Branstad disregarded 99.8 percent of public comments on Leopold Center

In one of his final bill signings, former Governor Terry Branstad disregarded almost all the public input his office received regarding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Last month, Republican state lawmakers voted to redirect revenues from a fertilizer fee that had provided the bulk of the center’s funding for 30 years. They zeroed out a separate line item which had covered most of the center’s other operating costs.

After GOP legislators ignored feedback from hundreds of Iowans who came to the Capitol or submitted written comments in support of the Leopold Center, attention turned to Branstad, since the governor has the power to veto line items from budget bills. Legal counsel Colin Smith informed me today that Branstad’s office “received approximately 907 emails” on this subject, of which only two favored eliminating the Leopold Center. More than 900 e-mails and “all but a handful” of more than 500 phone calls on this issue supported maintaining the center.

In other words, at least 99.8 percent of more than 1,400 constituent contacts urged Branstad to allow the Leopold Center to continue its work.

However, Branstad vetoed only two line items, which would have removed language about the Leopold Center from Iowa Code. He left in place provisions that redirected most of the center’s funding. Some income from the ISU Foundation remains, but that is insufficient to fund new research on topics such as water quality, conservation practices, soil erosion, and local food systems.

The ambush on the Leopold Center was a favor to corporate agricultural interests, which sought to divert fertilizer tax revenue to ISU’s narrowly-focused Nutrient Research Center, where agribusiness will likely have more control over the agenda. No one even pretended to make a substantive case for defunding the Leopold Center. Yet Branstad reduced a respected institution to a shell, ignoring almost every Iowan who appealed to him.

Before being sworn in as governor yesterday, Kim Reynolds told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “I’m going to travel the state and I’m going to go into communities and I’m going to talk to Iowans and I’m going to listen. […] What are we missing? What are we doing right?”

A key test for Reynolds: will she–unlike her mentor–be willing to change course when Iowans overwhelmingly oppose her administration’s policy? Or will she “listen” politely, then have staff follow up with a form letter after she does whatever Republican ideologues or business lobby groups ask of her?

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So why are health insurance premiums skyrocketing?

Matt Chapman has been a committed citizen lobbyist on many issues this year, including health care reform. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I have always been laser-focused on Medicaid and health care access for the poor. And when Iowa Dems twisted Terry Branstad’s arm until he cried “Medicaid Expansion!” I was elated. So in my bubble, the worst thing going on seemed to be the privatization of Medicaid or “Branstad’s Revenge.”

With the private insurance companies all pulling out of Iowa, now that I am aware of the astronomical raises in premiums, I feel a little shame at my blissful ignorance. All I can tell you is at 51 years old the Affordable Care Act gave me dental insurance for the first time in my life. And I’ve had the same doctor for five years. Before the ACA, the folks around the poverty line would have to drive sometimes 200 miles just to see a doctor. And rarely the same one twice. For dental they line up at Broadlawns (the Polk County public hospital) at six in the morning and hope they’re in bad enough shape to get in.

But what really made me aware was after the Drake forum with Senator Joni Ernst in March.

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Defunding Planned Parenthood may limit health care for Iowa's newly uninsured

The collapse of Iowa’s health insurance exchange could leave more than 70,000 people with no way to purchase individual policies for 2018.

More than half the Iowans at risk of becoming uninsured would have qualified for some services under the Iowa Family Planning Network. But our new state-run family planning program–created at great expense because Republican lawmakers and the Branstad/Reynolds administration insisted on defunding Planned Parenthood–won’t be able to accommodate an influx of patients who had been on the exchange.

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Rest in peace, Joy Corning

Joy Corning was independent. As a state senator and lieutenant governor, she didn’t cater to social conservatives who were gaining strength in the Republican Party of Iowa during the 1980s and 1990s. She paid a price for her principles when she ran for governor in 1998 and got no support from Terry Branstad, along whose side she had served for eight years. She would have been a great governor.

Joy was empathetic. Long before she ran for office, she was a young stay-at-home mom when her husband came home from work with awful news: a woman in their community had died of complications from a back-alley abortion, leaving a husband to raise three children alone. Joy couldn’t stop thinking about that mother. The tragedy fueled her dedication to protecting reproductive rights. “Whatever the circumstances of the unintended pregnancy, we cannot experience the hardship and struggle faced by some women who make this decision. We are simply not in their shoes,” Joy wrote in a guest column for the Des Moines Register this year.

Joy was fair-minded. She was among the first prominent members of her party to support marriage equality in Iowa. During the 2010 campaign, she and former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson co-chaired the Justice Not Politics coalition, supporting the retention of Iowa Supreme Court justices who were under attack after striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act.

Joy was fact-oriented. While watching the Republican presidential debates, she was repelled by Donald Trump’s “know-it-all demeanor when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She came out publicly as #NeverTrump last September and shortly before the election co-authored an editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton, in part because of Trump’s “demagoguery,” “racism, nationalism, misogyny and discrimination against people with disabilities.”

Joy was committed. Some politicians leave the state after their ambitions don’t pan out, but Joy stayed in Iowa and volunteered countless hours for many causes over the last eighteen years. In her obituary, she wrote that she was “most passionate about issues related to children and families, women’s health & rights, equality and justice, education and the arts.” For friends who are inspired to make contributions in her memory, she suggested the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Foundation, Plymouth Church Foundation, UNI Foundation, or the Des Moines Symphony Foundation. Joy was also a founding board member of 50/50 in 2020, a non-profit seeking to elect more women in Iowa, as well as a founding member of an advisory board for the University of Iowa’s center for gifted education, named in part after my mother. (Joy and my mother became friends when both served on school boards during the 1970s–Joy in Cedar Falls, my mother in West Des Moines. I didn’t get to know Joy until many years later, when I served on a fundraising committee she chaired for what was then called Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa.)

Joy was kind. Former Planned Parenthood leader Jill June recalled her motto: “If you can’t say something nice, be vague.” That approach to life wouldn’t produce good blog content, but it did make Joy a wonderful human being.

After the jump I’ve posted many other reflections on Joy Corning’s legacy. Please share your own memories in this thread.

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Senate confirms Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China

Minutes ago the U.S. Senate confirmed Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China, clearing the way for Branstad to resign on Wednesday, allowing Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to be sworn in as governor. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had unanimously approved Branstad’s nomination earlier this month, but twelve senators voted against advancing his nomination last week, and thirteen senators voted against him on the floor today. The opponents included Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont–all considered potential presidential candidates in 2020. In a list-building e-mail earlier this afternoon, Brown wrote,

Branstad is notorious for busting collective bargaining rights in his state. Legislation he signed into law will force Planned Parenthood clinics to close this summer.

How can we make an anti-labor, anti-women’s rights politician in charge of U.S. relations with a country that has large human rights problems, especially in the areas of women’s and workers’ rights.

Given how unpopular Branstad is with highly-engaged Democratic activists, a vote against confirming the governor certainly wouldn’t hurt any of these senators in the next Iowa caucus campaign.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, also a possible Democratic presidential contender, supported Branstad’s confirmation. I’ll update this post later with full details on the Senate vote once the roll call has closed and some political reaction.

UPDATE: The thirteen senators who voted against Branstad were Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Booker, Brown, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Gary Peters of Michigan, Sanders, Chuck Schumer of New York, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Warren. All are Democrats except Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats. All represent states where organized labor is relatively strong.

SECOND UPDATE: Added below Branstad’s statement and other comments on his confirmation, as well as Senator Chuck Grassley’s speech on the Senate floor before today’s vote.

I had to laugh hearing Grassley “express my disappointment and frustration with the seemingly endless obstruction on the part of the minority.” He is bent out of shape because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to file cloture on Branstad’s nomination:

We could have approved this nomination with just a few minutes of debate time, yet, the minority required that we use 30 hours – not because they wanted to debate the merits of the nominee, but simply to delay the business of this body.

It’s unfortunate that their delay has kept an eminently qualified individual from getting into the job to promote American interests in China sooner.

Grassley and his fellow Republicans didn’t give the eminently qualified Judge Merrick Garland even a hearing, let alone a floor vote for his nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Weekend open thread: Iowans remember Don Avenson

A an Iowa political legend passed away suddenly this week. Former House Speaker Don Avenson had a heart attack on May 19 while on the way home from vacation. He told Iowa Public Television in 1984, “A speaker of the House, if he wants to, can change the course of the state, can change the face of a great deal of legislation, a great deal of law.” As speaker from 1983 through 1990, “nearly twice as long as any other Speaker in Iowa history,” Avenson helped craft many laws that still affect state government and education. He left the House to run for governor in 1990, winning the Democratic nomination but losing to Terry Branstad. For more than 25 years, he remained an influential force at the statehouse, representing many clients through the Avenson, Oakley & Cope lobbying firm.

Dozens of people who have been involved in Iowa legislative politics reflected on Avenson’s legacy as news spread of his death. I compiled some of those recollections after the jump.

The Vilsack family suffered a devastating loss this week as Ella Vilsack, daughter of Jess and Kate Vilsack and granddaughter of Tom and Christie Vilsack, died at the age of six of complications related to influenza. Condolences to all who are bereaved. This kind of tragedy is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Speaking of untimely passings, Nina Martin of ProPublica and Renee Montagne of NPR published a terrifying article this month about maternal mortality, which “is rising in the U.S. as it declines elsewhere” in the developed world. Because “the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being,” new mothers are rarely monitored closely in hospitals, and doctors and nurses often miss symptoms of potentially life-threatening complications. The central figure in this article is Lauren Bloomstein, a neonatal intensive care nurse who died of preeclampsia the day after giving birth. It’s important to be aware of the signs; I know healthy women who had close calls with this condition during pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

The scenarios Martin and Montagne describe are among the reasons peer-reviewed research has shown the “risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.” But in their infinite wisdom, Branstad and Iowa’s Republican lawmakers enacted new requirements this year for doctors to warn women seeking to terminate pregnancies about “possible detrimental physical and psychological effects of abortion.” Naturally, the state does not require obstetricians to give patients information about the risks of continuing a pregnancy.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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