Laura Belin

Democrats keep majority on Johnston city council

Bryan Burkhardt won the June 22 special election for a Johnston City Council seat despite a strong write-in campaign by local Republicans on behalf of Jim Gorsche. Unofficial results posted by the Polk County auditor’s office showed 1,032 votes for Burkhardt (51.1 percent), 783 write-in votes (38.8 percent), all but six of which were for Gorsche, and 203 votes for Adam Haar (10.1 percent).

Turnout was just under 14 percent, not bad for a summer local election, which received little media coverage.

Burkhardt, a Des Moines Area Community College professor and small business owner, will serve the remainder of Scott Syroka’s term, which runs through 2023. Elected to the council in 2019, Syroka resigned early this year to serve as deputy director of communications in the Biden-Harris administration’s Office of Personnel Management. John Temple has been filling the vacancy on the council since February; he didn’t compete in the special election.

Local elections are nonpartisan in Iowa, but Burkhardt and Haar, the top two vote-getters in the city’s May 25 primary, both had support from area Democrats. Gorsche finished third in the four-way primary.

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Company that provided Test Iowa tests faced SEC investigation

Co-Diagnostics, the Utah-based company that provided hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests for the Test Iowa program, faced a U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation last year, Andrew Becker exclusively reported for the Salt Lake Tribune on June 17. Nomi Health, which signed no-bid contracts to provide COVID-19 testing with Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska, subcontracted with Co-Diagnostics for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Records obtained and sources interviewed by Becker indicated that Co-Diagnostics went to a small regional hospital in Utah to validate its PCR tests while seeking Food and Drug Administration approval, instead of using equipment at Utah’s Public Health Laboratory. Senior state officials pushed for allowing the tests to be used in the Test Utah program prior to FDA emergency use authorization. In addition, the FDA issued the emergency approval more quickly than expected, even though officials within the federal agency reportedly “had concerns because Co-Diagnostics tests were manufactured in China.” 

The SEC began asking Utah officials questions in late April, Becker’s reporting shows. That was a few weeks after Test Utah launched and one week after Governor Kim Reynolds announced her administration had partnered with the same Utah-based companies for Test Iowa.

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Iowa ethics board to review COVID-19 ads featuring governor

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will review advertisements featuring Governor Kim Reynolds, which were funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The board’s executive director Mike Marshall told Bleeding Heartland on June 18 that some commercials from the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” campaign launched last November “are now under review by the Ethics Board.” Earlier this month, State Auditor Rob Sand asked the board to consider whether the ads violated Iowa’s law banning state officials from engaging in “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

Marshall said he anticipates the ethics board will discuss the matter in closed session at its next meeting, scheduled for August 12.

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Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

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Axne, Feenstra vote to repeal Iraq war authorization

Democratic Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Republican Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted on June 17 to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. House members approved the legislation by 268 votes to 161, with 49 Republicans joining all but one Democrat to support the repeal.

Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) were among the 160 Republicans to vote no.

None of Iowa’s representatives released a statement about this vote or mentioned it on their social media feeds. Bleeding Heartland sought comment from staff for all four members on the morning of June 18, but none replied. I will update this post as needed if anyone explains their reasons for voting yes or no on this effort to “rein in presidential war-making powers for the first time in a generation.” Jennifer Steinhauer reported for the New York Times,

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Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

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