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state legislature

Bully Bill Redux: 2015 Edition

by: natewithglasses

Mon Jan 19, 2015 at 09:30:58 AM CST

(Thanks for this in-depth look at one of Governor Terry Branstad's top priorities for the legislative session. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

For the past several legislative sessions - a bully bill in some form or another has been proposed and supported by Governor Branstad.  In each session, the bill has taken on many different forms and have gone from extreme (license to bully provision) to this year's shocking development.

Read on for the latest in the Governor's proposed 2015 Bully Free Iowa Act.  

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Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice calls for action on racial disparity, courthouse security

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 14, 2015 at 14:32:36 PM CST

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered his annual State of the Judiciary address to Iowa House and Senate members this morning. The full text is available here (pdf), and I've posted important sections after the jump. Cady hailed progress the court system is making on helping Iowa children and improving efficiency and transparency. He described ongoing initiatives to improve how Iowa courts handle family law cases and review guardianship and conservatorship laws and procedures. Cady also asked lawmakers to appropriate 4.7 percent more funding for the court system in the next fiscal year.

Cady cited recent work within the judicial branch to "better understand and address the persistence of racial disparities" in the criminal justice system--a longstanding problem in Iowa. I enclosed below reaction from Assistant House Minority Leader Ako Abdul-Samad. Abdul-Samad is one of five African-American members of the Iowa House.

Finally, the chief justice alluded to a shooting last September during a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors as he called for action "to make every courthouse in Iowa safer and more secure."

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Highlights from Branstad's 2015 Condition of the State address

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jan 13, 2015 at 08:55:23 AM CST

Governor Terry Branstad will deliver his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate this morning at 10 am. You can watch the speech live on Iowa Public Television's website or on IPTV World (channel 119 on Mediacom in central Iowa). The full text as prepared will be available on the governor's official website.

Judging by yesterday's opening remarks from state legislative leaders, Iowa House Republicans most want to see new tax reform proposals from the governor. Iowa Senate Democrats are most closely watching to see whether Branstad will propose adequate funding for education at all levels, from pre-school to K-12 to community colleges and state universities. I'll update this post later with highlights from the day. Any comments about the governor's speech (content or delivery) or the upcoming legislative session are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Added highlights and some reaction to the "Together We Can" speech below. James Q. Lynch created a graphic showing the words Branstad used most.

Chutzpah alert: Branstad is urging lawmakers to "bring together state agencies that have a shared interest in quality of life initiatives and invest in our parks, trails, lakes and museums." Maybe he's forgotten that the state legislature did that last year, before he vetoed millions of dollars that would have gone toward parks, trails, water quality programs and other amenities.

It's also disappointing that the governor can't quit lying about how many jobs have been created since he returned to public office.

It's encouraging to hear the governor call for stronger efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and end bullying in schools. The devil will be in the details of those proposals. Speaking to Radio Iowa, Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum said "the anti-bullying proposal as well as the anti-domestic violence proposal will get a very good response from the Iowa Senate." But she said the governor's proposed education funding is "less than what we know we need in order to bring Iowa's per pupil spending investment up to at least close the national average." Meanwhile, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told Radio Iowa that his caucus will continue to look for tax cuts ("a way to for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets").

SECOND UPDATE: As he did last year, the governor called for expanding access to broadband statewide. But strangely, Branstad does not plan to attend President Barack Obama's scheduled January 14 event in Cedar Falls, where the president will "propose plans to increase affordable access to high-speed broadband internet."

LATE UPDATE: Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, characterized the governor's anti-bullying bill as a "giant leap forward for gay youth" in Iowa. I've enclosed excerpts from his Des Moines Register guest editorial at the end of this post.

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The face of the medical marijuana fight in Iowa has died

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 22:05:00 PM CST

Benton Mackenzie passed away at home this morning, his wife Loretta Mackenzie told Brian Wellner of the Quad-City Times. Mackenzie was convicted last summer on drug charges, having grown dozens of marijuana plants in order to treat his terminal cancer. During the trial, the judge did not allow Mackenzie or his attorney to say that the defendant was seeking to use cannabis as a cancer treatment. Mackenzie was later sentenced to probation. The family had hoped to move to Oregon; Mackenzie had visited the state and received a valid Oregon medical marijuana card before his health deteriorated late last year.

Many Iowans who favor legalizing medical marijuana were outraged by the prosecution of a terminal cancer patient. State Senator Joe Bolkcom described the case as a waste of taxpayer money. During last year's legislative session, Bolkcom defied long odds to get a baby step toward legalizing medical cannabis approved in the Iowa House and Senate. However, the new law only permits the use of cannabis oil in order to treat certain seizure disorders, and even the affected families have been unable to obtain the treatment so far.  

Thousands of Iowans are battling cancer or suffering from chronic illnesses that can be treated with cannabis or its derivatives. They should not be subject to criminal prosecution merely for attempting to obtain marijuana for personal use. Benton Mackenzie's death may not be enough to spur a majority of lawmakers to act this year, but I hope his sad story will eventually create the political space to expand Iowa's medical marijuana law.

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Themes from the opening day of the Iowa legislature's 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 18:16:59 PM CST

Exciting times for Iowa politics watchers: the state legislature's 2015 session began in Des Moines today. A tentative schedule for this year's work is available here (pdf). The last day lawmakers will receive per diem expenses is on May 1, but for the past four years of divided control between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, the session has always gone into overtime--sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Bleeding Heartland previously posted details on the each chamber's majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing committees. Click here for who's who in the Iowa House, and here for who's who in the Iowa Senate.

Today legislative leaders from both parties pledged to work together. After the jump I've enclosed the full texts of opening day remarks. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for making Iowa's middle class the "focus of the 2015 session" by ensuring adequate education spending, fighting wage theft, and expanding worker training while keeping a balanced budget. He praised Governor Terry Branstad for agreeing to go back to setting K-12 school funding a year in advance, as is required by state law, but warned the governor not to make a partisan statement by proposing too little funding for education when he addresses the legislature tomorrow.

Echoing some of the priorities she named last year, Senate President Pam Jochum said building an economy that "works for everyone" means supporting families and especially children: "For too long, the well-being of children has been considered a woman's issue.' It is not just a 'woman's issue'. It is an American issue. It is an Iowan issue." Jochum urged lawmakers to expand access to education from pre-K through college, make "quality, affordable childcare" more available across the state, and boost an initiative to "detect and help prevent mental health and developmental problems among young children."

Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the top priorities for House Democrats are strengthening the middle class and re-vitalizing rural Iowa. In addition to expanding early childhood education and providing adequate funds for K-12 schools, Smith called for raising the minimum wage, though GOP leaders have shown no willingness to negotiate on that issue.

As has been true in recent years, top Iowa House and Senate Republicans focused on fiscal issues and mostly avoided social issues. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen challenged his colleagues "to ensure that government do less and do it better" when "others bring forward their laundry list of funding opportunities, spending priorities, or flashy government programs." He called for more tax cuts along the lines of a 2006 bipartisan agreement to eliminate the state tax on Social Security benefits. (Mike Owen of the Iowa Policy Project explained in a guest column for the Quad-City Times why that tax cut was passed "under false pretenses" and skewed Iowa's tax code "further to the benefit of the wealthy.") House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer emphasized the need to "craft a responsible budget." She singled out the Medicaid program for criticism, claiming growth in Medicaid spending is "not sustainable" and will threaten lawmakers' ability to invest in education, job training, infrastructure, and renewable energy. Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called on senators to "work together to rein in spending, make cuts and reduce the size of government and lift up all Iowans in the process by reducing their tax burdens."

None of the Republicans set a goal of undoing marriage equality, and only House Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl made passing reference to other top priorities for social conservatives when he said, "Let us work together to make Iowa the best place to live, where taxes are low, jobs are abundant, education is top of the line, innocent life is protected and Second Amendment rights are fully embraced."

Any comments about the legislative session are welcome in this thread. By the way, here's some trivia you may not know about Speaker Paulsen.  

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 12, 2015 at 09:33:24 AM CST

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session begins today. Democrats maintained their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber. After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes from the previous committee assignments. Click here for a similar post on the new Iowa House.

I've also enclosed below details on the tenure of all 50 Iowa senators. The experience gap between the caucuses is striking, even more so since three of the longest-serving GOP state senators retired in 2014. Only seven of the 24 Republicans have served in either the state House or Senate for more than four years, whereas nineteen of the 26 Democrats have more than four years of legislative service. Only four of the 24 Senate Republicans have ten or more years of experience in the Iowa legislature, compared to seventeen of the 26 Democrats. No current Iowa Senate Republican has more than 20 years legislative experience, whereas six Democrats do.

Just seven of the 50 senators are women, down from ten women in the chamber two years ago. The Democratic caucus includes 20 men and six women; the Republican caucus 23 men and one woman.

All current Iowa senators are white. To my knowledge, no African-American has ever served in the Iowa Senate. CORRECTION: Bleeding Heartland reader northwest points out that I forgot Tom Mann, who represented part of Des Moines in the Iowa Senate during the 1980s.

No Latino has ever served in the Iowa House or Senate; Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first in 2014. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 state senators include three Marks, three Bills, three Richards (who go by Rich, Rick, and Dick), two Mikes, two Toms, two Joes, and two men named Charles (one goes by Chaz).  

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Weekend open thread: Sledding ban edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jan 10, 2015 at 09:56:35 AM CST

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

After an unusually dry December, most of Iowa finally got a decent blanket of snow this week. Meanwhile, a classic winter activity became the unlikely center of a public policy controversy. The Dubuque City Council moved to prohibit sledding at 48 out of 50 city parks, generating some national media coverage and debate over whether city officials over-reacted to worries about litigation.

Contrary to the exaggerated claims of some authors, no city has banned or outlawed sledding within its jurisdiction. Iowans in Dubuque and elsewhere are free to sled on private property and on some public land. The "ban" applies only to certain public parks.

That said, I agree with those who say Dubuque leaders went way too far and set the penalty for unauthorized sledding too high at $750. In fact, City Council member David Resnick was probably right when he warned, "Crowding all [these] sledders into two areas is actually increasing the safety hazard and I don't think we should limit our potential [liability] by increasing the safety hazard for kids." I hope the controversy leads to higher turnout in the next Dubuque local election.

According to Katie Wiedemann's report for KCRG-TV, local leaders say unhappy Dubuque residents should talk to state lawmakers:

"Iowa law protects cities from liability in the event someone gets hurt on city property while biking, skating or skateboarding. But there's no protection if someone gets hurt while sledding. Some lawmakers attempted to fix that during the 2013 legislative session, but the bill failed."

However, Iowa Association for Justice Executive Director Brad Lint argued in today's Des Moines Register that "the city already enjoys fairly broad liability immunity under Iowa law." After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Lint's op-ed column, which also addresses broader issues such as unwarranted fear of litigation and groups "begging" Iowa legislators "for protection from the often nonexistent lawsuits in their fields." As one Bleeding Heartland reader suggested privately to me this week,

Hopefully people will eventually see the sledding thing for what it is...another cynical attempt by the insurance industry to use people to twist the arms of their legislators to exempt the insurers from paying claims even in cases of negligence....

P.S.- Sledding is a common cause of serious childhood injuries during the winter. I know someone whose son nearly lost an eye and developed a life-threatening infection behind his eye socket after a sledding accident in her own backyard. I love sledding almost as much as my kids do, but keep these safety tips in mind when you play in the snow.

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John Kooiker wins special election to represent Iowa House district 4

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 06:52:35 AM CST

Republican John Kooiker easily won today's special election in Iowa House district 4, which covers most of Sioux County in northwest Iowa (scroll down this page for a map). Unofficial results published on the Sioux County website indicate that Kooiker received 2,064 votes to 456 for Democrat John Buntsma. I was surprised to see that Dennis Wright, a Republican former county supervisor, managed 840 votes (about a quarter of all votes cast) as a write-in candidate. That's a huge number of votes for a write-in, especially in a low-turnout special election. Wright should seriously consider challenging Kooiker in the 2016 GOP primary to represent House district 4.

Kooiker will succeed longtime conservative stalwart Dwayne Alons, who passed away in November shortly after being re-elected to a ninth term in the Iowa House.

House district 4 is the safest legislative district in the state for the GOP, with roughly nine times as many registered Republicans as Democrats. I admire Buntsma for making sure voters would have a choice, even in a hopeless district for a Democrat.  

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Why did Debi Durham sack one of Iowa's leading clean energy experts? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 05, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CST

Iowa is already one of the top states for wind power and could become one of the country's solar power leaders as well. Unfortunately, Governor Terry Branstad has a mixed record on promoting alternative energy. On the plus side, Branstad has praised "tremendous potential for growth in solar energy." He has signed bipartisan legislation to provide state income tax credits for renewable energy, including a bill last spring that tripled the annual amount of solar tax credits in Iowa.

On the other hand, last year the Branstad administration "surrendered a $1 million grant designed to make Iowa a nationwide leader in solar energy after electric utilities lobbied for major changes," Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press. You can view what that grant might have accomplished here. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Foley's report on the e-mail correspondence.

Now we find out that last month the Iowa Economic Development Authority quietly sacked Paritosh Kasotia as leader of the state energy office. The Associated Press reported that Kasotia was "informed of her ouster Dec. 8 and stopped working the same day."

Colleagues said Kasotia was not given an explanation for the termination, which came days after she returned from a national conference. An expert on alternative energy and energy efficiency, Kasotia oversaw tens of millions of dollars in funding for state and federal programs during her five-year state tenure. [...]

Kasotia, 32, also became active in the National Association of State Energy Officials and served on the advisory council of the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University.

Gary Steinke, who served with Kasotia on the advisory council, called her a "national leader in alternative energy."

"My reaction is that I'm shocked and disappointed," said Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "She brought a wealth of knowledge and information to the advisory council and she will be sorely missed."

Last year, Kasotia helped land a competitive $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make Iowa a leader in solar energy. Environmentalists said the grant would cut costs and regulations to speed solar adoption. Branstad had written a letter in support. But state officials ended up giving up the grant after utility lobbyists complained they had not been consulted and objected to the grant's scope.

The move was seen as an embarrassment to the energy office, which started meeting routinely with representatives from utilities such as Alliant Energy and MidAmerican to get input on grant applications.

I sought comment from the governor's office on why Kasotia was fired. Governor Branstad's spokesman Jimmy Centers responded, "Iowa law prevents our office from commenting on personnel matters. It's important to note that state agencies, not the governor's office, handle personnel matters within their departments."

Raise your hand if you think Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham would fire a senior official in her department without running it by the governor's office.

Incidentally, Kasotia was a merit employee in the Office of Energy Independence under Governor Chet Culver. But when the Branstad administration restructured the office and assigned it to Durham's agency, Kasotia's job as team leader became an "at will" position. Democrats have criticized the governor's policy of making some 350 state employees at will, because those people can be fired for any reason or no reason. In addition, at will employees may be replaced without advertising the job. Senior officials in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals have challenged their change in job status, and the U.S. Department of Labor had to intervene to block the Iowa Workforce Development director's attempt to make that agency's chief administrative law judge an at will employee.

Someone with as much knowledge and expertise as Kasotia should not be shown the door without a valid reason. Branstad may be be a huge cheerleader for Durham, but when Iowa state senators consider whether to confirm her for another term as Iowa's top economic development official, they should question her about Kasotia's firing.

P.S.- Durham's confirmation hearing could be one of the most contentious during the upcoming legislative session. Democratic lawmakers will also challenge Durham on why she committed Iowa to more than $100 million in unnecessary state tax incentives for one foreign-owned corporation. They may also ask why she has taken several annual bonuses to put her total compensation well above the salary cap defined by state law.

P.P.S.- Kasotia's ouster makes me more concerned that the Iowa Utilities Board (now run entirely by Branstad appointees) will take administrative steps to overturn a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling, which went against utility companies' interests.

UPDATE: Added portions of the Des Moines Register's January 6 editorial after the jump.

SECOND UPDATE: Des Moines Cityview's Civic Skinny column discussed the firing as well. Scroll down for excerpts.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Governor Branstad's latest comments below.

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15 Iowa politics predictions for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 02, 2015 at 09:41:49 AM CST

Happy new year to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community! Undeterred by my failure (yet again) to win, place, or show in my own blog's election contest, I offer fifteen Iowa politics predictions for this calendar year.

Your own predictions or any other relevant comments are welcome in this thread. At the end of this year I'll look back to see what we got right or wrong.

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Mark Costello will represent Iowa Senate district 12

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 31, 2014 at 07:05:00 AM CST

Republican State Representative Mark Costello easily won yesterday's special election to represent Iowa Senate district 12. The seat became vacant after Joni Ernst's victory in the U.S. Senate race. According to unofficial results posted on the Iowa Secretary of State's website, Costello received 3,068 votes, to 924 votes for Democrat Steve Adams and 131 votes for Libertarian Don Brantz. Adams deserves credit for stepping up to give voters a choice in the second- or third-most Republican Iowa Senate district. Although the Libertarians were smart to nominate a candidate here, they didn't have anything like the Iowa GOP's resources for voter turnout, and their nominee got the worst kind of publicity a candidate can have when he was charged with several crimes earlier this month.

Democrats retain a 26 to 24 majority in the Iowa Senate, but Costello told Radio Iowa he's optimistic and hopeful Republicans will win a majority after the 2016 elections. They certainly will have better opportunities to gain Iowa Senate seats in the coming cycle than they did in 2014. Blowing the chance to defeat GOP State Senator Mark Chelgren this year could prove costly for Iowa Democrats.

Costello's victory will force a special election in Iowa House district 23, which he has represented for the last two years. Like Senate district 12, the House district should be safe for Republicans, allowing them to maintain a 57 to 43 majority in the Iowa House next year.

I expect another crowded GOP nominating convention when House district 23 delegates meet to choose a new candidate. Several people who sought the GOP nomination in Senate district 12 live in communities Costello has represented. Republicans would do well to nominate a woman. It's embarrassing that Amy Sinclair is the only woman left in their Iowa Senate caucus, and the Iowa House GOP caucus includes 51 men (including Costello) to just six women.

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Mike Gronstal staying on as head of DLCC

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 19:30:49 PM CST

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is staying on as board chairman of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the group announced today. I've enclosed the full statement after the jump.

The DLCC focuses on state legislative elections around the country. The group has its work cut out, because Republicans made huge gains in state legislatures in November. In fact, "The GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers -- the highest number in the history of the party." Holding the 26-24 Iowa Senate majority was one of the few bright spots for Democrats, along with maintaining a majority in the Kentucky House of Representatives (which complicates life for potential presidential candidate Rand Paul).

The Iowa GOP will have more state Senate pickup opportunities in 2016 than they did this year. Twelve Iowa Senate races saw significant spending by one or both parties in 2012, whereas only a half-dozen or so Senate seats looked competitive going into 2014. By October of this year, most of the spending by Iowa Democrats and Republicans was concentrated in four state Senate races. Depending on retirements and candidate recruitment, at least ten Iowa Senate districts will be potentially competitive during the 2016 cycle.

Incidentally, the only other Iowan on the DLCC's board of directors is Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids. Just re-elected to another four-year term in Senate district 35, Horn has served in the Iowa legislature for 42 years (10 in the state House and 32 in the Senate), longer than any other sitting lawmaker.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2015

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 16:14:06 PM CST

The Iowa House will begin its 2015 session on January 12 with 57 Republicans and 43 Democrats (assuming a Republican wins the January 6 special election in House district 4). Depending on who wins that special election, the 100 state representatives will include either 27 or 28 women, and either 72 or 73 men.

After the jump I've posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I've noted changes since the previous legislative session.

Some non-political trivia: two of the three state representatives with the surname Olson retired this year, as did one of the two Iowa House members named Smith. There are still two Millers and two Taylors in the legislature's lower chamber, one from each party. As for first names, the new cohort contains five Davids (four go by Dave), four Roberts (two Robs, one Bob, and a Bobby), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Johns, and three Brians. There are two Lindas, two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz), and two men each named Dan, Mark, Greg, Chuck, Bruce, Todd, and Chris.  

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Bleeding Heartland 2014 general election prediction contest results

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 09:00:50 AM CST

The last U.S. Senate election of 2014 concluded over the weekend, with Republican Bill Cassidy defeating Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. So, I was finally able to tabulate results from Bleeding Heartland's general election prediction contest.

Thanks to all who entered. Follow me after the jump for full results.  

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Iowa House district 4 special election coming on January 6

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 05, 2014 at 16:20:00 PM CST

Governor Terry Branstad has set the special election in Iowa House district 4 for January 6, 2015. The vacancy arose when State Representative Dwayne Alons passed away last weekend. Of the 100 Iowa House districts, this is the most Republican, with only 1,498 active registered Democrats, 13,279 Republicans, and 3,555 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office. Democrats have not nominated a candidate in this district since James Van Bruggen won less than 20 percent of the vote against Alons in 2008.

Although the Republican special nominating convention will likely determine Alons' successor, a competitive special election is still possible. It only takes 50 signatures on a nominating petition to file as an independent or third-party candidate, and the filing period is open until December 23. Anything can happen in a low-turnout special election, so I wouldn't be too surprised to see some other conservative file papers here, perhaps running as an independent or a Libertarian.

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Chutzpah alert: Branstad as defender of the separation of powers

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 03, 2014 at 19:58:40 PM CST

In the busy days before Thanksgiving, I missed this unintentional comedy from Governor Terry Branstad's weekly press conference (hat tip to Todd Dorman):

"There's also a constitutional question about whether the president of the United States has the authority to act unilaterally on issues like this [immigration policy]," Branstad said. "So I expect there's going to be a lot of unanswered questions that I need to get information about and what the impact would have on our state."

Asked if he would take executive action on state immigration policy, Branstad responded, "We don't operate that way in Iowa."

"That's the difference between Washington, D.C., and Iowa," Branstad said. "In Iowa, I'm very careful to recognize the separation of powers and to work with the Legislature."

Where to begin?

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At least five Republicans seeking to represent Iowa Senate district 12

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Dec 02, 2014 at 18:04:50 PM CST

At least five people are openly seeking the GOP nomination in Iowa Senate district 12, where a special election will be held on December 30 to replace U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst. In addition to State Representative Mark Costello and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan, Clarinda School Board member Seth Watkins, Montgomery County GOP Chair Margaret Stoldorf, and Ringgold County GOP activist Tracee Knapp have all announced their candidacies. Watkins is a grain and livestock farmer as well as a 14-year incumbent on the school board. Stoldorf is a former Montgomery County supervisor and has managed a family farm as well. Knapp works for Children and Families of Iowa and operates a cattle farm, along with her husband.

KMA Radio 99.1 has invited all the candidates to take part in a one-hour radio forum at 7 pm on Monday, December 8.  Other candidates may declare before the GOP special nominating convention on December 11. I have not yet heard of any Democratic candidate in this overwhelmingly Republican district. Ernst ran unopposed in 2012.

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Special election in Iowa Senate district 12 coming on December 30

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 11:13:26 AM CST

Late last week, U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst finally sent Governor Terry Branstad a letter resigning her seat in the Iowa Senate. The governor announced today that the special election to replace Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12 will take place on December 30. The district covers six southwest Iowa counties; a detailed map is after the jump.

From a voter turnout perspective, it's not ideal to hold an election between Christmas and New Year's, when many people are out of town. However, the real competition in Iowa Senate district 12 will be at the GOP special nominating convention. Even in a low-turnout environment, there is almost no conceivable way Democrats could win a district containing more than twice as many registered Republicans. Just one state Senate district has fewer registered Democrats than Senate district 12, and only three contain more registered Republicans.

At least two Republicans will seek the nomination for the coming special election: State Representative Mark Costello, who was first elected to the Iowa House in 2012, and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan. I expect more people to throw their hats in. A few years ago, a special election in an Ankeny-based Iowa Senate district drew six GOP candidates.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I was surprised it took Ernst so long to resign her state senate seat. Her predecessor Kim Reynolds resigned more quickly after being elected lieutenant governor in 2010.  

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New Big 10 Rivalry? Iowa can compete with Maryland on clean water

by: openureyes

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 22:09:02 PM CST

(Thanks to State Representative Chuck Isenhart for the guest commentary. He is ranking member on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and liaison to the state Watershed Planning Advisory Council. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowans want clean water, but that has not motivated Iowa policymakers to tackle water pollution.

Rather, the driving fear is stronger regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of the "dead zone." That 5,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Mexico has become toxic to life because of nitrogen and phosphorus, mostly from farm runoff. Iowa and Illinois are the top culprits.

The state's "nutrient reduction strategy" is a narrow approach designed not to clean up Iowa's water in our lifetimes, but to forestall specific federal limits on polluted water. The plan is focused on how to manage fertilizer. That piece is good as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. Iowa needs a broader strategy.

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only water body with a "dead zone." For example, Maryland depends on  the Chesapeake Bay as a $1 trillion economic driver, including tourism, recreation, seafood and other industries. Maryland has been fouling its own nest for decades.

Imagine the Gulf of Mexico in Iowa. No doubt dealing with our 489 impaired lakes and streams suffering death by a thousand drips would become more urgent, undeserving of the 80 percent budget cut inflicted by Governor Branstad this year.

As both perpetrators and victims, Maryland citizens made clean water a top public priority. In leaner economic times, a 2012 poll showed that 91 percent of Maryland residents said cleaner water was important and nearly two-thirds supported increasing a statewide household tax to do it. Eighty percent wanted the state to be active in managing growth.

I spent a day on a recent trip to Maryland learning about the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Martin O'Malley put his staff at my disposal after I met him on his summer visit to Iowa. What lessons can be learned from the Chesapeake initiative that might be helpful to us?

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Analysis shows Medicaid expansion is working in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Nov 14, 2014 at 09:40:00 AM CST

The Iowa Hospital Association was one of many health care organizations that advocated strongly for Medicaid expansion. A new analysis of care provided by Iowa hospitals shows why.

Scott McIntyre highlighted the key findings on the Iowa Hospital Association's blog yesterday.

During the first six months of this year, the number of people hospitalized in Iowa without insurance fell by 45.7 percent compared with the same period last year, an IHA analysis has found.  The analysis is based on data collected from 101 Iowa hospitals from January through June.

According to the study, out of about 159,000 hospital discharges from January to June in 2014 and 2013, 4,445 patients were uninsured this year compared with 8,181 in 2013.

[...] Because of Medicaid expansion, in a six-month span, Iowa hospitals cared for fewer uninsured patients in all settings, including patients admitted for inpatient care as well as those seeking care at hospital emergency rooms and at outpatient clinics.  Similar results are being seen in other states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. [...]

For the period January 1-June 30, overall inpatient admissions at Iowa hospitals declined 4.4 percent compared with the same period in 2013.  Within that decline, the number of uninsured hospitalized patients with no source of payment for their health care fell by 45.7 percent in 2014.

Additionally, fears that expanding coverage would make care so easily accessible that use of hospital emergency rooms would rise to unprecedented levels have not materialized, the IHA analysis found.  Total visits to emergency rooms increased less than 1 percent when comparing the six-month spans in 2013 and 2014, despite approximately 30,000 patients with new policies purchased through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

With more Iowans now insured, hospitals' charity care losses fell 18.5 percent, yielding a total six-month improvement of $32.5 million.

During the state legislature's 2013 session, Iowa House Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad refused to expand Medicaid, but agreed to create an "Iowa Health and Wellness Plan" as a compromise. The arrangement was more complicated and more expensive than simply expanding Medicaid as foreseen under the 2010 federal health care reform law. Nevertheless, the deal was well worth it and is benefiting tens of thousands of Iowans.  

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