2016 RAGBRAI route announced: A short ride across southern Iowa

After two straight years of taking bicyclists across northern parts of the state, the Des Moines Register announced this evening that the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) will cross southern Iowa from July 24 to 30. The route starting in Glenwood and ending in Muscatine will take riders “419.9 miles (third-shortest in the event’s 44-year history), with a total climb of 18,488 feet (making it the 24th flattest).”

Full details on the 2016 route are on the official RAGBRAI website. After the jump I’ve listed the overnight stops, along with daily mileage totals and feet of climb and some political trivia about places riders will visit this summer.

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Democrats should skip Bruce Rastetter's Iowa Agriculture Forum

Seven potential Republican presidential candidates have accepted Bruce Rastetter’s invitation to attend an “Iowa Agricultural Forum” in Des Moines next month, Erin Murphy reported yesterday. The seven are Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and national laughingstock sorry, entrepreneur Donald Trump. No doubt more Republicans will show up to be heard as well.

Rastetter also invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as a half-dozen Democrats who may run for president this cycle or in the future: Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb. So far no Democrats have accepted the invitation.

I hope they all steer clear of this event.

It’s a bit late for Rastetter to reinvent himself as some kind of non-partisan elder statesman. He provided the seed money for the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, which quickly grew into one of the biggest-spending and most deceptive dark money groups on the right. After leading an effort to bring Terry Branstad out of political retirement, Rastetter became the top individual donor to Branstad’s 2010 campaign, landing a prestigious appointment to the influential Board of Regents. As a Regent, he has thrown his weight around more than most of his predecessors. In what many viewed as a conflict of interest, Rastetter continued to pursue a business project involving his biofuels company and Iowa State University in an extensive land acquisition in Tanzania. Later, he tried to get the University of Iowa’s president to arrange a meeting where biofuels industry representatives could educate a prominent professor whom Rastetter considered “uninformed” about ethanol. Rastetter was also involved in the fiasco that eventually led to Senator Tom Harkin pulling his papers from Iowa State University.

Early in the 2012 election cycle, Rastetter led a group of Iowa businessmen who tried to recruit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Although he is now cultivating an image as a corporate leader who is above the political fray, he will always be seen as a Republican power-broker in Iowa. I don’t see much upside to any Democrat showing up to kiss Rastetter’s ring. At best, the national and local reporters covering the Agriculture Forum will write about the “frosty reception” Democratic speakers got from a conservative audience. Or more likely, disruption by hecklers will overshadow any Democratic message on agricultural policy.

Democrats who may run for president will have lots of opportunities this year to address Iowans who might actually listen to them.  

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IA-03: Zaun, Schultz supporters going after Shaw (updated)

More signs suggest that other candidates and their supporters see Monte Shaw as their primary threat at Saturday’s special convention to choose a Republican nominee in IA-03. Craig Robinson wrote about the multi-pronged attacks on Shaw at The Iowa Republican blog. Shaw has served as Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director since 2005, and the Liberty Iowa PAC has highlighted donations that trade association’s PAC made to Democratic candidates during the years. The Liberty PAC represents a group of former Ron Paul supporters. They have endorsed State Senator Brad Zaun in the IA-03 primary, although ironically, Zaun backed Michele Bachmann (not Paul) in the 2012 Iowa caucus campaign.

Anonymous e-mails circulated to Republican district convention delegates prompted the Shaw campaign to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission last week.

I had viewed Shaw and Robert Cramer as the most viable candidates going into convention. Apparently Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and I finally agreed on something. According to Robinson, Schultz’s campaign has sent GOP delegates direct mail “comparing Schultz to Shaw and Cramer on the issues of government spending and taxes.” Meanwhile, an arm of the American Future Fund has been sending out positive mail about Schultz, while the Tea Party Express attacked Shaw for Iowa Renewable Fuels Association PAC contributions to Democrats including “Staci Appel, Chet Culver, Mike Gronstal, Chris Hall, and Pat Murphy.”

I’ll believe an informal survey showing David Young in a strong position when other campaigns start attacking Young. So far, he does not appear to be viewed as a threat. One could argue that’s a great place to be in a contest likely to force multiple ballots, but I still don’t see delegates nominating a career Congressional staffer over rivals who have spent most of their adult lives in Iowa.

UPDATE: Added more details on the convention procedure below and a new argument against Schultz I hadn’t heard before.

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Will Nick Ryan and the American Future Fund own up to campaign finance violations?

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced yesterday that her office and “the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) have jointly secured a $1 million civil settlement against two out-of-state organizations for violations of the California Political Reform Act.” In addition, a political group registered in Iowa called the “California Future Fund for Free Markets” is supposed to to pay a $4.08-million penalty to the state of California. The 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, run by longtime Iowa Republican operative Nick Ryan, was the sole source of funding for the now-defunct California Future Fund for Free Markets.

Follow me after the jump for details on the scheme to evade California’s campaign finance disclosure rules last year.

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Sandy Greiner retiring, leaving Iowa Senate district 39 open

Democrats hoping to retain the Iowa Senate majority got good news this afternoon, as State Senator Sandy Greiner confirmed that she will retire next year. Her decision isn’t a big surprise, as Greiner didn’t join the Senate Republican leadership team last year, even though she was an early backer of Bill Dix’s campaign to become minority leader and is among the most experienced GOP lawmakers.

Greiner represents Senate district 39, which contained 13,335 registered Democrats, 13,352 Republicans, and 16,127 no-party voters as of June 2013. Half of this swing district lies in Johnson County, where Democrats need strong GOTV to prevail in next year’s statewide races. I’ve posted a detailed district map after the jump.

First-term Democrat Sally Stutsman represents Iowa House district 77, the Johnson County part of Senate district 39. Two-term Republican Jarad Klein represents House district 78, the other half of the Senate district, covering all of Keokuk County and most of Washington County. I would consider them strong potential candidates for the open Senate seat, though others may take a crack at this swing district.

UPDATE: Added the press release announcing Greiner’s retirement after the jump. Environmentalists will be surprised to learn that she allegedly “worked diligently” to improve water quality.  

SECOND UPDATE: John Deeth says Democrats had recruited a challenger for this seat from Washington County. He also comments, “This is a must-win for both parties and good logistically for Democrats; sure, the Iowa City-Coralville folks can’t VOTE in this race but we can sure doorknock North Liberty.” I would say it’s more of a must-win for Republicans, because they need a net gain of one for shared power and two for control of the Iowa Senate. Status quo is ok for Democrats, if not ideal.

THIRD UPDATE: Here’s one good example of why I won’t miss Greiner. She has repeatedly co-sponsored constitutional amendments to overturn marriage equality in Iowa, most recently this year. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has joined the Iowa Supreme Court in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act on equal-protection grounds, Greiner pretends that she opposed equality because gay marriage will allegedly increase health care costs. Jon Trouten dismantles that intellectually dishonest argument here.

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Iowa Board of Regents news: Branstad appoints new members, Rastetter elected president

Governor Terry Branstad appointed two new members of the Iowa Board of Regents yesterday. Former State Senator Larry McKibben and construction business owner Milt Dakovic will fill vacancies created when the Iowa Senate did not confirm two of the governor’s three Regents appointees this year: Craig Lang and Robert Cramer. Branstad likes to appoint former state lawmakers to boards and commissions. He encouraged McKibben to come out of retirement to run for the Iowa Senate again in 2012, but McKibben lost the GOP primary in Senate district 36. I’ve posted more background on McKibben and Dakovich after the jump. Their appointments are subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate during the 2014 legislative session.

Lang recently finished six years of service on the Board of Regents and had been board president. Today the remaining board members chose Bruce Rastetter as the new board president. Rastetter has served as president pro-tem since the summer of 2011 and has been in frequent communication with the three state university presidents. The largest donor to Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign has also been a controversial figure as a Regent, having “blurred the line” between “his role as investor in AgriSol Energy” and his position on the board. (The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Rastetter over that proposed AgriSol land deal.) Earlier this year, Rastetter asked the University of Iowa president to arrange a meeting between ethanol industry representatives and Professor Jerald Schnoor. Democrat and Linn-Mar school district superintendent Katie Mulholland will replace Rastetter as president pro-tem of the Board of Regents.

UPDATE: Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson has already announced that he supports Branstad’s new nominees for the Board of Regents. Earlier this year, he voted against confirming Lang and Cramer.

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