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collective bargaining

Branstad gives up trying to block union pay raises

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 04, 2011 at 14:33:45 PM CDT

Terry Branstad was incensed last year when outgoing Governor Chet Culver quickly agreed to contract terms proposed by AFSCME and other unions representing state employees. Culver signed off on AFSCME's request for a 2 percent across-the-board raise on July 1, 2011, followed by a 1 percent raise on January 1, 2012, another 2 percent raise on July 1, 2012, and a 1 percent raise on January 1, 2013. Other unions also asked for modest wage increases during the next two fiscal years.

On principle, Branstad felt Culver should have left the negotiating to the person who would be governor during the contract period. As a practical matter, Branstad insisted that the state of Iowa could not afford the salary hikes. He and other administration officials called on public sector unions to renegotiate the contracts, but union leaders refused to come back to the negotiating table.

This week Branstad formally asked the state legislature to give non-union state employees the same pay increases those represented by unions will receive.

While the governor continues to believe this contract spends too much money at a time when the state cannot afford it, there are not two classes of state employees, everyone is together and should be treated the same," [Branstad's spokesman Tim] Albrecht said.

The governor has not recommended the state pay for the upcoming salary increases. That means that state departments must find the money elsewhere in their budgets to pay for the salary increases.

House Study Bill 247 provides for the salary increases, as well as a few other things on the governor's wish list. For instance, the bill would "lift the cap on the salary of Iowa's economic development director, which Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, described as troubling."

AFSCME and other state employee unions won this round, but count on a bruising battle when it's time to negotiate contracts covering fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Branstad will resist pay increases and will demand benefit cuts, including substantial employee contributions to health insurance expenses. I wouldn't be surprised to see the contracts for state employee unions end up in arbitration during the next go-around.

If Republicans gain an Iowa Senate majority in the 2012 elections, union-busting will be high on the agenda. A bill to limit state employees' collective bargaining rights and curtail binding arbitration passed the Iowa House in March after a marathon floor debate. The bill died in the Iowa Senate Labor Committee.

P.S.--Branstad isn't getting along much better with private-sector unions. Yesterday the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the governor and other state entities to honor project labor agreements for construction projects in Coralville and Marshalltown.

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Iowa House cuts off debate, approves collective bargaining bill

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 12, 2011 at 10:55:19 AM CST

Three days into floor discussion of a bill to reduce public employee bargaining rights, Iowa House Republicans voted to cut off debate on House File 525 yesterday. At least 80 percent of more than 100 amendments proposed by House Democrats had not been discussed yet. The House proceeded to reject the remaining Democratic-proposed amendments in a quick series of votes, and the final bill passed 57 to 39. The House Journal (pdf) contains details on yesterday's debate, including all the roll calls. Most of the votes went along party lines. I was surprised to see one House Republican (Gary Worthan of district 52) vote with the whole Democratic caucus against final passage of the bill. I wonder whether he accidentally pressed the wrong button there, because he voted with the rest of the Republicans on ending debate and lots of amendments.

House Democrats were outraged by the Republican maneuver and the fact that the House switchboard wasn't working Friday morning (which House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said was an oversight). Jason Clayworth noted at the Des Moines Register, "Limiting debate without the prior agreement to both parties is rare but not unique. Democrats, for example, limited debate in 2009 on another union bill known as prevailing wage that would have setting standards for minimum pay and benefits on government projects."

Paulsen said the bill "addresses the cost of government in Iowa" by "leveling the playing field for taxpayers." I am so tired of Republicans scapegoating public employees for our budgetary constraints. Iowa is in better fiscal condition than more than 40 other states. In any event, there is "no correlation between state budget shortfalls and union negotiating laws":

"The thing that's driving budget shortfalls is the impact of the national economy on state revenues," said Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington, D.C. "It's definitely other factors driving these shortfalls," rather than union agreements, she said. [...]

Five states - Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia - prohibit public employee union negotiations. Each of those states faces budget shortfalls that cumulatively amount to almost $20 billion, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Council on Teacher Quality say.

Texas, one of the states prohibiting public union negotiations, has one of the largest projected budget shortfalls for next year, figured as a percentage of the current budget.

Iowa is among states with one of the lowest projected shortfalls for next year.

Forty-five states face budget shortfalls for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of the five states that do not face budget shortfalls, each allows some type of public employee union bargaining.

Iowa's public employees are paid less than their private sector counterparts when education levels, experience and hours worked are taken into account. Republicans tell us modest raises (about 3 percent per year) for state employees are unaffordable because they would cost $414 million over two years (if non-contract employees get the same pay increases). Yet David Osterberg pointed out this week,

The Iowa House has proposed cutting state income taxes by 20 percent. That would cost $350 million in 2012 and $700 million per year subsequently.

The governor has proposed lowering the top rate on the corporate income tax. That would cost $130 million in 2012 and $200 million per year subsequently.

The Senate and House have proposed adopting "bonus depreciation" rules. These new breaks for business would cost the treasury between $27 million and $83 million in 2011 and $99 million and $141 million in 2012.

While Republicans are selling House File 525 as a way to control government spending, the bill appears to be designed to undermine organized labor. It would shred binding arbitration and create new incentives for state employees not to join a union. In a statement yesterday, Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "Like Wisconsin, Republicans in Iowa will stop at nothing to take away rights from police officers, fire fighters, state troopers, teachers, correctional officers and other hard-working Iowans. This bill to end collective bargaining is worse than the bill approved in Wisconsin earlier today." After the jump I've posted excerpts from a House Democratic Research staff analysis on the bill.

Senate Democratic leaders have made clear that House File 525 is going nowhere in the upper chamber this year. If Republicans gain a majority in the Iowa Senate in 2012, they will certainly revive this kind of legislation.

Members of Congress rarely comment on news from the Iowa legislature, but both Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) released statements on yesterday's Iowa House vote. I've posted those after the jump.

MARCH 14 UPDATE: Iowa Senate Labor Committee Chair Wally Horn confirmed that this bill won't make it out of committee in the upper chamber and is therefore dead for the 2011 legislative session.

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Politics 101: Every mic is a live mic

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 11, 2011 at 08:00:00 AM CST

Members of the Iowa House Republican leadership team forgot that simple rule yesterday.

The video and transcript are after the jump.

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Iowa and Wisconsin collective bargaining discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 09, 2011 at 20:25:49 PM CST

The Iowa House settled in Wednesday for a long floor debate on the labor bill formerly known as House Study Bill 117, now House File 525 (full text). This bill would sharply restrict collective bargaining rights and end binding arbitration for public employee unions. When the Iowa House Labor Committee considered this bill, Democrats kept lawmakers in session all night, offering dozens of amendments. House Democrats have proposed at least 100 amendments for consideration on the floor, and many legislators are speaking about each one. About six hours into the debate, fewer than ten amendments have been considered. It's not clear whether the chamber will adjourn later tonight, but even if House members pull another all-nighter, this debate could take days. With a 60-40 majority, Republicans have the votes to pass House File 525 eventually, but it could be an exhausting experience. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to block the bill in the upper chamber.

Meanwhile, Governor Terry Branstad traveled the state today pushing his message about how Iowa can't afford to give public employees raises during the next two fiscal years. Statehouse Democrats say that Iowa can afford the new union contracts negotiated by former Governor Chet Culver, if Republicans give up their planned corporate and higher-income tax cuts.

Labor issues were contentious even when Democrats had the trifecta in Iowa. Culver's 2008 veto of a bill that would have expanded collective bargaining rights caused a lasting rift between him and the state's labor movement. The following year, six House Democrats stood with Republicans to block a prevailing wage bill, undermining the credibility of the majority leaders. Another Democrat's opposition to "fair share" legislation prompted an unsuccessful primary challenge in 2010. Now that the political battle in Iowa has shifted to defending rather than expanding labor rights, the Democratic House caucus is more united.

Today's unusual circumstances in the Iowa House  are nothing compared to the circus unfolding in Wisconsin. Senate Democrats left the state three weeks ago to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass an even more restrictive collective bargaining bill. Republicans moved to end the standoff today by supposedly removing the fiscal portions of the labor bill, making it no longer subject to the Wisconsin Senate quorum rules. The chamber then convened and passed the bill in about five minutes with no debate or amendments and only one dissenting vote. However, Democrats claim not all parts of the bill affecting the budget were removed before today's power play; this pdf file is the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau's analysis of the revised bill. There will surely be a legal challenge to passing the bill without a quorum, and some union representatives in Wisconsin are even talking about organizing a general strike.

Any comments about political battles over labor issues are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Iowa House adjourned Wednesday night after eight hours of debate on House File 525. The discussion resumes on Thursday; here's a link to live video.

Senator Tom Harkin issued this statement on the Wisconsin events:

"I am appalled by the actions of the Republicans in Wisconsin.  They trampled over the democratic process, ramming through legislation taking away a fundamental right of Wisconsin's public servants - the right to organize.  The law has nothing to do with budgets.  It is blatant political scapegoating, and it is shameful.  Our elected leaders at every level of government should be focused on helping working families succeed, not tearing them down."
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Collective bargaining fight comes to Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 25, 2011 at 14:03:10 PM CST

The first all-nighter of the 2011 legislative session ended this morning around 6:05 am, as the Iowa House Labor Committee approved a bill restricting public employees' collective bargaining rights on a party-line vote.

Details on the bill, the debate, and the fight to come are after the jump.

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House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 13:10:40 PM CST

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters' forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: "The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work."

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked "fair share" legislation. The idea behind "fair share" is that employees who don't belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A "fair share" bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor's legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a "six-pack" of House Democrats.

This year's "fair share" proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing "fair share," even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he's not backing HF 2420, I don't see much chance of the "six-pack" members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that "reasonable reimbursement" for bargaining services "shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member" of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union's regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new "prevailing wage" bill is more likely to pass this session than "fair share." In 2009 the "six-pack" sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the "softer" version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Federal education grant summons ghost of labor bill past

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 15, 2010 at 10:42:01 AM CST

UPDATE: The Iowa House passed this bill on a party-line vote on Friday, and Culver signed it the same day.

Democratic state legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will allow Iowa to apply for a federal education grant of up to $175 million. The application is due on Tuesday, and Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. day, so Governor Chet Culver needs to be able to sign the bill this weekend.

The Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2033 on Wednesday. Senate Education Committee Chair Becky Schmitz summarized key provisions relating to the "Race to the Top" grant:

Specifically, the legislation before you today will:

   *     Remove the cap and repeal date for charter schools in Iowa.  Currently, Iowa Code has a 20 charter school cap and a repeal date for all charter schools on July 1, 2011.  [...]
   *     Allow schools to develop Innovation Zone Schools and Consortiums -This legislation adds innovation zone schools and consortiums to the ways that schools districts can foster innovation in more schools.

Senate Republicans voted against this bill, and House Republicans will do the same when it's considered today. They want to see Iowa relax current restrictions on who can operate a charter school. Additionally, they argue that it's unwise to apply for one-time federal funds to support ongoing education expenses. The GOP talking point of choice is to call this bill "Race for the Cash."

Republicans also claim the bill would shift authority toward "union bosses" because of provisions that are not directly linked to the federal grant application. More on that story is after the jump.

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Some Iowa House Democrats will get primary challengers

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 12, 2009 at 14:02:13 PM CDT

The Democratic-controlled legislature failed to pass some important bills during the 2009 legislative session, including a tax reform package and all major agenda items for organized labor.

Since the fiasco that doomed the "prevailing wage" bill in February, I've thought that electing better Democrats to the state legislature is at least as important as electing more Democrats. With a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House, it's ridiculous not to be able to find 51 votes for some of these bills.

According to a letter I received last weekend, Ed and Lynn Fallon of I'M for Iowa are already meeting with potential progressive challengers in some House districts. I've posted the full text of the letter after the jump. I share their disappointment with what the Democratic "trifecta" has accomplished since the 2006 elections.

The Fallons do not specify where they are recruiting candidates. The obvious targets are the six House Democrats who refused to support "prevailing wage." Known in Iowa political circles as the "six-pack," these incumbents also stood in the way of other labor bills. Of those six, Geri Huser and Dolores Mertz seem particularly likely targets, because they supported House Republican efforts to ban same-sex marriage in April. Marriage equality is one of I'M for Iowa's priority issues.

Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to "six-pack" members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).

Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts. In fact, first-termer Marek will probably be the most endangered Democratic House incumbent next year. Bailey beat back a strong challenge from Republicans to win a second term by a fairly healthy margin in 2008, but according to this report by Iowa Independent's Jason Hancock, some House Democrats have been "quietly concerned" that he might consider switching parties.

Mertz is a longtime incumbent in a very conservative district. In the unlikely event that a progressive challenger defeated her, Republicans would almost certainly pick up the seat. On the other hand, a smaller Democratic House caucus without Mertz would be an improvement over a larger caucus with Mertz, in my opinion. As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, she blocks any decent bill in sight, and she will be the Republicans' biggest Democratic ally in the fight to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling in Varnum v Brien.

Two big questions come to mind. First, will organized labor put money and/or foot soldiers into serious Democratic primary races? Earlier this year, Ken Sagar of the Iowa AFL-CIO didn't rule out supporting competitors to Democrats who are unfriendly to labor.

Second, will the Iowa House Democratic leadership spend money or political capital to defend targeted incumbents? In 2008 the Iowa Democratic Party blocked Huser's primary challenger from access to the voter database. I heard from multiple sources at the time that the House Democrats made that call. Huser returned her colleagues' favor by not being a team player during the general election campaign, then refusing to support the labor bills mentioned above.

I look forward to reading your comments on whether it's worth taking on any House Democratic incumbents next year, and if so, which ones. The Fallons' letter laying out the case for primary challenges is after the jump.

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Final results from the Iowa Legislature's 2009 session

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Apr 26, 2009 at 08:12:01 AM CDT

The Iowa House adjourned for the year a little after 5 am today, and the Iowa Senate adjourned a few minutes before 6 am. I'll write more about what happened and didn't happen in the next day or two, but I wanted to put up this thread right away so people can share their opinions.

Several major bills passed during the final marathon days in which legislators were in the statehouse chambers nearly all night on Friday and Saturday. The most important were the 2010 budget and an infrastructure bonding proposal. Legislators also approved new restrictions on the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. Another high-profile bill that made it through changes restrictions on convicted sex offenders.

Several controversial bills did not pass for lack of a 51st vote in the Iowa House, namely a tax reform plan that would have ended federal deductibility and key legislative priorities for organized labor.

Not surprisingly, last-minute Republican efforts to debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage also failed.

More details and some preliminary analysis are after the jump.

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The price of a flawed coordinated campaign

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 21, 2009 at 07:31:56 AM CST

The "prevailing wage" bill, one of organized labor's top legislative priorities, stalled in the Iowa House on Friday as Democrats were unable to find a 51st vote. Apparently the plan is to try to twist someone's arm over the weekend:

House Speaker Pat Murphy will keep the voting machine open the entire weekend until Democrats can convince one of their dissenting members to change their vote. The move will mean Murphy will have to sleep in the chamber over the weekend.

"I want to be sure that taxpayer money is going to responsible Iowa employers who pay a decent wage, not employers who take advantage of people like we've seen in Postville and Atalissa," Murphy said. "As the presiding officer of the House, I will stay in the Speaker's chair and the voting machine will remain open until Monday. My goal is to get 51 votes and make sure we have good-paying jobs for middle class families."

This post is not about the merits of the bill, which I support. (Click here for background on House file 333, which "would require that companies that contract for public projects pay workers wages and benefits comparable to private projects in the area.")

This post is about why Democratic House leaders now face two unappealing outcomes: either they fail to pass a good bill supported by a key Democratic constituency, or they force one of their members into an embarrassing about-face that could affect the next election campaign.

Further thoughts on this mess are after the jump.

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Gronstal and Kibbie set the tone on the Iowa Senate's opening day

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2009 at 11:19:32 AM CST

The Iowa Legislature opened its 2009 session today, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal let the members of the upper chamber know that he has "never seen such a tough situation" with the state budget and economy in his 26 years at the statehouse.

In his opening address the the Iowa Senate, Gronstal listed some of the biggest challenges facing legislators, in particular rebuilding communities damages by last year's natural disasters and leading Iowa "through these tough times without sabotaging the commitments we've made on economic growth, health care and education."

He warned that a lot of legislators won't get what they want this year:

Our resources are limited.  We will say "no" to many good ideas.  We are going to disappoint some people and frustrate others.

If your idea of being an elected official involves being loved by everyone, the next few months will be pretty rough.

Gronstal also noted that bipartisan majorities approved many key policies in Iowa during the past few years, and called for finding "bipartisan solutions" to this year's challenges.

In his opening address to the chamber, Senate President Jack Kibbie echoed Gronstal's warning that leaders will be saying "no" to a lot of requests from legislators.

He also advocated some policies that are anything but bipartisan: a gas tax hike and the expansion of workers' bargaining rights.

Kibbie said increasing the gas tax would create jobs and boost economic development:

First, we can no longer put off the challenges to our transportation infrastructure. It is vital that we begin to clear the backlog of projects that play a  significant role in future economic development. In my district my constituents, Republicans and Democrats, all tell me that we need to get to work and if the only impediment to that progress is money they are willing to pay a few more cents at the pump. I support efforts that result in a gas tax increase. Success in that endeavor will mean better roads, jobs, and an economic boost to Iowa's families and communities.

I've supported a gas tax increase since John Anderson proposed it during his 1980 presidential campaign, but I don't expect that measure to get through the legislature without a bruising battle.

Here's a piece listing the many potential benefits of a federal gas tax increase. Kibbie is talking about a smaller increase in the state gas tax, but many of the same benefits would apply.

Kibbie also said Iowa workers need good wages, and therefore "we should not fear passing Legislation that help[s] workers bargain for a better future."

Kibbie could be referring to the "fair share" bill that Democrats didn't have to votes to get through the Iowa House in 2007, or to the collective bargaining bill that Governor Chet Culver vetoed last spring. Either way, Republicans and corporate interest groups will put up a fight.

Getting labor legislation through the Iowa House, where Democrats have a 56-44 majority, is likely to be more difficult than getting it through the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have a 32-18 majority.

The complete texts of the opening statements by Gronstal and Kibbie (as prepared) are after the jump.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 31, 2008 at 22:00:00 PM CST

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I've linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I'll do a review of Bleeding Heartland's 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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Will any Democrat challenge Culver in 2010?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 17, 2008 at 10:35:11 AM CST

I keep hearing chatter about a possible primary challenge to Governor Chet Culver in 2010. This scenario strikes me as extremely unlikely, but I want to encourage others to weigh in on this comment thread.

Running a statewide primary campaign is expensive. Who has the money for that? I can't think of any self-funding candidate who would step up to challenge Culver. Anyone else have names in mind?

Organized labor has money and is unhappy with the governor, largely because he vetoed a collective-bargaining bill during the 2008 legislative session.

But most labor unions supported Mike Blouin in the 2006 primary, and their backing wasn't enough to defeat Culver before he was an incumbent. Culver will go into the next campaign with huge institutional advantages he didn't have as the secretary of state.

It would seem more logical for organized labor to continue the strategy they adopted this year: focus their political giving on statehouse candidates likely to support their agenda. If Culver continues to disappoint, simply don't donate to his re-election campaign. That is cheaper than spending lots of money on a primary challenger.

I think there's a decent chance the 56 Democrats who will be in the Iowa House in 2009 will be able to pass either "fair share" legislation (which would weaken Iowa's right-to-work law) or a collective-bargaining bill like the one Culver vetoed. Getting those bills through the new Senate will be no problem. As I've written before, Culver supports fair share, and it wasn't his fault it couldn't get through the House in 2007. I also doubt Culver would veto a collective-bargaining bill a second time.

If labor unions decide to go all out against Culver, who could they find? I can't think of many politicians with enough stature to pull this off. A few people have named sitting legislators in conversations with me, but I find it hard to believe any of them would take that risk. Look how the Democratic establishment reacted when Ed Fallon challeged the thoroughly mediocre Leonard Boswell in the third district Congressional primary.

Anyway, none of the current leadership in the House and Senate would be likely to win the support of other Democrats who have their own reasons for being disappointed with Culver. For instance, environmentalists who wish the governor would back agricultural zoning at the county level (also known as "local control" of CAFOs) have gotten zero help from statehouse leaders since Democrats regained the majority. Ditto for liberals who want to see the legislature adopt campaign finance reform (the Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections act).

One person suggested to me that a primary challenger would not be able to defeat Culver, but could damage him enough to cost us the governor's chair in 2010. I find this scenario unlikely as well. Let's say organized labor backs someone like Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal for governor. I don't think he will run against Culver, I'm just throwing out his name because he is well known and could raise a significant amount of money. He hasn't put muscle behind local control or clean elections--on the contrary, he insulted a group of activists who came to the capitol in April 2007 to lobby for the VOICE act. I don't see him getting enough traction in a primary campaign to do real damage. If anything, he could help Culver with swing voters in the general election, by showing that the big, bad "special interests" are unhappy with the governor.

I don't mean to sound complacent. The Republican Party of Iowa is bruised and divided now but could rebound by 2010 with the right gubernatorial candidate. More important, the fiscal outlook is terrible at both the national and state level. That and other continuing economic problems pose a much bigger threat to Culver's re-election than the prospect of a Democratic primary challenger.

What do you think?

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Unions right to support statehouse candidates, not Culver

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Sep 26, 2008 at 19:10:26 PM CDT

The Des Moines Register reports that major labor unions in Iowa are giving to Democratic candidates for the state legislature this year, but not to Governor Chet Culver. The article mentions the Iowa State Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others.

The bad blood between Culver and organized labor stems primarily from the governor's veto of a collective bargaining bill that was rushed through the legislature this year.

As I've written before, I think labor advocates are wrong to put all of the blame on Culver for the mess surrounding the collective bargaining bill.

But I think they are absolutely right to focus their giving on the state legislative races now. The bigger the Democratic majority, the better the chance of getting good bills on labor issues through the legislative process. The collective bargaining bill could be revived and passed the normal way, without limited debate.

The "fair share" bill that cleared the Iowa Senate in 2007 but not the House could probably be passed with a pickup of a handful of House seats this year. Culver said in 2007 that he supported "fair share," and I think he is almost certain to sign such a bill if it reaches his desk.

There's no reason for unions to give Culver money now. It's far more important to expand the Democratic majorities in the legislature. There will be plenty of time for them to donate to Culver's gubernatorial campaign in 2009 and 2010, depending on his actions during next year's legislative session.  

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Four comments and a question on the bad blood between Culver and organized labor

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 08:00:00 AM CDT

Not long ago I wrote about tension between Governor Chet Culver and advocates for organized labor in Iowa.

The Des Moines Register reported this week that labor layer Mark Hedberg has created a few hundred fake milk cartons with Culver's photo under the word "MISSING":

"Have you seen me?" the cartons read. "Description: Democratic Governor with alleged loyalty to Iowa workers and Labor. ... Approach With Caution: May have developed amnesia and is known to throw fits when reminded of his promises. If found, please call 1-800-NOT-LOYAL."

The Uncommon Blog of Iowa posted a photo of the fake milk cartons.

The Des Moines Register described the text on Hedberg's creations:

BRAND NAME: The brand name of the milk is C Abunchof Hot Air. Under that label, it says: "Empty words added. Grade F homogenized pasteurized."
SLOGANS: One side says "got chet?" and "High hopes by voters. Broken promises by Chet."
NUTRITION INFORMATION: In the nutrition chart, the serving size is "1 term (4 years)." It goes on: "Amount of Support Per Serving: Hot Air 600, Empty Words 520." There's a breakdown of a fictitious percentage of daily values: corporate terrorist money 100%, secret health care legislation 100%, raising taxes on Iowa workers 100%, broken promises to labor 100%. It cites 0% for public employee union rights, fair share, prevailing wage, choice of doctor, employee misclassification and leadership.

"Corporate terrorist money" supposedly refers to a $5,000 campaign contribution to Culver from Agriprocessors, which allegedly has committed numerous labor and safety violations at its meat-packing plant in Postville.

The Register quoted Hedberg as saying that no union helped him pay for or assemble the fake milk cartons. His professional web site lists AFSCME and seven other unions as clients.

I've got four comments and one question regarding the issues Hedberg raised.

Comment 1: This wasn't the best time to tease Culver about being missing on the job.

I find myself in rare agreement with Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson, who noted that Culver has been "anything but missing" in recent weeks. He's been out there talking with Iowans in dozens of flooded communities.

Comment 2: Aside from collective bargaining, which refers to a bill Culver vetoed (House File 2645), most of Hedberg's complaints apply equally to the Democratic leadership in the state legislature.

After all, it was the Iowa House and Senate which passed bills Hedberg doesn't like (such as the cigarette tax increase) and failed to pass things he wants (such as "fair share" or "prevailing wage" legislation).

The Register quoted Hedberg as blaming Culver for the inaction: "He lost an opportunity to work out a joint party agenda and get it passed," Hedberg said. "He didn't take the initiative."

My recollection is that Culver did support the "fair share" proposal. If the votes weren't there to pass that or other measures important to organized labor, the solution is to elect more and better Democrats to the Iowa legislature.

The major labor unions in this state recognize this and are working to expand the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

The money Hedberg spent on his publicity stunt would have been better spent supporting the campaigns of Democratic incumbents or challengers who are good on labor issues. I'm sure he knows who they are.

Comment 3: Regarding the collective bargaining bill that Culver vetoed, I believe that labor advocates are wrong to put all of the blame for that mess on the governor.

As I've written before, I support the substance of the collective bargaining bill. However, the way that bill was passed would have made Culver look like a tool of organized labor if he had signed it.

The solution is for the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate to pass a collective bargaining bill the normal way next year. That is, get the proposal out in the open early in the session and allow full debate. Don't let someone offer it as an extra-long amendment after the "funnel" deadline for introducing new legislation has passed, and then try to limit debate on the measure.

With several more Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate, we could get a good collective bargaining bill through with no problem.

Comment 4: I suspect that publicity about organized labor being mad at Culver is on balance good for the governor. Who can claim that he is beholden to "special interest" unions when a labor lawyer is giving him low ratings on their issues and the Iowa Federation of Labor's newsletter publishes this?

"The 2008 Legislative Session will go down in Iowa labor history as the session when a Democratic governor turned his back on the unions that enthusiastically supported him and helped get him elected," the newsletter said. "When Gov. Culver vetoed the public sector collective bargaining bill, not only public workers, but all of labor was stunned by what they felt was an out-and-out betrayal."

If Hedberg's goal is to drum up more business for his law firm, fake milk cartons making fun of Culver might achieve that. But if the goal is pressuring the governor to spend more political capital on supporting labor's legislative agenda, I don't see this working.

The milk cartons give the serving size for Culver as "1 term (4 years)." But let's get real. Labor unions are not going to support a Democratic primary challenger to Culver in 2010, and they are not going to support his Republican opponent.

This whole controversy will probably help Culver's reelection campaign more than it hurts.

Which leads me to my question for labor advocates who are angry with Culver:

Do you have any reason to believe that Mike Blouin, whom AFSCME and some other unions endorsed in the 2006 Democratic primary for governor, would have signed the collective bargaining bill under the same circumstances, or would have done more to adopt "fair share" or "prevailing wage" legislation?

If so, I'd like to hear why. I never did fully understand the union support for Blouin. It's not as if Blouin's economic development work focused on creating union jobs or promoting collective bargaining. If anything, he got more money and support from Chamber of Commerce types than Culver.

Let's elect a stronger Democratic majority in the Iowa House and Senate. If good labor bills are adopted through normal legislative procedures in 2009, I expect Culver to sign them.

UPDATE: Someone has e-mailed me to note that AFSCME and other unions endorsed Blouin not because they thought he'd be better on labor issues, but because they thought Culver couldn't beat Jim Nussle.

That was also my impression (although I have no contacts inside those unions).

I think that if they'd gotten their wish and Blouin had won the primary, we would have a governor no more supportive of collective bargaining or "fair share" than Culver, and perhaps even less supportive.  

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