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Fallons blast "sham" hearing on ethics complaint

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 19, 2009 at 19:29:16 PM CDT

Last week the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously to dismiss Ed and Lynn Fallon's complaint against State Senator Merlin Bartz, who used his official  website to promote this petition last month. The petition sought to pressure Iowa's county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Fallons contended that Bartz failed to comply with the Senate Code of Ethics, which requires legislators to "encourage respect for the law." They also questioned whether taxpayer money was used to support the website where Bartz promoted the petition drive and urged volunteers to send copies of their signature lists to the Iowa Family Policy Center.

The Senate Ethics Committee concluded after a few minutes' discussion that Bartz was exercising his free speech rights.

On May 18, I'M for Iowa released a statement depicting the hearing as a "sham." Contrary to the Iowa Senate Code of Ethics, the Senate Ethics Committee failed to inform the Fallons of the date and time of the hearing in advance. The committee also did not consider the specific questions raised in the Fallons' complaint. I've posted I'M for Iowa's statement after the jump.

It seems clear that two political realities derailed any serious inquiry into the complaint against Bartz. First, Bartz is an insider, and the complainants are outsiders. (Heck, Ed Fallon was an outsider even when he was serving in the state legislature.) Earlier this year, the Iowa House Ethics Committee dismissed with prejudice a complaint Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed against State Representative Dolores Mertz without seriously considering many of the issues raised by the group.

I would put very low odds on any ethics complaint filed by any citizen action group leading to disciplinary action against a state representative or senator. (Please correct me if you know of any counter-examples.)

Second, I suspect that Senate Democrats have no interest in making a martyr out of Bartz. Opponents of marriage equality are desperate to show that their rights are threatened by same-sex marriages. We don't need Bartz to be purportedly "punished for speaking his mind" (even though that wasn't the point of the Fallons' complaint). Look what the National Organization for Marriage has done to make Miss California USA seem like a victim of "gay marriage activists".

Bartz hasn't prevented any same-sex marriages from taking place, but he has secured a reputation as the most aggressive defender of "traditional marriage" in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He has also helped the Iowa Family Policy Center generate lots of new leads for their next membership drive.

I'll be interested to see whether Senate Republicans seek to replace their current leader, Paul McKinley, with Bartz next year. McKinley's actions on the marriage front have been found wanting by some Iowa conservatives and anti-gay activists.

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 374 words in story)

No discipline for state senator who sought to pressure county recorders

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 13, 2009 at 08:40:14 AM CDT

Charlotte Eby reported at Covering Iowa Politics that the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee

voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss an ethics complaint against a lawmaker who had encouraged county recorders to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. On his Web site, Bartz had encouraged Iowans who also are opposed to same-sex marriage to sign petitions asking county recorders to not issue same-sex licenses.

Members of the ethics committee said Bartz was simply exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, and voted 6-0 to reject the complaint after a short discussion.

Last month I posted the full text of the petition along with the language Bartz used to promote the drive on his official Iowa Senate website.

Ed and Lynn Fallon of I'M for Iowa filed the ethics complaint against Bartz, saying he should not have encouraged elected county officials to fail to comply with an Iowa Supreme Court ruling.

The petition drive did not succeed in blocking same-sex marriages; so far no county recorders in Iowa have refused to issue marriage licenses. On the other hand, I read that some petitions containing some 17,000 signatures were delivered to county recorders the week of April 27.

If even a fraction of the people who collected signatures followed Bartz's instructions to send copies to Chuck Hurley's Iowa Family Policy Center, then the drive will turn out to be a list-building bonanza for that organization.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Fallons file ethics complaint against Bartz

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 20:32:58 PM CDT

Ed and Lynn Fallon filed a formal ethics complaint today against Senator Merlin Bartz, according to an e-mail I received today from I'M for Iowa. Excerpt:

On a Senate Republican website, Senator Bartz posts a link to a petition appealing to county recorders to "refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on April 27th." Senator Bartz has also spoken publicly in support of county recorders taking this action.

In their complaint, Ed and Lynn assert, "Senator Bartz's actions appear to violate Article III, Section 32 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa and Chapter 63.10 of the Code of Iowa. Both state that duly elected officials must solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Iowa. Furthermore, the Senate Code of Ethics states that every legislator must 'encourage respect for the law,' and the Senator's actions appear to violate this provision."

The complaint further states: "We have not been able to ascertain whether taxpayer money was used in the development and maintenance of the website that Senator Bartz used to promote the petition (http://www.iowasenaterepublicans.org/Bartz/Bartz.htm), but if such is the case, this suggests a misuse of taxpayer money by an elected official to promote breaking the law. We call attention to the fact that the website in question also lists Republican Caucus staff members, who are entirely funded at taxpayer expense."

"Let me be clear that this is not personal," said Ed Fallon. "When we served in the Legislature, Senator Bartz and I worked on several issues together. I continue to have great respect for him and find him to be intelligent and a man of integrity. This complaint is in no way intended to cast dispersions, merely to state that, in this instance, Senator Bartz's actions appear to constitute a breach of the Senate's ethical standards."

I posted about this disgraceful petition drive on Tuesday. Radio Iowa posted Bartz's response:

"I have read the formal complaint filed by Ed Fallon and find it without merit.  According to procedures set forth by Senate Rules I will submit a formal response to the Senate Ethics Committee within the next ten days.  I fully expect the Committee to dismiss this complaint, thus continuing the tradition of free speech on the floor of the Iowa Senate.  It is important that the voices of Iowans are not silenced and a vote is held to determine what constitutes marriage."

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Will the Senate Ethics Committee dismiss this complaint against a member of the club, or will they call Bartz out for encouraging county recorders to disregard the law? The Attorney General's Office has made clear that recorders must comply with the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 15, 2008 at 13:30:42 PM CST

UPDATE: Barack Obama announced the key appointments in his energy and environmental team today. Meteor Blades has a good piece up on the "Green Team" of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, "energy czar" Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson and head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley.

On Saturday Obama devoted his weekly address to the housing crisis (click the link to watch the video) and announced that New York City Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan will serve as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in his cabinet. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York commented,

Shaun Donovan has been one of the most effective housing commissioners in New York City's history. At this time, with the housing crisis raging, he is exactly the kind of person we need as HUD secretary.

Sam Dillon of the New York Times discussed some possibilities for Secretary of Education and noted,

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation's schools that his selection will reflect.

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers' unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified?

UPDATE: Obama reportedly plans to nominate Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago's public school system, as Secretary of Education. Duncan is also a longtime friend of Obama's.

Meanwhile, nearly 45,000 people have signed this online petition at Food Democracy Now. Excerpt:

As our nation's future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation's food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.

We believe that our nation is at a critical juncture in regard to agriculture and its impact on the environment and that our next Secretary of Agriculture must have a broad vision for our collective future that is greater than what past appointments have called for.

Presently, farmers face serious challenges in terms of the high costs of energy, inputs and land, as well as continually having to fight an economic system and legislative policies that undermine their ability to compete in the open market. The current system unnaturally favors economies of scale, consolidation and market concentration and the allocation of massive subsidies for commodities, all of which benefit the interests of corporate agribusiness over the livelihoods of farm families.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has set a goal of 100,000 signatures for this petition.

Steph Larsen discussed some names on the short list for Secretary of Agriculture here. Sustainable agriculture advocates would love to see the job offered to Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. Hassebrook wrote this guest opinion for the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago, saying

Nothing better illustrates the broken politics of Washington than farm and rural policy. The federal government spends billions subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller farms off the land and often penalizes the best environmental stewards with lower payments. It largely fails to invest in the future of America's rural communities.

For example, in 2005 the Department of Agriculture spent nearly twice as much to subsidize the 260 biggest farms across 13 leading farm states than on rural development initiatives to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in those states' 260 most struggling rural counties. That does not help family farms or small-town Americans. It does not serve the common good.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is among those who want to see Obama nominate a "secretary of food" with a broad vision for agriculture. He named Hassebrook as a good candidate for the job.

The Center for Rural Affairs has launched its own online petition asking Obama's future Secretary of Agriculture, whoever that may be, to promote a new vision for rural America. It's a long petition, advocating priorities such as:

policies to support grassroots entrepreneurship in rural America, such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, the Value Added Producer Grant Program, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program;

a plan to get affordable high-speed internet service to every rural business and home;

policies to support local ownership of wind turbines by farmers and ranchers, communities, and the rural workers who maintain wind turbines;

a plan to find the right approach to biofuels;

federal policies that work for family-size farms, including caps on payments;

better land and water stewardship using the Conservation Stewardship Program and other programs.

According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Obama's two finalists for Secretary of Transportation are former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Steve Heminger, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Kirk was an early Obama supporter and the first African-American mayor of Dallas. Heminger has the strong backing of California's large Democratic Congressional delegation. I don't know enough about either man's views on transportation to have an opinion about who would be better for this job.

New names continue to emerge in the speculation surrounding Obama's Secretary of the Interior. Among the names previously floated, environmentalists have advocated for Raul Grijalva and against Mike Thompson. Now the Denver Post says Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado is a finalist for the job. Traditionally, someone from the west is named to head the Interior Department. Salazar is up for re-election in 2010, and Swing State Project already has a thread up to discuss possible Democratic candidates to replace him if he leaves the Senate for a cabinet position.

UPDATE: CBS news in Denver says Salazar has accepted Obama's offer to become Secretary of the Interior. Not a great choice, and it leaves Democrats an open Senate seat to defend in Colorado in 2010.

Post any relevant thoughts or opinions in the comments.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)
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