Weekend open thread: New leaders and new traditions

Governor Kim Reynolds took acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg on a whirlwind tour late last week to Osceola, Mason City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Gregg’s home town of Hawarden (Sioux County). Hundreds of people showed up for the Hawarden event; much smaller crowds turned out at the other venues. At each stop, Reynolds and Gregg praised former Governor Terry Branstad, and Reynolds repeated the four key goals she had laid out in her first speech as the state’s top official.

Early signs point to a highly political rather than policy-oriented Reynolds administration. The new governor’s top appointees are veterans of many Republican campaigns. Chief of staff Jake Ketzner worked on Branstad’s campaign in 2010 and managed the governor’s 2014 re-election bid; in between, he ran Representative Steve King’s 2012 campaign against Christie Vilsack. Deputy chief of staff Tim Albrecht spent most of his career as a spin doctor for GOP candidates or elected officials before joining a Republican-oriented political communications firm in late 2013. You don’t put guys like this in charge of your office if you’re a “policy wonk” or interested in reaching out to constituencies that felt ignored during Branstad’s tenure. These choices suggest that Reynolds plans to wage partisan warfare, day in and day out.

Over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard commented on how the Reynolds administration is already blurring the lines between official state events and 2018 campaign activities. Expect much more of this in the months to come.

Speaking of political games, progressive activists put up a parody site at ReynoldsGregg.org, pushing the message, “Kim Reynolds and Adam Gregg are Iowa’s new team, but unfortunately they have the same old failed priorities” (see screen shot below). Rynard recalled that GOP operatives including Albrecht relentlessly mocked Jack Hatch’s campaign for making the same mistake in 2014. At that time, quite a few of Iowa’s political reporters wrote stories about Republicans grabbing HatchVernon.com and the @HatchVernon Twitter handle. So far, those media outlets have not publicized the same incompetence on the part of the Reynolds team.

Other passages worth noting: earlier this month, the Iowa Board of Regents chose Michael Richards as president and Patricia Cownie and president pro-tem, replacing Bruce Rastetter and Katie Mulholland, whose terms ended April 30. Rastetter opted not to seek reappointment to the board, tacitly acknowledging that Iowa Senate Democrats would never have allowed his confirmation. Mulholland sought another six-year term, but for reasons that remain unclear, Branstad passed her over. Regent Larry McKibben had expressed interest in the board presidency, but he gave up without a fight and formally nominated Richards. I didn’t have a preference between McKibben and Richards; from my perspective, neither could possibly do worse in that job than Rastetter. This weekend, the Ditchwalk blog took an in-depth look at Richards: part 1 focused on his background and how he got the top job on the board, while part 2 looked at his early actions in the new position, speculating about whether Richards can fix the board’s “colossal credibility problem” after years of administrative abuses by Rastetter.

In March, Sean Bagniewski won the election to succeed Tom Henderson, the long-serving chair of the Polk County Democrats. Bagniewski announced on May 23 that former Senator Tom Harkin gave his blessing to have Iowa’s largest county Democratic organization hold an annual “Steak Fry” fundraiser. The inaugural event is scheduled for September 30 at Water Works Park in Des Moines; headliners have not yet been announced. Bagniewski joked, “One of my friends asked me how it felt to land the Steak Fry. It’s like adopting a baby gorilla. Where do you put it? How’re you going to feed it? How much is this thing going to cost?”

Final note: the New Leaders Council, “a nonpartisan program to recruit, train, and promote the next generation of progressive leaders,” is holding a fundraiser in Des Moines on Thursday, June 1. Money raised will support the five-month training program for next year’s New Leaders Council fellows. Local organizers hope to attract a more diverse class and are “doing more focused outreach to underrepresented communities” with a goal of having a 60 percent non-white and 55 percent female cohort of fellows for 2018. I enclose below more details about this week’s event and the training program.

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Defunding Planned Parenthood may limit health care for Iowa's newly uninsured

The collapse of Iowa’s health insurance exchange could leave more than 70,000 people with no way to purchase individual policies for 2018.

More than half the Iowans at risk of becoming uninsured would have qualified for some services under the Iowa Family Planning Network. But our new state-run family planning program–created at great expense because Republican lawmakers and the Branstad/Reynolds administration insisted on defunding Planned Parenthood–won’t be able to accommodate an influx of patients who had been on the exchange.

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Michael Kiernan running for open Des Moines city council seat

Former Des Moines City Council member Michael Kiernan announced yesterday that he will run for the open seat in Ward 3 this year, focusing on an “agenda of improving public safety, fixing potholes and continuing progress.” He held the at-large city council seat from 2004 to 2010 and served as Iowa Democratic Party state chair from January 2009 to June 2010. You can find his campaign on Facebook and on Twitter @mjkiernan.

Josh Mandelbaum has been campaigning in Ward 3 for the last two months. His strong challenge drove 24-year incumbent Christine Hensley to retire rather than seek re-election. Now that the odds of a Democrat winning this seat have increased, Kiernan has decided to give it a shot. In a thinly-veiled swipe at Mandelbaum, Kiernan posted on Facebook yesterday, “I’ve been hearing a lot about crime in our city lately. I keep expecting to hear people who say they want to serve our community talk about this issue. Instead, all I’m hearing about is political endorsements and campaign war chests.” He echoed the talking point in his news release and on Twitter: “Lot of talk about politics, political endorsements and political cash…no talk of public safety. That’s why I am running.”

If Kiernan had attended Mandelbaum’s first event as a candidate, he would have heard his opponent talk about many substantive issues including “the importance of public health and public safety” and “providing resources to our first responders, police and fire.” Granted, Mandelbaum’s campaign did announce last month that he had raised more than $110,000 in three weeks, “recruited over 150 volunteers to help door-knock and hold house parties, and will soon have an elected official and labor leader endorsement list.” Taking on an entrenched incumbent requires a lot of groundwork, including early fundraising and lining up prominent supporters. But contrary to the impression Kiernan is trying to create, endorsements and cash have not been the focus of Mandelbaum’s message to Des Moines residents. You can read or listen to his first speech as a candidate here.

I enclose below a map of the ward, covering west-side and south-side neighborhoods, as well as Kiernan’s news release, more background on his life and career, and the list of elected officials backing Mandelbaum. (His campaign hasn’t rolled out the labor endorsements yet.)

Mandelbaum has not publicly commented on Kiernan entering the race. I anticipate his case to Democratic voters will be similar to a statement his campaign released after Hensley disclosed her retirement plans: “When this race looked impossible to win, Josh stepped up to run because the values we share as a community were being threatened everyday.” I’ve closely followed Mandelbaum’s work over the years and will encourage voters in the ward to support him, because of his skills and commitment to progressive policies.

Local elections are non-partisan, but I expect some Republican backed by corporate interests to join the field in Ward 3 before long. I welcome tips on other possible candidates.

UPDATE: Added below new comments from Kiernan, who answered some questions by phone on May 18.

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Branstad nominees held accountable for violating women's constitutional rights

Iowa Senate Democrats held two members of the Iowa Board of Medicine accountable yesterday for hasty action in 2013 to approve an anti-abortion rule that had no scientific basis and was later found unconstitutional by a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court.

Iowa Board of Medicine Chair Diane Clark and fellow board member Dr. Hamed Tewfik became the first (and probably the only) nominees for state boards or commissions to be rejected by the Iowa Senate this year. Republicans are predictably denouncing the vote as “petty partisan politics.” But senators have confirmed without dissent the overwhelming majority of more than 200 people Governor Terry Branstad selected.

Clark and Tewfik have only themselves to blame for losing their prestigious positions.

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Why Mike Carberry may run for Iowa governor

Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry has confirmed rumors that he is thinking about running for governor in 2018. A longtime environmental activist and current member of the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee, Carberry was the most prominent elected official in our state to endorse Bernie Sanders for president. He spoke to Bleeding Heartland this week about why he is considering a bid for higher office, even though running for governor was never part of his life plan.

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