicans quietly nominated David Kerr in Iowa House district 88

Something strange happened in Iowa House district 88, which unexpectedly became an open seat last month. Less than two hours after State Representative Tom Sands disclosed on June 9 that he would not seek another term, Republicans announced that Jason Delzell would be a candidate in the district. The timing signaled that Delzell was Sands’ preferred successor and the GOP establishment’s choice for the nomination.

However, on June 23, delegates to a special convention nominated Louisa County farmer David Kerr instead. I didn’t hear that news until late last week, because in contrast to past practice when state legislative seats have been open, the Iowa GOP did not announce the special convention date in advance, nor did they send out a statement afterwards on the convention results. Some journalists were informed after the fact that Kerr was nominated, because a press release about him appeared in the Muscatine Journal and Quad-City Times on June 24.

That statement said nothing about a contested race for the GOP nomination, but Delzell confirmed a few days ago via e-mail that he did not withdraw his candidacy and "fought to the end" on June 23. I don’t know how close the vote was. From what I can gather, no journalists attended the special convention, so I assume none were informed about it in advance. For whatever reason, Republicans did not want to draw attention to this event. I have not seen any statement indicating whether Sands endorsed Kerr or lobbied on his behalf.

I enclose below some background on Kerr, along with a map of House district 88. Democrats are poised to nominate Ryan Drew for this House race, though a special convention has not yet been held. Both parties are likely to target House district 88, which contains 5,566 active registered Democrats, 6,397 Republicans, and 6,775 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. President Barack Obama outpolled Mitt Romney here by 50.9 percent to 47.9 percent in 2012.

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Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage

Austin Frerick, an Iowa native and economist who has worked at the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Congressional Research Service, makes a distinctive case for raising the minimum wage, last increased in Iowa in January 2007. -promoted by desmoinesdem

All of the states that border Iowa, except one, have raised their minimum wage above the federal level. In fact, a majority of states in the union have a higher one. A recent study estimated that 413,000 Iowa workers would benefit from a wage increase to at least $12 and most of the benefits would accrue to full-time adult women. The public also already decidedly supports this action as a recent Des Moines Register poll found that nearly two-thirds of Iowans favored raising it. This debate is especially relevant for Iowans employed in the numerous slaughterhouses that dot the state.

Company towns, once a relic of America’s industrial past, have reemerged in American society, notably in rural Iowa slaughterhouse communities. This occurred because of a market climate that made their monopsony position in these communities attractive to firms. This predicament causes a market failure. Therefore, raising Iowa’s minimum wage will correct this market distortion for these especially vulnerable Iowans.

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Iowa's Democracy Spring

Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts advocating for candidates in competitive Democratic primaries. Please read these guidelines before writing. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In the 2016 Iowa Democratic Senate primary, if we are not careful, we are going to get corporate ag anti-environment, anti-labor Patty Judge jammed down our throats. The two progressives in the race are Tom Fiegen and Rob Hogg. The purpose of this letter is to compare the two on the issues that are important to us as progressives:clean water, CAFOs, blocking the Prestage slaughter plant in Mason City, the Bakken pipeline, $15 minimum wage, family farming, economic fairness and immigrant rights.

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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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