16 Iowa politics predictions for 2016

Hoping to improve on my percentages from last year, I offer sixteen Iowa politics predictions for 2016. Please spin your own scenarios in this thread.

I finally gave up on trying to predict whether Governor Terry Branstad will still be in office at the end of the year. Although his close adviser David Roederer "emphatically" says Branstad will serve out his sixth term, I am convinced the governor will resign early. But I can’t decide whether that will happen shortly after the November 2016 election or shortly after the Iowa legislature’s 2017 session.

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"The View from Nowhere" in Iowa legislative news coverage

When politicians lie, opponents often echo longtime Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous words: You’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

Politicians can get away with deception, however, when journalists present conflicting facts as opposing viewpoints in a "he said/she said" frame. So it was when Governor Terry Branstad recently touted phony job creation numbers, and reputable Iowa journalists hid behind "critics say" rather than acknowledging reality: no serious economist would recognize those statistics.

And so it was when the Des Moines Register again covered the Iowa Department of Revenue’s unprecedented attempt to rewrite tax code through the rule-making process. Statehouse reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel’s attention to the topic is welcome. The rule change has been an under-reported Iowa politics story this fall, even though it could have a huge impact on the state budget in coming years. Unfortunately, as was the case in earlier articles for the Register on the same controversy, Pfannenstiel avoided stating some important truths about the Branstad administration’s efforts, attributing such observations to "others" including "Democratic lawmakers."

The journalist’s reflex to appear impartial by presenting factual statements as partisan opinions is part of what media critic Jay Rosen has called the View from Nowhere.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2015

As I mentioned on Tuesday, writing is a labor of love for me. Some posts are much more labor-intensive than others.

All of the pieces linked below took at least a couple of days to put together. Some were in progress for weeks before I was ready to hit the publish button. (No editor, deadlines, or word limits can be a dangerous combination.) A few of the particularly time-consuming posts required additional research or interviews. More often, the challenge was figuring out the best way to present the material.

Several pieces that would have qualified for this list are not included, because they are still unfinished. Assuming I can get those posts where they need to be, I plan to publish them during the first quarter of 2016.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2015

While working on another piece about Iowa politics highlights from the year, I decided to start a new Bleeding Heartland tradition. Writing is a labor of love for me, as for many bloggers, but let’s face it: not all posts are equally lovable.

The most important political events can be frustrating or maddening to write up, especially when there is so much ground to cover.

Any blogger will confirm that posts attracting the most readers are not necessarily the author’s favorites. The highest-traffic Bleeding Heartland post of 2015—in fact, the highest-traffic post in this blog’s history—was just another detailed account of a message-testing opinion poll, like many that came before. Word to the wise: if you want a link from the Drudge Report, it helps to type up a bunch of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes, committing to a topic leads to a long, hard slog. I spent more time on this critique of political coverage at the Des Moines Register than on any other piece of writing I’ve done in the last decade. But honestly, the task was more depressing than enjoyable.

Other pieces were pure pleasure. Follow me after the jump for my top fifteen from 2015.

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Beth Townsend's embarrassing defense of phony job numbers

"Phony number" graphic created by Dave Swenson

I was encouraged when Beth Townsend became Iowa Workforce Development director early this year. The previous director, Teresa Wahlert, was one of Governor Terry Branstad’s worst appointees; I suspect her record for legal entanglements involving an agency director for the State of Iowa will never be surpassed. In contrast, I’d heard consistently good feedback about Townsend’s work as executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The new director has taken several steps to bring Iowa Workforce Development’s operations in line with federal labor laws.

Which makes it even more disappointing to see Townsend sell one of the biggest lies of Branstad’s long, long stint as governor, first in her agency’s annual budget presentation, and now in the editorial pages of Iowa’s largest newspapers.

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Well-placed allies couldn't save WellCare's Iowa Medicaid contract

They were so close. Florida-based WellCare played the game almost perfectly to win a contract for its Iowa subsidiary to manage care for Medicaid recipients, which could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years.

The first sign that WellCare’s ambitions might come to nothing attracted little notice, appearing just before the long Thanksgiving weekend. More bad tidings for WellCare arrived yesterday in a late Friday afternoon dump, the classic way for government officials to bury news. Reading Jason Clayworth’s report for the Des Moines Register, it’s easy to see why the Branstad administration sought minimal attention for fixing an embarrassing oversight.

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