Branstad "saved" ISU's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in name only

Governor Terry Branstad used his item veto power today to “preserve the existence” of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, but he allowed provisions redirecting almost all of its funding to take effect. In his veto message on Senate File 510, the agriculture and natural resources budget, Branstad wrote,

I am unable to approve the items designated as Section 34, and Subsection 2 of Section 35, in their entirety. The veto of these particularly specified items will preserve the existence of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture while also maintaining the sections transferring funding to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues.

Those sections of the bill repeal language establishing the Leopold Center from Iowa Code.

Under Section 30, which Branstad didn’t veto, the center will lose almost its entire operating budget, since revenue from a fertilizer tax (about $1.5 million annually) will be redirected to ISU’s Nutrient Research Center. The Leopold Center’s work was more broadly focused than that of the Nutrient Research Center, and less influenced by agribusiness groups. The separate Republican education budget zeroed out what had been a $400,000 appropriation to the Leopold Center from the Board of Regents.

Although the Leopold Center receives some income from an endowment managed by the ISU Foundation, Director Mark Rasmussen has said those funds are “wholly inadequate to keep the center functioning at any level of reasonableness.” Branstad told reporters last week he was concerned bequests to the Leopold Center “could be put in jeopardy if it were eliminated.”

The donors Branstad had in mind might as well revise their wills now. There’s no point leaving money to an entity that will be unable to support sustainable agricultural research in the future.

It’s a disappointing choice by the man who helped create the Leopold Center when he signed the landmark Groundwater Protection Act in 1986. Just as Republican lawmakers ignored the many Iowans who attested to the value of the center’s work at a public hearing or through written comments, Branstad was unmoved by the many calls and messages his office received in support of keeping the center running.

I am seeking comment from the governor and will update this post as needed.

UPDATE: Added below absurd spin from ISU.

Continue Reading...

One last chance to save the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate approved the death warrant for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University only a week after news of the planned ambush became public. Three weeks later, Governor Terry Branstad still has not signed the agriculture budget bill, which eliminates both major funding sources for the world-renowned center.

Under Iowa law, the governor can item-veto provisions in appropriations bills. Branstad told reporters on May 5, “We have heard from a lot of people that are concerned about the Leopold Center […] And that is one of the items that we’ll be giving close scrutiny to.”

Those who want to save the center can send a message through the governor’s website or call Branstad’s office at (515) 281-5211–the sooner the better. After the jump I’ve posted a few talking points that may be helpful.

Continue Reading...

John Norris: Why he may run for governor and what he would bring to the table

With the exhausting battles of the 2017 legislative session behind us, Iowa Democrats can turn their attention to the most pressing task ahead. Next year’s gubernatorial election will likely determine whether Republicans retain unchecked power to impose their will on Iowans, or whether some balance returns to the statehouse.

A record number of Democrats may run for governor in 2018. Today Bleeding Heartland begins a series of in-depth looks at the possible contenders.

John Norris moved back to Iowa with his wife Jackie Norris and their three sons last year, after nearly six years in Washington and two in Rome, Italy. He has been touching base with potential supporters for several weeks and expects to decide sometime in May whether to become a candidate for governor. His “concern about the direction the state’s going” is not in question. Rather, Norris is gauging the response he gets from activists and community leaders he has known for many years, and whether he can raise the resources “to make this a go.”

In a lengthy interview earlier this month, Norris discussed the changes he sees in Iowa, the issues he’s most passionate about, and why he has “something significantly different to offer” from others in the field, who largely agree on public policy. The native of Red Oak in Montgomery County (which happens to be Senator Joni Ernst’s home town too) also shared his perspective on why Democrats have lost ground among Iowa’s rural and small-town voters, and what they can do to reverse that trend.

Continue Reading...

Where did the Iowa I love go? A student's perspective

TJ Foley is a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines. He will pursue a degree in international relations next fall. -promoted by desmoinesdem

To be quite honest, I thought I was done writing about politics in Iowa. As a high school senior, son of a teacher, and lifelong Iowan I am increasingly disillusioned with the direction of this state. This year the Iowa GOP and their special interest friends steamrolled over ordinary Iowans, gutting collective bargaining for public employees, eviscerating workers’ compensation protections, and slashing the wages of thousands of Iowan families, to name a few. Due to their actions, I no longer recognize my home of nearly 18 years. The Iowa I love values workers and teachers more than the narrow priorities of elite special interests like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Brothers. But the Iowa I love and the Iowa we all currently have are no longer the same.

Continue Reading...

A shameful end to the most destructive Iowa legislative session of my lifetime

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for the year around 7:15 am on Saturday, after staying up all night while Republican leaders tried to hammer out last-minute deals on medical cannabis and water quality funding.

The medical cannabis compromise passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers, but I’m not convinced the revised House File 524 will be an improvement on letting the current extremely limited law expire on July 1. The bill senators approved last Monday by 45 votes to five would have provided some relief to thousands of Iowans suffering from nearly 20 medical conditions. House Republican leaders refused to take it up for reasons Speaker Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow never articulated.

The new bill thrown together during the all-nighter theoretically covers nine conditions, but as Senator Joe Bolkcom explained in a video I’ve enclosed below, the only form of cannabis allowed (cannabidiol) will not be effective to treat eight of those. Although few if any Iowans will be helped, Republicans can now claim to have done something on the issue and will consequently face less pressure to pass a meaningful medical cannabis bill during the 2018 legislative session.

Republicans shut down the 30-year-old Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which supported research on farming practices that could preserve our soil and water resources. But on Friday night, they gave up on doing anything serious to clean up our waterways, 750 of which are impaired, according to the latest data released by the Department of Natural Resources. CORRECTION: More recent DNR data indicate Iowa “contains 608 waterbodies with a total of 818 impairments.” (Some waterways have more than one impaired segment.) On the opening day of this year’s session, Hagenow promised “significant new resources to water quality efforts.” Why not come back next week and keep working until they find some way forward?

I’ll tell you why: lawmakers’ per diems ran out on April 18. Heaven forbid Republicans should work a few more days with no pay to address our state’s most serious pollution problem. Incidentally, this crowd just passed an education budget that will force thousands of students to go deeper in debt. They voted earlier this year to cut wages for tens of thousands of Iowans living paycheck to paycheck in counties that had raised the minimum wage. These “public servants” also handed more than 150,000 public workers an effective pay cut by taking away their ability to collectively bargain over benefits packages. As if that weren’t enough, they made sure many Iowans who get hurt on the job will be denied access to the workers’ compensation system or will get a small fraction of the benefits they would previously have received for debilitating shoulder injuries.

Lives will be ruined by some of the laws Republicans are touting as historic accomplishments.

Even worse, lives will likely end prematurely because of cuts in the health and human services budget to a wide range of programs, from elder abuse to chronic conditions to smoking cessation to Department of Human Services field operations. I enclose below a Democratic staff analysis of its provisions. During House and Senate floor debates, Republican floor managers offered lame excuses about the tight budget, which doesn’t allow us to allocate as much money as we’d like to this or that line item. Naturally, they found an extra $3 million for a new family planning program that will exclude Planned Parenthood as a provider.

Different Republican lawmakers used the same excuses to justify big cuts to victims assistance grants in the justice systems budget. That choice will leave thousands of Iowans–mostly women–without support next year after going through horrific assaults or ongoing abuse.

Despite some big talk from House Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Grassley, Republicans didn’t even try to rein in business tax credits, which have been the state’s fastest-growing expenses in recent years. The budget crunch is real and may get worse. But no one forced Republicans to inflict 100 percent of the belt-tightening on those who rely on public services.

More analysis of the 2017 legislative session is coming to Bleeding Heartland in the near future. All posts about this year’s work in the Iowa House and Senate are archived here. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski and Brianne Pfannenstiel summarized some of the important bills that passed this year.

After the jump you’ll find Bolkcom’s commentary on the medical cannabis bill that offers “false hope” to Iowans “who have begged us to help,” along with closing remarks on the session from House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg.

Continue Reading...

With Hensley out, who will business interests run against Josh Mandelbaum?

Christine Hensley will not seek re-election to the Des Moines City Council this year, she announced today in an interview with the Business Record. The 24-year incumbent told Perry Beeman, “I’ve got a tremendous amount done, and it’s time for me to look at the next chapter and figure out what I’m going to do.” Hensley discussed spending “a little more time with family” and didn’t mention her challenger Josh Mandelbaum, though his capacity to run an effective campaign likely factored into her retirement plans.

The race for Des Moines City Council Ward 3 was shaping up to be a focal point for central Iowa progressives. Mandelbaum has raised more $110,000 in less than a month as a candidate, his campaign told Iowa Starting Line today. More than 150 people have volunteered to help spread the word.

While winning an open seat is usually easier than beating an entrenched incumbent, no one should celebrate victory too soon. Republicans and business groups will surely recruit and heavily promote someone to run in Hensley’s place. Proxies of the Iowa Farm Bureau have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio advertising bashing the Des Moines Water Works during the last two years, so I anticipate a well-funded smear campaign against Mandelbaum. Countering that message will require a strong grassroots effort. City council races are usually low-turnout affairs, so a few thousand people will decide the outcome. You can sign up to volunteer here.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the west-side and south-side neighborhoods that are part of ward 3 (a map is at the end of this post). That reality, along with Mandelbaum’s early start and big fundraising, may deter other potential candidates. But some ambitious person with business connections will step up. Any speculation about who might enter the Des Moines City Council race is welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Mandelbaum released the following statement on today’s news.

I want to thank Councilwoman Hensley for serving her community for 24 years. While Councilwoman Hensley and I have our disagreements, we should all honor and respect the work that all of our civil servants do every day to make our community stronger.This race was and still is about representing the interests, values, and concerns of the residents of Des Moines. I will continue to champion clean water, strong neighborhoods with strong public schools, and investing in people through policies that support decent wages. I also want to thank my supporters. The outpouring of support throughout the community in the month since we have announced has made it clear that Des Moines is ready for a progressive voice on the City Council. With your continued support, we will be prepared to fight outside special interests that have been attacking champions of clean water like what the so-called Partnership for Clean Water has done to Bill Stowe and the Des Moines Water Works. This election will still be a fight to be won even if it’s not the original one we anticipated when we announced one month ago. This campaign has just begun and I look forward to continued conversations with residents throughout the third ward as I keep running vigorously all the way through Nov. 7th, 2017. Thank you again-

According to Jason Frerichs of the Progressive Voices of Iowa blog, he has interviewed another Democrat planning to run for city council in this ward. Will update once that person’s identity is known.

P.S.- Hensley’s decision to stand with the Farm Bureau against her local water utility was a political mistake as well as a betrayal of her constituents. And it was all for nothing, because despite lobbying by groups including the city of Des Moines, the plan to dismantle the Water Works stalled in the Iowa House and won’t be attached to an appropriations bill this year. Since the Water Works lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties will not move forward, state lawmakers will have little reason to pursue this goal during the 2018 legislative session either.

P.P.S.- If outgoing Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett seeks the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, as I expect him to do, Hensley will be a leading contender for the lieutenant governor spot on his ticket.

APRIL 24 UPDATE: Multiple central Iowa sources have relayed a rumor that Hensley is being considered for the lieutenant governor position under Kim Reynolds after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China. Offering Hensley that job could be a way for Reynolds (who has a big head start on fundraising for the 2018 governor’s race) to hurt Corbett’s ability to tap major Republican donors in the Des Moines area. If Hensley joined the Reynolds administration, it would be a slap in the face to Corbett, with whom she has worked closely as an original board member of the Partnership for Clean Water.

Continue Reading...
View More...