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state legislature

New data bolster supporters of raising Iowa's gas tax

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 18, 2014 at 07:33:30 AM CDT

The average cost of owning a car is lower in Iowa than in any other state, the Cedar Rapids Gazette's B.A. Morelli reported on August 16, citing an analysis by Bankrate.com. Car insurance costs an average of $630 per year in Iowa, the lowest in the 50 states. Vehicle repairs cost Iowa drivers an average of $315 per year, also the lowest number for any state. The average cost of gasoline for Iowa drivers worked out to $998 a year, taking into account not only the price of gas but also vehicle miles traveled and fuel efficiency rates. That's "middle of the pack," Morelli noted.

Iowa's gasoline tax has not been increased since 1989, reaching a historic low in real terms. Meanwhile, Iowa road and bridge conditions continue to deteriorate. Three years ago, our state ranked third-worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges. The latest data indicate we are second-worst in that category, with more than 20 percent of the state's bridges in need of repairs or replacement.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch supports raising the gas tax, while Governor Terry Branstad has said he favors other ways to finance road and bridge work. The candidates clashed over that issue during last week's debate. Branstad has left himself some wiggle room by not pledging to veto a gas tax increase.

The current leaders of the Iowa House and Senate Transportation Committees strongly support raising the gas tax to pay for road work. Bills to increase the tax by a total of 10 cents per gallon over several years passed committees in both chambers in recent years, but advocates were unable to recruit enough bipartisan support to pass them in the full Iowa House or Senate in either of the past two legislative sessions. Iowa House Transportation Committee Chair Josh Byrnes has promised to keep working on this issue, and State Representative Brian Moore, the vice chair of that committee, said this spring that a gas tax hike is "in the works" for 2015. He has emphasized that weight limits on structurally deficient bridges are bad for businesses like the livestock transportation company he owns.

Republicans Byrnes and Moore both represent Iowa House districts that may be targeted this fall, as does Iowa Senate Transportation Committee Chair Tod Bowman, a Democrat. Prospects for raising the gas tax will depend in part on whether key advocates are re-elected in November. Regardless of which parties control the Iowa House and Senate after the midterm elections, a gas tax increase would have to be a bipartisan effort.

Democratic and Republican critics of increasing the gasoline tax have pointed out that consumption taxes tend to be regressive, hitting lower-income people harder. A gas tax hike would also disproportionately affect rural residents, who may need to travel further to work or shop. The Washington-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has recommended reforms to address those concerns. I've posted the short summary after the jump; you can read more in depth on their ideas for "building a better gas tax" here. I would add that any increase to Iowa's gas tax should be accompanied by "fix-it first" language, so that new road construction doesn't swallow the most of the revenue that should be earmarked for repairs. Fixing roads and bridges gives taxpayers more bang for their buck and creates more jobs than building new roads or putting new lanes on existing roads, which (while sometimes needed) increase future maintenance costs.

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State Representative Henry Rayhons charged with abusing his incapacitated wife

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Aug 16, 2014 at 07:25:00 AM CDT

When I criticized State Representative Henry Rayhons for announcing his retirement so late in an election year, I had no idea this was coming down the pike:

Today, 78 year old Henry Rayhons of Garner, Iowa was arrested after charges were filed against him for 3rd Degree Sexual Abuse, a class C Felony. [...]

The criminal complaint states that on or about May 23, 2014, Rayhons committed sexual abuse upon the victim [Donna Rayhons] by performing a sex act upon her as a person suffering from mental defect or incapacity, after he had been told that the victim did not have the cognitive ability to give consent to any sexual activity.

You can view the complaint and affidavit here (pdf). After the jump I've posted the full text of the Iowa Department of Public Safety press release, a statement released by Henry Rayhons' attorney, and excerpts from relevant news coverage. Henry Rayhons has been released from jail after posting bail. Donna Rayhons passed away on August 8.

It appears that the prosecution's case against Rayhons will rely on testimony from Donna Rayhons' roommate at the nursing home, surveillance camera footage from the nursing home, and statements the state lawmaker made while being interviewed by a Department of Criminal Investigations agent on June 12. Judging from comments made yesterday by Rayhons' son and by his attorney, the defense will argue that Rayhons is the victim of a "witch hunt," that he loved his wife, and that the "sexual contact" he admitted to "could be anything from a hug or a kiss."

Rayhons' late retirement makes a lot more sense now. By the way, on August 14 local Republicans held a special election to nominate Terry Baxter in Iowa House district 8, the seat Rayhons will vacate. Baxter will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 09:33:21 AM CDT

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one's constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing "ongoing family and health matters." Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family "has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator" for the 78-year-old lawmaker's wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons' successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa's new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn't have a long political career ahead of him and wasn't a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven't seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP's State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I'm glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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A smoke-free Cedar Rapids casino is not a public health initiative

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 19:34:00 PM CDT

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent a strong message last week to backers of a casino project in Cedar Rapids: don't bother trying to get a license for at least the next three years.

Rational actors would have started working on Plan B for prime downtown real estate as soon as commissioners voted down the application for a Cedar Rapids casino in April. But Mayor Ron Corbett and some other movers and shakers are determined to chase the gambling dream, through legislative or judicial means. Instead of taking the hint from the Racing and Gaming commissioners, Corbett is ratcheting up his strategy for gaining legislative approval for a new casino. He's smart and experienced enough to know that state lawmakers need a better excuse for acting than "we don't like what the commission did." So, he's now dressing the casino project up as a public health initiative. Lawmakers shouldn't fall for or hide behind this ruse.

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Iowa Senate district 7: "Sore loser" Maria Rundquist gives Bertrand breathing room

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 09:12:36 AM CDT

Iowa's status as one of only three states to allow losers of major-party primaries to seek the same office as independents is good news for Republicans hoping to hold Iowa Senate district 7. First-term Senator Rick Bertrand is seeking re-election in the Sioux City-based seat, where President Barack Obama performed better than in any other Iowa Senate district now held by a Republican. Although midterm electorates sometimes favor GOP candidates, and Iowans tend to re-elect their statehouse incumbents, the voter registration totals here lean toward Democrats. Both parties are targeting Senate district 7, and a victory for challenger Jim France would virtually assure continued Democratic control of the Iowa Senate.

Enter Maria Rundquist, who lost the Democratic primary to France in June, but filed this week to run in Senate district 7 as an independent. Her campaign website provides a short bio and background on her civic involvement in the Sioux City area. I sought comment from Rundquist about why she is running as an independent, and how she would answer critics who say she can only help re-elect Bertrand. She responded, "I am running because, I can provide the leadership, integrity and ethics so needed in our government. I believe the people in the Iowa Senate District 7, deserve an honest and smart choice."

Following up, I asked Rundquist whether she was aware that a third-party candidate has not won an Iowa legislative election in several decades, if ever, and whether she would have any regrets if Bertrand were re-elected with fewer votes than she and France received combined. She answered,

Yes, I am aware about  third-party never won an Iowa legislation seat. So let make history and pass the word to elect Maria Rundquist to change the system. I don't have regrets to Rick Bertrand or any candidate. We leave in a Nation of Democracy and the voters have the right to chose the right person to represent them. So stop questioning me and get to work and campaign for Maria Rundquist.

Sorry, that's not going to happen. I've voted for lots of Democrats who didn't win their primary. None of them became what is known in political science as a "sore loser." One can argue that voters should be able to select any candidate they choose, but upholding state sore loser laws during the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional right to continue an intra-party struggle during the general election. I'm with John Deeth: candidates who seek a party's nomination should abide by the primary voters' verdict. Rundquist must know that she won't "change the system" through this campaign. I hope she doesn't become a spoiler, but there's no question that her candidacy will hinder France's effort to unseat a Republican incumbent.

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Republicans nominate Jonathan Lochman in Iowa Senate district 17

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CDT

After fielding candidates in every Iowa Senate district in 2012, Republicans left a bunch of low-probability seats uncontested this year. One of those districts now has a GOP candidate, however: a special convention on July 24 selected Jonathan Lochman to run in Iowa Senate district 17. I don't see a website for his campaign, but Lochman's on Facebook here. During 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, he served wartime tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He's now the Iowa coordinator for Team Rubicon (the Iowa chapter is on Facebook here).

Iowa Senate district 17 is open because State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor. Tony Bisignano narrowly won a contentious three-way primary in this heavily Democratic seat covering parts of downtown Des Moines and the south side. In a press release, Lochman asserted that Bisignano would "be a rubber stamp for the radical, obstructionist agenda of Mike Gronstal," whereas the Republican would "be an independent voice for my community." Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix asserted, "Des Moines voters deserve a candidate​ like Jonathan Lochman, who has​ the integrity, honor and passion to effectively represent their interests at the State Capitol​." Judging from that comment and various Republican posts on social media, the plan is for Lochman to win by playing up Bisignano's drunk driving arrests and scandals from his previous term of service in the Iowa Senate during the 1990s.

It would be a historic upset for a Republican to win a state legislative seat here. The latest official figures show that Senate district 17 contains 16,388 active registered Democrats, 6,559 Republicans, and 9,792 no-party voters. Bisignano should have help from the Iowa Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, because other Democratic candidates (notably Hatch, U.S. Senate nominee Braley, and IA-03 nominee Staci Appel) are counting on good GOTV in strongholds like the south side of Des Moines.

Also on July 24, Polk County Republicans held a special convention to nominate Army veteran Tom Hess in Iowa House district 34, covering half of Senate district 17. Hess will challenge longtime Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter and has about the same chance of winning as Lochman (slim to none). As of July 1, House district 34 contained 8,404 active registered Democrats, 3,497 Republicans, and 5,114 no-party voters.

P.S. - I would have posted the full press release on Lochman's campaign launch, but the "latest news" on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is a press release from mid-May.

UPDATE: Cityview's Civic Skinny published a detailed account of Tony Bisignano's drunk driving arrest and how the case unfolded from there. Many details were new to me, and I suspect that if they had been more widely known, Nathan Blake might have won the Senate district 17 Democratic primary.

The most surprising fact recounted by Civic Skinny is that Jennifer Jacobs apparently e-mailed her draft Des Moines Register story on the OWI to Bisignano before publishing. Double-checking quoted remarks is one thing, but I am not aware of any newspaper where it is standard practice to run a full draft by the public figure who is the subject of the article.

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Martin O'Malley: Presidential candidate? Maybe. Clinton rival? No way.

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 14:45:00 PM CDT

It makes perfect sense for potential Democratic presidential candidates to visit Iowa, meeting activists and keeping their options open. That doesn't mean any of them would run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Case in point: Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Having keynoted the Iowa Democratic Party's state convention last month, he's coming here again this weekend, headlining events for State Senator Rita Hart and state Senate candidate Kevin Kinney on Saturday, then Council Bluffs and Sioux City events for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch on Sunday. Politico's Maggie Halberman notes that O'Malley "has said he's exploring a 2016 presidential run." A Des Moines Register headline writer termed him a "possible rival" to Clinton. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post speculated, "O'Malley is term limited out as governor at the end of this year and undoubtedly thinks a credible run for president might bolster his chances of a spot in a Clinton Administration."

I just don't see it. Laying the groundwork for a potential campaign is not the same thing as preparing to embark on a suicide mission. O'Malley doesn't come across as a guy like Senator Bernie Sanders, who knows he will never be president but might run to shine a light on issues important to him. O'Malley goes way back with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He stuck with Hillary for president even after Barack Obama dominated the 2008 Maryland primary. From where I'm sitting, CNN's Dan Merica had it exactly right when he described O'Malley as an "understudy," "angling to be the person who could step in" if Clinton does not run for president for whatever reason. Maryland's term limits for governors make 2016 an ideal time for O'Malley to run for president, but he's only 51 years old--young enough to wait until 2020 or 2024 if necessary.

Meanwhile, I hope all of this weekend's events are successful, because Hatch, Hart, and Kinney are very worth supporting.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. - Hart's re-election bid in Senate district 49 is a must-hold for Democrats. Kinney's running in the open Senate district 39, and if he wins, it would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority in the state legislature's upper chamber for the next two years.

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Weekend open thread: Walking the talk edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jul 20, 2014 at 08:01:34 AM CDT

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

State Representative Chuck Isenhart, the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee, has installed solar panels on his Dubuque home as a personal step to address climate change. Details are after the jump. Solar power has a reputation for being expensive to install, but technological advances and policy changes have reduced the payback time for many home and business owners. Isenhart expects to save money in the long-term. A bill approved during this year's legislative session improved Iowa's tax incentives for solar in several ways.

The Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, begins its northern route in Rock Valley today. Good luck to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community planning to do all or part of RAGBRAI. Last week's weather would have been absolutely perfect; I hope the high temperatures will mostly stay below 90 this week. In its recent feature on "33 useful tips for newbies" to the experience, I found it strange that the Register focused so much on the drinking culture. Carl Voss, a Des Moines bicycling advocate and veteran of 36 RAGBRAIs, unloaded on what he called "sophomoric drivel" in an angry letter to the editor. Excerpt:

Granted, alcohol attracts some riders and non-riders among the more than 10,000 RAGBRAI participants. It happens. But trust me, that isn't the way most participants enjoy RAGBRAI, Iowa and our communities.

Now, flip to the RAGBRAI website, where RAGBRAI (and therefore the Register) includes among the "Top 10 Recommendations for Rider Safety": Do NOT drink alcohol and ride. [...]

Publishing crap like this in your news columns will turn me off to RAGBRAI and the Register.

Another letter to the editor, which I've posted after the jump, focused on the large number of puppy mills near this year's RAGBRAI route. The Iowa legislature passed a bill in 2010 that was designed to reduce abuses at puppy mills, but unfortunately Iowa still has some bad actors in the industry. Adopting a pet from a shelter such as the Animal Rescue League has so many advantages. If your heart is set on a purebred animal, at least visit the breeder's facility before buying a pet.

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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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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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July 4 weekend open thread: Iowa fireworks debate

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 12:34:00 PM CDT

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. We're heading out to the Windsor Heights parade soon. Holiday parades and summer festivals are great outreach opportunities for candidates and their campaigns. Please share any favorite parade stories in this thread.

Last weekend Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican State Senator Jake Chapman co-authored an editorial promising to work together next year to legalize fireworks in Iowa.

Senate File 2294 had several provisions that would allow fireworks to be safely regulated. Those stipulations would include prohibiting minors from purchasing fireworks, giving local municipalities the ability to restrict fireworks and the fire marshal the ability to regulate fireworks in the case of droughts.

The fireworks ban originally was a result of a Depression-era fire created by a sparkler in the middle of a drought when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.

There also are misnomers and myths surrounding the fireworks-related injuries. In fact, the number of fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. has decreased drastically - nearly 61 percent - from 1994 to 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This decrease in reported injuries is noteworthy considering the use of fireworks increased nearly 100 percent during the same time period.

We remind Iowans that as we near the celebration of our independence, fireworks remain illegal in Iowa. About 42 states have legalized some form of fireworks. We encourage all those who wish to have the same freedom to display fireworks, to please contact your legislators and let them know it is time for Iowa to join America in celebrating our Independence Day with fireworks.

Here's some background on "The Great Spencer Fire" of 1931.

I'm a bit surprised to see Danielson taking the lead on this issue, as he is not only a firefighter but also a veteran. Amateur fireworks can prompt anxiety or panic attacks for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4. Interest groups representing doctors have lobbied strongly against lifting the ban on most fireworks because of the risk of burns.

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Ronda Bern will face John Forbes in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 20, 2014 at 06:28:00 AM CDT

Republicans held a special convention in Iowa House district 40 yesterday to nominate a candidate against first-term State Representative John Forbes. Remarkably, no Republican filed to run in this district before the March filing deadline. Two candidates attempted to win the nomination through write-in votes on the June 3 primary, but neither reached the required threshold.

Kevin Hall reported for The Iowa Republican that establishment candidate Ronda Bern won the nominating convention by 4.5 to 3.5 over college student Jeremy Freeman. (GOP Polk County Central Committee members from the various precincts in the House district cast weighted votes based on how many Republican votes came from each precinct in the last general election.) I'm surprised Bern didn't defeat Freeman more decisively. The nominating convention could have gone the other way if Freeman had a few more friends on the central committee.  

Click here for background on Bern. After the jump I've posted a map of House district 40 and the latest voter registration numbers. This will likely be a targeted seat in the general election. Republicans currently hold a 53 to 47 Iowa House majority.

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Branstad vetoed funds for Iowa civil rights history project

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 17:10:00 PM CDT

I was so focused on the environmental impacts of Governor Terry Branstad's recent vetoes, I failed to look closely at other appropriations in a supplemental spending bill he axed. Today I learned from Democratic State Senator Rob Hogg,

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the start of Freedom Summer and the murder of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney - it is too bad Governor Branstad vetoed the $300,000 the Legislature appropriated on a bipartisan basis to help the African-American Museum of Iowa collect Iowa's civil rights history and educate the public about these historic events.

There it is on page 4 of Senate File 2363: $300,000 for "an oral history of civil rights" at the African-American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids.

It's maddening that Governor Branstad has no problem with tens of millions of dollars in tax giveaways to wealthy corporations, yet he pleads fiscal prudence when vetoing spending like this, which serves the public interest without major impact to the state budget. Many of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights activists have already passed away, and those who haven't are senior citizens. "Freedom Summer" was a major event in 20th century American history. Some Freedom Summer veterans with connections to Iowa City or the University of Iowa have already told their stories to historians or recorded their memories on paper or film. The Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network are doing their part too, and you can follow their work here. I'm disappointed that the African-American Museum of Iowa won't have the funding to collect and archive these stories on a larger scale.  

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 10, 2014 at 08:10:18 AM CDT

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Republicans likely to nominate Ronda Bern in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 16:17:09 PM CDT

Last week Bleeding Heartland mentioned that two Republicans were actively seeking write-in votes in Iowa House district 40, the Iowa GOP's most spectacular recruiting failure in a statehouse district this year. Normally, major parties rectify such problems by nominating a candidate during the summer at a special district convention. However, little-known conservative activist Jeremy Freeman started aggressively door-knocking last month to obtain write-in votes (at first using a cowboy card that misspelled Governor Terry Branstad's name). Due to a little-known feature of Iowa election law and low turnout in Urbandale during the 2012 Republican primary, a write-in candidate could have taken the House district 40 nomination outright with 149 or more votes on June 3.

Local establishment Republicans swung into action behind Ronda Bern. An alert Bleeding Heartland reader shared with me a copy of her direct mail piece, which reached voters shortly before the primary. I got a kick out the fib on the front side: "In order to have a candidate on the ballot in November in HD 40, you must follow the write-in instructions on the back of this card." Not true, as we're going to find out during the next couple of months. I've posted the mailer after the jump, along with an excerpt from the May 23 press release announcing Bern's candidacy.

On election night, I saw on the Polk County Auditor's website that 254 write-in votes were recorded in House district 40, and thought perhaps Bern or Freeman made it over the line. But Bern received just 110 write-in votes, Freeman 103. The rest of the write-ins were for people who received either one or two votes apiece, according to the Polk County elections office. Since no one won the nomination through write-ins, Republicans can schedule a district convention anytime to nominate their candidate. All signs point to Bern. I couldn't find any record of her donating to Iowa House or Senate candidates in the past, but she and her husband maxed out to Matt Whitaker's unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign. In 2010, she gave $2,000 to Jim Gibbons' campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

House district 40 is likely to be a battleground race this fall. It's among a handful of Democratic-held Iowa House districts that Mitt Romney carried in the last presidential election. The latest figures from the Secretary of State's Office indicate that the district contains 6,385 active registered Democrats, 7,405 Republicans, and 6,037 no-party voters. Both parties ran television commercials here during the open-seat race in 2012, which Forbes won by 1,069 votes. Many local Republicans supported the Democrat, a local pharmacist, business owner, and longtime Urbandale City Council member. The latest financial reports show that in mid-May, Forbes' campaign had a little more than $19,000 cash on hand.

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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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At least two Republicans now seeking nomination in Iowa House district 40

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 27, 2014 at 09:40:00 AM CDT

Up to now, the lack of a Republican candidate in Iowa House district 40 has represented one of the most spectacular recruiting failures in Iowa politics this year. Democratic State Representative John Forbes is a first-term incumbent in a wealthy suburban district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, and Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama in 2012. I've posted a map of House district 40 after the jump. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office indicate that the district contains 6,405 active registered Democrats, 7,385 Republicans, and 6,060 no-party voters. On paper, it's the most promising GOP pickup among the House seats where no Republican filed candidacy papers in time to be on the primary ballot.

I had assumed that Republicans would convene a special district convention this summer to nominate a challenger against Forbes. But I forgot about an obscure provision of Iowa law, which holds that

if there is no candidate on the official primary ballot of a political party for nomination to a particular office, a write-in candidate may obtain the party's nomination to that office in the primary if the candidate receives a number of votes equal to at least thirty-five percent of the total vote cast for all of that party's candidates for that office in the last preceding primary election for which the party had candidates on the ballot for that office.

Just 423 votes were cast in the 2012 Republican primary in Iowa House district 40, which means that a write-in candidate might need just 149 write-in votes on June 3 to receive the GOP nomination. Although few write-in candidates receive that many votes in Iowa legislative races, that is not an insurmountable hurdle. A well-organized write-in candidate for Windsor Heights City Council received more than 200 votes one year. Lots of Urbandale Republicans are presumably planning to vote on June 3, given the five-way primary for U.S. Senate and the six-way primary for the third Congressional district.

Late last week, a young guy named Jeremy Freeman announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination. I hear he has been knocking on doors in Urbandale, but I don't know much about him. His Facebook page contains little information, other than saying he is a "Bold New Conservative Leader." It appears that the Republican establishment quickly found an alternative write-in candidate, Ronda Bern. Her press release mentions that as well as being a homemaker and co-owner of Vannguard Utility Partners, "a multi-state underground locating business," Bern volunteers at the Lutheran Church of Hope. That's one of the largest congregations in the Des Moines metro area; hundreds of its members probably live in House district 40.

UPDATE: In response to Bleeding Heartland user rockm's question below, I confirmed with the Polk County Auditor's Office that if both Freeman and Bern receive more than 149 write-in votes, the GOP nomination will go to the person who received the larger number of votes.

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Branstad will sign cannabis oil, e-cigarette bills; undecided on dog racing

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 23, 2014 at 14:05:00 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad plans to sign a bill that would allow possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of some seizure disorders, he announced while taping Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program today. He noted the bill will help some children with epilepsy, and he's satisfied its "limited" scope will not increase abuse of marijuana in smokeable form.  

The governor also said he will sign a bill banning the sale of e-cigarettes to children, adding that his wife is a "militant" anti-smoker. Trouble is, that bill was backed by tobacco industry lobbyists. Many public health groups lobbied against the bill.

Branstad has not decided whether to sign the dog racing bill, which would end greyhound racing at one casino in Council Bluffs and get a non-profit casino in Dubuque off the hook for subsidizing the races. His concern isn't the massive giveaway to dog breeders and kennel owners, which makes no sense to me. Rather, he is worried that lobbyists for horse racing interests didn't get their cut from the bailout. O.Kay Henderson reports for Radio Iowa,

"I understand the benefits that the people in Council Bluffs and Dubuque see from this, and the greyhound industry," Branstad says. "My concern is the horse industry was left out of this." [...]

However, the governor's concern is over provisions in the bill that would give the greyhound industry authority to strike deals to simulcast dog and horse races at any of the state's casinos and get all of the profit from it. Today simulcasting deals are only allowed at the casinos in Altoona, Council Bluffs and Dubuque and Iowa's horse industry gets the financial take.

"There is some concern that I'm hearing from my friends in the horse industry. I've always been close with them," Branstad says. "We have a very big and significant horse industry in the state of Iowa."

Branstad has 'til June 2 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.

"I'm trying to weigh all those things," Branstad says. "I want to do something that's fair to all the communities involved and fair to all the parties and the one group that seems to be, because of the simulcasting provisions of that bill, having some concerns is the horse industry and so I'm carefully reviewing that," Branstad says. "I have not made a final decision."

Environmental activists in Iowa are nervously awaiting the governor's decision on a bill to expand solar tax credits and several spending bills that include record-high funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) conservation program. The governor recently said he is concerned about various parts of a supplemental spending bill that contained $5 million of the REAP funding. In 2012, Branstad line-item vetoed half a million dollars for Iowa food banks on the Friday before Memorial Day.

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Cedar Rapids mayor won't give up casino dream

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 14, 2014 at 09:53:00 AM CDT

Talk about opportunity costs: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will not pursue any alternative development plans for a downtown parcel of land where backers hope to build a casino. Rather, he will continue to pursue the casino project despite last month's 4 to 1 vote by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to reject a gambling license for Cedar Rapids.

Speaking to Rick Smith of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, onetime Iowa House Speaker Corbett said he hopes the Iowa legislature will approve a bill granting a license for a smoke-free casino to Iowa's second-largest city. Democratic State Senator Wally Horn already tried to add such language to a bill limiting greyhound racing, but his amendment was ruled not germane.

Independent research has repeatedly shown that the hidden economic costs of casinos "far exceed their benefits and that [casinos] are a poor use of precious downtown land." But even if that were not true, why waste years trying to persuade the Iowa legislature to pass this kind of bill? What are the chances lawmakers will go along with a special deal for Cedar Rapids, when many of them represent districts with casinos that stand to lose market share? Furthermore, current Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, who represents a suburban Cedar Rapids district, screwed up Iowa's chance to get passenger rail to Iowa City (and possibly later to Des Moines and Council Bluffs).

Corbett seems to hope Jack Hatch will win the governor's race; Hatch has expressed support for a Cedar Rapids casino. If elected, he might sign a bill for this purpose, or might appoint like-minded people to the Racing and Gaming Commission. But that process would take years. Why not pursue plan B or plan C for Cedar Rapids? There are many other approaches to economic development that do not hurt other local businesses the way casinos do.

The spin about a smoke-free casino being a "healthy" option for a "Blue Zone" community like Cedar Rapids is a sick joke. Casinos are no benefit to public health. On the contrary, problem gambling increases with accessibility and incurs major hidden health costs.  

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IA-03: A brilliant pander by Brad Zaun

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 09, 2014 at 09:30:00 AM CDT

I don't see State Senator Brad Zaun winning the GOP nomination in Iowa's third Congressional district. From the numbers I've seen, Republican donors and voters are looking elsewhere. But give credit where credit is due: Zaun made the most of his interview with Des Moines Register editors this week. GOP activists will eat up news that Zaun "sometimes carries a 9 mm handgun while working in the Senate chamber" or appearing at public events. Never mind that the rules are clear, and legislators are not exempt from the ban on carrying firearms or other dangerous weapons in the capitol complex. The GOP base will love Zaun's explanation of why the rules shouldn't apply to him: "I went through all the lawful procedures that were required of me [to carry a concealed weapon]. I am going to defend myself if someone attacks me, and I have a right to do that."

Click here for other highlights from Zaun's sit-down with Register staff. Explaining why he is "smarter and wiser" than during his 2010 Congressional bid, Zaun explained that he now supports government subsidies for the biofuels industry. I took issue with this whining, though:

On another note, Zaun said he doesn't think it's fair for news organizations to keep bringing up a 2001 West Des Moines police report that surfaced during the 2010 campaign. The police report detailed his conflict with a former girlfriend at a time when he was divorced. No charges were filed. Zaun has since remarried.

Zaun pointed out that the woman provided a statement to The Des Moines Register just days before the 2010 election in which she said she remained friends with Zaun and she planned to vote for him. "It is something that we have just both moved on from, and I think it is unfortunate that this keeps getting brought up," he said.

No, what's unfair is that the mayor of Urbandale was able to keep this incident covered up for so long, including during his first campaign for the Iowa Senate in 2004. When a person's harassment of someone else becomes intense enough for police to be involved, that's a red flag voters should know about. I'm glad Zaun and his onetime girlfriend have reconciled, but that "unfortunate" part of his record was newsworthy and should have been public knowledge way before he ran for Congress in 2010.

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