Mary Andringa stepping down from Iowa Board of Regents (updated)

Saying she had "underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role," Mary Andringa announced today she will step down from the Iowa Board of Regents, just one year into her six-year term. I enclose the official statement below, along with more background on Andringa, who has had a long and distinguished career in business and industry advocacy work. As a regent, she is best known for participating in a secret Ames meeting with Bruce Harreld and three other board members, then sending Harreld an effusive e-mail encouraging him to apply for the University of Iowa’s presidency.

Governor Terry Branstad will select Andringa’s successor on the nine-member Board of Regents, almost certainly after the state legislature has adjourned for this year. Consequently, the Iowa Senate will consider that nominee during the 2017 session.

Since 2011, state senators have confirmed the overwhelming majority of Branstad appointees unanimously or nearly so. However, Senate Democrats rejected two of Branstad’s picks for the Board of Regents in 2013. Craig Lang faced criticism for allegedly interfering with state university policies during his first term as a regent, while Robert Cramer drew fire for his record of social conservative activism, including as a member of the Johnston school board.

Branstad thinks highly of Andringa, naming her to a newly-created state economic development board a few years before appointing her to the even more prestigious board that oversees Iowa’s state universities. In fact, Branstad and his onetime chief of staff Doug Gross were said to have recruited Andringa to run for governor in 2009, a few months before GOP heavyweights persuaded Branstad to come out of political retirement. A poll commissioned by an organization linked to Gross had tested voters’ interest in female business leaders as potential gubernatorial candidates. Some news coverage in the spring of 2009 named Andringa among the possible GOP challengers to Governor Chet Culver.

UPDATE: Casting Andringa’s resignation in a new light, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 28 that the outgoing regent "has long been a director for a national furniture company but failed to publicly disclose that relationship before its local distributor signed a major no-bid contract with the University of Iowa last year." Excerpts from that story and from Jeff Charis-Carlson’s report on that no-bid contract are after the jump.

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Why is Iowa's secretary of state playing politics with felon voting case?

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is a defendant in Kelli Jo Griffin’s lawsuit claiming Iowa violates her constitutional rights by disenfranchising all felons. The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 30. Justices are expected to decide by the end of June whether to uphold the current system or declare that Iowa’s constitutional provision on "infamous crimes" should not apply to all felonies.

Defendants typically refrain from commenting on pending litigation, but during the past three weeks, Pate has carried out an extraordinary public effort to discredit the plaintiffs in the voting rights case. In his official capacity, he has addressed a large radio audience and authored an op-ed column run by many Iowa newspapers.

Pate amped up his attack on "the other side" in speeches at three of the four Iowa GOP district conventions on April 9. After misrepresenting the goals of Griffin’s allies and distorting how a ruling for the plaintiff could alter Iowa’s electorate, the secretary of state asked hundreds of Republican activists for their help in fighting against those consequences.

At a minimum, the secretary of state has used this lawsuit to boost his own standing. Even worse, his words could be aimed at intimidating the "unelected judges" who have yet to rule on the case. Regardless of Pate’s motives, his efforts to politicize a pending Supreme Court decision are disturbing.

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Landowners challenge use of eminent domain for Bakken pipeline

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

The Iowa Utilities Board issued a permit for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline on April 8, after declaring that Dakota Access LLC "has substantially complied with the requirements" of the board’s March 10 order. The same day, a group of agricultural landowners filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s use of eminent domain for the pipeline, intended to carry oil roughly 400 miles across eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa. Litigation grounded in environmental concerns about the pipeline is expected later this year.

Follow me after the jump for more details on the land use lawsuit and ongoing efforts to block the pipeline at the federal level.

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Weekend open thread: Threats to public health edition

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

On April 1, three months later than originally planned, Iowa officially switched to a managed-care model for the Medicaid program. Erin Murphy explained here how privatization will affect almost all of our state’s roughly 560,000 Medicaid recipients.

Many Iowans on Medicaid are learning that their current health care providers are now out of network, a particular concern for those who have special medical needs. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has not signed contracts with any of the three insurance companies selected to be managed-care providers in Iowa. KCRG’s Katie Wiedemannn reported on March 31 about a 9-year-old cancer patient whose scheduled treatment at Mayo has been delayed because of the new policy. I am aware of other families whose children on Medicaid have relied on out-of-state medical specialists to treat their children’s rare genetic or chronic conditions.

Iowa House Republican leaders have refused to act on an extensive Medicaid oversight bill that cleared the Senate with bipartisan support. However, they promise to unveil their own Medicaid oversight proposal soon. Senate Democrats will seek to add many oversight provisions to the human services budget, which is often one of the last bills to be resolved before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

One major red flag: Iowa hired only "two ombudsmen to investigate and work as advocates for the 560,000 poor or disabled people" on Medicaid. As Jason Clayworth reported for the Des Moines Register in January, a working group that studied the issue recommended hiring 134 more ombudsmen at a possible cost of $17 million annually.

Rhonda Shouse has been among the most vocal opponents of Medicaid privatization. She shared with Bleeding Heartland some resources for recipients who run into problems with their new managed-care providers. I enclose those below.

Some good public health news: state lawmakers recently approved a bill that would allow "First responders, emergency medical service providers, police, firefighters and licensed health care professionals" to maintain a supply of the drug Naloxone (also known as Narcan). The medication can prevent death after an overdose of heroin or prescription opioid pain-killers, both of which have become more prevalent in Iowa, as in many other states. Senate File 2218 passed the upper chamber the Senate unanimously and cleared the House by 93 votes to 2 (the dissenters were Republicans Stan Gustafson and Mike Sexton). Several groups representing law enforcement or medical professionals lobbied for this bill. At this writing, Governor Terry Branstad has not yet signed it.

UPDATE: Branstad signed the bill about the overdose drug on April 6.

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Democrats settle for quarter of a loaf on tax deal, crumbs on school funding

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Leaders in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate agreed early in the 2015 legislative session to pass two major tax bills backed by top Iowa House Republicans. The moves left Democrats no leverage to obtain concessions from Republicans on state spending for vital services, especially education. After months of negotiations, the final deal struck after Memorial Day gave House Republicans what they wanted on global budget targets and acceded to their demand for "allowable growth" of only 1.25 percent for K-12 education budgets.

As a gesture toward compromise, Republicans agreed last year to a supplemental spending bill, which included one-time funding for K-12 school districts, community colleges, and state universities. But once lawmakers had adjourned, Governor Terry Branstad item-vetoed some $56 million for education from that bill. The governor pleaded fiscal responsibility in his veto message, though such concerns hadn’t stopped him from signing $99 million in tax cuts into law months earlier.

I had high hopes for a better outcome this year when I saw Senate Democrats balk at passing a $97.6 million "tax coupling" bill much like the one that sailed through the upper chamber in 2015.

But during the past two weeks, Democrats approved harmonizing the state and federal tax codes as part of compromise legislation that was not linked to education spending. Then they agreed to school funding levels very close to the House Republicans’ initial offer for fiscal year 2017, which begins on July 1 and runs through next June. Lower projected state revenues forced Democrats to accept insufficient allowable growth for K-12 school budgets, lawmakers told disappointed students and educators. As usual, budget constraints never seem to be a reason for the Iowa legislature to say no to constituencies seeking expensive tax breaks.

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Iowa county governments: Don't inconvenience us by protecting fundamental constitutional rights

The Iowa State Association of Counties has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to keep tens of thousands of citizens permanently disenfranchised so county auditors will have "a definition of infamous crime that can be easily discerned and quickly applied" as they administer elections.

In addition, the association representing county officials suggests auditors will be unable to provide "the orderly conduct of elections" if the high court does not abandon efforts to distinguish certain felonies from the "infamous crimes" that disqualify Iowans from voting under our state’s constitution.

The disturbing attempt by county governments to place administrative convenience above a fundamental constitutional right came in a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) brief filed in connection with a case the Iowa Supreme Court will consider this week. Yet Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, the chief elections officer in Iowa’s largest county, maintains that a new standard allowing some felons to vote would not be "an administrative burden any more than the myriad other provisions that county auditors and poll-workers must contend with."

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