Iowa attorney general: Outside counsel should defend collective bargaining law

To “avoid any questions about a potential conflict,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will request that outside legal counsel defend the state against a public employee union’s legal challenge to Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers, and four of its members filed suit on February 20, charging that House File 291 violates Iowa constitutional provisions on equal protection and non-interference in contracts. In a statement I enclose in full below, Miller said he will ask the Iowa Executive Council to approve other counsel for this case, because “the new collective bargaining law has the potential to existentially threaten the viability of public sector unions,” which have supported him in past campaigns.

The council is likely to approve Miller’s request. Its five members are Governor Terry Branstad, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman. Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “[Miller] summed it up when he said that AFSCME had supported him in the past and he wants to avoid any questions about a potential conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office defended the Branstad administration against a lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, for which AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan was a plaintiff. But outside counsel defended the state when Democratic lawmakers and Homan challenged the governor’s use of line-item vetoes to close Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Miller may need to ask outside counsel to be appointed if other labor unions and public employees file additional lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law. Aside from the points raised by AFSCME, several other provisions may raise constitutional questions:

• The law bans automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues, while allowing such deductions to continue for professional association memberships or recurring charitable contributions.

• The law may violate free association rights by requiring unions to win a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots, in order to stay certified.

• The law eliminates a quid pro quo contained in the first paragraph of Chapter 20, which could be seen as a due process violation.

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Twelve holes in the internal ISU Flight Service audit

The Iowa Board of Regents gave Iowa State University President Steven Leath a well-choreographed vote of confidence on Monday. First, Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart took the board through highlights from his team’s review of ISU’s Flight Service, noting the “full cooperation” provided by ISU staff. Then a contrite yet defensive Leath took the floor. Still insisting he did not violate any policies or laws, the president admitted he could have shown “better judgment” and said he is “very sorry” about “things I should have done differently.” In particular, he “used the university planes more frequently than was absolutely necessary, and should have been more transparent about some of the use.” He promised to be “more thoughtful” and learn from this experience. The 12-page auditor’s report and full statement from Leath are enclosed at the end of this post.

Regent Larry McKibben was up next to thank Leath for his leadership and contribution to positive trends at ISU, adding that he hopes for more “great things” during the next five years. The chair of the Regents’ audit committee has never viewed what he called a “ding on an airplane wing” as grounds to change his opinion of Leath. His remarks before the regents went into closed session signaled that the overseers would neither fire nor severely sanction the ISU president.

After board members evaluated Leath’s performance, Board President Bruce Rastetter asserted that Leath had “eliminate[d] any questions about the personal benefit that he may have received by using the university aircraft,” having reimbursed the ISU Foundation for costs associated with some flights. He went on to say,

“Clearly, President Leath’s acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the planes reassures this board, and I hope all Iowans, that the president deserves our continued trust and support,” Rastetter said. “Furthermore, the board believes the audit has put to rest any concerns about President Leath’s use of the aircraft.”

This Iowan is not reassured. The audit has big holes and failed to fully account for costs of Leath’s airplane habit.

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State auditor and Board of Regents looking more deeply into ISU airplane use

Iowa State University President Steven Leath continues to insist his use of university aircraft violated no policies or laws.

We’ll learn more in the coming months, because the State Auditor’s Office is looking into the matter, and yesterday the Iowa Board of Regents approved a plan to audit every ISU Flight Service flight since Leath was hired in 2012.

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Weekend open thread: Mother's Day edition

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who is celebrating this weekend. Although abolitionist and feminist Julia Ward Howe originally envisioned the holiday as a “Day of Peace,” our culture approaches today as a time to thank mothers with cards, phone calls, visits, or gifts. In lieu of a traditional bouquet of flowers, I offer wild geranium, a native plant now blooming in many wooded areas, and a shout out to some of the mothers who are active in Iowa political life.

These Iowa mothers now hold state or federal office: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, State Auditor Mary Mosiman, State Senators Rita Hart, Pam Jochum, Liz Mathis, Janet Petersen, Amanda Ragan, Amy Sinclair, and Mary Jo Wilhelm, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, State Representatives Deborah Berry, Timi Brown-Powers, Nancy Dunkel, Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Gaskill, Lisa Heddens, Megan Jones, Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, Helen Miller, Linda Miller, Dawn Pettengill, Patti Ruff, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Sandy Salmon, Sharon Steckman, Sally Stutsman, Phyllis Thede, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Cindy Winckler, and Mary Wolfe.

These Iowa mothers are running for state or federal office this year: U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge, U.S. House candidates Monica Vernon (IA-01) and Kim Weaver (IA-04), Iowa Senate candidates Susan Bangert, Pam Dearden Conner, Rene Gadelha, Miyoko Hikiji, and Bonnie Sadler, Iowa House candidates Perla Alarcon-Flory, Jane Bloomingdale, Claire Celsi, Sondra Childs-Smith, Paula Dreeszen, Carrie Duncan, Deb Duncan, Jeannine Eldrenkamp, Kristi Hager, Jan Heikes, Ashley Hinson, Barbara Hovland, Sara Huddleston, Jennifer Konfrst, Shannon Lundgren, Heather Matson, Teresa Meyer, Maridith Morris, Amy Nielsen, Andrea Phillips, Stacie Stokes, and Sherrie Taha.

Mother’s Day is painful for many people. If you are the mother of a child who has died, I recommend Cronesense’s personal reflection on “the other side of the coin,” a piece by Frankenoid, “Mother’s Day in the Land of the Bereaved,” or Sheila Quirke’s “What I Know About Motherhood Now That My Child Has Died.” If your beloved mother is no longer living, I recommend Hope Edelman’s Mother’s Day letter to motherless daughters or her commentary for CNN. If you have severed contact with your mother because of her toxic parenting, you may appreciate Theresa Edwards rant about “13 Things No Estranged Child Needs To Hear On Mother’s Day” and Sherry’s post on “The Dirty Little Secret.”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Will any elected Iowa Republicans vow to #NeverTrump?

In an effort to halt Donald Trump’s momentum and also to preserve some self-respect, a growing number of Republicans are vowing never to vote for Trump, even if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee. As Megan McArdle reported for Bloomberg, the #NeverTrump faction represents “all segments of the party — urban professionals, yes, but also stalwart evangelicals, neoconservatives, libertarians, Tea Partiers, the whole patchwork of ideological groups of which the Republican coalition is made.”

Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman said she would consider voting for Hillary Clinton over Trump. At a funeral in Des Moines this past weekend, the daughter of the deceased (like Whitman a moderate Republican) struck a chord with some of the mourners when she joked during her eulogy that she was a little envious her mother would not have to vote in the presidential election now.

At the other end of the GOP ideological spectrum, staunch conservative U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska became the first member of Congress to take the #NeverTrump pledge, laying out his reasoning in a long Facebook post.

So far, the most prominent Iowa Republican to join the #NeverTrump camp is right-wing talk radio host Steve Deace, who explained his stance in a column for the Conservative Review website. Deace worked hard to persuade fellow Iowans to caucus for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio endorser and former Waukee City Council member Isaiah McGee described himself to me as a “founding member” of #NeverTrump.

Early signs suggest that few, if any, elected GOP officials in Iowa will join the club.

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13 ways a top Branstad administration lawyer didn't comply with state policies

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services presents itself as “an organization of excellence, providing services and support to meet our stakeholder agencies’ needs and ever mindful of good stewardship in resource utilization.” Among other responsibilities, DAS “handles personnel matters for all of state government.”

Yet the agency’s former top attorney Ryan Lamb didn’t comply with various personnel rules during the nearly three years he worked for state government, State Auditor Mary Mosiman revealed yesterday in a detailed report (pdf). The headline news from the audit: Lamb was “overpaid” and “unqualified” for his job. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press,

A key lawyer in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration wasn’t qualified for his position and was paid $22,600 that he shouldn’t have received while on military leave, according to a report released Thursday.

Department of Administrative Services chief legal counsel Ryan Lamb also failed to record vacation days and was promoted and given major raises even though he didn’t have a resume on file […].

That sounds bad. But wait! There’s more.

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