"We have to wake the watchdog up": Why Rob Sand's running for state auditor

The state auditor of Iowa is not a “sexy office,” former Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand told me earlier this fall. “But it’s a huge opportunity for public service, because I think that the way that it’s run right now, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit for improvement.”

Sand kicked off his candidacy this morning with a website and Facebook page. He’s been tweeting for some time at @RobSandIA. His opening video is here. At the end of this post I’ve enclosed Sand’s campaign committee, including activists and elected officials from many parts of the state as well as Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell.

Sand discussed with Bleeding Heartland how he would approach the job and why he is running against Republican incumbent Mary Mosiman, a certified public accountant who has served as state auditor since 2013. Although this office is not the obvious choice for an attorney, Sand considers his experience prosecuting white-collar crime “my biggest qualification” and a key reason he could improve on Mosiman’s work. Moreover, he’s not afraid to call out a “historically irresponsible” state budget.

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IA-Gov: Andy McGuire has her work cut out for her

I’ve never seen a bigger disconnect between Iowa Democratic Party donors and activists than in their attitude toward Dr. Andy McGuire as a candidate for governor.

I’ve never seen a bigger disconnect between Iowa pundits and activists than in their assessment of McGuire’s chances to become the Democratic nominee.

Since McGuire rolled out her campaign three weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about how she might persuade enough rank-and-file Democrats to support her in a crowded gubernatorial field. I’m stumped.

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Josh Mandelbaum taking on Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley

Promising to be a “voice for strong neighborhoods and strong schools,” defending local interests and fighting harmful state policies, Josh Mandelbaum confirmed Thursday night that he will run for Des Moines City Council against 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley. I enclose below the audio and full transcript of Mandelbaum’s first campaign speech, along with background on the candidate and a map of Ward 3, which covers west-side neighborhoods south of University Avenue and much of the south side.

I’ve been acquainted with Mandelbaum since before he was a policy advisor for Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson. More recently, I’ve closely observed his work on renewable energy and clean water issues through our mutual involvement in Iowa environmental circles. I’m an active supporter of the non-profit Environmental Law & Policy Center, where Mandelbaum is a staff attorney. Last year Midwest Energy News named Mandelbaum to its “40 Under 40” list of list of “emerging leaders” working on “America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” He was one of only two Iowans to receive that recognition.

Even if I couldn’t personally vouch for Mandelbaum’s talent and work ethic, I would be excited to see a progressive willing to take on this incumbent. Hensley’s 2015 vote to extend a tax abatement program was indirectly a vote to benefit her employer. Timothy Meinch reported for the Des Moines Register at the time that the city attorney “warned of an ‘appearance of impropriety’ and ‘potential of a conflict of interest’” before Hensley “cast a pivotal vote in favor of developers.” Des Moines Cityview’s Civic Skinny column explained here how Hensley’s deciding vote benefited Midwest Housing Equity Group, “an Omaha-based firm that syndicates and sells tax credits from developers” where she “is a director and paid consultant.”

Hensley has given Des Moines residents plenty of other reasons to look for new representation. Mandelbaum covered several of them in the remarks I transcribed below. Her most egregious act was joining the small board of directors of the Orwellian-named Iowa Partnership for Clean Water. This advocacy organization grew out of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s desire to discredit the Des Moines Water Works, which delivers drinking water to half a million central Iowans, including all of Hensley’s constituents. My theory is that Hensley hitched her wagon to this cause in the hope of becoming Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s running mate in the 2018 race for governor. Whatever her motives, she chose to stand with Big Ag against her own city’s utility, despite evidence connecting farm runoff with high nitrate levels and toxic algae blooms that threaten the local water supply.

This year Hensley urged the city council to support legislation that would disband the Des Moines Water Works. The bill is widely understood to be retribution for the Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa (see the first part of this post). Mandelbaum spoke against House File 484 at a public hearing earlier this month; scroll down to view the video.

Taking on an entrenched incumbent is always an uphill battle, especially for a first-time candidate. Hensley will raise a ton of money. Even so, this race is winnable for Mandelbaum. City council elections are low-turnout affairs. Hensley didn’t have a challenger in 2005 or in 2009 and defeated Cal Woods by 3,536 votes to 2,248 four years ago.

Ward 3 “has an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and has a D+20 performance index,” Pat Rynard noted last month. The Water Works issue alone is highly salient for Des Moines residents. A large number of teachers and public workers live on the west and south sides of Des Moines, as do many progressives interested in economic and social justice. If Mandelbaum can tap into outrage over statehouse Republicans destroying collective bargaining rights and lowering the minimum wage in Polk County, don’t bet against him turning out a few thousand Democrats who have never voted in a local election before. He won’t be able to match Hensley’s fundraising, but with Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell co-chairing his campaign, he should raise enough money to get his message out to Ward 3 residents.

This race will be one of the most important local elections in central Iowa this November. Please spread the word.

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IA-Sen: Patty Judge highlights support from women in first batch of endorsements

Claiming to have “a broad, statewide network that can work together to defeat Chuck Grassley,” former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge today released a list of nearly 60 prominent Iowa Democrats supporting her candidacy for U.S. Senate. I enclose below the full campaign statement, which highlighted endorsements from:

• “every living Democratic woman to hold a statewide office in Iowa,” namely former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, former Secretary of State Elaine Baxter, and former Lieutenant Governors Sally Pederson and Jo Ann Zimmerman. Gender will be a factor for many Iowa Democrats weighing their choices in the four-way IA-Sen primary.

• “activists and community leaders,” such as LGBTQ advocates Nate Monson, Cecilia Martinez, and Bobbi Fogle; Jill June, the longtime leader of Iowa’s largest Planned Parenthood chapter; Joe Henry, national vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens; and former Secretary of State nominee Brad Anderson.

• “current and former elected officials,” including former U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell, Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, former Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba, and former Cedar Rapids Mayor Kay Halloran.

• former Iowa Democratic Party chairs Rob Tully and Michael Kiernan (and Bonnie Campbell), along with current and former county party chairs.

Also worth noting:

• While Judge’s list is heavy on Iowans who backed Hillary Clinton for president, it includes some well-known Bernie Sanders endorsers like Gluba and Henry.

• Judge has not peeled away any of the 61 Democratic state lawmakers (including 25 women) who endorsed State Senator Rob Hogg for IA-Sen earlier this year, before the former lieutenant governor and Iowa secretary of agriculture was known to be considering this race.

Any comments about the Senate campaign are welcome in this thread. With all respect to Judge and the women and men named below, someone who aligned herself with the Iowa Farm Bureau against efforts to clean up waterways will never get my vote in a Democratic primary.

P.S.- I got a kick out of seeing both Joe Henry and Des Moines activist Sean Bagniewski on Judge’s supporter list. Less than two weeks ago, they were key players on opposite sides in the epic drama also known as the Polk County Democratic Convention.

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Iowa Senate district 16: Nate Boulton raised more money in four months than Dick Dearden did in seven years

When Nate Boulton announced his Iowa Senate campaign in September, he subtly indicated he would be a different kind of legislator than State Senator Dick Dearden, the longtime Democratic incumbent who is retiring this year. Boulton promised to “be an active and engaged representative of district interests” and to “bring bold progressive ideas and a fresh, energetic style of leadership to the Iowa Senate.”

Just a few months into his primary race against Pam Dearden Conner, the retiring senator’s daughter, Boulton sent a strong signal that he will be a more “active and engaged” candidate as well. Campaign finance disclosure forms show that Boulton raised $75,383 during the last four months of the year, a phenomenal total for a non-incumbent, first-time state legislative candidate in Iowa. Not only did Boulton out-raise his primary rival, he raised more than Dearden (a 22-year incumbent) has brought in cumulatively since 2008.

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Thoughts on Terry Branstad's longevity and legacy

Terry Branstad front photo photo_front_gov_zpsobbhiahu.png

December 14 marked 7,642 days that Terry Branstad has been governor of Iowa, making him the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, according to Eric Ostermeier of the Smart Politics website. Because most states have term limits for governors, “The odds of anyone passing [Branstad] in the 21st Century are next to none,” Ostermeier told Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press.

Speaking about his legacy, Branstad has emphasized the diversification of Iowa’s economy, even though a governor has far less influence over such trends than Branstad seems to believe. Some have cited “fiscal conservatism” as a hallmark of Branstad’s leadership. I strongly disagree. The man who has been governor for nearly half of my lifetime is stingy about spending money on education and some other critical public services. He opposes bonding initiatives commonly used in other states to fund infrastructure projects (“you don’t borrow your way to prosperity”). But he is happy to provide tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations that don’t need the help, without any regard for the future impact of those tax expenditures on the state budget. Many of Iowa’s “giveaways” in the name of economic development will never pay for themselves.

Branstad’s governing style has changed Iowa in important ways. He has altered Iowans’ expectations for their governor. He has expanded executive power at the expense of both the legislative branch and local governments. And particularly during the last five years, he has given corporate interests and business leaders more control over state policy. More thoughts on those points are after the jump, along with excerpts from some of the many profiles and interviews published as today’s landmark approached.

P.S.- Speaking of Branstad doing what business elites want him to do, Iowa Public Television’s “Governor Branstad: Behind the Scenes” program, which aired on December 11, included a telling snippet that I’ve transcribed below. During a brief chat at the Iowa State Fair, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter asked Branstad to call Bruce Harreld, at that time one of the candidates to be president of the University of Iowa. That Rastetter asked Branstad to reassure Harreld was first reported right after the Board of Regents hired the new president, but I didn’t know they had the conversation in public near a television camera.

P.P.S.-Now that Branstad has made the history books, I remain convinced that he will not serve out his sixth term. Sometime between November 2016 and July 2017, he will resign in order to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to run for governor in 2018 as the incumbent. Although Branstad clearly loves his job, he is highly motivated to make Reynolds the next governor. She lacks a strong base of support in the Republican Party, because she was relatively inexperienced and largely unknown when tapped to be Branstad’s running mate in 2010. Even assuming she is the incumbent, Reynolds strikes me as more likely to lose than to win a statewide gubernatorial primary. Remaining in Branstad’s shadow would give Reynolds little chance of topping a field that will probably include Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

P.P.S.S.-I will always believe Branstad could have been beaten in 1990, if Democrats had nominated a stronger candidate than Don Avenson. Attorney General Tom Miller lost that three-way primary for one reason only: he was against abortion rights. Miller later changed that stance but never again ran for higher office.

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