Journalists, stop validating Republican spin on voter ID

Later today, Iowa Senate Republicans will give final approval to a bill that could prevent thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots. A broad coalition of groups oppose House File 516, because common sense and research on similar laws in other states overwhelmingly point to one conclusion: voter ID and signature verification requirements will create barriers to the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, disproportionately affecting students, the poor, the elderly, and people of color.

Republicans don’t acknowledge any of the expert testimony. They pay no attention to the conservative judge who regrets his ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law, having concluded that such laws are “a means of voter suppression.” They keep insisting their so-called “election integrity” bill won’t block a single citizen from voting.

They offer up false equivalencies, saying in their newsletters and on the Senate floor that Iowa Democrats also passed a voter ID law when they controlled both legislative chambers.

These tactics can be effective because most news reports on contentious issues give equal weight to both sides, even if one side is not credible. The “he said/she said” frame with no effort to evaluate competing claims is one of my major journalism pet peeves.

But I realized last Friday that when a politician stretches the truth, a reporter’s incompetent fact-check is worse than no fact-checking at all.

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Iowa water quality and confirmation bias

Thanks to Democratic activist Paul Deaton, “a low wage worker, husband, father and gardener trying to sustain a life in a turbulent world,” for cross-posting these ideas from his blog. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Progressives, farmers and environmentalists heard there is movement in the Iowa legislature to fund water quality and ears perked up — a natural impulse to interpret new events as supporting something we already believe or are working on, also known as confirmation bias.

56 percent of Iowans support increasing the state sales tax three-eighths of a cent to pay for water quality projects and outdoor recreation, according to a Selzer and Company poll reported by the Des Moines Register on Feb 12.

On March 14, State Representative Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) introduced such a bill: the WISE (Water, Infrastructure and Soil for our Economy) bill, House File 597.

After a three year implementation the tax would generate $180 million to fund Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which was created by a 2010 amendment to Iowa’s constitution. It sounds pretty good. However, we shouldn’t let our confirmation bias help Republican efforts to tax the poor, cut the general fund, and support the failed Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Representative Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) and House Agriculture Committee Chair Lee Hein (R-Monticello) had previously introduced a water quality bill (House Study bill 135) addressing structural issues related to the use of water quality funds. Baltimore favored spending funds on watershed programs such as the governor’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Kaufmann’s bill mandates 60 percent of funding be directed to “a research-based water quality initiative (that) includes but not limited to a practice described in the Iowa nutrient reduction strategy.”

When Governor Terry Branstad created the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, in response to a federal requirement to address water quality, it was the least he could do. It was a way of tinkering around the edges of a water quality program, leveraging wide-spread concern about the need to act without changing the underlying structure of the system that creates excessive nitrate and phosphate loads in our water.

Branstad’s approach sucked up media attention and political will while doing little to address the root cause of the water quality problem.

“I welcome any legislative effort regardless of party that looks to protect the environment,” a progressive voter posted on Facebook. “While I agree that it is not fair that we have to take on the burden of trying to clean up after the farmers, I also know that they are a stubborn lot that hold great political power in Iowa. Therefore we need to be pragmatic and take whatever we can get while the Republicans are in charge.”

A lot of people would agree with this sentiment.

It’s clear solutions proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy could work. They won’t work until either the strategy is compulsory, or there is funding to support broad participation.

“Republicans sometimes get accused of not being pro-environment, of not being pro-water quality,” Kaufmann said. “Well, this is our way of taking that bull by the horns and putting forth a good, tax-neutral water quality bill that puts guarantees in it that we can make sure dollars go to water quality.”

Despite Kaufmann’s work on the bill there are issues with the WISE approach to water quality.

Sales tax is regressive, which means it would be applied uniformly to all situations, regardless of the payer. Some might argue that everyone uses water so why shouldn’t everyone pay through sales tax? It is a straw man argument. A sales tax takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from people causing this problem.

What’s worse than the regressive nature of sales tax is the Republican position any new tax must be revenue neutral. That means cutting the state budget. Where will the legislature find an additional $180 million in budget cuts after a year with three successive revenue shortfalls?

“Kaufmann admits there (are) still some questions about how the bill would affect other state programs,” Rob Swoboda reported in Wallaces Farmer. “But, he says, the only way the Republican-led legislature will pass a water-quality funding plan would be if the plan is revenue-neutral.”

Proposed budget cuts should be defined before advocating for the WISE bill.

There is no need to hold the agricultural community harmless in the pursuit of clean water. In 2013, when developing the Iowa Fertilizer Plant (a.k.a. Orascom) in Wever, Governor Branstad said, “the plant would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 165 permanent jobs and save farmers $740 million annually by cutting the price of fertilizer.” Whether or not there was a windfall in fertilizer savings farmers can afford to put skin in the water quality game.

“Where public money is needed (to fund water quality initiatives), consider an obvious source: the sale of farm fertilizer,” former state senator David Osterberg wrote in a May 25, 2016 column in the Des Moines Register. “If an urban person buys fertilizer for the lawn, there is a sales tax on the purchase. Farmers are exempt from the normal sales tax on fertilizer and a lot of other things. There is no reason for this exemption. Put the sales tax on fertilizer, earmark it to water-quality strategies and you have, conservatively, about $130 million a year to work with.”

While a majority of voters agree something must be done to improve water quality, political capital shouldn’t be diverted to supporting failed Republican policies just because they sound good or appear to support what we all believe.

Top image: Century farm in Johnson County. Photo by Paul Deaton.

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Fixed it for ya: An update and correction to Bobby Kaufmann's newsletter about Iowa's voter ID bill

Local activist Lauren Whitehead wasn’t fooled by an Iowa House Republican’s spin on House File 516, the voter suppression bill. See also John Deeth’s take on Kaufmann’s “worse than cynical” newsletter. -promoted by desmoinesdem

State Representative Bobby Kaufmann has made it clear that he is swamped with emails and other duties, so in the interest of participatory government, I’ve taken it upon myself to help him by correcting a few errors that appeared in his recent Your Capitol Voice newsletter, which focuses on the voter ID bill that is making its way through the Iowa legislature, because integrity is very important to him.

Please see below for the corrected version, and the text of the original at the bottom.

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Iowa House censored video of public hearing on voter ID bill

The topic at hand was supposed to be Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert announcing that he may run for Iowa secretary of state in 2018. In a March 19 press release, Weipert said, “I’ve been meeting with auditors of both parties across the state, and there’s wide agreement we need new leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office. […] We should be helping people vote, not making it harder.” Auditors are the top election administrators in Iowa’s 99 counties. Weipert has been an outspoken critic of Secretary of State Paul Pate’s proposal to enact new voter ID and signature verification requirements. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a version of Pate’s bill earlier this month.

Weipert has argued voter ID would disenfranchise some voters and create long lines at polling places. While working on a post about his possible challenge to Pate, I intended to include footage from the Johnson County auditor’s remarks at the March 6 public hearing on House File 516. I’d watched the whole hearing online. However, I couldn’t find Weipert anywhere in the video the Iowa House of Representatives posted on YouTube and on the legislature’s website.

Upon closer examination, I realized the official record of that hearing omitted the testimony of sixteen people, including Weipert.

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Iowa Republicans on voter ID: La la la, we can't hear you

Bare-knuckles partisanship is a running theme of the 2017 Iowa legislative session, so Thursday’s party-line House vote to approve new voting restrictions was unremarkable. Nor was it surprising that Republicans cut off floor debate before members discussed most of the Democratic amendments to House File 516. Before last month, House leaders hadn’t invoked the “time certain” procedural maneuver since March 2011. They’ve used it twice this year already: to destroy collective bargaining rights and now for the bill containing voter ID, signature verification, and other ways to make voting more difficult.

After listening to the March 6 public hearing and about half of the twelve hours House members debated the bill, I was struck by how Republicans stayed on the message we’ve heard from Secretary of State Paul Pate. No one will be unable to vote because of this bill, and everyone who needs a new voter ID card will get one for free.

At the hearing and on the Iowa House floor, numerous speakers offered specific examples of how the GOP proposal could prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot.

They might as well have been talking to a wall.

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Follow-up Iowa licensing bill is dead

A new bill that would have named a task to study licensing requirements in Iowa will not move forward this legislative session, Republican State Representative Dawn Pettengill told representatives of the National Association of Social Workers Iowa chapter. House Study Bill 174 replaced an earlier proposal from Governor Terry Branstad, which would have eliminated licensing requirements for numerous professions. During the past week, House Study Bill 138 generated as many constituent contacts to Iowa lawmakers as the bill passed earlier this month to destroy collective bargaining rights. Among other things, the governor’s licensing bill would have reduced insurance coverage for mental health care services. On February 27, an Iowa House State Government subcommittee voted not to move that bill forward.

House State Government Committee Chair Ken Rizer introduced the replacement licensing bill on February 28. In addition to changing regulations in several other areas, House Study Bill 174 called for a new task force to review Iowa’s licensing requirements and report back to the legislature by the end of 2017.

Although Rizer’s bill would not have immediately affected marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, or social workers, the leading association representing Iowa’s social workers expressed concern that “the taskforce as outlined would mostly be selected by the Governor, who has demonstrated that he wants to de-professionalize many different important professions that serve some of our most vulnerable populations.” (You can read the task force membership provisions on on page 37.) The social workers group was seeking an amendment to give licensed professionals greater influence over the task force membership. But last night, Pettengill–one of two Republicans on the subcommittee where the new bill was assigned–said House Study Bill 174 was dead.

Most non-appropriations bills must be approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by March 3 in order to stay alive for this year. Bills need to clear a subcommittee before coming up for a full committee vote.

Whether the licensing task force language led to the new bill’s demise is not clear. The lobbyist declarations on House Study Bill 174 show substantial opposition, presumably related to other provisions on regulating hospitals and electricians.

P.S. Attention-seeking State Representative Bobby Kaufmann could have let the governor’s original licensing bill die quietly by not scheduling a subcommittee hearing, as is normal practice in the Iowa legislature. Instead, the publicity hound wasted a lot of people’s time before drawing cheers as he ripped up the bill’s cover sheet. Alas, television cameras had already left the meeting room before Kaufmann’s dramatic gesture. The young Republican lawmaker was literally not ready for prime time.

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