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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Branstad's office withholds invitation list for collective bargaining bill signing

Governor Terry Branstad’s staff have rebuffed repeated efforts to obtain a list of those invited to watch the governor sign sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law last month.

Going against longtime standard practice for high-profile legislation, Branstad excluded reporters from attending what staff called a “private” event. Drew Klein, state director for Americans for Prosperity, later posted a picture of himself shaking the governor’s hand at the bill signing. The large number of pens on the governor’s desk suggest that many others celebrated the historic move to take rights away from an estimated 180,000 public workers.

Jodie Butler was determined to find out who else was in that room.

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House Republicans approve workers' comp bill with major unfunded changes

Iowa workers lost again at the statehouse on Thursday, as 55 House Republicans approved a bill that would tilt the workers’ compensation system markedly toward employers. All 37 Democrats present voted against House File 518, joined by just one Republican, State Representative Rob Taylor. UPDATE: GOP Representative Clel Baudler was absent on March 16 but filed an “explanation of vote” in the House Journal on March 20 clarifying that he would have voted “nay” on this bill.

Lawmakers had received an enormous number of constituent contacts since the “dramatic” and “far-reaching” legislation first saw the light of day a little more than two weeks ago. In a rush to get this unpleasantness behind them before the weekend, GOP legislators insisted on a final vote before staff could analyze the cost of a “new career vocational training and education program,” conjured up in an amendment filed the previous evening.

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Six compelling cases against the Iowa Republican workers' compensation bill

The Iowa House and Senate could debate a bill to decimate our state’s workers’ compensation system as early as today.

For background on this chapter in the Republican war on workers, see the last section of this post. A House Democratic staff analysis (enclosed in full below) explains how House File 518 and its companion Senate File 435 would alter current law, all to the benefit of employers and to the detriment of those hurt on the job.

Other Iowans made powerful cases against this remarkably cruel proposal last week. I transcribed five people’s testimony from a 90-minute public hearing on March 7, as well as Democratic State Representative Scott Ourth’s remarks during a House Commerce subcommittee meeting on the bill.

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Michael Bousselot for Congress in IA-02? I really don't think so.

Pat Rynard speculated yesterday about four possible GOP challengers to Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district. Republicans spent very little money trying to unseat Loebsack last year but have signaled they plan to contest this race in 2018. House Democrats added Loebsack to their program for vulnerable incumbents.

Rynard didn’t mention Dr. Christopher Peters, who lost in IA-02 last year by less than 8 points despite getting in the race late and being outspent by a considerable margin. I expect Peters to run for Congress again in 2018.

For today, I want to focus on Governor Terry Branstad’s chief of staff Michael Bousselot, whom Rynard dubbed the “most interesting name to surface so far” as a possible challenger to Loebsack. “Were Branstad to put his political machine in to action for Bousselot […] the young staffer could quickly become the front-runner in a primary race where access to big donors is key,” he noted.

No doubt a lot of Republican money would get behind Bousselot if Branstad gave the word. But I can’t see this guy making a lot of headway against Loebsack.

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What you need to know to fight the next four terrible Iowa Republican bills

Republicans have already inflicted immeasurable harm on Iowans during the 2017 legislative session, taking rights away from more than 180,000 workers, slashing funding for higher education and human services, and approving the third-smallest K-12 school funding increase in four decades. The worst part is, they’re nowhere near finished.

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg has flagged twelve of the most destructive bills still alive in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. Any Iowan can attend public hearings scheduled for March 6 or 7 on four of those “dirty dozen” bills. Those who are unable to come to the Capitol in person can submit written comments on the legislation or contact Republican state representatives or senators directly by phone or e-mail.

Here’s what you need to know about the four bills most urgently requiring attention.

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