Laura Belin

Governor's plan would gut independence of Iowa Consumer Advocate

First in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Attorney General Brenna Bird would gain direct control over the office charged with representing Iowa consumers on issues related to utilities, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed restructuring of state government.

House Study Bill 126, which lays out the governor’s plan over more than 1,500 pages, contains several provisions undermining the independence of the Office of Consumer Advocate. Iowa House State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale introduced the legislation on February 1.

The Office of Consumer Advocate’s mission is to represent consumers on issues relating to gas and electric utilities and telecommunications services, “with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services.” Much of the office’s work involves matters before the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

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Guidelines for guest authors covering Iowa's 2023 local elections

Two candidates announced mayoral campaigns in Des Moines this week: community activist Denver Foote, and city council member Josh Mandelbaum.

Bleeding Heartland only occasionally endorses candidates in city or school board elections. But I welcome guest posts about local races in Iowa, including those by candidates or urging readers to support a candidate. I copy edit guest commentaries for clarity and to conform to my “house style,” but I let authors speak their truth and publish all substantive pieces.

My advice for anyone wanting to write about any city or school board election in Iowa this year:

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Rita Hart has her work cut out for her

Seventh in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee elected Rita Hart as the next party chair on January 28 by 34 votes to fourteen for Brittany Ruland and one for Bob Krause.

Hart promised to focus “squarely on helping our party begin winning elections again,” and had submitted a detailed plan (enclosed in full below) to make that happen. She touted her experience as a former state senator who had won two races in a district Donald Trump carried, raised $5 million as a 2020 Congressional candidate, and outperformed Joe Biden by more than Iowa’s other three Democrats running for U.S. House that year.

When outlining her vision for Iowa Democrats, Hart acknowledged, “We cannot fix everything in one two-year cycle. We need to be realistic about what can be achieved in two-year and four-year time frames.”

She and the rest of the state party’s new leadership team—first vice chair Gregory Christensen, secretary Paula Martinez, and treasurer Samantha Groark—take over as the Iowa Democratic Party is at its lowest ebb in decades. The party has no representation in either chamber of Congress for the first time since 1956, no representation in the U.S. House for the first time since 1996, only one statewide elected official for the first time since 1982, and its smallest contingents in the Iowa House and Senate since the 1960s.

A quick review of the most pressing problems:

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The twelve Iowa Republicans who voted against school vouchers

Less than two weeks after making her latest pitch for “school choice,” Governor Kim Reynolds got what she wanted. The Republican-controlled legislature approved the governor’s expansive school voucher program, by 55 votes to 45 in the Iowa House and 31 votes to 18 in the Senate.

The state of play in the lower chamber was in doubt as recently as a few days ago. Reynolds had only one public event on her schedule last week, but she held private meetings with more than a few House Republicans who either opposed her plan or were on the fence about approving an unlimited new entitlement for families choosing private schools. According to the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which does not include all expenses, the proposal will cost Iowa’s general fund an additional $878.8 million over the next four fiscal years, with costs reaching about $345 million during the fourth year.

House leaders changed the chamber’s rules to keep the voucher bill out of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, where there might not have been enough Republican support to send the legislation to the floor. Senate leaders used a procedural trick to prevent any Democratic amendments from being considered.

No GOP lawmakers spoke against the bill during the floor debates in either chamber. Three Republican holdouts (State Representatives Chad Ingels, Brian Lohse, and Tom Moore) indicated during the five-hour House session that they would like to be recognized by the chair. But each turned off their light at some point before being called on to speak.

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Zach Nunn has a lot to learn about federal food programs

Fresh off his assignment to the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Representative Zach Nunn revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of who benefits from federal food assistance programs.

Although the first-term Republican told an interviewer that nutritional assistance goes “largely to blue state communities,” one federal food program alone serves nearly 10 percent of Nunn’s constituents in Iowa’s third Congressional district.

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Bruce Rastetter weighs in with Iowa lawmakers on school vouchers

One of Iowa’s largest Republican donors, whose company is seeking to build a carbon dioxide pipeline across Iowa, has urged state lawmakers to pass Governor Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” proposal.

Bruce Rastetter sent identical emails to numerous members of the Iowa House and Senate, from both parties, on January 19. The message (enclosed in full below) called the plan for state-funded accounts to cover private school costs “historic” and “important to families all across Iowa.”

Rastetter is the founder and CEO of Summit Agricultural Group. Its affiliate Summit Carbon Solutions is seeking to build a CO2 pipeline linking 30 ethanol plants in five states, and Rastetter has signed appeals to landowners in the pipeline’s path as Summit seeks voluntary easements. Summit has filed for but not yet received a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board. Its plan (along with other carbon pipeline proposals) has aroused intense opposition in rural Iowa.

Summit’s lobbyists have not registered a position on the school voucher bill, which Iowa House and Senate committees approved this week. Republican leaders are expected to bring it up for floor votes in both chambers next week.

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