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Mark Chelgren's empty birthday gesture

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 14:15:49 PM CST

State Senator Mark Chelgren celebrated his 45th birthday last week with cupcakes for fellow senators and a promise that he will try to change an obscure part of the Iowa Constitution.

Legislators often introduce bills solely to make a political statement, but even in that context, Chelgren's effort is an impressive feat of irrelevant grandstanding.  

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Steve King wants you to know he's no sellout

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 12:00:27 PM CST

Congressional press releases don't always tell you about important votes, but they always tell you what members of Congress want you to know about them. Representative Steve King (R, IA-04) didn't release a statement last week explaining his vote to let John Boehner stay on as House speaker. But I think he's a little worried about his street cred as a bold conservative, because he quickly moved to flaunt his work on some hopeless right-wing causes.  
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Remembering the Tinker case

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:55:00 AM CST

A former Iowa student whose black armband led to an important U.S. Supreme Court decision of the 1960s died last week in Florida, the Des Moines Register reported yesterday. The Iowa Civil Liberties Union sued the Des Moines Independent Community School district on behalf of Christopher Eckhardt and his friends John Tinker and Mary Beth Tinker after all three students were suspended for wearing black armbands to their schools as an anti-war protest. The case eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1969 that the school principals were not justified in limiting the students' free expression.

Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. Comm. School Dist. may be the most important case from Iowa ever to reach the Supreme Court. Judges have applied the "Tinker standard" in many other First Amendment cases. After the jump I've posted links about the case and some reflections on Eckhardt's role.

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Grassley yes, Harkin no on five more years of warrantless wiretapping

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 12:50:00 PM CST

The U.S. Senate voted today to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for five more years, allowing "electronic eavesdropping" without a warrant to continue in the U.S. and abroad. President Barack Obama (who at one time opposed the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping policy) will sign the bill sometime before the end of December 31. Follow me after the jump for details on the Senate voting, including how Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted on various amendments.

When the U.S. House approved this bill in September, four of the five Iowans voted yes: Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was among 118 House members to oppose the bill.

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Iowa political reaction to the Sandy Hook school massacre (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 16:55:00 PM CST

The horrific mass killing at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut has dominated news coverage since Friday, and almost everyone I know has been talking about the tragedy. But only a few Iowa politicians have publicly discussed the events or possible ways to prevent similar crimes.

Remarks by Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Dave Loebsack, State Senator Rob Hogg, and Governor Terry Branstad are after the jump. I'm disappointed but not surprised that the governor is not open to any new restrictions on assault weapons or large ammunition clips. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who like Branstad has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, today called for moving "beyond rhetoric" on gun control. His comments are also below.

I've sought comment from other members of Iowa's Congressional delegation and will update this post if I hear back from any of them. UPDATE: Added Representative Bruce Braley's comments below.

SECOND UPDATE: Added Senator Chuck Grassley's comments during a December 17 radio interview.

LATER UPDATE: Added comments from Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass.

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Mid-week open thread: End of Prohibition edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 16:14:40 PM CST

The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect 79 years ago today, ending the Prohibition era. Utah was the last state needed to reach the necessary three-fourths majority for approving the constitutional amendment.

Few Americans living today can remember the political environment that led to the failed Prohibition experiment. Public water fountains established by local chapters of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union are perhaps the only visible remnants of the temperance movement.

At the 1874 organizing convention of the National Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the members were urged to erect drinking fountains in their towns so that men could get a drink of water without entering saloons and staying for stronger drinks. Often the drinking fountains that were erected offered a place for horses to drink, another place for dogs, and of course, a place for humans to drink.

Two WCTU fountains remain in Iowa: in Edgewood (Clayton and Delaware Counties) and Shenandoah (Page County). UPDATE: Added a photo of the fountain in Shenandoah below.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Judge Robert Pratt legacy thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 12:05:00 PM CST

Former U.S. Attorney Stephanie Rose was sworn in yesterday as a federal judge. She is the youngest federal judge currently serving as well as the first woman on the bench in the Southern District of Iowa. The Senate confirmed Rose in September by 89 votes to 1.

In remarks prepared for Rose's investiture, Senator Tom Harkin predicted her "legal skills and knowledge" and "great sense of justice and fairness" would make her a "superb judge." He recommended Rose for U.S. attorney and later put her on the short list for the federal judgeship.

I was struck by Harkin's comments about the retired Judge Robert Pratt, whom Rose replaces. I enclose those comments below, along with links on some of Pratt's most influential decisions.

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How Harkin and Grassley voted on the balanced budget amendments

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 14, 2011 at 15:41:22 PM CST

The Senate defeated Democratic and Republican versions of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution today. Details on the votes and statements from Iowa's senators are after the jump.
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PATRIOT Act 10th anniversary discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 21:11:18 PM CDT

Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush signed a bill called the "United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism," better known as the PATRIOT Act. It's a good time to reflect on the law's impact as well as how the Iowans in Congress voted on its provisions over the last decade.
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Impeachment going nowhere and other Iowa Supreme Court news

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 13:05:23 PM CDT

Last week, a group of conservative Iowa House Republicans finally made good on their promise to introduce articles of impeachment against the four remaining Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the 2009 Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. The impeachment bills won't make it out of committee, let alone the Iowa House, but there may be some political fallout from the effort.

After the jump I examine the articles of impeachment, future prospects for their backers and recent news related to the 2012 judicial retention elections.

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Open letter to Kim Pearson State Representative

by: Peacock372

Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 23:47:01 PM CST

(I hope not just Pearson, but other Iowa Republicans will read this letter. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Excerpt from the post.culture.shock blog

When I was in middle school, I earned spare money by babysitting for a lot of the neighborhood kids. One of the parents I was employed by was Kim Pearson, one of the sponsors of the bill in the Iowa House to amend the Constitution to ban not only gay marriage, but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. This is my letter to her. (edited somewhat with the recognition that this is now going to a lot of folks who don't know me as well as Kim did, and who likely don't care what I've been up to since I spent a summer taking care of her kids)

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Ten dishonest talking points on the marriage amendment in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 25, 2011 at 09:46:47 AM CST

A constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to couples of the opposite sex advanced on January 24 in both a subcommittee of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee and the full committee. House Joint Resolution 6 states, "Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state." Iowa Republicans have promised for months to approve a constitutional amendment overturning the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision striking down the state's Defense of Marriage Act. This amendment goes further, barring any kind of legal union apart from marriage and therefore any legal recognition for same-sex relationships.  

After an emotionally charged subcommittee hearing with more than 200 observers present, Republicans Dwayne Alons and Chris Hagenow voted to advance the amendment, while Democrat Beth Wessel-Kroeschell voted no. Later in the day, the full House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 13 to 8 vote. Democrat Kurt Swaim joined all 12 Republicans in voting yes, while the other Democrats on the committee voted no. Click here for a list of House Judiciary Committee members.

Reading the news coverage of yesterday's debate, I was struck by how many misleading talking points were used to justify denying rights and privileges to thousands of Iowans.  

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Catch-up thread on the Iowa Supreme Court

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 11:49:01 AM CST

Fallout from last month's vote against retaining Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker continues to make the news almost daily.

Follow me after the jump for links and analysis on the timetable for replacing Ternus, Streit and Baker, efforts to change Iowa's system for choosing judges, political pressure on the remaining justices, and how the retention vote will affect the 2012 elections.

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Weekend open thread: Odds and ends

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Nov 26, 2010 at 12:00:00 PM CST

Time with extended family means less time for blogging, so I'm posting the weekend open thread early. Here are some links to get the conversation going.

Rural voters were a crucial factor helping Republicans retake the U.S. House. Of the 125 most rural Congressional districts, Republicans held all 64 seats they had going into the election and flipped 39 Democratic districts (that alone would have been enough to give them a majority). Going into the election, Democrats held 61 of the 125 most rural Congressional districts. Now they hold only 22 of those districts, including IA-01 (Bruce Braley) and IA-02 (Dave Loebsack).

Smart Politics looked at what it calls "Iowa's Schizophrenic 2010 Electorate" and observed, "Never before in the history of Iowa elections have Republicans won a majority of seats in the Iowa House while Democrats won a majority of the Hawkeye State's U.S. House seats."

I listed the Iowa House and Senate Democrats before and after the election, grouped by Congressional district. Bleeding Heartland user American007 created red and blue Iowa maps showing which parties held state House and Senate districts before the election and after.

Fred Karger, a Republican political strategist and gay activist who's exploring a presidential bid, has been running this commercial on the Fox network this week in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities, Mason City, Ames, Burlington and Fort Dodge. Have you seen it? Hard to imagine a strong base of support for Karger in Iowa, but I'm glad a moderate may be running for president on the Republican side.

If Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels runs for president in 2012, some Iowa Republicans will not forgive him for supporting merit-based judicial selection in his state.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said all the "right" things about Iowa judges during his recent Des Moines visit. But this week Huckabee described the controversial searches of airline passengers as a "humiliating and degrading, totally unconstitutional, intrusion of their privacy." Uh oh! Social conservatives don't typically acknowledge that there is a constitutional right to privacy. That dreaded "penumbra" underlies U.S. Supreme Court rulings affirming reproductive rights.

I learned this week that New Hampshire has some elected Republican officias who support marriage equality. It's not clear whether there are enough of them to stop large GOP majorities from repealing same-sex marriage rights in that state. I wonder when (if ever) a current Republican office-holder in Iowa will defend equality.

Iowa First Lady Mari Culver says she accomplished what she set out to do during her husband's term as governor, and her kids are excited to be moving back to their West Des Moines home full-time.

What's on your mind this holiday weekend?  

Discuss :: (15 Comments)

Iowa Catholic Conference backs constitutional convention, not ousting judges

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 20:57:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Catholic Conference this week endorsed a ballot initiative calling for a constitutional convention, which church leaders view as a path to banning same-sex marriages. Democrats have blocked several efforts to bring a marriage amendment to the floor of the Iowa House and Senate.

More details on Catholic advocacy against marriage equality are after the jump.  

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Case against Iowa Supreme Court justices hits tv screens

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 14, 2010 at 11:27:15 AM CDT

Iowa for Freedom, the group seeking to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices this November, began running a statewide television commercial on Monday.

The ad echoes language Iowa for Freedom chair Bob Vander Plaats used during his gubernatorial campaign, and it reflects the same failure to understand the judicial review process.

The video and transcript are after the jump, along with an update on the counter-effort to protect judicial independence in Iowa.

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Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 06:20:00 AM CDT

If Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley believes the spin he serves up to journalists and the Republican Party faithful, he must have an active imagination.

I don't know which is most detached from reality: McKinley's take on Iowa's finances, his views on "state sovereignty" or his election predictions.

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Take a few minutes to fill out your census form

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 01, 2010 at 07:29:01 AM CDT

April 1 is the U.S. Census Bureau's target date for Americans to fill out and return their census forms. Every 1 percent increase in the census mail-back rate saves the U.S. Census Bureau about $85 million. After April 10, the bureau will start sending out census-takers to households that did not return their forms. President Barack Obama filled out his own family's form and declared today "Census Day":

The First Ladys mother lives with the family in the White House. Since the census asks for a count of everyone currently living in the household - not just immediate family - the President included his mother-in-law on his census form.

In these difficult economic times its common for extended family and friends to live with another family, yet many households mistakenly leave these individuals off their census forms.

Mr. desmoinesdem and I filled out our family's form and mailed it back a couple of weeks ago. There are no "long forms" anymore; everyone gets the short survey with just 10 questions.

As of this morning, the national census participation rate was 52 percent; you can click on this interactive map to find participation rates in your area. Today Iowa ranked fifth among the states with a 60 percent participation rate. South Dakota and Wisconsin tied for first place with a 62 percent participation rate, and North Dakota and Nebraska tied for third with 61 percent. Within Iowa, a few towns had participation rates exceeding 80 percent. About 63 percent of households in my corner of the state, Windsor Heights, have returned their census forms so far.

Although some conservatives hyperventilate about the demographic questions on the census form, recording the race and ethnicity of U.S. residents helps the government "execute and monitor laws and programs that are targeted to specific groups." Like conservative arguments about the legality of health insurance reform, objections to the census questions have no basis in constitutional law:

On numerous occasions, the courts have said the Constitution gives Congress the authority to collect statistics in the census. As early as 1870, the Supreme Court characterized as unquestionable the power of Congress to require both an enumeration and the collection of statistics in the census. The Legal Tender Cases, Tex.1870; 12 Wall., U.S., 457, 536, 20 L.Ed. 287. In 1901, a District Court said the Constitution's census clause (Art. 1, Sec. 2, Clause 3) is not limited to a headcount of the population and "does not prohibit the gathering of other statistics, if 'necessary and proper,' for the intelligent exercise of other powers enumerated in the constitution, and in such case there could be no objection to acquiring this information through the same machinery by which the population is enumerated." United States v. Moriarity, 106 F. 886, 891 (S.D.N.Y.1901).

The census does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Morales v. Daley, 116 F. Supp. 2d 801, 820 (S.D. Tex. 2000). In concluding that there was no basis for holding Census 2000 unconstitutional, the District Court in Morales ruled that the 2000 Census and the 2000 Census questions did not violate the Fourth Amendment or other constitutional provisions as alleged by plaintiffs. (The Morales court said responses to census questions are not a violation of a citizen's right to privacy or speech.) [...]

These decisions are consistent with the Supreme Court's recent description of the census as the "linchpin of the federal statistical system ... collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country." Dept. of Commerce v. U.S. House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316, 341 (1999).

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

Founding Father signed health insurance mandate into law

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 29, 2010 at 09:22:19 AM CDT

State attorneys general have filed two federal lawsuits challenging the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, which President Barack Obama signed into law last week. Those lawsuits look like pure political posturing to me, given the well-established Congressional powers to regulate interstate commerce and taxation.

It turns out that precedent for a health insurance mandate is much older than the 1930s Supreme Court rulings on the Commerce Clause. Thanks to Paul J. O'Rourke for the history lesson:

In July, 1798, Congress passed, and President John Adams signed into law "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen," authorizing the creation of a marine hospital service, and mandating privately employed sailors to purchase healthcare insurance.

This legislation also created America's first payroll tax, as a ship's owner was required to deduct 20 cents from each sailor's monthly pay and forward those receipts to the service, which in turn provided injured sailors hospital care. Failure to pay or account properly was discouraged by requiring a law violating owner or ship's captain to pay a 100 dollar fine.

This historical fact demolishes claims of "unprecedented" and "The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty..."

Perhaps these somewhat incompetent attorneys general might wish to amend their lawsuits to conform to the 1798 precedent, and demand that the mandate and fines be linked to implementing a federal single payer healthcare insurance plan.

O'Rourke posted the full text of the 1798 legislation as well.

I'm not one to claim American's "Founding Fathers" could do no wrong; after all, President Adams also signed the Sedition Act, which violated the First Amendment. But Republican "strict constructionists" say we should interpret the constitution only as 18th-century Americans would have understood it. Some claim judges should cite only 18th-century sources when interpreting the constitution. Well, Congress enacted and the president signed a health insurance mandate less than a decade after the U.S. Constitution went into effect.

I don't expect these facts to affect Republican rhetoric about health insurance reform. Thankfully, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is not wasting our state's money on this frivolous lawsuit. So far I haven't heard any Republicans demand his impeachment, as some GOP legislators are doing in Georgia.

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Federal judge halts ban on ACORN funding

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Dec 12, 2009 at 08:49:15 AM CST

Big news yesterday from The Hill's blog:

A federal judge today issued an injunction preventing the implementation of a congressional ban on funding for ACORN.

Judge Nina Gershon concluded that the ban amounted to a "bill of attainder" that unfairly singled out ACORN.

"[The plaintiffs] have been singled out by Congress for punishment that directly and immediately affects their ability to continue to obtain federal funding, in the absence of any judicial, or even administrative, process of adjudicating guilt," Gershon wrote in her decision.

Gershon said ACORN had demonstrated "irreperable harm" from the ban, while "the potential harm to the government, in granting the injunction, is less.

You can download a pdf file of the ruling at the Center for Constitutional Rights site.

Conservative heads are exploding. I await an outraged statement from ACORN-obsessed Representative Steve King (IA-05), even though ACORN has done nothing wrong.

Credit should go to the 75 House Democrats who had the courage to vote against this unconstitutional bill. Sadly, Iowa's Democratic representatives Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell joined the stampede to cut off ACORN.

Speaking of which, Editor & Publisher recently published an outstanding piece by Christopher R. Martin and Peter Dreier on the media's "false framing" of ACORN.

I was very sorry to read this week that Editor & Publisher is shutting down after more than 100 years in business.

UPDATE: I missed this story:

This week, an independent review of ACORN (pdf here), run by by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, found serious but correctable problems with the organization that were organizational, not criminal in nature, and that reflected an overall lack of coordinated national management and unified purpose--the exact opposite of the centralized, highly disciplined super-secret organization that conservatives have long fantasized about.

While the report pulls no punches in citing nine significant reports that need to be made, it says that "The following nine (9) recommendations, discussed in detail in Section VII, are neither an epitaph nor an absolution for ACORN, but are a roadmap to reform and renewal, if implemented in their entirety in concert with other measures to regain the public's trust."

Regarding the videos used to attack ACORN, the report finds that "The released videos offer no evidence of a pattern of illegal conduct by ACORN employees," that "The ACORN employees captured on video were members or part-time staff. They were not organizers or supervisory level employees," and that "There is no evidence that any action, illegal or otherwise, was taken by ACORN employees on behalf of the videographers."

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