Iowa second-worst state for racial disparity in drug possession arrests

The massive racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system have long been recognized as among the worst in the country, spurring calls to action not only by advocacy groups but also by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady and even Governor Terry Branstad.

Yet a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch shows that African-American adults in Iowa are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession—an imbalance second only to Montana.

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Iowa House district 72 preview: Dean Fisher vs. Nathan Wrage

When the dust settled after the 2012 general election, I was frustrated to see how close Iowa Democrats came to winning back the Iowa House majority. Democratic candidates picked up seven GOP-held state House seats that year, but lost half a dozen other races by extremely narrow margins, leaving Republicans with 53 of the 100 seats in the lower chamber.

One of the "seats that got away" was House district 72, where Dean Fisher beat Nathan Wrage by only 216 votes in an open seat due to GOP State Representative Lance Horbach’s retirement. President Barack Obama outpolled Mitt Romney by about 3 percentage points among voters in the district.

The GOP expanded its Iowa House majority to 57-43 in the 2014 midterm election, but many state legislative seats are competitive this year, putting control of the chamber in play. As Wrage challenges Fisher again, Democrats won’t repeat their 2012 mistake of not targeting this race.

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ISU president used university plane for personal trips, didn't pay to fix damage

Iowa State University President Steven Leath has flown one of the university’s planes on at least four personal trips, without the apparent knowledge of the official in charge of ISU’s flight program, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on September 23. Leath reimbursed the university for some costs associated with those trips but not for expenses incurred after he damaged one of the planes through pilot error in July 2015.

Although Leath’s use of the plane appears to have violated both ISU policy and state law, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter has already released a statement supporting Leath.

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IA-Gov: Sales tax hike for conservation may become fault line in 2018

Leaders of a campaign to provide a "permanent and constitutionally protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats" in Iowa touted support in the business and agriculture communities this week. You can watch Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy’s September 12 press conference here or listen to the audio at Radio Iowa. Under a state constitutional amendment Iowa voters adopted in 2010, revenues generated by the next 3/8th of a cent sales tax increase (estimated at more than $180 million per year) would flow into a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Scroll to the end of this post for a current list of IWLL coalition members and details on the formula for allocating trust fund money.

Without knowing which parties will control the Iowa House and Senate next year, it’s hard to gauge prospects for passing a sales tax increase. Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy commented on Monday, "The best time to move on a piece of legislation is just following an election. That’s when you get your best bipartisan compromises, and I think ultimately, this is something we can find a bipartisan compromise on."

Who might lead statehouse Republicans toward such a compromise is unclear. The GOP lawmaker most supportive of IWLL has been State Senator David Johnson. But he left the party this summer to protest presidential nominee Donald Trump and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent interview that he plans to remain an independent during the 2017 legislative session.

At least one Republican running for governor in 2018 will support the sales tax increase: Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. That stance will put him in conflict with either Governor Terry Branstad or his chosen successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. In addition, support for funding IWLL among major farm lobby groups could create problems for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, also a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

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Iowa Senate district 32 preview: Brian Schoenjahn vs. Craig Johnson

To win control of the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have held a 26 to 24 majority for the last six years, Republicans will need to beat at least two Democratic incumbents. One of their top targets is Senator Brian Schoenjahn, who is seeking a fourth term in Senate district 32.

Follow me after the jump for a map and details on the political makeup of this northeast Iowa district, along with background on Schoenjahn and his challenger Craig Johnson, the key issues for each candidate, and a look at Johnson’s first television commercial.

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Labor Day weekend open thread

Happy Labor Day, Bleeding Heartland readers! If you are enjoying a three-day weekend, thank the labor activists from past generations who made it possible. In fact, go ahead and thank the organized labor movement for every weekend off.

The Iowa Policy Project’s latest report on the Cost of Living in Iowa found that "Nearly 114,000 Iowa families"—close to 19 percent of the state’s working households—"do not earn enough to provide for a basic standard of living without public supports, despite one or more full-time wage earners in the family." Part 1 estimates how much a family needs to get by in Iowa, taking into account expenses for "rent, utilities, food prepared at home, child care, health care, transportation, clothing and other household necessities," but not "savings, loan payments, education expenses, any entertainment or vacation, social or recreational travel, or meals outside the home." Part 2 explores how many Iowa families aren’t earning enough to cover essentials, and shows that "rural regions have substantially higher shares of working families with incomes below self-sufficiency."

For political junkies, Labor Day kicks off the most intense phase of the general election campaign. Candidates at all levels can use help identifying supporters and getting them signed up to vote early. Direct voter contacts are particularly important for state legislative races. I highly recommend Laura Hubka’s 15 tips for volunteers knocking on doors. Two years ago, I posted my own canvassing dos and don’ts.

One of my funniest door-knocking experiences happened on this day last year. I was canvassing in Beaverdale for Des Moines school board candidate Heather Anderson. Normally I would not be out on a holiday, but the school board election was scheduled for September 8, the day after Labor Day. One house on my walk list already had a Heather Anderson sign in the yard. I decided to knock anyway, in case the supporter needed extra literature to give to friends and neighbors, or a reminder about the polling place location and opening hours. During our conversation, the voter said, "You know who else is for Heather? Bleeding Heartland. She’s on our side." Yeah, I heard that

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear at the Quad Cities Labor picnic later today. I’ll update later with a few links. I enclose below a video her campaign released this week featuring Ruline Steininger, a 103-year-old supporter in Des Moines. Echoing what I’ve heard from many women including former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and my mother-in-law, Steininger commented that when she was in high school, the only career options were to become a teacher or a nurse. She views Clinton as "more prepared" than anyone has ever been for the presidency, and also thinks her election would let "little girls know that you can be anything you want to be in this country. People won’t have to wonder whether they’re going to be a school teacher or a nurse. The sky’s the limit now. You can be president."

I only knew one of my grandparents well. Although I didn’t get many chances to talk politics with my grandmother, I’m confident that if she were still alive, she also would be voting for Clinton. Having been active in the Sioux City Maternal Women’s Health League (later a founding organization in Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa) during the 1940s, she probably would not need to hear more than "defund Planned Parenthood" to turn her off voting for any Republican.

Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush reported for National Public Radio this week on the Donald Trump campaign’s "jaw-dropping gap in the ground game." Clinton has "more than three times the number" of field offices in battleground states. In Iowa, Democrats have at least 25 "coordinated campaign" offices open around the state, possibly more by now. Trump and the Republican Party of Iowa have nine offices open, according to NPR’s data.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Trump’s volunteers, including those participating online, are being asked to sign an absurdly broad and in some places illegal "non disclosure form." Among other things, the volunteer must promise not to "demean or disparage" the Trump campaign or any member of Trump’s family or any Trump business, "during the time of your service and at all times thereafter." Attorneys tell me this document probably would not be enforceable because of legal flaws such as lack of consideration. The illegal part: requiring volunteers to promise that none of their employees will volunteer for Clinton.

Thanks to all the readers whose accounts informed Thursday’s post on Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races. Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard posted on Facebook that his wife was a respondent on one of these calls. Good news: she’s still voting for him, even after hearing all the awful things he supposedly did. I am seeking details about similar telephone surveys that may be ongoing in battleground Iowa Senate districts. My e-mail address is near the lower right corner of this screen.

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