IA-Gov: Ron Corbett running first radio ad

Leadership is the theme of Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s opening commercial promoting his gubernatorial candidacy. In the first half of the 60-second spot, a woman whose home was “nearly destroyed” in 2008 says the mayor “delivered” on his promise “to rebuild our city better than ever.”

Corbett then tells listeners, “the floods in Cedar Rapids proved that we can’t wait for things to get better on their own.” Without mentioning current Governor Kim Reynolds, Corbett asserts that “Iowans can’t afford the status quo,” and the state needs “a bold new leader in the governor’s office” to “slash income tax rates and champion conservative solutions.”

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Republicans seeking to eliminate Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Republican lawmakers are seeking to eliminate the two main sources of funding for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The Iowa legislature created the center 30 years ago as part of the Groundwater Protection Act, one of the landmark environmental laws in this state’s history. Its threefold mission:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices, (2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and (3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings.

The center’s director, Dr. Mark Rasmussen, told Bleeding Heartland today that roughly $1.5 million of the Leopold Center’s approximately $2 million annual budget comes from receiving 35 percent of revenues from a fee on nitrogen fertilizer sales and pesticide registrations. The modest fee of 75 cents per ton of anhydrous ammonia (now selling for approximately $550 per ton) hasn’t changed since the Groundwater Protection Act set up this funding stream in 1987. Citing legislative sources, Rasmussen said Republicans are apparently planning to redirect nitrogen tax revenues. To my knowledge, no bill spelling out the new recipients has been published yet. UPDATE: I have seen the draft appropriations bill for agriculture and natural resources and can confirm it redirects these revenues to a new “Iowa Nutrient Research Fund.” (The Leopold Center’s research addresses a broader range of farming practices.) That appropriations bill calls for the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to take over any incomplete work by the Leopold Center after July 1, 2017.

The second-largest source of funding for the center is a line item in the Iowa Board of Regents budget, which used to be about $425,000 per year. Actual state funding during the current fiscal year totaled $397,417, and Governor Terry Branstad proposed keeping the center’s funding at that level for fiscal year 2018. But the Republican plan negotiated behind closed doors and revealed this afternoon at an Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing zeroes out the Leopold Center line item.

The center also receives a “small amount of foundation earnings” from donations to an endowment managed by the ISU Foundation, Rasmussen said, but those funds are “wholly inadequate to keep the center functioning at any level of reasonableness.”

I enclose below an e-mail Rasmussen sent to Leopold Center Advisory Board members today. He noted that the center has been involved with than 600 projects “on topics spanning water quality, manure management, livestock grazing, cover crops, alternative conservation practices, biomass production, soil health and local food systems development in Iowa.” The center’s grants have facilitated “thriving local foods networks,” and research supported by the center informed practices that are now part of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy for addressing the state’s major water pollution problems.

It’s not hard to guess why statehouse Republicans want to ax one of the country’s leading institutions in the sustainable agriculture field. Corporate interests associated with conventional farming practices have long been hostile to research supported by the center, such as efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that causes the Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone.” Pressure from Big Ag was believed to have influenced Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean of the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, when she chose not to offer the job of Leopold Center director to the search committee’s top choice in 2009. (Rasmussen was hired in 2012.)

The GOP education budget would also eliminate state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. Advocates for solid research on sustainable agriculture and flood patterns need to contact Republican members of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers.

UPDATE: Dolecheck told reporters on April 11 that there was no need for further work by the Leopold Center: ““Most people would tell you that farmers have been educated to that point, the research has been put in place whether it’s cover crops, waterways, those type of things.”

I’ve added below two messages ISU sent to supporters on April 12, seeking to generate constituent contacts to state lawmakers. At Iowa Informer, Gavin Aronsen posted a “set of talking points prepared yesterday for President Steven Leath’s office,” which covers similar ground.

SECOND UPDATE: Democrats requested a public hearing on the state budget, which will take place Monday, April 17, from 10 am to noon. Iowans can sign up here to speak or leave a comment. Although time constraints won’t allow everyone to speak, it’s worth making your voice heard. In addition to eliminating the Leopold Center’s main funding sources, the Republican education and natural resources budgets repeal language establishing the center from the Iowa Code.

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Republican budget would eliminate Iowa Flood Center

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee restored about $1.2 million of this funding on April 12. Added more details below.

The Republican education budget proposal would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. According to an e-mail from Professors Witold Krajewski and Larry J. Weber, enclosed in full below, the cut “will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center’s ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens.”

In addition to ending the Iowa Flood Information System, zeroing out the flood center’s budget would “jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grant and the Center’s ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.”

Republican lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors on appropriations bills that will likely be approved in quick succession during the next two weeks.

Although the education appropriations bill has not been published, to my knowledge, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today at 2:00 pm to discuss (and probably approve) the GOP-agreed budget numbers. Iowans should urgently contact Republicans who serve on that subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers. UPDATE: Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press published photos of the proposed education budget: page 1, page 2, and page 3.

Iowa lawmakers created the country’s “first academic center devoted to the study of floods” in 2009, following the previous year’s devastating natural disaster.

The IFC is now actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

UPDATE: A number of readers have speculated that Republicans may want to shut down the flood center to disrupt a major watersheds project, which might influence public discourse on land-use policies or climate-change impacts in Iowa.

Also, I learned this morning that Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom is the outreach and community education director for the flood center, as well as doing the same work for the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Bolkcom is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a relentless critic of GOP budget policies this year.

SECOND UPDATE: GOP State Representative David Maxwell copied me on his e-mail to Professor Larry Weber, saying, “Not all of us are in favor of defunding the Iowa Flood Center. I will not have the final say, but I will make my thoughts known to someone who will have an effect on the bill.” Keep contacting House and Senate Republicans. A reader told me that bringing up the threat to Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal HUD grant may be a particularly effective talking point.

THIRD UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Dolecheck said if the University of Iowa wants to keep the Iowa Flood Center open, administrators can shift funds from elsewhere in the university’s operating budget.

Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center said the center provided invaluable projections for Iowans who were bracing for flooding last year. “We shut down a Google Map server because the traffic to the Iowa Flood Center was so intense during the run-up of the crest of the flood coming to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so many people using that data wanting to see what the extent of the inundated would be, what the water depth on their property would be.”

FOURTH UPDATE: Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register, “The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment Wednesday that would restore $1.2 million for the program by transferring $250,000 away from a National Guard educational assistance program and transferring another $950,000 out of general aid to the University of Iowa. […] Dolecheck, who is co-chair of the subcommittee that oversees the education budget proposal, said the Senate already is on board with the amendment and plans to adopt it.”

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Weekend open thread: Revisionist history

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

Many cities and towns in northeast Iowa have been flooded over the last few days, and Cedar Rapids is bracing for the city’s second-worst flood in history. The latest forecast indicates the Cedar River will crest Tuesday morning around 23 feet, about two feet below the projected crest from a couple of days ago but still seven feet above “major flood” level. Many downtown streets are closed, National Guard members will assist local law enforcement, and a small army of volunteers have been sandbagging and trying to protect local landmarks. The Cedar Rapids Gazette is regularly updating this page with more 2016 flood coverage.

Several Iowa House Republican candidates began running television commercials this past week. Some GOP candidates for the Iowa Senate have been on the air for a couple of weeks now, and campaigns on both sides have begun to send out direct mail. Usually, those communications are not available online, so I appreciate reports on any direct mail pieces or state legislative campaign commercials you’ve seen or heard on radio and tv stations in your area. Whatever details you can remember are helpful, as are screen shots or pdf files showing images. My e-mail address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

In Iowa House district 43, one of the top targets for Democrats, House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow is running a tv ad whitewashing his record on education. Several other Republicans are trying out similar talking points, which presumably tested well in polls that were in the field a few weeks ago. I’ll have more to say about Hagenow’s ad in a future post. A few key points for now:

• Five legislative sessions in a row, House Republicans have refused to pass bills setting state support for K-12 education (“allowable growth”) on the timeline required by state law. Their delays left school district leaders unable to plan their budgets on time.
• Six legislative sessions in a row, Iowa House and Senate Democrats have fought House Republicans over education funding. Every year, House GOP leaders insisted on a final budget below what school districts, community colleges, and state universities would need to keep up with rising costs.
• Hagenow absurdly postures as a supporter of more funding for preschool. In reality, within weeks after Republicans took over the Iowa House in 2011, Hagenow and everyone else in his caucus voted to eliminate state preschool funding. If Hagenow had gotten his way, Iowa would not even have a state-supported preschool program for 4-year-olds.

Speaking of revisionist history, Donald Trump’s campaign is now claiming that Carter Page was never a foreign policy adviser to the presidential candidate. Both Trump and Page talked to journalists in March about his adviser role. Why the change? Probably because according to Michael Isikoff’s September 23 story for Yahoo News, “U.S. intelligence officials are seeking to determine” whether Page “has opened up private communications with senior Russian officials.” Questions center on Page’s activities during a July visit to Moscow.

But how well-connected is Page in Russia anyway? Julia Ioffe talked to specialists in the U.S. and Moscow and reported in her must-read piece for Politico, “despite the tightly knit nature of the expat business community in Russia, no one I spoke to had ever heard of Carter Page.” Several people who have worked in the Russian energy sector discounted Page’s self-described role with the gas monopoly Gazprom. People who knew Page from Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office or his work with Russia’s electricity monopoly were unimpressed. Talk about irony: the ultimate con man Trump, who lies about matters large and small, may have been tricked into elevating Page’s stature.

Ioffe’s reporting suggests that Iowa’s own Sam Clovis recruited Page on behalf of the Trump campaign. Clovis refused to answer the journalist’s questions.

Final note: Craig Robinson and I discussed the Trump campaign’s Russia connections with Dave Price for one of WHO-TV’s September 21 newscasts; click here to watch that video. Robinson and I talked about other aspects of the presidential race on today’s edition of “The Insiders.” I’ll add links when they become available.

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Two reasons Patty Judge is smart to highlight flood response role

Former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge launched her first television commercial as a U.S. Senate candidate on May 24, two weeks before primary voters will determine which of four Democrats will take on six-term Senator Chuck Grassley.

The 30-second spot, which is running in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets, highlights Judge’s work as the Culver administration’s Homeland Security Advisor, which gave her a leadership role as state government responded to devastating 2008 floods in eastern Iowa.

It’s a smart strategy.

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Still time to help preserve Iowa topsoil, reduce flooding

Comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are still needed in support of a 2012 rule that requires developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction. Bleeding Heartland discussed this issue last week, and Todd Dorman wrote a more detailed background piece for the Cedar Rapids Gazette earlier this month. I’ve posted excerpts from that article below.

Iowa has lost too much of its world-class topsoil already. Not only does this non-renewable resource help plants grow, it reduces stormwater runoff that can cause flooding and water pollution. As Dorman points out, homeowners would also benefit from having more topsoil on their lots, so they could grow grass or other plants without having to inundate hard clay subsoil with chemicals. Representatives of business groups that oppose the DNR rule have estimated its cost at between $1,200 per residential to $2,500 or even $5,000. I haven’t seen any estimate of the hidden costs of more flooding and excess nutrients in waterways. Although farms contribute more to Iowa topsoil runoff than new residential construction does, we all have to do our part.

A public hearing on the soil conservation rule is happening this Thursday, May 29, in Des Moines; click through for details on how to participate in person or by phone. Public comments can be sent via e-mail to Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov, ideally before Thursday’s meeting.  

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