Iowa local election results discussion thread

What election results were you watching tonight, Bleeding Heartland readers? I was excited to see the “Core 4” progressive slate sweep the Iowa City council elections, despite a well-financed campaign for the rival group, representing Chamber of Commerce types who have long dominated local government. John Deeth described what was at stake in those races, and Tom Carsner put it succinctly in a letter to the Iowa City Press-Citizen:

The “growth at any price to grow the tax base” philosophy of the present council majority puts Iowa City at financial risk when one TIF-financed Big Bang project turns south. A series of smaller investor-financed mixed use — business and residential — projects can energize multiple neighborhoods and build a more reliable and sustainable tax base.

[…] I urge Iowa City to welcome the just, equal, affordable, inclusive and sustainable growth vision presented by John Thomas, Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and Jim Throgmorton. Vote for them to shake loose the scared establishment of the present City Council.

UPDATE: In his analysis of the Iowa City results, Deeth sees outgoing Mayor Matt Hayek’s “ham-handed editorial” in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on October 14 as “a turning point in the campaign.” Bleeding Heartland user corncam points to another factor that may have helped the “Core 4.”

Davenport voters resoundingly elected Frank Klipsch mayor, ousting incumbent Bill Gluba by more than a 2: 1 margin. It’s the end of a long political career for Gluba, who won his first election (to the Iowa legislature) 45 years ago. Gluba was an activist even before running for office, participating in the 1963 march on Washington for civil rights. His handling of some local controversies this year, including his role in forcing out Davenport’s city manager, prompted the Quad-City Times to endorse Klipsch, a former CEO of the local YMCA who has a “reputation for bringing diverse groups together” and a “more collaborative style.”

In my own corner of the world, I was pleasantly surprised that challengers Threase Harms and Zac Bales-Henry defeated the two Windsor Heights City Council incumbents on the ballot. CORRECTION: Only Harms won her seat outright. Bales-Henry will have to face Charlene Butz in a December 8 runoff election. Butz and Dave Burgess were frequent “no” votes on any kind of change or progress, and Butz was a particularly dedicated opponent of new sidewalks on streets where they are badly needed. Bales-Henry promised to work to “Create a more efficient and walkable neighborhood […] and ensure that each citizen can walk, run or bike to any location within city limits safely and easily,” as well as trying to improve the local trails system. Harms also expressed support for new sidewalks on key city streets. You never know what could become a hot-button issue in local politics, and the sidewalks question has been one of the most divisive issues in Windsor Heights over the past decade. UPDATE: The anti-sidewalks voters may come out in force for the December 8 runoff, but even if Butz is re-elected, there might be enough votes for change, because two of the incumbents who were not on the ballot this year (Steve Peterson and Tony Timm) have expressed support for new sidewalks in the past.

My son and I stopped at Harms’ home while trick-or-treating on Friday. When I mentioned that I’d seen lots of her yard signs around town, she responded, “Yard signs don’t vote.” Right answer! Clearly she knows how to GOTV, because she finished way ahead of the rest of the field in our at-large elections. That’s a rare accomplishment for a first-time candidate running against incumbents.

UPDATE: I was sorry to see that Cedar Rapids residents rejected a levy to fund public libraries. Todd Dorman covered the campaign for library funding over the weekend.

Voters in Des Moines re-elected Mayor Frank Cownie and the city councillors who were on the ballot. I didn’t realize that Cownie is now the longest-serving Des Moines mayor. In the most hotly-contested race, the open seat in Ward 2 on the east side of Des Moines, turnout was down and Linda Westergaard, backed by business interests including a realtors’ lobbying group, defeated Marty Mauk.

photo credit: Mark Carlson

Continue Reading...

Iowa City recognized for strong LGBT equality policies

Iowa City received a perfect score and four other Iowa cities above-average scores in Human Rights Campaign’s new Municipal Equality Index. The LGBT advocacy group evaluated 353 cities across the country to see how inclusive their “laws, policies, and services” were for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “who live and work there.” You can read more about the ratings criteria here. According to KCRG, the national average score was 59.

Iowa City was one of 38 municipalities to receive a perfect score of 100. Human Rights Campaign awarded scores of 86 to Davenport, 85 to Des Moines, 68 to Cedar Rapids, and 61 to Sioux City. Council Bluffs was not rated, but just across the Missouri River, Omaha received a score of 51.

KCRG noted in its report,

Iowa City did lose points in several areas, including not having transgender-inclusive health benefits or an ordinance requiring equal benefits from city contractors. However, the city also scored well in the bonus point system that was also part of the Human Rights Campaign’s rating.

You can view the detailed Municipal Equality Index ratings on Iowa City here, Davenport here, Des Moines here, Cedar Rapids here, and Sioux City here.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Local Iowa news edition

Dubuque area residents are still dealing with the aftermath of more than 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period this week, which caused massive flash flooding and road closures. It was a one-day record for rainfall. Governor Terry Branstad changed his schedule on July 28 to inspect the damage.

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa wrapped up today in Davenport. From what I’ve read and seen on the news, it sounds like the pass-through and overnight towns generally did a great job providing refreshments and entertainment for the riders. It can’t have been pleasant bicycling and camping out in this week’s high heat, but thousands of riders made it all the way to the Mississippi River. RAGBRAI officials made minor route changes in Davenport, fearing flooding after the heavy rain in Dubuque, but the river stayed in its banks.

A little more than a year ago, flooding washed away the dam at Lake Delhi in Delaware County. The lake quickly drained, ruining what had been a popular resort area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency denied funding for people who owned houses on the former lake. Property values and tax receipts are way down. In the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill for fiscal year 2012, state legislators included funding for a Lake Delhi dam restoration study, as well as “intent” language regarding future funds for reconstruction. Branstad used his item veto power to remove the planned funding to rebuild the dam, saying any commitment was premature before the study results have been received. More details on Branstad’s veto are after the jump. I see his point, but the veto will hurt local efforts to secure other financing for the project.

It’s worth noting that Branstad urged state legislators to pass a bill this year promoting nuclear reactor construction in Iowa, even though MidAmerican is only one year into a three-year feasibility study on that project. The pro-nuclear bill passed the Iowa House but didn’t come up for a floor vote in the Iowa Senate.

This week Kiplinger released its 2011 list of “Best Value Cities” nationwide, and Cedar Rapids was ranked number 9. Analysts cited strong local employers, good amenities, reasonable home prices, and a good recovery from the 2008 flooding. Kiplinger mentioned major downtown renovation projects but not the I-JOBS state infrastructure bonding initiative, which was a crucial for financing those projects. State Representative Renee Schulte, who represents part of northeast Cedar Rapids, cheered the praise from Kiplinger. Like all other Iowa House Republicans, she voted against the I-JOBS program. Schulte won her first election in Iowa House district 37 by just 13 votes in 2008. The Democrat she defeated, Art Staed, is seeking a rematch in the new House district 66 in 2012.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

Continue Reading...

"Best Performing Cities" index sees improvement for most Iowa metros

The Des Moines Register brought to my attention a new report ranking 200 large metropolitan areas and 124 smaller metropolitan areas:

The 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.  The components include job, wage and salary and technology growth.

The list of smaller cities includes eight Iowa metros, and you can view the details here. My short take is after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Republicans trying to have it both ways on I-JOBS

Attacking Governor Chet Culver’s I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative continues to be a staple of Republican Party rhetoric. I’ve written about the GOP’s misleading talking points before, but State Representative Chris Rants added a new twist at last night’s fundraising dinner in Scott County. Not long ago, Rants altered his stump speech to complain about Sergeant Bluff receiving an I-JOBS grant while Culver’s recent across-the-board budget cuts will cost the community a larger amount. Speaking to a crowd of 300 in Bettendorf, Rants put a local spin on this story:

Rants began his remarks by sharing the story about Lt. Governor Patty Judge coming to Sergeant Bluff, a town that Rants represents, to give them an I-Jobs grant to refurbish the city hall. Rants then told the audience, “What Patty Judge giveth, Chet Culver taketh away.” Rants then told the crowd that Culver’s fiscal mismanagement will force the Sergeant Bluff school district to increase property taxes by over $400,000.

Rants then asked if anyone in the room knew what Governor Culver’s budget cuts were going to cost the property tax payers in the Davenport School district. Rants informed them that the cost will be $7.6 million. He also drove home the point that, while Sergeant Bluff received $250,000 I-Jobs grant to remodel their city hall, the city of Davenport has not received any I-Jobs money for its big sewer project. Rants’ ability to talk about local issues played well with the audience. Of all the candidate speeches, Rants was the one candidate who grabbed everyone’s attention.

It is clever for Rants to capitalize on local resentment about I-JOBS. Although entities in Scott County have received more than $5 million in I-JOBS grants, officials in the Quad City area have understandably been frustrated by the lack of I-JOBS support for Davenport’s sewer and flood prevention projects.

What Rants glosses over is that without I-JOBS, unmet needs for infrastructure improvements would be even greater. The I-JOBS program includes $118.5 million for flood prevention and reconstructing buildings in communities affected by last year’s flooding. But requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million.

I-JOBS allocated $80 million for water quality improvements, including sewer construction and repair. Substandard and outdated sewer systems are a huge environmental problem in Iowa, as the Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman and Chase Davis chronicled last week here and here. Iowa has more than 500 unsewered communities. At least I-JOBS and the federal stimulus package will help make a dent in this problem.

Rants wants to have it both ways, criticizing Culver for borrowing while claiming the governor’s program hasn’t done enough for Scott County. If Republicans in Congress and the state legislature had had their way, Iowa cities and towns would not be getting any help this year for improving their sewage systems.

I have yet to hear Rants or any Republican candidate explain how they would have paid for flood recovery projects without state borrowing. For instance, I-JOBS included $100 million targeted for the University of Iowa, which unlocked $500 million in federal funding to help rebuild flood-damaged buildings on campus. How would Republicans have addressed this problem? Would they have turned down the federal funding, and if not, where would they have found $100 million to match the federal dollars?

Linn County received $45 million from I-JOBS for flood recovery. That’s in addition to money raised from the local-option sales tax (which most Republicans opposed). How would Republican candidates have paid for flood recovery in the Cedar Rapids area without I-JOBS?

Terry Branstad’s criticism of I-JOBS reaches a special level of hypocrisy. He asserted on Saturday night, “Too much debt is bad and those that create it should be thrown out of office.” But while he was governor, Branstad used state bonding several times, and his total borrowing in inflation-adjusted dollars was larger than the I-JOBS program. After the jump I’ve posted a press release from the Iowa Democratic Party, which contains more details about Branstad’s use of state bonding.

It’s also worth noting that interest rates are currently near historic lows. That, coupled with Iowa’s rock-solid bond rating, reduced the cost of the I-JOBS borrowing. I would wager that the state had to pay higher interest rates on bonds issued while Branstad was governor.

Continue Reading...
View More...