Weekend open thread: Depressing news, inspiring news

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: Some exceptionally sad news caught my eye recently:

A new investigation by the Associated Press and the USA Today network found that in the first six months of 2016, children aged 17 or younger "died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate." Alaska and Louisiana had the highest rates of accidental child shooting. A separate feature in the series focused on three incidents that killed two teenage girls and seriously injured another in Tama County, Iowa.

Government research on accidental gun deaths is nearly non-existent, because more than two decades ago, the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress to defund gun research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Scott McFetridge reported last week on the growing hunger problem in Storm Lake. The problem isn’t lack of jobs—the local unemployment rate is quite low—but a lack of livable wages. Iowa-born economist Austin Frerick mentioned Storm Lake and other towns dominated by meatpacking plants in his guest post here a few months ago: Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage.

I enclose below excerpts from all of those stories, along with some good news from the past week:

The African-American Hall of Fame announced four new inductees, who have done incredible work in higher education, criminal justice, community organizing, and the practice of law.

Planned Parenthood marked the 100th anniversary of the first birth control clinic opening in the country on October 16. Click here for a timeline of significant events in the organization’s history.

Drake University Biology Professor Thomas Rosburg will receive this year’s Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Rosburg is a legend among Iowans who care about native plants, wetlands, and prairie restoration.

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Two Iowans among "40 Under 40" Midwestern clean energy leaders

The non-profit news site Midwest Energy News has honored two Iowans on its second annual 40 Under 40 list of "emerging leaders" working on "America’s transition to a clean energy economy." From last week’s announcement:

Erin Buchanan works as an Energy Services Coordinator for Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In 2011, Buchanan was named a “rising star in public power” by the American Public Power Association. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, with a B.S. in mathematical decision sciences. She also holds an M.S. in statistics from Iowa State University. […]

Josh Mandelbaum is a Des Moines-based staff attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). Before joining ELPC, Mandelbaum practiced law with Lane & Waterman LLP in Davenport, Iowa. He previously served as a senior policy advisor to Iowa Governor Thomas J. Vilsack and Lt. Governor Sally J. Pederson. Before his work in the Governor’s office, Mandelbaum held a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Transportation in the Secretary’s Policy Office. Mandelbaum is a 2000 Truman Scholar, a 2001 magna cum laude graduate of Brown University, and a 2009 honors graduate from the University of Iowa College of Law.

I wasn’t familiar with Buchanan’s work before learning about this award. I was impressed to see all the resources Cedar Falls Utilites provides for customers seeking to use less energy, purchase wind-generated electricity, buy units in a community-owned solar garden, or install small-scale wind or solar systems.

I’ve known Mandelbaum for many years and am an active supporter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. The non-profit’s legal team has contributed to major public policy victories in the renewable energy field, from a solar power case that went to the Iowa Supreme Court to mostly below-the-radar battles with intransigent rural electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities Alliant and MidAmerican. Mandelbaum and his colleagues have also been involved in important water policy fights, such as a 2014 Iowa Supreme Court case that kept state "anti-degradation" rules alive. Earlier this year, an Iowa District Court ruled in favor of ELPC’s lawsuit on behalf of the Iowa Environmental Council, seeking to force the state Department of Natural Resources to enforce those rules, "an important part of the [federal] Clean Water Act."

Iowans Paritosh Kasotia and Dwight Stewart were part of the first Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40 cohort last year.

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IA-Gov: Sales tax hike for conservation may become fault line in 2018

Leaders of a campaign to provide a "permanent and constitutionally protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats" in Iowa touted support in the business and agriculture communities this week. You can watch Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy’s September 12 press conference here or listen to the audio at Radio Iowa. Under a state constitutional amendment Iowa voters adopted in 2010, revenues generated by the next 3/8th of a cent sales tax increase (estimated at more than $180 million per year) would flow into a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Scroll to the end of this post for a current list of IWLL coalition members and details on the formula for allocating trust fund money.

Without knowing which parties will control the Iowa House and Senate next year, it’s hard to gauge prospects for passing a sales tax increase. Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy commented on Monday, "The best time to move on a piece of legislation is just following an election. That’s when you get your best bipartisan compromises, and I think ultimately, this is something we can find a bipartisan compromise on."

Who might lead statehouse Republicans toward such a compromise is unclear. The GOP lawmaker most supportive of IWLL has been State Senator David Johnson. But he left the party this summer to protest presidential nominee Donald Trump and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent interview that he plans to remain an independent during the 2017 legislative session.

At least one Republican running for governor in 2018 will support the sales tax increase: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. That stance will put him in conflict with either Governor Terry Branstad or his chosen successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. In addition, support for funding IWLL among major farm lobby groups could create problems for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, also a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

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Zika funding a classic case of systemic Congressional failure

U.S. House and Senate members returned to work Tuesday, no better equipped to handle basic tasks of governance than they were before their unusually long summer recess.

You might think funding to combat a public health emergency would be easy to pass even in a hyper-partisan, election-year atmosphere. But you would be wrong, because legislation to pay for a Zika virus response remains tied up over "poison pills."

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Iowa House district 95 preview: Richard Whitehead vs. Louis Zumbach

A wave of Republican retirements created more open seats in potentially competitive state House districts than in any election since Bleeding Heartland started following Iowa politics nearly ten years ago. Most of the battleground races are in the first Congressional district, including House district 95, where state Representative Quentin Stanerson announced last December that he would not seek a third term. The high school teacher was one of only two House Republicans to request a special session last summer to override Governor Terry Branstad’s education funding vetoes.

Stanerson’s seat is probably a must-win for Democrats to have any hope of gaining control of the Iowa House (currently 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats). House district 95 covers a large area in Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, along with some rural precincts in Buchanan County. I enclose a map below.

The 2012 presidential voting in this district almost perfectly matched the statewide results. President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa by 822,544 votes (51.99 percent) to 730,617 (46.18 percent). In House district 95, Obama won 52.01 percent of the vote to 46.69 percent for Romney. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the district contains 6,095 active registered Democrats, 6,224 Republicans, and 7,530 no-party voters.

Neither party had a competitive primary here. Democrat Richard Whitehead and Republican Louis Zumbach have backgrounds shared by many successful candidates for the Iowa legislature. Whitehead spent a career in education, rising from social studies teacher to principal to superintendent. Zumbach is a farmer and small business owner who operates an auctioneering company with his wife. Scroll down to read the official biographies and main talking points for each candidate.

Facebook feeds for Whitehead and Zumbach show that both contenders have shown up for lots of parades and summer festivals around the district. I don’t have access to voter contact data, but Whitehead is rumored to be one of the top Democratic House candidates in terms of number of doors knocked.

Zumbach will likely be able to outspend Whitehead during the final two months of the campaign—not by virtue of raising more money, but because House Republican leaders have accumulated a much larger war chest than their Democratic counterparts. The fundraising totals for the House district 95 candidates were remarkably similar. Whitehead reported $12,480.00 in campaign contributions by early May and another $2,895.00 during the next two months. As of mid-July, he had $14,179.60 cash on hand. Zumbach’s campaign brought in $12,950.00 by early May and another $950.00 by early July. His campaign spent more than Whitehead’s did, largely on signs, merchandise, and advertising, so as of July 14 he had just $5,290.76 cash on hand.

Any comments about this campaign are welcome in this thread.

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Bakken pipeline received final federal permit; land use lawsuit pending

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted the Texas-based Dakota Access company a federal permit to build the Bakken pipeline across Iowa.

Although opponents plan various forms of direct action, the best remaining chance for stopping the pipeline is a lawsuit challenging the Iowa Utilities Board’s authority to use eminent domain for a project with no legitimate public purpose.

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