John Norris: Why he may run for governor and what he would bring to the table

With the exhausting battles of the 2017 legislative session behind us, Iowa Democrats can turn their attention to the most pressing task ahead. Next year’s gubernatorial election will likely determine whether Republicans retain unchecked power to impose their will on Iowans, or whether some balance returns to the statehouse.

A record number of Democrats may run for governor in 2018. Today Bleeding Heartland begins a series of in-depth looks at the possible contenders.

John Norris moved back to Iowa with his wife Jackie Norris and their three sons last year, after nearly six years in Washington and two in Rome, Italy. He has been touching base with potential supporters for several weeks and expects to decide sometime in May whether to become a candidate for governor. His “concern about the direction the state’s going” is not in question. Rather, Norris is gauging the response he gets from activists and community leaders he has known for many years, and whether he can raise the resources “to make this a go.”

In a lengthy interview earlier this month, Norris discussed the changes he sees in Iowa, the issues he’s most passionate about, and why he has “something significantly different to offer” from others in the field, who largely agree on public policy. The native of Red Oak in Montgomery County (which happens to be Senator Joni Ernst’s home town too) also shared his perspective on why Democrats have lost ground among Iowa’s rural and small-town voters, and what they can do to reverse that trend.

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Where did the Iowa I love go? A student's perspective

TJ Foley is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines. He will pursue a degree in international relations next fall. -promoted by desmoinesdem

To be quite honest, I thought I was done writing about politics in Iowa. As a high school senior, son of a teacher, and lifelong Iowan I am increasingly disillusioned with the direction of this state. This year the Iowa GOP and their special interest friends steamrolled over ordinary Iowans, gutting collective bargaining for public employees, eviscerating workers’ compensation protections, and slashing the wages of thousands of Iowan families, to name a few. Due to their actions, I no longer recognize my home of nearly 18 years. The Iowa I love values workers and teachers more than the narrow priorities of elite special interests like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. But the Iowa I love and the Iowa we all currently have are no longer the same.

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A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

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Collective bargaining changes bring new challenges and opportunities

Randy Richardson explains how Iowa’s new collective bargaining law is affecting contract negotiations for teachers. -promoted by desmoinesdem

A lot has been written about the changes Republican lawmakers pushed through on collective bargaining for public employees. The original law, adopted during the term of a Republican governor and approved by a bipartisan vote, has been in existence for over forty years. I became a chief negotiator for our local education association during my second year as a teacher (1977) and remained active in bargaining until my retirement in 2016.

As a former teacher I can appreciate the trauma these changes have brought about for educators. Unfortunately the general public, who has likely not participated in the bargaining process, may find some of these changes hard to understand.

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Education appropriations bill makes significant policy changes

Randy Richardson, a former teacher and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, provides his personal assessment of important language in the education appropriations bill, which Republicans will likely approve this week. -desmoinesdem

With the end of the legislative session drawing near, much of the work left for lawmakers is agreeing to a final budget. Last week the Iowa House introduced a number of appropriations bills. Included among them was House File 642, the education appropriations bill.

For fiscal year 2018-2019 the bill appropriates monies from the general fund of the State to the Department for the Blind, the College Student Aid Commission, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Regents and the institutions it governs, at generally 50 percent of the amounts appropriated for the same purposes for the prior fiscal year. In addition to establishing budget numbers the bill also contains quite a bit of language that modifies Iowa Code.

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IA-03: Mike Sherzan is out, Pete D'Alessandro to decide soon

Mike Sherzan will withdraw his candidacy in Iowa’s third Congressional district. In a written statement enclosed in full below, the runner-up in the 2016 Democratic primary to represent IA-03 said today,

I am exiting this race because I have recently come to the conclusion that conducting the type of campaign I am comfortable with would require substantial financial self-funding, and that’s not how this process should work. The campaign finance system we currently have is wrong and must be changed. For this and other personal reasons I have decided to withdraw from the campaign. Going forward I will support the progressive causes I campaigned on and have great passion for. These causes include campaign finance reform, public education and student debt reduction, and funding Planned Parenthood. I will also continue to support candidates who value the policies and positions of the Democratic Party. It was a true honor to run for this office and I will always be grateful for all of my amazing supporters.”

“I’ve spoken with all kinds of Iowans about what’s happening in our country and there’s a real desire for change from what is happening under David Young and Donald Trump. The energy among Democrats is as high as I’ve ever seen, and I’m confident a strong candidate is going to defeat Young next November. I look forward to hearing from those who step forward and working to help them win.

Sherzan’s departure leaves Anna Ryon as Young’s only declared challenger. You can read more about her here or on her campaign website.

Longtime Democratic consultant Pete D’Alessandro, who was political director for Bernie Sanders in Iowa, is also considering this race. I reached out to ask how Sherzan’s decision might affect his plans. D’Alessandro commented by phone this afternoon, “Mike’s statement was pretty solid and showed a guy with a lot of character, with how he described what his thought process was, and also about how he viewed where we need to move.” Sherzan wasn’t “throwing any negative stuff at anybody else.” Rather,

I thought that he showed that he grasped progressive values and just didn’t think he was the right vehicle at this time. I really thought it was very well thought out […] You really grasp from that statement that he is a person that understands that what we’re going through is bigger than any one person, and that he sees the fact that we have to move in a certain direction as much more important than any particular campaign, including his own. So I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.

And the fact that he wants to stay involved–anyone with that kind of view of what we need to do is going to be able to stay involved.

As for his own plans, D’Alessandro said he won’t make any announcement until after Easter weekend, but expects to have something “concrete” to say about the race “sooner rather than later,” probably sometime next week.

UPDATE: I asked John Norris, who may run for governor, whether he might consider becoming a candidate for Congress instead. He is very familiar with both offices, having served as chief of staff for Representative Leonard Boswell after the 1996 election before doing the same job for Governor Tom Vilsack. Norris responded by e-mail today, “My focus is on Iowa and helping turn this state around. I believe I can have the most impact here, especially as the Trump Administration shifts so much of the responsibility to the states.”

SECOND UPDATE: Added below Ryon’s statement on Sherzan leaving the race.

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