Laura Belin

Iowawildflower Wednesday: Jack-in-the-pulpit

Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series might never have existed if not for this week’s featured plant. In May 2009, Elizabeth Hill took my family on a nature hike at Whiterock Conservancy and pointed out lots of spring flowers in bloom. On the way home, I asked my kids what their favorite part of the visit was. My three-and-a-half year old said “those Jack flowers.”

Jack-in-the-pulpits were among the few native plants I could identify at that time. My son was excited to learn we had some growing near our Windsor Heights home. That spring and summer, we started looking more closely at the wildflowers in our neighborhood and along local bike trails. Over the next several years, he and I learned the names of more flowers we saw on our walks.

When I launched Iowa wildflower Wednesday in 2012, I didn’t realize this hobby would eventually occupy so much of my time. While I enjoy learning to identify new plants every year, there is a special place in my heart for the ones I could pick out as a child.

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Twelve takeaways: How to talk to Trump voters about the environment

Midwesterners who supported Donald Trump for president may be open to policies that would “improve environmental conditions while also addressing jobs and the economy, clean water and air, and renewable energy,” even if they are not highly engaged in those issues or convinced that climate change is a global emergency.

Extreme local weather events or threats to area drinking water are good conversation starters, with potential to tap into “pent-up goodwill” rather than reinforcing the “resistance” such voters may feel when confronted by alarming rhetoric.

Those were among the notable findings from twelve focus groups Selzer & Company conducted recently in Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa.

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"He knows how to get things done": Grassley endorses Young for IA-03

Senator Chuck Grassley is urging Republicans to support former U.S. Representative David Young in the primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district. In a written statement released on May 20, Grassley described his onetime chief of staff as “an effective leader” who “knows how to get things done” and could “hit the ground running” if elected to the House again.

Grassley rarely endorses in Republican primaries and did not publicly support any candidate before the GOP primary in 2014, the first time Young ran for Congress. That year, Young finished fifth out of six GOP contenders but won the party’s nomination on the fifth ballot at a district convention.

Young became the first declared challenger to U.S. Representative Cindy Axne earlier this month. Army veteran Bill Schafer will also seek the GOP nomination. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the main campaign arm of U.S. House Republicans, is rumored to prefer State Senator Zach Nunn. He is positioning himself as part of “a new generation of leaders.” While not yet officially running, Nunn is touring the district and recently alluded to Young in an interview as “a good man, but we don’t want to see a repeat of 2018.” Nunn briefly worked in Grassley’s Washington office, but Young worked for the senator from 2006 to 2013.

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Iowa absentee ballot law improved, new voter suppression plans blocked

Iowa lawmakers adjourned for the year on April 27. Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work. Previous reporting related to the 2019 legislative session can be found here.

Republicans have enacted new voting restrictions in some two dozen states this decade. Iowa became part of that trend in 2017 with a law requiring voter ID, shortening the early voting period, and imposing new absentee ballot rules that are on hold pending litigation.

The march toward voter suppression appeared set to continue, with Governor Kim Reynolds winning a four-year term and the GOP retaining control over the Iowa House and Senate last November. Senate State Government Committee chair Roby Smith introduced a horror show election bill days before the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline in March. His Republican colleagues in the upper chamber later approved a bill with most of Smith’s bad-faith proposals.

But in a plot twist, House Republicans agreed to remove all the provisions that would make it harder to vote when House File 692 came back to the lower chamber. The final version, which Reynolds signed on May 16, contained largely technical code revisions and big improvements to the process for tracking and counting absentee ballots.

Follow me after the jump for a short history of a voter suppression tragedy averted.

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Divided Iowa Supreme Court upholds collective bargaining law

“Our role is to decide whether constitutional lines were crossed, not to sit as a superlegislature rethinking policy choices of the elected branches,” four Iowa Supreme Court justices said today in two rulings that upheld the 2017 collective bargaining law.

The state’s two largest public employee labor unions, AFSCME Council 61 and the Iowa State Education Association, had challenged the law, which eliminated almost all bargaining rights for most public employees but preserved more rights for units containing at least 30 percent “public safety” employees. The ISEA also challenged a provision that banned payroll deduction for union dues.

Justice Thomas Waterman wrote for the majority in both cases, joined by the court’s three other most conservative judges: Edward Mansfield, Susan Christensen, and Christopher McDonald. His ruling upheld two Polk County District Court rulings in 2017.

Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justice Brent Appel dissented from the AFSCME decision, joined by Justice David Wiggins. Appel wrote a partial concurrence and partial dissent in the ISEA case, joined by Cady and Wiggins. They would have allowed the state to end payroll deductions for union dues but struck down the part of the law that gave more bargaining rights to some workers than others. They highlighted the statute’s “illogical” classification system, under which many who receive the expanded privileges are not themselves “public safety employees,” while others “with obvious public safety responsibilities” are excluded.

Had the late Justice Daryl Hecht been able to consider this case, these decisions would likely have gone 4-3 the other way. However, Hecht stepped down while battling melanoma in December, shortly before the court heard oral arguments. Governor Kim Reynolds appointed McDonald to fill the vacancy in February. Normally new justices do not participate in rulings when they were not present for oral arguments, but the court would have been deadlocked on these cases otherwise. So file this disappointing outcome for some 180,000 public employees under E for “elections have consequences.”

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