Latest Branstad administration news and appointments

Governor-elect Terry Branstad announced three appointments on December 7. He will retain Brigadier General Tim Orr as Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard, a post Orr has held since March 2009. Story County Treasurer Dave Jamison, who unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer, will head the Iowa Finance Authority in the Branstad administration. Retired Iowa Army National Guard Brigadier General Jodi Tymeson will lead the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Tymeson retired from the Iowa House this year, having represented district 73 for five terms.

Press releases containing background information on all three appointees are after the jump. None of them should have trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate. I noticed the Branstad administration’s bio of Tymeson didn’t mention her most recent role as co-chair of Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign.

Branstad has asked all state department heads to send him their resignations by December 15. He will replace most, if not all, of Governor Chet Culver’s appointees.

Branstad named three new staffers today. His liaison to the Iowa House and Senate will be Todd Schulz, who has handled government relations for Newton-based Iowa Telecom. The governor’s executive scheduler will be Alicia Freed, a former staffer for Senator Chuck Grassley who most recently worked as project manager for RuffaloCODY LLC in Cedar Rapids. Jimmy Centers, who was northeast Iowa field coordinator for Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign, will be deputy communications director. I wouldn’t be surprised if Centers got a promotion before too long, because Branstad’s communications director Tim Albrecht may go work for one of the Republican presidential campaigns in 2011.

Meanwhile, Branstad spoke about his property tax plans while addressing the Iowa Taxpayers Association’s annual meeting in West Des Moines today.

In proposing to cut commercial property tax rates by 35 percent to 40 percent for new businesses and phase down rates for existing businesses in a like manner over four or five years, Branstad said part of the lost revenues for local entities could be offset by increased business activity that would generate new property tax receipts. He also suggested that cities and counties should be less aggressive in offering tax increment financing and abatements that create disparities among new and existing businesses.

The price tag for lowering the commercial property tax burden would depend on the growth the proposed relief could generate, he said. Branstad said his plan would be to provide state funding to hold local governments “harmless” but not give them a windfall in the process – similar to when the state phased out the property tax on machinery and equipment in the 1990s when he previously served as governor.

“We want to make this adjustment in a fair way,” Branstad said, conceding that the cost could be as much as $500 million over four years.

The Iowa Taxpayers Association supports Branstad’s property tax plans, but Republican legislative leaders have warned getting the proposal through the legislature will be difficult. Yesterday Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal described the phase-out of the property tax on machinery and equipment as “pretty close to the biggest unfunded mandate in the history of the state.” The executive directors of the National League of Cities and the Iowa League of Cities both expressed concern about Branstad’s proposal:

No other state in the nation is considering similar cuts to commercial property taxes, said Donald Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, a national advocate for municipalities. Resulting cuts to key city services such as police protection and road improvements ultimately could push businesses away, he said.

“The objective” to lower commercial property tax “is a laudable one, but the cost to municipalities could be draconian,” Borut said. “If there is some way to guarantee in blood that the municipalities would be held harmless, it’s one thing, but I don’t know how one can do that. Even with the best intentions, the pressures would be enormous.”

UPDATE: James Q. Lynch has more on local government officials worrying about Branstad’s property tax proposals. In that piece, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett raises some good points:

Cedar Rapids is more dependent on property taxes than many communities, Corbett said. It has no gaming revenue and it local option sales tax is dedicated to flood recovery.

On a personal level, he’d like to see property tax relief targeted to benefit local businesses.

“Is there some different classification within commercial property tax base so you’re not giving Wal-mart a tax break at the same level as small business” he said.

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Des Moines Register punts on down-ballot statewide offices

The “newspaper Iowa depends upon” won’t endorse a candidate in this year’s races for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture or state auditor, Des Moines Register editorial page editor Linda Fandel confirmed to me this week. Fandel told me the newspaper has been inconsistent about endorsing candidates for those offices in the past. She said limited staff time and resources lay behind the decision not to endorse this year. The Register did endorse candidates in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and all five U.S. House seats, as well as the Iowa Supreme Court retention vote, which the editors called the most important election in the state this year.

I understand limits on resources. Compared to previous election cycles, the Register’s newsroom staff is smaller, and its editorial pages contain less content. However, a newspaper that claims to have a statewide profile shouldn’t punt on elections offering such significant contrasts to voters. More thoughts on these campaigns are after the jump.

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First sign of life from State Treasurer Fitzgerald's campaign (updated)

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald has been mostly invisible during this year’s campaign. As the longest-serving state treasurer in the country and a survivor of the 1994 Republican wave, Fitzgerald may have less reason to be worried than other Democratic incumbents. Still, I’ve been wondering when he was going to get around to asking voters to re-elect him.

Today I caught the first television commercial for Fitzgerald’s campaign. As far as I know, it went up on the air this week. I haven’t found a video to embed here, but my transcript and description of the visuals are after the jump, along with the transcript of the radio ad Fitzgerald’s opponent is running. UPDATE: I’ve added the script for Fitzgerald’s radio commercial.

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Iowa GOP all in for AG candidate Findley

The latest round of financial reports for Iowa statewide candidates are available on the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board website, and once again Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Findley has turned in strong numbers. Thanks to transfers totaling $547,500 from the Republican Party of Iowa, Findley raised $756,617 between July 15 and October 14. During the same period, Democratic incumbent Tom Miller raised $243,326. The huge support from the Iowa GOP allowed Findley to spend more than twice as much as Miller during the reporting period ($661,252 to $298,604). Most of each candidate’s spending went toward advertising: $564,000 for Findley and $225,000 for Miller. Findley has been up on statewide radio for a month and started running television commercials before Miller did. To my knowledge, Miller has not done any radio advertising. Lynn Campbell listed the largest donors to the Findley and Miller campaigns at IowaPolitics.com.

The state party’s massive support for Findley is striking. Republicans have not run a strong challenger against Miller for ages. The party didn’t even nominate a candidate for attorney general four years ago. Also, the Iowa GOP did essentially nothing for state treasurer candidate Dave Jamison or secretary of state candidate Matt Schultz. Jamison received contributions from several of Findley’s high-dollar individual donors and some of the same political action committees backing her (including those created by potential presidential candidates), but the only direct support from the Republican Party came from some GOP county central committees. Schultz received donations from some of those presidential candidate PACs but even less than Jamison from the county central committees and “usual suspect” individual donors.

One could argue that Findley earned the party’s backing through her strong fundraising. She reported far more donations in May and July than the other Republican challengers for statewide offices. Without any financial support from the Iowa GOP, Findley would still have been competitive with her opponent’s contributions and cash on hand totals. She has been an energetic campaigner all year, and serving as Representative Steve King’s top staffer for seven years probably opened a lot of doors for her in terms of fundraising.

Jamison raised $60,479.25 between July 15 and October 14. That was more than the $32,070.52 State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald raised during the same period, but Fitzgerald had $94,073.48 cash on hand as of October 14 compared to $14,608 for Jamison. Schultz raised $25,903.60 since the July disclosure reports, while Secretary of State Michael Mauro raised $52,862.51. Mauro had $64,267 on hand as of October 14, while Schultz had $7,000.94 on hand and $18,174.77 in unpaid bills to himself. If I were Jamison or Schultz, I’d be upset to be ignored by the state party that gave Findley more than half a million dollars. A hundred thousand or two for Jamison and Schultz would have been enough for a bare-bones paid advertising campaign.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad has been praising Findley at just about every campaign stop for months. He makes a brief appearance in one of her tv ads too. Before the June primary, I thought perhaps Branstad was singling out Findley because there were competitive GOP primaries for the other offices. However, even after winning their primaries Jamison and Schultz haven’t received as much attention or help from Branstad as Findley has.

Bleeding Heartland readers, share your own thoughts about the Iowa Republican establishment’s strong support for Findley in this thread.

Final note on the attorney general’s race: Findley and Miller debated yesterday in Iowa City. You can read about the highlights at the Des Moines Register blog, WCCC.com, Radio Iowa and IowaPolitics.com. Unfortunately, the debate won’t be broadcast on Iowa Public Television, but Mediacom cable subscribers can watch it on channel 22 at 2 pm on October 26 and 11 am on October 31. In the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City market, Mediacom subscribers can watch the debate at 7 am on October 24, 8 pm on October 25 or 7 am on October 31.

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Schultz snubbed as own county auditor backs Mauro

Matt Schultz, the not-very-informed Republican who wants to be Iowa’s chief elections officer, has been on a tear lately. Last week he launched the Stop Mauro website, which publishes new allegations almost daily about Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s supposedly nefarious doings. A common thread in Schultz’s rhetoric, dating from the Republican primary campaign, is that Mauro engages in Chicago-style politics, which have no place in Iowa.

On October 1 Schultz slammed Mauro for filming public-service announcements regarding new voting technology for the visually impaired. Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson covered Schultz’s joint press conference with Republican state treasurer candidate Dave Jamison. Mauro’s office responded as well. There is an obvious public interest in educating Iowans about new voting equipment during election season. Mauro appears in the commercial, but so do a Republican county auditor and the president of the Iowa Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. More details on the production, funding and script of the ad are here.

Schultz’s attention-getting press conference seems to have backfired. On Monday two more Republican county auditors joined the crowd supporting Mauro for re-election. One of the new endorsers was Marilyn Jo Drake of Pottawattamie County. Schultz is well-known there, having served on the Council Bluffs City Council since 2005. But Drake said in a statement, “I’m proud to support Michael Mauro as he seeks a second term as Secretary of State. Michael Mauro has been a strong and effective partner with county auditors across Iowa. I encourage all Iowans to vote for him this fall.”

Elected county officials rarely back statewide candidates from the other party. Schultz doesn’t have the experience to do this job, and his unfounded claims don’t inspire confidence from the county auditors who work with the Secretary of State’s office.

Jamison’s complaints about State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald are no more convincing. Jamison claims “taxpayers” are funding television, radio and newspaper ads featuring Fitzgerald. The ads publicize the College Savings Iowa 529 plan and the “Great Iowa Treasure Hunt,” which encourages Iowans to retrieve unclaimed property from the state. Deputy State Treasurer Karen Austin told me that unclaimed property finances the publicity for the treasure hunt, which state law requires twice a year. Those ads typically appear in May and September. The state’s general fund budget doesn’t pay for the college savings fund commercials either; those are funded by the 529 plan’s assets. Austin told Kay Henderson that many states including Iowa normally promote college savings in September. Jamison accused Fitzgerald of using public funds to promote himself, but

Austin says, “The way that we look at it, is having a state office that does this adds credibility to the program, and that is one thing that gives people comfort in understanding and knowing who is promoting this program, and why should I invest in this program and is that state tax benefit legitimate. So we have always felt that it is very important to make sure that people understand what this program is.”

Similarly, Schultz claimed the commercials on voting technology could have been produced without featuring Mauro. Guess what? Incumbents have some natural advantages in politics–like when Republican office-holders use taxpayer money to fund visits to all 99 Iowa counties every year.

Share any thoughts about the secretary of state or state treasurer races in this thread.

P.S. One point on the Stop Mauro site deserves additional comment. Schultz says Mauro “snubs the law,” citing a 2008 Polk County district court ruling. The court determined that Mauro violated Iowa’s official English law by providing and accepting voter registration forms printed in other languages. Legal scholars Evan Seite and Michael Zuckerman have analyzed this case in detail, and the issues at hand are more complicated than Schultz implies. In fact, the judge who wrote the King v Mauro opinion “suggested that the federal Voting Rights Act […] might require Iowa’s use of non-English voter registration forms” under an exception allowing for “language usage required by or necessary to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” If plaintiffs ever challenge the Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act in federal court, Mauro’s actions may be vindicated. Zuckerman argues that English-only laws are constitutionally vulnerable as applied to voting.  

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