Branstad going to China: Let the IA-Gov speculation commence

Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg last night that Governor Terry Branstad has accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to become the next U.S. ambassador to China. Jacobs cited three unnamed sources, and an unnamed member of Trump’s transition team confirmed the news to the Washington Post this morning. I expect Trump to make the official announcement during his Thursday “thank you” rally in downtown Des Moines. (By the way, many central Iowa Democrats as well as Republicans received a robocall invitation to that rally, featuring Donald Trump, Jr.)

I wish Branstad well in his new adventure. He’ll have a lot to contend with: the president-elect’s recent overture to Taiwan was destabilizing; Trump’s threats to punish China for supposedly unfair trade and currency practices could spark a trade war; and horrific air pollution has made Beijing “almost uninhabitable.”

Kim Reynolds is the fifth woman to hold the office of Iowa lieutenant governor and will soon become the first woman governor in our state’s history. Branstad has been saying for years he wanted her to succeed him, and many Democrats expected him to step down before the end of his sixth term, to give her the advantages of incumbency going into the 2018 campaign. The domain KimReynoldsforgovernor.com has been registered since 2012, Mark Langgin pointed out today.

Reynolds will select the next lieutenant governor, and she may use that power to neutralize a potential rival, such as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. (Why Northey would agree to that arrangement is a mystery to me.) I don’t expect Reynolds to clear the field for the 2018 Republican primary, but as governor, she will be able to raise more money and possibly deter some ambitious people. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign for years. I don’t know how many major donors would back him now that Reynolds will be the incumbent, though. Running a credible campaign against her would require millions of dollars.

Many Democrats were delighted to read this morning that Representative Steve King told The Hill’s Scott Wong he is thinking about running for governor himself. I suspect this will play out like the early months of 2013, when King attracted a lot of attention by saying he might run for U.S. Senate. I never believed then and don’t believe now that King will run for higher office. However, two recent developments may have changed the equation for him.

First, Iowa’s sharp turn to the right this November may have convinced King he has a chance to win a statewide election, which didn’t appear to be the case a few years ago. Second, he and Branstad are not on good terms. King was a leading surrogate for presidential candidate Ted Cruz, whom Branstad attacked shortly before the Iowa caucuses. Reynolds and many other prominent Iowa Republicans endorsed King before this year’s GOP primary in the fourth Congressional district, but Branstad didn’t join them. Adding to the insult, soon after King defeated State Senator Rick Bertrand in that primary, the governor’s son Eric Branstad hired some of Bertrand’s former staffer to work on Trump’s campaign.

Any thoughts about Branstad’s prospects in China or the 2018 campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Des Moines rumor mill sees State Representative Peter Cownie as a likely lieutenant governor choice for Reynolds. Further updates are after the jump.

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Terry Branstad can't quit pushing phony job creation numbers

For years, Governor Terry Branstad and his appointees have cited fake job creation statistics to create the illusion that Iowa was on track to fulfill one of Branstad’s key promises from the 2010 campaign. This week, the deception culminated in an official slideshow “indicating that 206,200 gross jobs have been created in Iowa since 2011, based upon current employment statistics.”

It’s a shame the governor can’t celebrate Iowa’s low unemployment rate without exaggerating job growth during his administration.

It’s even more unfortunate when major news media downplay the dishonesty underlying Branstad’s claims.

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Weekend open thread: Lousy deal-making edition

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

In what the Des Moines Register’s editors described as a “new low in the out-of-control race to keep or attract employers,” a state board unanimously approved $4.75 million in financial assistance to Kraft Heinz, which plans to replace a large factory in Davenport with a new facility on the northwest side of town. Although at least 900 people are expected to lose their jobs in the downsizing, the city of Davenport will put up $10 million in tax-increment financing to support the project. The Iowa Department of Transportation and the city are expected to commit $5.8 million for road work around the new factory site too. Never one to shy away from handing state funds to large corporations, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham has let all downsizing companies know that the state of Iowa’s wallet is open: “‘Will I take this deal any day? You bet,’ Durham said Thursday morning. ‘This is a future play.’” Durham also told reporters she “expects the state to do more of these kinds of deals in the future, as more massive companies merge.”

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson characterized the Kraft Heinz incentive package as “bizarre,” adding, “The idea of providing public assistance for a company that has billions of dollars of annual sales cannot make sense to anybody.” The Register’s editors noted, “the company could get $20.75 million in state and local assistance,” which “works out to nearly $43,700 for every job Kraft Heinz agrees to keep”–and roughly 200 of the jobs the company promised to save will pay less than $37,000 a year.”

Speaking of lousy deals, Iowa’s plan to privatize Medicaid looks worse and worse. A post in progress will discuss this policy in more detail; for now I enclose below excerpts from several stories by Jason Clayworth for the Des Moines Register. In recent weeks, Clayworth has exposed damning facts, including:

Some claims made in bidding documents from the four private insurers chosen to manage Medicaid in Iowa “contain unverifiable data, misleading statements or half-truths.”

No data support the government’s estimate that privatizing Medicaid would save $51 million from the state budget during the first six months of the program.

The insurers selected to manage Medicaid “have each been held accountable in other states for serious service and administrative errors, including some that wrongly delayed or denied medical services to poor residents […].”

Iowa’s Medicaid director Mikki Stier “had improper communications with an insurance company consultant and former lawmaker during a critical review period that ended with the for-profit company being selected” as a managed care provider for Medicaid.

A November 6 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to Stier enumerated “significant concerns” about the transition to managed care; excerpts from that letter are at the end of this post. Federal officials and Iowa Senate Democrats have scheduled “listening sessions” around the state to focus on Medicaid privatization. Click through for meeting details, as well as a list of state and federal officials to contact with concerns. Only the feds can stop this train by denying the necessary waivers. Branstad administration officials have been unmoved by any of the Register’s revelations or by the risks to vulnerable Iowans, which many speakers raised during Legislative Oversight Committee hearings on November 3.

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Calling Iowa's young leaders on clean energy

Midwest Energy News, a non-profit news website supported by non-profits focused on energy policy, is launching an award to recognize “emerging leaders throughout the region and their work to accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” The site will accept nominations for the “40 Under 40” designation here “until either 250 nominations are received or 10:00 p.m. CT on Monday, August 10.” Eligible candidates include “midwest-based leaders and innovators from all sectors -industry, government, regulatory, business, academic, and advocacy.”

I learned about the 40 Under 40 competition from State Representative Chuck Isenhart, who will serve on the selection advisory committee for Midwest Energy News. Isenhart is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and has been a strong voice in the Iowa legislature on a range of environmental issues.

Through volunteering for various non-profits, I have become acquainted with several Iowans who deserve serious consideration for the new award, and I plan to encourage their colleagues to nominate them. The candidate who immediately came to my mind, though, is someone I’ve never met. Paritosh Kasotia is the founder and CEO of Unfolding Energy, a non-profit “founded on a premise that clean energy choices can safeguard the climate as well as create economic growth.” She is best known as the highly capable former leader of the Iowa Energy Office; I enclose below more background on that part of her career. Late last year, leaders of the Iowa Economic Development Authority fired Kasotia for reasons never explained to anyone’s satisfaction. Some suspected the dismissal was related to a $1 million solar power grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which Kasotia helped land but Iowa eventually relinquished after Branstad administration officials “amended an original proposal and insisted the grant not be used to evaluate solar energy policies – a change that utility lobbyists sought,” Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press last July.

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