Josh Mandelbaum taking on Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley

Promising to be a “voice for strong neighborhoods and strong schools,” defending local interests and fighting harmful state policies, Josh Mandelbaum confirmed Thursday night that he will run for Des Moines City Council against 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley. I enclose below the audio and full transcript of Mandelbaum’s first campaign speech, along with background on the candidate and a map of Ward 3, which covers west-side neighborhoods south of University Avenue and much of the south side.

I’ve been acquainted with Mandelbaum since before he was a policy advisor for Governor Tom Vilsack and Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson. More recently, I’ve closely observed his work on renewable energy and clean water issues through our mutual involvement in Iowa environmental circles. I’m an active supporter of the non-profit Environmental Law & Policy Center, where Mandelbaum is a staff attorney. Last year Midwest Energy News named Mandelbaum to its “40 Under 40” list of list of “emerging leaders” working on “America’s transition to a clean energy economy.” He was one of only two Iowans to receive that recognition.

Even if I couldn’t personally vouch for Mandelbaum’s talent and work ethic, I would be excited to see a progressive willing to take on this incumbent. Hensley’s 2015 vote to extend a tax abatement program was indirectly a vote to benefit her employer. Timothy Meinch reported for the Des Moines Register at the time that the city attorney “warned of an ‘appearance of impropriety’ and ‘potential of a conflict of interest’” before Hensley “cast a pivotal vote in favor of developers.” Des Moines Cityview’s Civic Skinny column explained here how Hensley’s deciding vote benefited Midwest Housing Equity Group, “an Omaha-based firm that syndicates and sells tax credits from developers” where she “is a director and paid consultant.”

Hensley has given Des Moines residents plenty of other reasons to look for new representation. Mandelbaum covered several of them in the remarks I transcribed below. Her most egregious act was joining the small board of directors of the Orwellian-named Iowa Partnership for Clean Water. This advocacy organization grew out of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s desire to discredit the Des Moines Water Works, which delivers drinking water to half a million central Iowans, including all of Hensley’s constituents. My theory is that Hensley hitched her wagon to this cause in the hope of becoming Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s running mate in the 2018 race for governor. Whatever her motives, she chose to stand with Big Ag against her own city’s utility, despite evidence connecting farm runoff with high nitrate levels and toxic algae blooms that threaten the local water supply.

This year Hensley urged the city council to support legislation that would disband the Des Moines Water Works. The bill is widely understood to be retribution for the Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in northwest Iowa (see the first part of this post). Mandelbaum spoke against House File 484 at a public hearing earlier this month; scroll down to view the video.

Taking on an entrenched incumbent is always an uphill battle, especially for a first-time candidate. Hensley will raise a ton of money. Even so, this race is winnable for Mandelbaum. City council elections are low-turnout affairs. Hensley didn’t have a challenger in 2005 or in 2009 and defeated challenger Cal Woods by 3,536 votes to 2,248 four years ago.

Ward 3 “has an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage and has a D+20 performance index,” Pat Rynard noted last month. The Water Works issue alone is highly salient for Des Moines residents. A large number of teachers and public workers live on the west and south sides of Des Moines, as do many progressives interested in economic and social justice. If Mandelbaum can tap into outrage over statehouse Republicans destroying collective bargaining rights and lowering the minimum wage in Polk County, don’t bet against him turning out a few thousand Democrats who have never voted in a local election before. He won’t be able to match Hensley’s fundraising, but with Pederson and former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell co-chairing his campaign, he should raise enough money to get his message out to Ward 3 residents.

This race will be one of the most important local elections in central Iowa this November. Please spread the word.

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Joni Ernst town hall: The overflow edition

Thanks to Stefanie Running for talking with Iowans who had hoped to question Senator Joni Ernst yesterday. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was unusually warm for St. Patrick’s Day in Des Moines. Despite being spring break week for Drake University, the campus where Senator Joni Ernst chose to hold her town hall had remarkably little available parking. I arrived about 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes prior to the start of the event, but was unable to join the throng inside; Sheslow Auditorium had reached capacity.

There were about 200 of us still outside, unsurprised but still disappointed. We were given the opportunity to fill out the question cards, the same as our comrades who made it inside. It was a consolation prize of sorts, knowing the questions wouldn’t be asked. A few people wrote their names and their questions, the rest either left or milled about. A few groups crowded around those who were playing live-streams the discussion on their phones.

I was able to speak to a handful of folks who had come to hear Ernst address their concerns, ask their own questions, or see if she actually engaged honestly.

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Why my conservative values make me vote for Democrats

A guest commentary by a committed activist who served on the Iowa Democratic Party Platform and Rules Committees and currently serves on a county central committee. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I believe in obeying the Constitution. The 14th Amendment says that debts of the USA shall not be questioned. Steve King–and most Republicans–voted to not raise the debt ceiling which would have put the government in default. That vote led to the downgrading of the government’s credit rating. The 14th amendment also guarantees equal protection under the law. But Republicans don’t think the Constitution applies to same sex couples who wish to marry. George W. Bush violated the constitutional rights of Americans by spying on them without a warrant. Democrats objected; Republicans didn’t. President Barack Obama nominated a replacement for the late Justice Scalia. Republicans senators refuse to do their duty and vote to confirm—or not—that nominee.

I don’t believe judges should legislate from the bench, but I do believe they must strike down laws that violate the Constitution. Republicans applauded the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down the Washington D.C. handgun law, but went nuts when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law banning gay marriage. Republicans agreed when activist justices on the U.S. Supreme Court created a new right for corporations to spend unlimited secret money to try to buy our elections with misleading TV ads; Democrats want that decision overturned.

Originalists, who claim that the Constitution must be interpreted as the Founding Fathers meant it, are contradicted by the Founding Fathers themselves.

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Five Democrats who might run for Congress in IA-01

Despite the huge swing toward Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans in northeast Iowa last year, Democrats are gearing up for a major challenge to GOP Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Many Iowans considered Blum’s 2014 victory a fluke of a GOP wave year, but he outperformed Trump by about 5 points while winning re-election in 2016.

Now IA-01 is in the top tier of pickup opportunities for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Blair Lawton is already on the ground organizing for the Iowa Democratic Party in the district.

A competitive Democratic primary here is a near-certainty. After the jump, I’ve posted background on five possible candidates, in alphabetical order. I’d welcome tips on others who may be considering this race.

The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 164,485 active registered Democrats, 144,687 Republicans, and 189,606 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, a traditional Democratic stronghold that is also Blum’s home base.

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Low-profile bill threatens environmental and cultural compliance on road projects

An Iowan who cares about historic preservation is raising awareness about an obscure and harmful bill, which would also drive down wages on some road projects. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I came across a post on Facebook today, initiated by an email from the Iowa Archeological Society. We need to pay attention to this! Here’s the post in its entirety:

Dear IAS Membership,

The IAS has recently learned about a proposed Iowa bill that, in our interpretation, will negatively impact historic preservation in Iowa in relation to transportation projects. And we need your help!

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IA-01: Democrat Courtney Rowe may challenge Rod Blum

Cedar Rapids-based engineer Courtney Rowe may run for Congress against Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first district, she confirmed to Bleeding Heartland today. Rowe has been an active Democrat locally and was a Bernie Sanders delegate to last year’s Linn County, first district, and state conventions, as well as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention. She has volunteered her time on church missions, as a mentor for middle-school students, and as an officer for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Rowe described her background and motivation for considering a Congressional bid in a document I enclose below. She has not yet created an exploratory committee but plans to launch a campaign website sometime next month, both to present some of her policy ideas and to create an interactive format for voters to weigh in on the issues.

The 20 counties in IA-01 contain 166,338 active registered Democrats, 146,164 Republicans, and 191,340 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. The largest-population counties are Linn (the Cedar Rapids metro area), Black Hawk (Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro), and Dubuque, a traditional Democratic stronghold that is also Blum’s home base, where Democrats underperformed badly in 2016.

Blum was considered one of the most vulnerable U.S. House members in the country going into the 2016 election cycle, and many Iowa Democrats believed his narrow victory over Pat Murphy in 2014 had been a fluke. However, the Freedom Caucus member defeated Monica Vernon by a larger margin of 53.7 percent to 46.1 percent. Blum ran about five points ahead of Donald Trump, who carried the IA-01 counties by 48.7 percent to 45.2 percent. That was a massive swing from Barack Obama’s double-digit advantage in this part of Iowa in 2012.

Although I haven’t yet heard of any other Democrats thinking seriously about challenging Blum, I expect a competitive 2018 primary. Any comments about the race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its first target list on January 30. IA-01 and IA-03 are among those 33 Republican-held House seats.

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