Baby steps: Iowa Senate GOP responds to sexual harassment verdict

Nearly two months after a jury awarded former Iowa Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson $2.2 million in a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit, the Senate GOP caucus has finally parted ways with the man who most egregiously contributed to a hostile work environment for women.

However, senators who have claimed Anderson lost her job because of substandard writing still aren’t demanding high-caliber work from current communications staff.

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Iowa Senate Republicans hold no one accountable for sexual harassment case

Iowa Senate Republicans voted last Friday to make no changes in the caucus’s staff or leadership, following a sexual harassment lawsuit that led to a $2.2 million verdict against the state. Instead, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson will internally review allegations that came to light through Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit, with the chamber’s number two Republican, Senate President Jack Whitver, “overseeing the investigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has claimed repeatedly that any problems relating to a hostile work environment were resolved soon after he took charge of the Senate GOP caucus in late 2012. But court testimony indicated that neither senators nor top Republican staffers ever asked others employed by the caucus whether they had observed sexual harassment or other offensive workplace conduct. Although Dix admitted hearing about matters “I was not aware of” during the trial, he still insists Anderson was fired in May 2013 solely because of her work product. Meanwhile, the current Iowa Senate Republican communications staffers occupy themselves with who-knows-what, as opposed to keeping the website and social media feeds current.

Dix confirmed that Republicans will not cover the costs of any payout to Anderson, opting to let taxpayers foot the bill for the lack of professionalism that persisted for years.

Republicans’ failure to hold anyone accountable for this debacle underscores the need for independent consultants to take a hard look at what happened in the Senate GOP caucus and how to fix the work environment. Anderson has asked a Polk County District Court to make that happen.

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Six hints Iowa Senate Republicans didn't fire Kirsten Anderson over work product

Iowa taxpayers are on the hook for $2.2 million dollars after former Senate Republican communications director Kirsten Anderson won a huge sexual harassment lawsuit last week.

If Senate Republican leaders had any sense of accountability, they would resign, or at least offer to raise money to cover the cost of the verdict, so the general fund doesn’t take another hit while the state budget is in terrible shape.

But Majority Leader Bill Dix refuses to admit any wrongdoing by his colleagues or his staff. He is sticking to his story: “Kirsten Anderson was terminated for her work product and for no other reason.” Dix’s top aide Ed Failor, Jr. has been saying the same thing for years.

The jury didn’t buy the official line, and you shouldn’t either.

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IA-Gov: Ron Corbett says "exclusively Republican" push for tax reform would be "big mistake"

When Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett kicks off his Republican campaign for governor on June 20, tax reform will be a major part of his “new game plan for Iowa.”

Iowa has no shortage of Republican politicians seeking to lower taxes for those with high incomes or replace a progressive income tax structure with a flatter tax. State House and Senate leaders have promised to push for income tax cuts next year, and in her first speech as governor last month, Kim Reynolds identified “reforming Iowa’s tax structure” as her “first priority.”

But Corbett frames the case for tax reform differently from the usual GOP rhetoric about spurring investment or putting money back in people’s pockets. In a wide-ranging interview last week, the mayor repeatedly called for addressing inequities in the tax code, which now favor the wealthiest Iowans over middle-class taxpayers. He also warned it would be “a big mistake” for Reynolds to lead an “exclusively Republican” push for tax changes next year.

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Iowa Senate leader stripped two Republicans of committee chairmanships

In an unusual move between the first and second years of a legislative assembly, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix took committee chairmanships away from two members of his caucus this week. Senator Jake Chapman is the new leader of the Commerce Committee, replacing Bill Anderson. Senator Craig Johnson, who was just elected for the first time last November, now chairs the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee, replacing Rick Bertrand.

Dix handed the more significant demotion to Bertrand, who no longer serves on any appropriations subcommittee. Anderson’s remaining committee assignments still include a spot on one appropriations subcommittee as well as a position on the powerful Ways and Means panel.

Senate Republicans didn’t publicize the changes, which took effect on May 24, on their website or social media feeds. The snubs to Bertrand and Anderson attracted little notice amid the transfer of power from Governor Terry Branstad to Kim Reynolds. Senate GOP communications staff, Johnson, Bertrand, and Anderson did not respond to my requests for comment. When I reached Chapman by phone on May 24, he confirmed his new committee chairmanship but declined to speculate about the reasons, saying, “I don’t make those decisions.”

My first thought was that Dix punished Bertrand for throwing a bit of a tantrum (starting at the 6:12:20 mark of this video) during the final debate on Senate File 471, the bill banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. But when senators first considered the same bill in March, Chapman had tried to suspend the rules to force a floor vote on “personhood” language. Johnson was among sixteen Republicans to support that breach of Senate protocol. Anyway, my initial hunch wouldn’t explain what Dix did to Anderson, who has never called out his GOP colleagues during a Senate floor speech, to my knowledge.

My best guess is that Bertrand and Anderson paid a price for missing too many votes this year. Follow me after the jump for details.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa legislative news roundup

The Iowa legislature’s second “funnel” deadline passed on March 31. In theory, aside from appropriations bills, any legislation that hasn’t yet cleared one chamber and at least one committee in the other chamber is no longer eligible for consideration for this year. However, leaders can resurrect “dead” bills late in the session or include their provisions in appropriations bills. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel reviewed important bills that did or did not make it through the funnel. James Q. Lynch and Rod Boshart published a longer list in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

This paragraph caught my eye from the Register’s story.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said everything that lawmakers are doing is a reflection of learning from states where prosperity is occurring as a result of business-friendly policies. That formula includes low-cost government, innovative public services, and easing regulatory burdens on businesses to spur job creation and to allow Iowa companies to compete in a global marketplace, he added.

Not so much: Republicans following a similar playbook drove Kansas and Louisiana into the ground. Wisconsin has performed poorly in employment growth, poverty reduction, household income, and wages compared to neighboring Minnesota, where corporate interests didn’t capture state government.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. I enclose below links and clips about bills I haven’t had time to write about yet. Two are “business-friendly” policies that will hurt Iowans suffering because of exposure to asbestos or medical malpractice. One would make local governments and first responders less accountable by excluding all “audio, video and transcripts of 911 calls involving injured victims of crimes or accidents” from Iowa’s open records law.

Quick update on House File 484, the bill to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works: once seen as almost a sure thing due to covert support from the Iowa Farm Bureau, the bill was on the House debate calendar for many days in March but never brought to the floor. Majority Leader Chris Hagenow put House File 484 on the “unfinished business” calendar on March 30, after House Republicans voted down a Democratic motion to exclude it from that list.

Opponents of the Water Works bill have become more confident lately, as several GOP representatives and senators have said privately they oppose the legislation. In addition, a Harper Polling survey commissioned by the Water Works showed that 68 percent of respondents oppose disbanding independent water works boards in Des Moines, West Des Moines, and Urbandale in order to give city councils control over the water utility. The same poll indicated that by a 55 percent to 23 percent margin, respondents said an independent board of trustees rather than the city council is “best qualified to manage your local water utility.” By an 88 percent to 5 percent margin, respondents said “people who live in the community” and not the state legislature should have “the final say” on municipal utilities. No one should be complacent, because powerful forces are behind this legislation. Republican leaders could attach Water Works language to must-pass budget bills.

P.S.- The legislature is supposed to wrap up its business this month and adjourn for the year before the end of April. I suspect that even with unified Republican control, the session will go into overtime. Lawmakers haven’t finalized budget targets for the 2018 fiscal year yet. With less money to go around following the recent downgrade in revenue forecasts, and legislators of both parties calling for a review of increasingly expensive tax credits and exemptions, I expect several more weeks of behind the scenes negotiations before the House and Senate are ready to approve appropriations bills.

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