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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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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Joni Ernst town hall: The overflow edition

Thanks to Stefanie Running for talking with Iowans who had hoped to question Senator Joni Ernst yesterday. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was unusually warm for St. Patrick’s Day in Des Moines. Despite being spring break week for Drake University, the campus where Senator Joni Ernst chose to hold her town hall had remarkably little available parking. I arrived about 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes prior to the start of the event, but was unable to join the throng inside; Sheslow Auditorium had reached capacity.

There were about 200 of us still outside, unsurprised but still disappointed. We were given the opportunity to fill out the question cards, the same as our comrades who made it inside. It was a consolation prize of sorts, knowing the questions wouldn’t be asked. A few people wrote their names and their questions, the rest either left or milled about. A few groups crowded around those who were playing live-streams the discussion on their phones.

I was able to speak to a handful of folks who had come to hear Ernst address their concerns, ask their own questions, or see if she actually engaged honestly.

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What you need to know about the bill that will get more Iowans killed

Voting mostly along party lines, the Iowa House approved on March 7 a bill containing many items on the gun lobby’s wish list. House File 517 would make it easier for Iowans to acquire, carry, and use firearms, relaxing permitting rules, expanding where people can bring concealed weapons, and enacting “Stand Your Ground” language. The bill is certain to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate, due to the heavy involvement of pro-gun groups in defeating several Democratic incumbents last year. Governor Terry Branstad has never seen a gun bill he didn’t like, so will surely sign House File 517 when it reaches his desk.

The most important likely result will be more shootings of unarmed people by Iowans newly entitled to use deadly force, without having to demonstrate that any person was in danger, or that the shooter had valid reason to feel threatened. Other states that adopted “Stand Your Ground” legislation have experienced a documented increase in homicides, with no evidence of deterrence effects. After Florida enacted a law similar to what the Iowa House just passed, “there was an abrupt and sustained increase in the monthly homicide rate of 24.4% […] and in the rate of homicide by firearm of 31.6% […].”

As State Representative Ras Smith underscored by putting on a hoodie during the Iowa House debate, African-Americans will be at particular risk, since research indicates “Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states are far more likely to be found justified in their killings.”

More tragedies may also occur in Iowa municipal offices, thanks to provisions making it harder for cities and counties to ban weapons from government buildings.

I enclose below some highlights from yesterday’s debate and details on House File 517. Because gun advocates continue to spread misinformation in order to build a case for “Stand Your Ground,” I also included relevant language from current state law and an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

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A Word of Caution on Local Control

Pete McRoberts describes how some local officials in Iowa lobbied against a 2016 bill designed to protect domestic violence victims from eviction. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It’s impossible to spend any time at the state legislature this year without hearing phrases like “local control” and “home rule” discussed in concert with any number of progressive questions. At yesterday’s public hearing on a statewide preemption bill, many people based their opposition on these same ideas, specifically, that a local government “knows best for its residents,” and that city councils are where big decisions should be made.

The Iowa Constitution, and state law, both support this idea – within some clearly defined boundaries. Home rule is simple; it generally means local governments are in charge when there’s no contrasting state law, or when they are acting to execute an identified city power.

These rights exist for a reason; there are more than 900 cities in Iowa, each with their own local issues. The boundaries exist for that same reason, but on the other side of the ledger – a person’s rights can never be diminished because of a local decision. Home rule and local control work when both of those parts are understood.

An example of local control and home rule falling apart came to my attention in 2014, when activists began a multi-year response to abusive local ordinances in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines which hurt survivors of domestic violence, and set them up for eviction upon calling the police when they needed to. It was a full-blown battle. Those cities spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to defend their corrupt ordinances, all in the name of “home rule” and local control. They nearly won.

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Stand By Your Manor

Gary Kroeger comments on “Stand Your Ground,” part of a wide-ranging gun bill that has concerned some law enforcement officials. -promoted by desmoinesdem

With Republicans taking the majority in both the Iowa Senate and House there are going to be several Republican-based initiatives that have been waiting (im)patiently in the wings for several years, that will become front and center as the legislature reconvenes.

One such issue is going to be Castle Doctrine.

Castle Doctrine has been around for several years, but became scrutinized as a result of the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida in February of 2012. It is the position that a person’s abode (their “castle” or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or work envirnoment) is a place in which the person is entitled to certain protections and immunities and may attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution.

“Stand Your Ground” law is a term that we probably hear more often, and it is a broader realization of that concept and states that a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first.

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