Des Moines City Council Ward 3 forum: Neighborhoods and advocates

Thanks to Stefanie Running for a play-by-play of the October 10 candidate forum for Des Moines City Council Ward 3, featuring Michael Kiernan, Josh Mandelbaum, and Abshir Omar. First-person accounts of campaign events are always welcome at Bleeding Heartland. -promoted by desmoinesdem

6:30 PM
It’s really a lovely night. Mid 60s, you can smell fall emerging from the hundred-year-old neighborhood trees and the glowing sunset inching forward sooner each day. Max Knauer and Kate Allen have been working with neighborhood associations and advocacy groups since August putting this forum together. I volunteer as a social chair for Gray’s Lake Neighborhood Association (GLNA), so I’ve seen the work that they’ve put into the program. They’ve scheduled the forum right in the heart of my own neighborhood, so it’s barely a half mile for me to travel.

As I arrive, other neighborhood reps are setting up, Knauer fields questions from co-sponsors and attendees alike. The candidates arrive. I’ve spoken to all three digitally via email or facebook. Tonight I introduce myself. I’m Stefanie Running. I’ll be the rep for this very neighborhood. I’ll also be writing about tonight’s forum for Bleeding Heartland. All three are gracious and welcoming.

Unpacking my camera gear, I realize it’s non-functional. I forgot something. I can’t go back home because the event is about to start and I didn’t drive. So I sit and I prepare to take notes. I apologize, dear reader, for my lack of photos. That’s my favorite part. Sadly, what I lack in photos, I’m going to make up for in article length. I apologize in advance.

To make this article a little more readable, from this point on I’ll show the panelist’s comments in bold, the candidate responses will be in standard font, and my own comments in italics.

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Help find Iowa's best development projects

News coverage of economic development in Iowa tends to focus on large, heavily subsidized new construction, such as the Prestage Farms pork processing plant in Wright County or Orascom’s fertilizer plant in Lee County. Some of those marquee projects convert high-quality farmland into concrete boxes that could be built almost anywhere, like Apple’s planned data center in Waukee, or the similar Facebook facility in Altoona.

Since 2001, the non-profit 1000 Friends of Iowa has been recognizing projects that exemplify sustainable land use. Through November 13, the organization will accept nominations for this year’s Best Development Awards in any of the following categories:

Stormwater Management
Transportation/Complete Streets
Renewable Energy
Placemaking/Greenspace
Mixed Use
Innovative Leadership
Renovated Civic
New Civic
Renovated Commercial
New Residential
New Commercial
Renovated Residential

I’ve been an active supporter of 1000 Friends of Iowa for many years but am not involved in selecting the Best Development Award winners. An external panel of judges reviews all applications.

Every year, I’m inspired to see how a few committed people have transformed old and sometimes historically significant buildings. Reusing an existing space is not only environmentally-friendly, but also has a large multiplier effect for the local economy, especially in a downtown business district.

A wide range of projects may qualify for a Best Development Award. To get a sense of the diversity, scroll down to read about last year’s winners. You can view all the honorees since 2005 here. Please consider nominating a worthy contender from your area.

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Low-profile bill threatens environmental and cultural compliance on road projects

An Iowan who cares about historic preservation is raising awareness about an obscure and harmful bill, which would also drive down wages on some road projects. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I came across a post on Facebook today, initiated by an email from the Iowa Archeological Society. We need to pay attention to this! Here’s the post in its entirety:

Dear IAS Membership,

The IAS has recently learned about a proposed Iowa bill that, in our interpretation, will negatively impact historic preservation in Iowa in relation to transportation projects. And we need your help!

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a “national figure.” Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread “discontentment” with King, who “has gone Washington.” Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, “I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC.”

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants “to see King defeated” in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, “It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees,” O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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Weekend open thread: Lousy deal-making edition

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

In what the Des Moines Register’s editors described as a “new low in the out-of-control race to keep or attract employers,” a state board unanimously approved $4.75 million in financial assistance to Kraft Heinz, which plans to replace a large factory in Davenport with a new facility on the northwest side of town. Although at least 900 people are expected to lose their jobs in the downsizing, the city of Davenport will put up $10 million in tax-increment financing to support the project. The Iowa Department of Transportation and the city are expected to commit $5.8 million for road work around the new factory site too. Never one to shy away from handing state funds to large corporations, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham has let all downsizing companies know that the state of Iowa’s wallet is open: “‘Will I take this deal any day? You bet,’ Durham said Thursday morning. ‘This is a future play.’” Durham also told reporters she “expects the state to do more of these kinds of deals in the future, as more massive companies merge.”

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson characterized the Kraft Heinz incentive package as “bizarre,” adding, “The idea of providing public assistance for a company that has billions of dollars of annual sales cannot make sense to anybody.” The Register’s editors noted, “the company could get $20.75 million in state and local assistance,” which “works out to nearly $43,700 for every job Kraft Heinz agrees to keep”–and roughly 200 of the jobs the company promised to save will pay less than $37,000 a year.”

Speaking of lousy deals, Iowa’s plan to privatize Medicaid looks worse and worse. A post in progress will discuss this policy in more detail; for now I enclose below excerpts from several stories by Jason Clayworth for the Des Moines Register. In recent weeks, Clayworth has exposed damning facts, including:

Some claims made in bidding documents from the four private insurers chosen to manage Medicaid in Iowa “contain unverifiable data, misleading statements or half-truths.”

No data support the government’s estimate that privatizing Medicaid would save $51 million from the state budget during the first six months of the program.

The insurers selected to manage Medicaid “have each been held accountable in other states for serious service and administrative errors, including some that wrongly delayed or denied medical services to poor residents […].”

Iowa’s Medicaid director Mikki Stier “had improper communications with an insurance company consultant and former lawmaker during a critical review period that ended with the for-profit company being selected” as a managed care provider for Medicaid.

A November 6 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to Stier enumerated “significant concerns” about the transition to managed care; excerpts from that letter are at the end of this post. Federal officials and Iowa Senate Democrats have scheduled “listening sessions” around the state to focus on Medicaid privatization. Click through for meeting details, as well as a list of state and federal officials to contact with concerns. Only the feds can stop this train by denying the necessary waivers. Branstad administration officials have been unmoved by any of the Register’s revelations or by the risks to vulnerable Iowans, which many speakers raised during Legislative Oversight Committee hearings on November 3.

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Iowa DOT insists that cities shut off some of their traffic cameras

The Iowa Department of Transportation is standing behind its ruling that limited the use of traffic cameras in several large Iowa cities. The DOT adopted new rules in late 2013 to limit local governments’ ability to install traffic cameras on or near highways. Those rules required cities to demonstrate that cameras were needed to address “critical safety issues,” which could not be resolved by other means. Studies have produced conflicting data on whether cameras reduce red light or speeding infractions or vehicle accidents.

In March of this year, DOT officials ordered officials in six cities to shut off ten out of 34 traffic cameras cities had defended on safety grounds. The city of Davenport opted to comply with the DOT ruling, but five other cities asked department officials to reconsider the decision. (Although a reversal was unlikely, exhausting administrative appeals typically precedes legal action challenging a state agency’s decision.)

This week, DOT Director Paul Trombino notified city officials in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, and Muscatine that the department was rejecting their appeals, because data did not demonstrate that the disputed cameras had improved safety or reduced crashes. Click through to read copies of the letters. The fifth city to appeal, Sioux City, filed a lawsuit last year challenging the DOT rules. A Woodbury County District Court is scheduled to hear that case soon. Des Moines officials plan to challenge the DOT in court as well. Cedar Rapids officials have not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit. After the jump I’ve enclosed excerpts from Kathy Bolten’s report for the Des Moines Register and Rick Smith’s for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Local governments are generally responsible for enforcing traffic laws. I’ll be interested to see whether Iowa courts back up the DOT’s efforts to restrict those powers on or near major highways. According to Trombino, the Iowa Code allows the DOT to enforce limits on cameras for traffic enforcement. Whatever the courts decide, the state’s multi-pronged assault on local control remains an under-reported story of Governor Terry Branstad’s fifth and sixth terms.

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