The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver's been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.
Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.
Last week the governor visited Webster City, Sioux City and Council Bluffs, which are all dealing with major layoffs or plant closings. Culver held job forums and met with local officials. Iowa's unemployment rate seems to have stopped rising but is still significantly higher than it was before the recession began.
Culver highlighted the growth of renewable energy in Iowa while visiting NextEra's wind turbine facility in Story City. Iowa still ranks second in wind power production. Culver's record on promoting renewable energy will be an issue in the governor's race. Republicans continue to advocate cutting funding for the Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence. Creating the Power Fund was a central promise of Culver's 2006 campaign. It has received $25 million a year in state funding since 2007.
Last week Culver gave the keynote address at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit as well. Three Republican candidates for governor were there too, but Terry Branstad declined the invitation to speak.
Culver continues to promote the I-JOBS bonding initiative, which will be a major feature of his legacy and his re-election campaign. This week the governor's office announced I-JOBS grants worth $20 million had been awarded for water projects in Clinton, Sioux City and Davenport. These grants will fund lasting improvements in water quality and wastewater treatment for large population centers.
Also this week, Culver took a step toward repairing his relationship with organized labor, which has been strained ever since he vetoed a collective bargaining bill in 2008. Addressing the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council on February 3, the governor announced that he was signing an executive order to "require all state departments and agencies to consider using so-called project labor agreements, known as PLAs, on large-scale state government construction projects." The full text of the executive order is here. KCCI-TV summarized the concept:
The order calls for agencies to consider signing agreements on projects of $25 million or more that spell out the pay and benefits for workers.
Agencies wouldn't have to sign such agreements, but Culver said the presumption is that they usually would. That would give labor unions an advantage over nonunion contractors, which aren't typically prepared to provide specifics on their worker pay and benefit packages.
Kathie Obradovich reports that this executive order "will not apply to I-JOBS projects administered by local governments"--only to "I-JOBS projects of $25 million or more for which the state is the contracting owner."
While speaking to the Building and Construction Trades Council, Culver said he is encouraging state legislators to "push forward" on a bill that would set a "prevailing wage" on many public works projects. Last year a prevailing wage bill fell one vote short in the Iowa House, but House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson is having a compromise version drafted for this session. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he had addressed the concerns of the "six-pack" of House Democrats who refused to vote for prevailing wage last year.
Culver told journalists yesterday he won't try to repeal Iowa's right-to-work law, but that isn't a salient issue now, because Democrats lack the votes in the legislature to move in that direction.
Covering Culver's February 3 speech to the Building and Construction Trades Council, Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson noticed that the governor "has begun stressing the words 'fight' and 'fighting' when he describes his administration's three-year record." For instance, Culver said his administration was doing as much as possible "to fight our way out of the recession." He also said Democrats are "fighting for those flood victims and those small business owners who lost their business in the floods," and would "fight hard" to pass prevailing wage legislation.
Jeff Stein, a communication arts professor at Wartburg College, says Culver's use of the words "fight" and "fighting" are not an accident.
"By using the word 'fight' Governor Culver is trying to inspire confidence by saying that they are aggressively doing something. They're not standing pat. They're not just watching things happen around them and we, as Iowans and Americans, always like people who stand up for themselves and who fight. We don't like people who give up," Stein says. "...The rhetoric is not accidental. It's deliberately chosen to try to set the mood that this is an aggressive and not a passive administration."
We also learned this week that the governor will not have a challenger in the Democratic primary. Jonathan Narcisse had considered running for governor as a Democrat this year, but he has filed paperwork to run as an independent candidate instead. (CORRECTION: See update at bottom of this post.) Kathie Obradovich reports that Narcisse's "campaign manager and treasurer is Darren Douglas, a marketing consultant from Madrid." His campaign website is narcisseforiowa.com, and it includes this statement of purpose:
I am not considering a gubernatorial bid because I am running against something - the Culver Administration, a return of the pro-gambling, no growth, big government, tax increase Branstad years, the rampant corporate welfare that is public enemy number one, or the single issue/special interest politics that have hijacked Iowa's political process.
These are all grave concerns and warrant our attention.
Still, I am not running against something, but if I run, I will be running for something. [...]
I want to be in the vanguard of returning small, accountable and transparent governance to our state. I want to be in the vanguard of creating a tax code that doesn't punish success, excellence, hard work and all but the corporate welfare barons. I want to be in the vanguard of restoring a free market economy replacing our current no growth prison-casino-corporate welfare based economy. I want to be in the vanguard of making our education system, once again, the best in the world. I want to be in the vanguard of protection local control, private property and constitutional rights like the right to be armed. I want to promote a truly healthy Iowa and replace our recidivism based justice system with a restitution based justice system.
Finally, I want to offer the type of honest, Iowa centered leadership that has been missing from this state. The type of leadership that protects hard working Iowans but isn't afraid to take on the powerful and vested interests that currently own governance in our state.
In the past, Narcisse has blasted Culver for (among other things) not working hard enough to get prevailing wage passed in the legislature. Narcisse contends that without prevailing wage, I-JOBS and federal stimulus projects enrich big contractors that pay their workers "slave wages."
I'll be interested to see which (if any) additional statehouse Democrats sign on to a weaker version of a prevailing wage bill this year. Several of the "six-pack" that blocked the bill last year represent battleground House districts.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich reports that Narcisse may run as a Democrat after all:
Today, his campaign manger, Darren Douglas, e-mailed me to say the party affiliation was incorrect on the campaign filing, due to a clerical error. If Narcisse runs, it will be as a Democrat, Douglas says. He said the reports are being corrected at the ethics board, although the ones I found on the ethics board Web site weren't updated yet.
Update: Narcisse says if he runs, he'll be on the November ballot regardless of whether he runs in the primary, however. So if he runs as a Democrat in June and fails to win the primary, he would pursue an independent run for governor in the general election. "I think a lot of Democrats support having Culver primaried because he has failed on so many fronts," Narcisse said. He disagrees with Culver's education agenda and strategies for job creation, such as I-JOBS.
So it appears incumbent Democrat Chet Culver has a potential primary contender. Narcisse, if he decides to run, doesn't have much time to raise money or introduce himself to Iowans before the primary. But if he's determined to run in the general, the primary campaign becomes an exercise in building a campaign and name recognition.
Narcisse told me in December that he would not endorse Culver under any circumstances, so I agree with Obradovich that if he runs in the Democratic primary, it would only be to build his organization and name recognition before the general election. Most states prohibit losing primary candidates from running in the general election as independents, but Iowa does not.
I'm not philosophically opposed to primary challenges, but it seems to me that if you run in a party's primary, you should be willing to endorse the candidate party voters choose.