Rest in peace, David Hurd

Broken Kettle Grasslands near Sioux City, Iowa—photo by Matt Hauge, used with permission

David Hurd passed away in Des Moines this weekend at the age of 86. Police have ruled out foul play in his deadly fall from his condominium building but have not announced whether he took his own life or fell accidentally. He had been suffering from Lewy body disease, a progressive condition.

Hurd was a legendary figure in local business circles, a past CEO of Principal Financial and member of the Iowa Business Hall of Fame since 1994. He left a bigger mark on the capital city than most people of comparable wealth have done. The Des Moines Register’s Lissandra Villa wrote about some of his philanthropic contributions here.

Many progressive organizations benefited from Hurd’s generosity, but it would be particularly hard to overstate how much he did for Iowa’s environmental community. Morgan Gstalter reported for the Register on Hurd’s gift that allowed the Nature Conservancy to acquire the first portion of the Broken Kettle Grasslands in the Loess Hills area: "Now at 3,217 acres, Broken Kettle is Iowa’s largest remaining native prairie and is home to bison and rattlesnakes." The photo at the top of this post shows a tiny part of the stunning landscape. That gift alone would have secured Hurd’s legacy in the environmental world, but he was just getting started.

I became acquainted with Hurd during several years when we served together on the Iowa Environmental Council board. He was a co-founder of the organization. A few qualities stick out in my mind. First, he was attentive but generally quiet during meetings—the opposite of some business types who tend to dominate group conversations. Possibly reading my mind, Principal’s current CEO Dan Houston told the Register that Hurd was "one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet" but also "a very humble man, very capable, diverse, global, international and kind. He listened so, so very well." Yes. Hurd was frequently the smartest guy in the room, but he never made a big deal about being the smartest guy in the room.

Hurd didn’t throw his weight around. He never pulled rank on any other board member, despite having given more money to the council than anyone else. I never heard of him trying to interfere with staff work, which large benefactors of many organizations have been known to do. When new ideas or programs were floated, he wanted to know about real-world impact: how would doing this thing potentially make Iowa’s water cleaner, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Even more unusual for a prominent person in the business community, Hurd did not restrict his giving to environmental organizations I consider "politically correct," such as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation or the Nature Conservancy. He supported non-profits that opposed powerful corporate interests in our state. I’m thinking not only of the Iowa Environmental Council, which pushed for water quality rules that Big Ag groups fought all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. He was a consistent donor to 1000 Friends of Iowa (on whose board I also serve), and our sustainable land use agenda is not popular with developers.

During his retirement, Hurd helped create the local Scrabble club. When people who had played against him would talk about how competitive he was at the game, I was always amused. In other contexts, he came across as laid back and didn’t give off a competitive vibe at all—which also struck me as atypical for a major corporation’s onetime CEO.

At the CNN Democratic candidates’ town hall a few days before the Iowa caucuses, I spotted David and his wife Trudy in the audience and went over to say a quick hello. I wish I had known that was my chance to say goodbye.

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A Record of Leadership: Why I Support O’Malley

An Iowan too young to caucus explains why he is urging others to stand in Martin O’Malley’s corner. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I was just ten years old when the unthinkable occurred. A man brought four semiautomatic weapons to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and started firing. Shooting over 150 rounds in a few minutes, he killed sixteen six-year-olds, four seven-year-olds, and six adults. As horrifying as this massacre of first-graders and their teachers is, similar assaults have occurred throughout our country on an almost daily basis. The unthinkable has now become a regular event—a church in Charleston, a movie theater in Louisiana, a community college in Oregon, a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino, and in so many other places all around the country. We need common sense gun reform to stop this extreme violence, and that’s one of many reasons why I’m supporting Governor Martin O’Malley for President.

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Keystone Killer to Headline Climate Caucus

"Without Jane Kleeb, the Keystone XL pipeline might be a done deal right now." -promoted by desmoinesdem

Keystone Killer to Headline Climate Caucus

by Ed Fallon

The movement toward climate sanity has had plenty of set-backs over the years. But the tide is turning, and our recent victory with the defeat of the Keystone Pipeline is indicative of momentum swinging our way.

No one has been more instrumental in the fight to block Keystone than Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska activist who fired-up the national effort by building a powerful coalition of rural folks not typically involved in these types of struggles.

So, as folks across Iowa find themselves battling the Bakken Pipeline (truly, Keystone’s replacement), what better person to headline the Climate Emergency Caucus on Friday, January 29th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. in the auditorium of Central Campus at 1800 Grand Avenue in Des Moines?

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My case for HRC to those of you still on the fence

Bleeding Heartland would welcome guest posts encouraging readers to caucus for Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Since Sunday’s debate, I’ve felt little tremors of uncertainty among my friends who are genuinely conflicted over who to support in the caucuses. Now seems like a good time to make my personal case for supporting Hillary Clinton, to hopefully contribute to the kind of thoughtful reflection that these folks are going through.

I’ll say that I admire both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, and that I will support whoever wins the Democratic nomination with the same energy and enthusiasm I’ve given Hillary during the caucus season. That said, here are some reasons why I believe that Hillary is the best choice for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and why I hope you (whoever you are) will support her. Sorry if this is a wall of text. Bear with me, I tried to keep it all in one place. A short summary of points I make below:

  • Hillary will help my family and families like mine in the next 4-8 years.
  • Hillary’s attention to local concerns and presidential responses.
  • Hillary’s foreign policy expertise and international reputation.
  • Hillary’s coalition building within the democratic party and related orgs.
  • Hillary’s tenacity will bring about change—incremental change, but change—which is the proper job of the President.
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Criminal justice reform is major theme of Branstad's Condition of the State address

Governor Terry Branstad delivered his annual Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa House and Senate and the Iowa Supreme Court justices yesterday. If you missed the speech, the full prepared text is here. Iowa Public Television posted the video and transcript here. The early part of the 30-minute address included one false or misleading assertion after another.

· "Sound budgeting practices and fiscal discipline now have us ranked as the 3rd best managed state in the nation." Contrary to the idea that Branstad markedly improved Iowa’s operation, a major investors group also ranked Iowa the third best-managed state in 2010 under Governor Chet Culver, recognizing Iowa’s good fiscal position, high credit ratings from leading agencies, and low debt per capita compared to most other states.

· "The Iowa Economy has created 214,000 new jobs; surpassing our 2010 goal." Sorry, no. That’s a fake statistic no economist would accept. It’s a shame the governor has instructed Iowa Workforce Development to keep cooking the books on employment.

· "If the state fails to implement managed care, the growth of Medicaid spending will consume virtually all of our revenue growth." The Branstad administration has not been able to demonstrate that managed care will save the state money. Florida’s Medicaid privatization turned out to be more costly without improving patient care.

I was also disappointed not to hear more specifics about how Branstad envisions spending funds he would like to divert from school infrastructure to water programs. What kind of water quality programs would be prioritized, and who would administer them? Then again, details about this plan may be irrelevant, because Iowa House and Senate leaders don’t sound open to the idea.

For now, I want to focus on a much more promising part of Branstad’s address. To my surprise, the governor devoted a major section—roughly eight minutes of speaking time—to advocating for criminal justice reforms proposed by a working group he appointed in August. The group was charged with developing ideas to increase fairness and reduce racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system. Click here to read the full recommendations released in November. Bleeding Heartland will discuss some of the proposals in more detail in future posts. Advocates for defendants’ rights and racial justice have generally welcomed the proposals.

Although some policies do not go far enough, and other important reforms are missing from the document, I’m encouraged to see the governor apply some political capital toward reducing systemic racism and inequities in the justice system. I enclose below the relevant portion of Branstad’s speech, with some annotations.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention one thing Branstad could do immediately to address a massive racial disparity in Iowa. His executive order making it extremely difficult for felons to regain their voting rights disenfranchises Iowans of all ethnic backgrounds but disproportionately affects racial minorities.

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How the Governor Could Invest in Water without Raiding Other Priorities or Raising Taxes

Governor Branstad deserves credit for his proposal to provide significant resources to address water quality in Iowa. The proposal is an acknowledgment that water pollution is a serious, immediate problem that will take a major investment of resources to solve. It’s an acknowledgment that the drinking water in communities from Boone to Des Moines is at risk of being unsafe to drink because of high nitrate levels. It’s an acknowledgment that Iowans deserve better than a record number of public beach warnings caused by toxic algae and nutrient pollution. It’s an acknowledgment that while the voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy may provide a framework for solving our water quality problems, without the resources and urgency to implement it, the voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy won’t get us there.

Proposing a significant investment in water quality acknowledges the seriousness of our water quality problem and opens the door for serious discussions about how to find the resources to solve the problem. The Governor demonstrated leadership in starting the conversation, and it will take continued leadership to be open to input to improve the proposal and get buy in from legislators and the diverse constituencies that care about solving our water quality problem.

The leadership of an open mind is critical, because Governor Branstad’s proposal is not without its flaws.

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