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"Quality care" is in the eye of the beholder

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 20:05:00 PM CDT

The nursing home industry already had too much political power in Iowa before Terry Branstad returned to the governor's office. Since late 2010, Branstad has repeatedly demonstrated that he prefers a more lax inspection regime for residential care facilities, with fewer nursing home inspectors than state lawmakers are willing to fund.

But Branstad may have hit a new low this month, according to a story by Clark Kauffman in Monday's Des Moines Register. Kauffman has reported extensively on substandard care in Iowa nursing homes. Following up on this year's winners of the "Governor's Award for Quality Care in Health Care Facilities," Kauffman learned that one of the three honored facilities "was cited by inspectors seven weeks earlier for widespread unsanitary conditions and failure to meet residents' nutritional needs."

At this writing, I could not find the July 9 press release announcing the awards on the governor's official news feed. I found it on the Department of Inspections and Appeals website and posted the full text after the jump.

I also enclosed excerpts from Kauffman's report, but you should click through to read every disgusting detail about the Woodland Terrace in Waverly (Bremer County). I challenge Branstad or Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to move any of their own beloved relatives to a home with such low standards of hygiene. It's bad enough that Woodland Terrace wasn't fined after the conditions inspectors found when they visited in May. To honor that facility is outrageous.

Regarding the other two award-winners, Kauffman noted that Prairie View Home in Sanborn did not have any violations during its most recent inspection, but Friendship Haven in Fort Dodge was cited in late 2013 "for failure to provide adequate incontinence care for residents; failure to adequately treat bedsores; and failure to keep food at the proper temperature before serving."

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No welcome mat from Terry Branstad for unaccompanied immigrant children

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 13:46:09 PM CDT

For two days I've been trying to find the words to react to Governor Terry Branstad slamming the door on unaccompanied and undocumented immigrant children who are staying in crowded facilities near the U.S. southern border. Since last fall, at least 50,000 children are estimated to have entered the country via Mexico from various countries of origin, mainly Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The Obama administration has asked governors to help house the kids. During his Monday press briefing, Branstad made clear he doesn't want any of the children sent to Iowa.

It's not that I expected Branstad to welcome any of these kids. This is a guy who demagogued on illegal immigration during his last campaign and disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows undocumented children to be educated in public schools. Still, for those of us old enough to remember Governor Bob Ray welcoming refugees from Asia to Iowa during the 1970s, it's dispiriting to hear Branstad trot out tired excuses and talking points. He wants "empathy for these kids" but doesn't want to "send the signal to send these children to America illegally." As if these children deliberately broke the law. As if families in desperate circumstances, trying to save their kids from murderous gangs in central America, would be influenced by "signals" from generous Iowans.

I have nothing profound to say, I just find it depressing to hear the governor cite some charitable work by his wife as an excuse not to do anything to alleviate a humanitarian crisis. After the jump I've posted some news clips on the story, along with a call to action from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- What a disgrace for WHO-TV to allow reporter Aaron Brilbeck to file a story referring to human beings as "illegals" in the headline and the lede. Where were the newsroom editors? I expect that kind of language in a press release from Representative Steve King's office, not from a reputable media organization.

P.P.S.- Philip Brasher, formerly of the Des Moines Register, filed an excellent feature for Roll Call about "The Other Side of the Border."

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Change in Iowa Medicaid policy hasn't reduced abortion access

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 15, 2014 at 20:43:35 PM CDT

A year after Iowa law changed to require the governor to approve all Medicaid reimbursements for abortions, the new policy does not appear to have limited low-income women's access to abortions in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life or severe fetal abnormality.

On the other hand, the policy has in effect ended Medicaid coverage of abortion in Iowa, which was already among the most restrictive states in this area.  

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Supreme Court ruling will speed up small solar projects in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:42:57 AM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a lower court ruling that will make it easier for small-scale solar projects to move forward in Iowa. The up-front cost of installing solar panels has long been a barrier to unlocking Iowa's huge potential to generate solar power. Now municipalities, home or business owners will be able to have solar panels installed through a "third-party power purchase agreement," whereby they pay for the electricity generated after installation.

Follow me after the jump for background on this case, key points from the majority ruling, and reaction to the decision. Advocates for solar power in Iowa and elsewhere are enthusiastic about the potential for more small-scale renewable energy projects (sometimes called "distributed generation"). Utility companies are warning that the ruling will drive up electricity costs.  

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Weekend open thread, with Iowa medical marijuana links

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 13, 2014 at 08:36:13 AM CDT

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

Among the new Iowa laws that took effect at the beginning of the current fiscal year on July 1, the act legalizing the use of cannabis oil for certain seizure disorders drew the most media attention. Senate File 2360 (full text) passed the Iowa House and Senate during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. This week the Iowa Department of Public Health released draft rules on how Iowans can gain legal access to this drug derivative for medical purposes. This page on the Iowa DPH website contains details on how to obtain a "Cannabidiol Registration Card." Eligible Iowans will be able to pick up cards through their county's Iowa Department of Transportation office, because DOT offices are more accessible for many people.

During negotiations with Iowa House Republican leaders and staff from Governor Terry Branstad's office, the scope of Senate File 2360 was narrowed to cover only the use of cannabis oil (not marijuana in any smokeable form), and only for seizure disorders, meaning that roughly a few hundred Iowa families will benefit from the new law. But a criminal trial verdict that made headlines this week may spur future efforts to help the thousands of Iowans who seek to use marijuana to treat chronic or terminal health conditions. A Scott County jury convicted Benton Mackenzie, along with his wife and son, of drug charges for growing marijuana plants. Mackenzie's elderly parents are due to stand trial soon for allowing the plants to be grown on their property. The presiding judge didn't allow Mackenzie's attorneys to tell jurors he was growing the drugs to treat a rare cancer, because medical marijuana is not legal in Iowa.

Quad-City Times reporter Brian Wellner covered the Mackenzie case and discussed it on Iowa Public Radio this week. After the jump I've posted excerpts from a few news reports on the verdict. I agree completely with State Senator Joe Bolkcom, the leading advocate for medical marijuana in Iowa, who called the decision to prosecute Mackenzie and his family members a "waste of taxpayer money."  

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Iowa Supreme Court rejects Farm Bureau's effort to nullify clean water rules (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 18:08:12 PM CDT

In a 4-3 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed today a Polk County District Court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit seeking to nullify new state water quality rules.

The environmental community and groups representing big agribusiness have closely watched this case for years, because the "antidegradation" rules are an important step toward bringing Iowa into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Had this lawsuit succeeded, no strong water quality rules would have seen the light of day for the forseeable future in Iowa, because Governor Terry Branstad has packed the State Environmental Protection Commission with advocates for agribusiness.

Follow me after the jump for more background on the case and details about today's decision.

UPDATE: Added reaction from the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Environmental Council below. If there's a more hypocritical statewide organization than the Farm Bureau, I can't think what it could be.

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Report highlights immigrants' impact on Iowa economy

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 08, 2014 at 09:05:00 AM CDT

A detailed analysis by the Iowa Policy Project shows that immigrants contribute substantially "to Iowa's economy both as workers and employers," and could contribute more "if immigration reform were to make work authorization or a path to citizenship possible" for some undocumented Iowa residents. You can read the full report by Heather Gibney and Peter Fisher here (pdf). I've enclosed excerpts from the executive summary after the jump.

One key finding is that contrary to the image fostered by some politicians, undocumented immigrants are not a drain on state or federal budgets. They generate significant revenue for public assistance programs, from which they cannot benefit. Representative Steve King (R, IA-04) is notorious for his demagoguery against "illegals," but sadly many other Iowa Republican elected officials, including Governor Terry Branstad, have promoted myths about undocumented immigrants taking state benefits.

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Muscatine residents will get day in court against major air polluter

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 12:33:08 PM CDT

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that a District Court should hear a lawsuit eight Muscatine residents have filed against the Grain Processing Corporation. Muscatine locals have long had to breathe some of Iowa's dirtiest air, and the Grain Processing Corporation has long been one of the area's major polluters. Despite being forced to pay a $538,000 civil penalty for air pollution violations eight years ago, the corporation continued to emit excessive amounts, leading to a lawsuit by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in 2011. Earlier this year, the company settled that lawsuit, agreeing to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and to take several steps to reduce toxic emissions from the facility.

But the Grain Processing Corporation stood and fought when local residents filed a class-action lawsuit two years ago, citing health risks as well as damage to personal property related to the air pollution near the plant.

In 2013, a District Court judge granted the defendant's motion to dismiss the case, prompting plaintiffs to appeal. The Iowa Supreme Court found that the Grain Processing Corporation "was not entitled to summary judgment" and sent the case back to District Court, which will consider the lawsuit on its merits. You can read the full text of Justice Brent Appel's ruling here (pdf). (It's more than 60 pages long and gets into some technical legal issues.) All the other Iowa Superme Court justices concurred, except for Justice Edward Mansfield, who recused himself because some of his former law partners were representing the corporation.

After the jump I've posted more background on the lawsuit and excerpts from Jason Liegois' report for the Muscatine Journal on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling. The plaintiffs are not guaranteed to succeed in District Court, but at least they can present their case. In addition to fighting the lawsuit at the lower court level in Iowa, the Grain Processing Corporation could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the federal Clean Air Act preempts claims like the ones the Muscatine residents are making.

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Gaming commission grants casino license to Greene County (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 12, 2014 at 12:35:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 3-2 today to grant a casino license for a $40 million project near Jefferson (Greene County) in western Iowa, between Boone and Carroll counties. Residents had overwhelmingly approved a gambling referendum last year, but the outcome was in doubt because the commission recently voted down a casino proposal for Cedar Rapids. According to Dar Danielson's report for Radio Iowa, the commissioners who opposed the license cited evidence a new casino would largely take business from existing Iowa casinos, and that the Greene County community didn't need a gambling facility as much as other amenities. The commissioners who favored the license cited the potential economic impact for a rural area.

The Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Polk County had lobbied the commission to reject Greene County's application, citing potential impact on its business. Jefferson is a little more than an hour's drive northwest of the Des Moines metro area. But in casting the decisive yes vote, Racing and Gaming Commission Chair Jeff Lamberti noted,

We have lots of advantages in Polk County and I think we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future," Lamberti explained. "We've got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs. We've got some good things that are in the work that are pretty historic by Iowa standards. And quite frankly, we have advantages that a lot of other parts of the state don't have, and quite frankly I think we are going to be just fine."

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who has vowed to keep working toward a casino for his city, sounds furious about today's decision. I've posted some of his comments below.  

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Iowa Supreme Court allows lawsuit to proceed against Branstad and key officials (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 09:57:21 AM CDT

In a 5-2 split decision, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a District Court judge should determine whether Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey can sue Governor Terry Branstad and five other administration officials individually for defamation, extortion and other claims. Follow me after the jump for background, links and details about the opinion.  
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Three ways the EPA carbon emissions plan will benefit Iowa, plus Iowa political reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 03, 2014 at 11:05:38 AM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a proposed rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. The full text of the rule and several short fact sheets are available on the EPA's website. Click here to read EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's speech about the new policy. This fact sheet makes the short and sweet case for targeting power plants, "the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S." The new policy goal is to "cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels" by the year 2030. Other associated benefits: cutting levels of soot and smog in the air by over 25 percent in 2030, and saving money and lives through reducing air pollution. In fact, the EPA estimates $7 in health benefits for every dollar spent to implement the new policy.

While some in the environmental community were hoping for more aggressive carbon reduction targets, the new rule would be a big step in the right direction. For too long, elected officials in Iowa and nationally have ignored evidence that we need to address climate change. Furthermore, coal's "assault on human health" is immense and under-appreciated.

Iowa political reaction to yesterday's news was mostly disappointing but not surprising. I've enclosed noteworthy comments at the end of this post. But first, let's examine three reasons Iowans should embrace the EPA's new rule.  

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Branstad slashes conservation and clean water funding

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 07:10:00 AM CDT

It's one of the oldest tricks in any governor's playbook: schedule media events for bill signing ceremonies you want the public to hear about, while burying bad news late on a Friday, after reporters have filed their stories. I was worried Governor Terry Branstad would make big cuts to environmental funding just before Memorial Day weekend, as he had cut food bank money two years ago.

Instead, Branstad's office released the news about this year's spending vetoes after dinnertime on Friday, May 30. Hours earlier, the governor had welcomed reporters, lawmakers, and members of the public to watch him sign a bill legalizing the possession of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders, as well as a bill altering Iowa's HIV transmission law.

Follow me after the jump for the gory details. I no longer consider 2014 a good year for Iowa environmental funding.

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Still time to help preserve Iowa topsoil, reduce flooding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:10:00 AM CDT

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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One easy way to help protect Iowa soil and clean water

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

In August 2012, Governor Terry Branstad issued an executive order creating a mechanism for "stakeholder groups" to block potentially "burdensome" administrative rules proposed by state agencies. Those groups include representatives of businesses that would be affected by any new regulation. One of those stakeholder groups is meeting next week to discuss the fate of a rule the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has advanced in order to reduce soil runoff and storm water discharge associated with construction activities.

You can view the rule here (pdf). The main point is to require developers and home builders to leave four inches of topsoil on the ground after construction, so that yards will be able to absorb more of the expected rainfall. Some business interests oppose the rule because it will add costs to construction. But they are not considering the hidden costs of runoff (increased water pollution and a loss of irreplaceable topsoil). State government needs to act in the public interest and not only consider the bottom line of a few companies.

An action alert I've posted after the jump provides more background and details. Lucy Hershberger, an Iowa City-based landscaper who serves on the stakeholder group, wrote it and gave me permission to publish here. The Iowa DNR is accepting public comments on this issue via e-mail: Adam.Schnieders AT dnr.iowa.gov. It would be better to submit those comments before the public hearing scheduled for May 29. People can also attend that hearing, either in person or by telephone (instructions for calling in are below).  

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Highlights from this year's Iowa Senate votes on Branstad nominees

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 08, 2014 at 07:38:29 AM CDT

During the 2014 legislative session, the Iowa Senate confirmed all but a handful of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees for state boards and commissions. It's not unusual for senators to vote down one or two appointees, but this year the Senate confirmed everyone who came up for a vote on the floor.

The only close call was former Iowa House Republican Nick Wagner, confirmed to the Iowa Utilities Board last month with just one vote to spare. Branstad originally named Wagner to the three-member utilities board in 2013 but pulled his nomination when it became clear that senators would not confirm him. Branstad named Wagner to that board anyway, right after the Senate adjourned for the year in 2013. By the time his nomination came up for consideration this year, a couple of factors that worked against him were no longer relevant. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar had resigned from the board to run for Congress, so there would no longer be two of three members from Marion (a Cedar Rapids suburb). Furthermore, Branstad named attorney Sheila Tipton to replace Dandekar, so senators could no longer object to the lack of a lawyer on the Iowa Utilities Board.

Still, most of the Democratic caucus opposed Wagner's nomination. State Senator Rob Hogg cited the nominee's support for a bad nuclear power bill that the legislature considered a few years back. Meanwhile, State Senator Matt McCoy (who incidentally wanted to pass the nuclear bill) noted that as a key Iowa House Republican on budget matters, Wagner "was not willing to listen" and "took very difficult and very hard-line positions." After the jump I've posted the roll call on the Wagner nomination; 11 Democrats joined all 24 Republicans to confirm him.

As in recent years, the governor withdrew a handful of nominees who were not likely to gain at least 34 votes (a two-thirds majority) in the upper chamber. A few nominees for low-profile boards had to go because of party imbalance issues. Chet Hollingshead, one of seven Branstad appointees to the Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, never came up for a vote, presumably because of a theft incident Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native described here.

I am not sure why Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal informed Branstad that Jason Carlstrom was unlikely to be confirmed as chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. The governor first appointed Carlstrom to that position in the summer of 2012, to fill out the remainder of someone else's term. The Iowa Senate unanimously confirmed him during the 2013 legislative session. When Branstad reappointed Carlstrom to the parole board this year, I didn't expect him to run into any trouble. I will update this post if I learn more details.

The highest-profile nominee withdrawn by Branstad was former Iowa House Republican Jamie Van Fossen, whom the governor wanted to chair the Public Employment Relations Board. Cityview's Civic Skinny described the backstory well; I've posted excerpts after the jump. Van Fossen still serves on that board, having been confirmed to a full term in 2012. But the new chair will be Mike Cormack, a Republican who served four terms in the Iowa House and later worked for the State Department of Education. Senators unanimously confirmed Cormack last month. The outgoing Public Employment Relations Board chair, Jim Riordan, has alleged that the board faced political pressure from Branstad staffers to hire an employer-friendly administrative law judge.

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IA-03: Stick a fork in Matt Schultz--he's done

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 06, 2014 at 08:10:00 AM CDT

Be careful what you brag about in politics. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz highlighted alleged cost savings to the state in his Congressional campaign's first television commercial. As journalists looked more closely at staff reorganization in the Secretary of State's Office, they discovered details that will likely derail Schultz's aspirations in IA-03.

Ryan Foley of the Associated Press was the first to report that Schultz kept his political appointee Jim Gibbons on the payroll for seven months after deciding to eliminate Gibbons' position. It's not clear what work, if any, Gibbons was doing during his final months as a state employee.

Yesterday Foley reported for the Associated Press and Jason Clayworth reported for the Des Moines Register on more political appointees whom Schultz allowed to work from home after requesting their resignations in 2011 and 2012. I've posted excerpts from both stories after the jump, but you should click through to read them in full. In a statement to the Des Moines Register, Schultz defended his actions:

"What the liberals in the media are ignoring as they level their attacks against me, is that the Department of Administrative Services, the state's personnel experts, advised my office that instead of severance an agency could keep an employee on payroll longer than they are required to come to the office, so long as the employee was available for phone calls and questions from home. [...] If the media had real integrity they would be thanking me for protecting Iowa's election integrity and finding ways to save Iowa taxpayers more than $200,000."

I doubt that excuse will fly in a GOP primary where voters have several other credible candidates to choose from. Schultz has some powerful backers and donors, but so do a few rivals with less baggage. Even if Schultz surprises me by winning the Republican nomination in IA-03, the latest revelations provide plenty of ammunition for Staci Appel in the general election--not that we needed more proof that Schultz has been ineffective in his current position. He pursued the wrong priorities and spent federal funds on his own crusade rather than how they were intended to be used.  

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Weekend open thread: End of 2014 legislative session edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat May 03, 2014 at 09:46:47 AM CDT

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

The Iowa legislature got out of town on May 2, 110 calendar days after the 2014 session began. That's ten days after lawmakers' per diem payments ran out but earlier than in any year since 2010, when Democrats held majorities in both chambers. After the jump I've posted closing remarks delivered by the top Iowa Senate Democrats (Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and President Pam Jochum) and the top Iowa House Republicans (Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer). A series of posts next week will focus on some of the more significant legislative results from the session, as well as important bills that never did pass.

I've also enclosed Gronstal's prepared remarks on the final Iowa Senate vote of the session: granting subpeona power to the Government Oversight Committee to continue investigating various scandals in Governor Terry Branstad's administration. Gronstal emphasized that the resolution is "narrowly drafted" and "not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong [in state government] and how to fix it." The resolution passed by voice vote just before the Senate adjourned on Friday morning. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix blasted what he called a "dangerous" and "underhanded partisan move." He claimed the "disruption of separation of powers" will invite "a state constitutional crisis," and that the Oversight Committee's investigation is politically motivated.

Finally, in non-legislative news, Patrick Caldwell reported for Mother Jones this week on a remarkably shady deal involving Danny Carroll in 1996. At the time, Carroll was a real estate agent in the Grinnell area and an Iowa House Republican. He currently chairs the Republican Party of Iowa--though probably not for much longer. After reading Caldwell's piece, I want to know why anyone supposedly committed to Christian values would participate in a scheme to take advantage of an elderly widow with debts.  

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IA-03: Two windows onto Matt Schultz's management skills (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

Matt Schultz is touting his management of the Iowa Secretary of State's office in a television commercial promoting his campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

But new reports by Ryan Foley of the Associated Press indicate that when reorganizing the Secretary of State's office, Schultz showed preference to a political appointee and allowed him to keep collecting a large salary despite doing little if any work for the government.

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IA-Gov: PPP poll shows cronyism/hush money scandal hurting Branstad

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 17:51:00 PM CDT

I've been meaning to catch up on the various Branstad administration scandals involving alleged politically-motivated firings, cronyism affecting state contracting and hiring for certain public positions, "hush money" paid in exchange for non-disclosure agreements with fired state employees, blacklists that prevent former employees from gaining other state jobs, interference in what should be non-political work, and possible misuse of federal funds by the Department of Administrative Services in order to make some of the unauthorized secret settlement payments. Governor Terry Branstad realized nearly two weeks ago that his quickie internal review and executive order on secret settlements were not sufficient. He fired Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll after Carroll gave inaccurate testimony at a legislative hearing. But almost every day, the Des Moines Register or some other media outlet has a new angle on alleged wrongdoing.

Last week's Loras College survey of Iowa Republicans indicated that Branstad has nothing to worry about from his GOP primary challenger, Tom Hoefling. But a Public Policy Polling survey released today shows Branstad's approval as low as I can remember seeing it during his current term, and the incumbent barely ahead of Democratic challenger Jack Hatch.

Full results from the survey are here (pdf). Highlights are after the jump.  

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No casino for Cedar Rapids

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 17, 2014 at 11:36:00 AM CDT

The State Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 this morning against allowing a new casino to be built in downtown Cedar Rapids. Last year Linn County voters approved a casino referendum by a 20-point margin. Even some opponents of the project believed its construction was inevitable, given the political connections of the group hoping to build in Cedar Rapids. However, today's vote is in line with the precedent of approving gambling licenses only where new casinos would not "cannibalize" from existing ones in Iowa. Four years ago, the Racing and Gaming Commission rejected applications for casino projects in Fort Dodge, Ottumwa and Tama County, despite public approval of all three plans. Multiple studies indicated that the Cedar Rapids casino would draw much of its business from Iowans who now visit casinos in Riverside or Waterloo.

I will update this post as needed with political reaction to today's vote. Although many Bleeding Heartland readers will be disappointed, I agree with economists who have argued that the "interior casinos" not near Iowa borders do not promote economic development. Meanwhile, new casinos incur significant social costs.

Already I've seen several Cedar Rapids residents asking whether the CEO of the Riverside casino will build the waterpark he promised last year, if Linn County voters rejected the casino project. Don't hold your breath.

UPDATE: In his report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Rick Smith noted that Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett "served in the legislature with three of the five members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission." Former Iowa House Republican and Iowa Senate Republican Jeff Lamberti both voted no this morning. Dolores Mertz, who used to be the most conservative Iowa House Democrat, was the only commissioner to vote yes.

SECOND UPDATE: Further thoughts and more reaction are after the jump.

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