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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Calling on RAGBRAI riders to help plant milkweed for monarchs

Monarch butterfly enthusiasts have prepared more than 50,000 balls containing common milkweed seeds for riders participating in next week’s Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). As its name suggests, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the most prevalent among the 17 types of milkweed found in Iowa. However, the use of genetically-modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans greatly diminished common milkweed on Iowa cropland. "Kelly Milkweed" Guilbeau and a friend scattered some milkweed seeds while doing RAGBRAI in 2014, then prepared about 2,000 balls of seed to hand out during last summer’s ride across Iowa.

Elizabeth Hill, who manages the Conard Environmental Research Area at Grinnell College, has collaborated with Guilbeau on the Milkweed Matters initiative, greatly expanded this year. I wish them every success; driving around Iowa last week, I saw huge stands of wild parsnip along too many roadsides.

I enclose below two pictures of common milkweed blooming, as well as a press release explaining where riders can pick up seed balls to toss in unmowed ditches along the RAGBRAI route, which runs across southern Iowa from July 24 through 30.

You can learn more at the Milkweed Matters website and receive regular updates on Twitter (@milkweedmatters) or Facebook. Butterfly fans can find more good links at the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa website. Although I’m not skilled at identifying butterflies, I enjoy the occasional "butterfly forecasts" by the Poweshiek Skipper Project.

P.S.- Hill will always have a special place in my heart as the accidental godmother of Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa wildflower Wednesday series.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: White wild indigo (largeleaf wild indigo)

Today’s post is dedicated to Mike Delaney, whose birthday is July 6. The founder of the Raccoon River Watershed Association has been a tremendous advocate for Iowa’s water, soil, and native plants and animals. He was a key lobbyist for a wild turtle protection bill that was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal legislative session for the Iowa environmental community. Mike has helped organize Citizens for a Healthy Iowa and the Iowa Conservation Voters PAC.

I took all of the pictures enclosed below at a prairie Mike has been restoring on farmland he bought in Dallas County during the late 1980s. The biodiversity on this relatively small patch of land along the Raccoon River is phenomenal. I tried to capture some wider views in the last three photos.

This week’s featured plant is White wild indigo (Baptisia alba var. macrophylla or Baptisia lactea). Also known as largeleaf wild indigo or white false indigo or prairie false indigo, the plant is native to most of the Midwest and plains states.

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