Fake compromise lets Iowa GOP save face on Planned Parenthood capitulation

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year this evening. As usual, the health and human services budget was one of the last deals Senate Democrats and House Republicans agreed on. Both sides gave significant ground on oversight of Iowa’s recently-privatized Medicaid program; a future post will look more closely at the terms of that agreement. In another example of history repeating itself, key negotiators had trouble finding common ground on what to do about Planned Parenthood funding through the Iowa Family Planning Network.

The outcome of last year’s budget talks left little doubt that Republicans wouldn’t achieve their goal of creating a new state family planning program, excluding abortion providers. Yet House Speaker Linda Upmeyer had promised a "deliberate and unwavering battle" on "pro-life issues," and specifically to make defunding Planned Parenthood a "priority" for her caucus.

I’ve been wondering what Democrats might offer Republicans in exchange for preserving status quo language on state funding for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services.

As it turned out, they didn’t have to make any real concession.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Senate district 4 preview: Dennis Guth vs. Susan Bangert

When the filing deadline passed for major-party candidates to run in Iowa’s June 7 primary, seven Republican state senators up for re-election this year had no challengers: Randy Feenstra (Senate district 2), Dennis Guth (Senate district 4), Mark Segebart (Senate district 6), Mark Costello (Senate district 12), Amy Sinclair (Senate district 14), Tim Kapucian (Senate district 38), and Ken Rozenboom (Senate district 40). Recruitment continued, as special district conventions may nominate candidates for seats where no one filed in time to be on the primary ballot.

Based on 2012 election results and incumbent weirdness, the most potentially competitive of the uncontested GOP-held Iowa Senate seats was arguably Guth’s. Democrats announced on April 25 that Susan Bangert will run in Senate district 4. I enclose below a map of this district and details about its recent voting history, along with background on Guth and Bangert.

Also on Monday, Dennis Mathahs confirmed plans to drop out of the Democratic primary in Iowa House district 75 in order to run against Kapucian in Senate district 38. A future post will preview that race.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Democrats trying to add autism insurance coverage to budget bill

Earlier this month, Claire Celsi informed Bleeding Heartland readers about the demise of an autism insurance bill after State Representative Peter Cownie refused to bring the measure up for a vote in the Iowa House Commerce Committee, which he chairs.

As both Autism Awareness Month and the 2016 legislative session wind down, Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate have been working to add the same requirements to a must-pass budget bill. Follow me after the jump for background and where things stand in this fight.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Exposing abuse edition

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

The Pulitzer Prizes announced this week recognized some powerful reporting on the misuse of power. The Associated Press won the public service award for "an investigation of severe labor abuses tied to the supply of seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants, reporting that freed 2,000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms." Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza, and Esther Htusan contributed to this incredible investigative work; the whole series is available here.

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer’s national reporting category for its "revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be." The database is available here; reporters who contributed to this work include Kimberly Kindy, Wesley Lowery, Keith L. Alexander, Kimbriell Kelly, Sandhya Somashekhar, Julie Tate, Amy Brittain, Marc Fisher, Scott Higham, Derek Hawkins, and Jennifer Jenkins. In one of the articles for this series, Kindy and Tate explored the common practice of police departments withholding video footage of fatal shootings, using the January 2015 death of Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa as the touchpoint.

The Pulitzer for explanatory reporting went to T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project "for a startling examination and exposé of law enforcement’s enduring failures to investigate reports of rape properly and to comprehend the traumatic effects on its victims." An Unbelievable Story of Rape was a stunning and depressing piece.

Speaking of stunning and depressing, previously unreported abuses of teenagers at the now-closed Midwest Academy boarding school came to light earlier this year. Several former students spoke to Ryan Foley of the Associated Press about being kept in isolation boxes for days or weeks at a time. (Isolation is particularly harmful to developing adolescent brains.) The Des Moines Register’s Lee Rood reported on approximately 80 law enforcement calls to the facility in Keokuk during the last three years the school was open. Abusive practices by staff went back more than a decade, though.

No state agency had ever inspected the Midwest Academy, prompting calls for the Iowa legislature to prevent future problems at unregulated schools. The Iowa Senate unanimously approved a bill setting out certification and inspection standards for boarding schools. House Republicans amended Senate File 2304 before approving it in the lower chamber, making "some exemptions for religious facilities." The Senate refused to concur in the House amendment, and on a mostly party-line vote, the House rejected the Senate version. The school oversight bill now goes to a conference committee. I hope lawmakers will work out a deal before adjourning, but this legislation is not a must-pass bill like the health and human services budget (currently hung up over disagreements on Medicaid oversight and Planned Parenthood funding).

Alleged verbal abuse by Iowa State University women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly was among the actions that inspired a discrimination lawsuit by former star player Nikki Moody. The AP’s Luke Meredith and Ryan Foley broke news about that lawsuit on April 18. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from their report and some reaction, but I highly recommend reading the plaintiff’s jaw-dropping twelve-page court filing. Looking through some Cyclone fan board threads about the lawsuit, I was struck by two contradictory lines of argument from the coach’s defenders: Moody is lying, because this or that former player says Fen was always supportive and would never behave that way; or alternatively, Moody is lying, because Fen is tough on all his players, not just the black ones. Cheyenne Shepherd, an unheralded player for ISU during the 1990s, provided strong support for Moody in a guest column for the Des Moines Register about her experience as one of Fennelly’s "non-favorites." Retired ISU journalism professor Dick Haws discussed the "not-very-well-hidden secret" of how Fennelly berates and humiliates some of his players. Gavin Aronsen asked at Iowa Informer whether the lawsuit is "A Symptom of Broader Diversity Problems at ISU."

Since Thursday, I’ve been reading reflections on the life and work of Prince. I remembered his exceptional creativity, charisma, and talent as a songwriter (for many other artists as well as for himself), but I didn’t realize how highly regarded he was as a guitarist. His solo during this performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was mesmerizing. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top described Prince’s "sensational" guitar playing in an interview with the Washington Post: "Even today, I’m struggling to try and emulate that guitar introduction to ‘When Doves Cry.’ It’s just a testament to his extraordinary technique." The whole "Purple Rain" album brings back strong high school memories for me, especially "When Doves Cry." Prince’s biggest fan in the Iowa blogosphere was John Deeth, easily recognized at political events by his raspberry beret. Deeth reflected on what the music meant to him here.

Continue Reading...
View More...