# Analysis



GOP lawmakers abandon Iowa's civil rights legacy

Ralph Rosenberg served in the Iowa legislature from 1981 through 1994 and was director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission from 2003 through 2010.

The Iowa legislature turned its back on our state’s proud civil rights legacy with last week’s passage of Senate File 2385, which neuters the effectiveness of the civil and human rights agencies and eliminates specific commissions dedicated to marginalized populations.

This combination undercuts Iowa values of respect and protecting the dignity of all Iowans. The bill compounds the removal of legal authority to proactively act on civil and human rights violations, by broadcasting a national message about how the Iowa government devalues diversity in religion, race, ethnic background, gender, or national identity. (Other pending Republican legislation reinforces this message, by calling for K-12 schools to teach history from a Western Civilization perspective, or limiting diversity, equity, and inclusion programming on college campuses.)

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Summit Carbon sued for $15 million over canceled pipe contract

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past twelve years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the CO2 pipeline. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

Welspun Tubular LLC, a U.S. subsidiary of Mumbai-based pipe manufacturer Welspun Corp. Ltd., filed suit on April 15 against SCS Carbon Transport LLC (doing business as Summit Carbon Solutions) in Delaware Superior Court.

The Pipeline Fighters Hub was first to report on the lawsuit on April 17. Jared Strong covered the story for Iowa Capital Dispatch the next day.

The complaint reads as follows:

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What to know about the Iowa Supreme Court's next big abortion case

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Dana Oxley listens during oral arguments on April 11. Photo by Lily Smith/Des Moines Register (pool).

For the sixth time in the past decade, an abortion-related case is pending before the Iowa Supreme Court.

The only certainty is that the court will issue some majority opinion in the latest iteration of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v Reynolds. All seven justices participated in the April 11 oral arguments.

The law at issue, adopted during a special legislative session last July, is almost identical to the near-total abortion ban at the center of last year’s case. But after Justice Dana Oxley recused herself from the 2023 litigation, the other justices split 3-3, leaving a permanent injunction on the 2018 abortion ban in place.

In all likelihood, the Iowa Supreme Court will decide before the end of June whether to lift the temporary injunction on the new abortion ban. Normally, it’s not advisable to guess how any justice will rule following oral arguments. We can draw more inferences here, because all seven justices have written or joined opinions that are relevant to the current case.

This post is designed to help readers understand the legal context and key arguments for each side.

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Iowa House speaker not looking for AEA funding fix

House Speaker Pat Grassley speaks to reporters on April 11 (photo by Laura Belin)

Iowa House Republicans are unlikely to push for changing the new state law on services currently provided by Area Education Agencies (AEA), House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated in his latest public comments on the topic.

While some GOP lawmakers are concerned about a provision that could divert tens of millions of dollars from the AEA system, Grassley told reporters on April 11 that giving school districts more control over media and education services funding was consistent with the bill’s original purpose.

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Climate change drives up homeowners' insurance costs

Thunderstorm capable of producing tornadoes approaches grain silos in Iowa. Photo by John Huntington, available via Shutterstock.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

A few weeks ago, our homeowner’s insurance carrier sent me our annual premium notice for the 12-month period beginning April 10, 2024. The valuations of our house, garage, and personal property had climbed almost 7 percent higher than they were for the previous 12-month period. That wasn’t a surprise. In fact, I was somewhat gratified by what the carrier says is the replacement cost of our property now.

But the premium! Ay, there’s the rub. It was more than 50 percent higher than the previous 12-month renewal contract.

How could that be? I had no idea.

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Governor's summer meal grants amount to "crumbs for Iowa kids"

Free summer meal provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District in June 2023. Photo originally published on the school district’s Facebook page.

Governor Kim Reynolds asked state legislators this year to “join me in making literacy a top priority in every Iowa classroom.”

Judging by her approach to feeding hungry kids, the governor appears to lack basic numeracy skills.

On April 10, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Education announced “$900,000 in competitive grants to help more Iowa children and teens access nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months.” Those federal funds, which Reynolds is drawing from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, may help a few thousand more kids receive food while school is out.

But in December, Reynolds turned down $29 million in federal funding—more than 30 times the value of the new grants. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program would have provided food assistance worth $120 to each of an estimated 240,000 Iowa children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

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This AEA direct service provider has many unanswered questions

Photo of speech therapist working with child is by Ground Picture, available via Shutterstock

Kerri Schwemm has been employed as an AEA speech-language pathologist for 27 years. After the Iowa House approved the final version of the AEA bill, but before that version came to a vote in the Iowa Senate, she posed the questions enclosed below in bold to state legislators who represent portions of the Southeast Polk school district, where she lives and works: Republican State Representatives Jon Dunwell, Barb Kniff McCulla, Bill Gustoff, and Brian Lohse, and Republican State Senators Jack Whitver and Ken Rozenboom. She also posted her questions on the social media feeds of some GOP lawmakers who were involved in negotiating the AEA bill: State Representatives Skyler Wheeler and Chad Ingels, and State Senator Lynn Evans.

Continuous improvement, change, reform. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been part of the educational landscape forever. In fact, for the 27 years I’ve worked for the Area Education Agencies (AEA) system, I have seen this system continuously improve, change, and reform their practice. These necessary components of education happen through a process of evidence gathering, collaborative input, and thoughtful decision making.

Key state legislators who worked on the AEA bill gathered some evidence and received lots of public feedback, but thoughtful decision-making was lacking. For any of them to claim nothing will change with AEA services reflects ignorance.

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"Take time to read this bill": House Dem flagged AEA funding "oversight"

Barely a week after Governor Kim Reynolds signed an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, House Republicans are looking for ways to change the law’s provisions on media and education services funding, State Representative Brent Siegrist confirmed on April 4.

Siegrist was among the House Republicans who worked closely on House File 2612, having previously served as executive director of the AEA system. He described the language giving school districts the ability to divert funding from media and education services as “just an oversight.”

He and his colleagues should have listened more carefully during the March 21 debate. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman flagged this very problem, despite having little time to review the 49-page amendment Republicans rushed to pass.

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Christian Nation? Which one?

President Donald Trump listens to a prayer offered by the Rev. Franklin Graham on September 20, 2019. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and will deceive many.” Jesus Christ, Matthew 24. 

“Evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by people who, if Jesus appeared at their door, would give him the boot.” – Former President and former Baptist Jimmy Carter

Devout Christians who hoped they could get through the Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter free from politics were sorely disappointed.

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State of Iowa completes key financial reports on time

For the first time in four years, the state of Iowa submitted its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and its Single Audit for the previous fiscal year without months of delays. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services released the comprehensive financial report covering fiscal year 2023 (July 2022 through June 2023) in late December, and the State Auditor’s office published the Single Audit on March 29.

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report typically comes out within six months of the end of a fiscal year. But Iowa State University’s switch to the Workday system for accounting in fiscal year 2020 created enormous difficulty in compiling accurate financial data. As a result, the state’s comprehensive report for FY2020 came out nine months behind schedule.

For the next two years, turnover within the Department of Administrative Services delayed work on the comprehensive report, which came out more than seven months late for FY2021 and eight months late for FY2022.

The Single Audit is a mandatory report covering federal dollars spent by state agencies and universities. It typically comes out in late March but can’t be issued before the comprehensive report is complete. So beginning in FY2020, Iowa’s Single Audit was months late for three years in a row.

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Proposed Summit Carbon project set to use much more water

Autumn View from Fire Point at Effigy mounds National Monument, photo by National Park Service

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past twelve years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the pipeline. Her most recent objections can be found here and here. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

In September 2023, Bleeding Heartland posted estimates of proposed water use for thirteen partner ethanol plants along the Summit Carbon pipeline. The estimates were based on the testimony of James “Jimmy” Powell, chief operating officer for Summit, and they included the Absolute Energy St. Ansgar facility, which Summit Carbon announced had been added to the route in June 2023.

But much has changed since that story was published. The number of ethanol plants now on the proposed Iowa route has risen to 30 with the inclusion of the POET and Valero facilities.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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"Future Shock" is here

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.

Was going through our bookshelves recently in another of our futile efforts at de-cluttering when I came upon a volume I hadn’t thought about for years: Future Shock by Alvin Toffler and his wife, Heidi (who was uncredited).

This best-selling treastise by the former editor and consultant postulated that rapidly accelerating change in nearly every life aspect—economic, industrial, scientific, and especially technology—was bound to cripple societies if they didn’t recognize the onslaught and create coping strategies.

Published in 1970, the book correctly predicted present-day givens such as personal computers and the internet, and correctly postulated that an accelerated news cycle would create instant celebrities and bury them, even within days. (It also predicted throwaway paper clothing and underwater cities, but nobody’s perfect.)

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Reflections on 75 years of NATO

U.S. Department of State photo of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018, via Wikimedia Commons

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

Two events within a few months of each other 75 years ago forever altered the political and military landscape of the world. Their combined effects play an an important role in today’s diplomatic chess game.

On April 4, 1949, twelve Western nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, DC to create the Organization by that name, abbreviated to NATO. The signatories were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.

Over the next 75 years NATO’s membership expanded eastward through Europe to include today’s 32 nations, with Sweden’s signature affixed earlier this month.

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Food connects all the dots in life (A review of BARONS)

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

For all the national and global perspectives in the book, BARONS —subtitled “Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry”— has an “Iowa air.” That tag is not about the odors from farm factories. Nor is it a cheap shot at Jeff and Deb Hansen, who have owned Iowa Select Farms for about 30 years and sell 5 million hogs a year. They are dubbed “The Hog Barons”—one set of the seven barons the book title comprises. 

The “Iowa air” referred to is the persona of the author, Austin Frerick, 32, a seventh-generation Iowan, graduate of Grinnell and now a Thurman Arnold Fellow at Yale University. In the Arnold Project, faculty, students, and scholars collaborate on research dealing with competition policy and antitrust enforcement.

In BARONS, Frerick (like many Bleeding Heartland contributors) worries about what happened to the Iowa he knew as a paper boy delivering the Cedar Rapids Gazette or helping out at his mother’s bakery shop.

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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No, the feds are not threatening to take over special education in Iowa

State Senator Lynn Evans speaks in the Iowa Senate on March 18.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this message to all 150 Iowa legislators on March 20. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to Area Education Agencies are available here, here, and here.

Open letter to Iowa Legislators:

I am David Tilly. I was Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. I oversaw the Division of PK-12, which encompasses special education responsibility and oversight in Iowa. I am writing today to address a rumor that appears to be circulating about the AEA bills. Specifically that the Iowa Department of Education must be given both more authority and more compliance resources over special education or the “feds” might come in and “take us over.” This statement is patently false. That is not how Federal Special Education Monitoring of states works. The Iowa Department of Education currently has all of the monetary resources and authority necessary to effectively monitor special education in Iowa.

Please excuse the long-detailed email, but it’s important to set the record straight.

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Will Koch avoid paying millions in fertilizer plant taxes?

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

It’s unclear whether Koch Industries would avoid paying utility replacement taxes worth millions of dollars every year if it acquires OCI Global’s Iowa Fertilizer Company plant in Wever (Lee County).

According to Chuck Vandenberg’s February reporting for the Pen City Current, the Iowa Fertilizer Company plant’s current owner, OCI Global, paid between $2 to 3 million in utility replacement taxes in 2023 alone.

To understand why it’s unknown whether Koch Industries would be required to pay these taxes if it acquires the plant, we must look back in the history books.

After deregulation spread across the country in the 1980s, including in the electric and natural gas industries, the Iowa legislature responded in 1998 by passing Senate File 2146, the Property Tax Replacement and Statewide Property Tax Act.

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Summit Carbon partner ethanol plants to pursue SAF opportunities in Iowa

Sample hog from which N. K. Fairbank & Co’s lard is made, via the Boston Public Library and Wikimedia Commons

The Song of King Corn, by C. A. Murch (Verses 1 and 5)

The dews of heaven,
The rains that fall,
The fatness of earth,
I claim them all.
O’er mountain and plain
My praises ring,
O’er ocean and land
I am King! I am King!

Would you dethrone me?
Not so, not so.
Still the golden tide
Shall swell and flow;
The earth yield riches,
The toilers sing,
In the golden land
Where Corn is King.

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Disclosure: Dugan has filed several objections into the Summit Carbon Iowa Utilities Board dockets in opposition to the pipeline. Her most recent objections can be found here and here. She has neither sought nor received funding for her work.

On March 11, Kaylee Langrell, stakeholder relations manager for TurnKey Logistics, and Grant Terry, senior project manager for Summit Carbon Solutions, appeared before the Worth County Board of Supervisors to explain the newly expanded pipeline route incorporating POET and Valero ethanol plants in Iowa. Forty-six minutes into the meeting, Langrell stated the following:

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A draft that is a refreshing breeze

Images of Thomas Paine, Juvenal, and Trofim Lysenko all taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

This Bleeding Heartland post offers four perspectives on the dreadful Iowa legislature and on fears of the outcome of the November general elections. Three small doses come from Thomas Paine, known as the poet or penman of the American Revolution; Juvenal, a poet in First Century Rome; and Trofim Lysenko, a Soviet agronomist, who was not much of a poet and even less of a scientist.

The larger fourth dose is the draft of A Social Statement on Civic Life and Faith. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is considering this draft for September adoption by the Task Force for Studies on Civic Life and Faith. The text is relevant to laws approved by Iowa lawmakers or pending in the state legislature, and to political campaigns now under way across the country.

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Iowa Republican misleads about bill threatening IVF

As the Iowa Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the near-total abortion ban Republicans enacted last year, state House and Senate Republicans are advancing several bills to further their anti-abortion agenda. The latest example is House File 2575, which rewrites the criminal statute on causing a non-consensual pregnancy loss. House members approved the bill on March 7, voting mostly along party lines.

Republican State Representative Skyler Wheeler denied during Iowa House debate that what he called a “fetal homicide” bill could jeopardize the legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF). He either doesn’t understand the plain meaning of the legislation he floor managed, or was trying to mislead the public about its potential impact.

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Iowa Democratic caucus a limited success—but much work remains

John Deeth has volunteered for the Johnson County Democrats and been involved in caucus planning since 2004. He was the lead organizer for the Johnson County caucuses in 2016 and 2020 and is doing the same work for 2024. Deeth has also worked in the Johnson County Auditor’s Office since 1997.

While I was never going to be satisfied with the Iowa Democratic Party’s first effort at a party-run primary (“mail-in caucus” in IDP’s language), which wrapped up March 5 with a results announcement, there were at least some successes.

In fairness, with Iowa Republicans still First In The Nation on their side and opposed to any substantive changes to accommodate the new calendar that removed Iowa from the early Democratic states, IDP didn’t have many realistic options other than what they did: a January 15 in-person caucus for party business only to comply with state law, and a later mail-in process to comply with Democratic National Committee rules.

I recommended that plan myself long before IDP implemented it.

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Whip count fail: Iowa House leaders suffer defeat on stormwater bill

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley confers with Majority Leader Matt Windschitl on March 6 as votes for a bill limiting local government authority stall at 49.

For the second time in three years, a bill backed by top Iowa House Republicans failed to gain the 51 votes needed on the House floor. Senate File 455, which would restrict local government authority to regulate topsoil and stormwater, topped out at 49 votes in favor during floor debate on March 6. By the time the clerk closed the machine a few minutes later, yes votes had dropped to 44.

Such events are rare in any legislature, because leaders typically don’t bring a bill to the floor unless they know it will pass. No bill favored by the majority has failed an Iowa Senate floor vote for many years.

The last time Iowa House GOP leaders lost a floor vote was in March 2022, on an amendment that combined liability protection for trucking companies with limits on private employers requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Republicans had a 60-40 majority at that time; the GOP advantage in the chamber has since grown to 64-36.

Majority Leader Matt Windschitl quickly filed a motion to reconsider Senate File 455, indicating leaders plan to call another vote on the bill soon. Even so, the episode revealed surprisingly deep opposition to this legislation in Republican ranks.

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Iowa can do better than "Right to Work"

Jen Pellant is president and field coordinator of the Western Iowa Labor Federation. This essay is slightly adapted from a speech she gave at a February 26 rally at the state capitol. Photo of Jen Pellant speaking at that event is by Al Womble, political director of the Iowa Federation of Labor.

This year’s Iowa legislative session has brought us yet another attack on Chapter 20 of the Public Employee Relations Act of 1974. Once again, extreme Republican lawmakers are attempting to roll back labor protections for public employees by making it easier for employers to de-certify their unions. These protections were originally forged by a bipartisan coalition of Iowa’s elected officials and led to more than 40 years of middle-class prosperity and good state/state employee relations in this state.

Yet here we are after the draconian cuts to Chapter 20 that occurred in 2017, and apparently it wasn’t enough to kill off public sector unions. Iowa’s public employees are tired of losing ground and attempting to defend what’s left. It’s time to go back to the beginning and look at the bigger picture. That’s why I stood in the capitol rotunda last week and talked about the grandaddy of all union-busting laws: so-called “Right to Work” legislation, and why it’s time for Iowa to repeal it.  

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Iowa GOP lawmakers want their politics in your kid's classroom

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com

Republicans in the Iowa legislature say they don’t want politics in your kid’s classroom. But that’s not true. They don’t mind politics in your kid’s classroom—as long as it’s their politics.

The proof was in full view on February 28 in the Iowa House.

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Chuck Grassley rewrites history of his role in smearing Joe Biden

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is well known for lamenting the lack of history on the History Channel. This week he has engaged in revisionist history about his role in spreading false allegations against President Joe Biden.

The senator spent months publicizing claims that the president and his son Hunter Biden took bribes from a Ukrainian businessman, even though FBI officials had warned Grassley and other Republican politicians the bribery had not been verified.

Now Grassley is trying to reshape the narrative, casting himself as the hero who helped expose the source of the false claims as a liar. He continues to push back against accusations that he has been a conduit for Russian disinformation.

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On collusion—not separation—of church and state

Photograph of the painting The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch, 1890

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Another nightmare of Iowa legislation is upon us in Senate File 2095 and House File 2454, companion bills lumped together as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (often known as RFRA). 

The legislation would be more appropriately labeled FACT, for Fearful, Arrogant, Callous Threats to Iowans’ civil rights. That’s because Senate File 2095 would turn upside down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Congress approved and President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

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Opponents of Iowa rail consolidation must act fast to register concerns

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board announced on February 29 it accepted Canadian National’s request to classify its proposed acquisition of Iowa Northern Railway as a “Minor” transaction. The federal regulator also established a procedural schedule going forward for interested parties to weigh in as the proposed acquisition undergoes review.

Canadian National had been facing opposition to its classification request from entities like Canadian Pacific Kansas City and the National Grain and Feed Association. Both had called for the Surface Transportation Board to classify the deal as a “Significant” transaction when being reviewed for consideration.

While on its face the classification decision may appear as a setback for those who oppose the deal due to increased consolidation of the rail industry and its potential for further abuses of monopoly power, the 9-page decision by the Surface Transportation Board makes clear that no final determination has been made.

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Adventures in misleading headlines

Some Iowa news headlines misrepresented an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on February 27, which resolved a long-running lawsuit over Iowa’s 2021 law banning schools from requiring masks.

“Federal appeals court upholds Iowa law banning school mask mandates,” read the headline on a Cedar Rapids Gazette story, also published in some of the Lee Newspapers.

KCRG-TV’s version (carried by other television stations with the same owner) was titled “Federal appeals court upholds Iowa ban on mask mandates.”

“Appeals court upholds law banning mask mandates in schools,” read the headline on Iowa Capital Dispatch, a website that allows Iowa newspapers to republish its reporting at no charge.

The framing closely tracked written statements from Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird, who hailed the Eighth Circuit decision.

There was just one problem: the appeals court did not “uphold” the law.

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Iowa Northern Railway deal warrants heightened scrutiny

Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids, photographed by David Harmantas (Shutterstock).

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

Attorneys for Canadian Pacific Kansas City submitted a 59-page filing to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board on February 26 regarding the proposed acquisition of Iowa Northern Railway by Canadian National.

The Canadian Pacific Kansas City filing highlights the proposed deal’s “national importance” and cites “competitive concerns of significant magnitude” in calling for the Surface Transportation Board to classify Canadian National’s takeover attempt of Iowa Northern as a “Significant” transaction rather than the “Minor” transaction status that Canadian National has sought.

The distinction matters because “Minor” transactions aren’t subject to the same regulatory requirements as “Significant” transactions—meaning the public would have less access to information and less time to review the deal.

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North Dakota Bitzero project raises management, ownership questions

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced in July 2022 that the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (CCJDA) had “executed binding agreements for international data center developer Bitzero Blockchain Inc. to acquire and redevelop the historic Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex at Nekoma, N.D., commonly known as ‘The Pyramid.’”

According to the governor’s press release:

Bitzero plans to develop the abandoned Cold War-era military installation into a highly secure data center for high-performance computing and data processing. Waste heat captured from the data center’s servers will be used to heat an on-site greenhouse, and the company also is planning an interpretive center and additional community engagement at the site, representing a total expected investment estimated by Bitzero at $500 million.

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Iowa Senate Republicans just made blood donations a partisan issue

Following two days of contentious debate in the Iowa Senate, the chamber’s calendar for Wednesday, February 21 appeared to be stacked with non-controversial bills.

Then State Senator Jeff Edler rose to offer Senate File 2369, an “act relating to autologous and directed blood donations.”

The blood donation bill may not be as impactful as other legislation Senate Republicans approved last week: proposals to undermine Iowa’s state auditor, reduce Medicaid eligibility for pregnant Iowans, make state funded crisis pregnancy centers less accountable, enable discrimination if grounded in religious beliefs, and repeal the gender balance requirement for state boards and commissions.

Yet Senate File 2369 is important—not only because of its potential impact on the blood supply, but for what it reveals about legislative culture in the eighth year of Iowa’s Republican trifecta.

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Davenport secrecy inspires Iowa House bill on sunshine laws

Photo of Davenport skyline is by WeaponizingArchitecture and available via Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House has overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to improve local government compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

House File 2539, approved by 92 votes to 2 on February 22, would increase fines for members of a local government body who participated in an open meetings violation, from the current range of $100 to $500 to a range of $500 to $2,500. Penalties would be greater for those who “knowingly” participated in the violation: each could be fined between $5,000 and $12,500, compared to $1,000 to $2,500 under current law.

The bill would also require all elected or appointed public officials to complete a one- to two-hour training course on Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws (known as Chapter 21 and Chapter 22). The Iowa Public Information Board would provide the training, which officials would need to complete within 90 days of being elected, appointed, or sworn in.

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Grassley silent after feds link Biden smear to Russian intelligence

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley has yet to comment publicly on a new document asserting that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden.

The revelation came in a detention memo federal prosecutors filed on February 20, hoping to convince a court to keep former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov incarcerated pending trial. Smirnov was arrested last week and charged with lying to FBI agents about an alleged bribery scheme involving Hunter Biden and his father, when Joe Biden was vice president. The FBI memorialized those claims in an FD-1023 document, which Grassley released and hyped last year as evidence of Biden family corruption. Prosecutors now say Smirnov fabricated the allegations.

The detention memo details Smirnov’s “extensive and extremely recent” contacts with “officials affiliated with Russian intelligence,” and asserts he was planning to to meet with Russian operatives during an upcoming trip abroad. The defendant reported some of those contacts to his FBI handler before being arrested and divulged other relevant information in a custodial interview on February 14.

Grassley’s communications staff did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries this week about Smirnov’s reported contacts with Russian intelligence. The senator has regularly posted on social media as he tours northern Iowa, but has not acknowledged news related to the false bribery claims. His office has issued ten news releases about various other topics since February 20.

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Iowa House bill would mandate long list of U.S. history topics

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

House File 2544 survived last week’s funnel deadline in the Iowa legislature and is eligible for floor debate in the state House of Representatives. If I were a public school social studies teacher in Iowa and this bill were to become law, I would begin to wonder how I could continue to teach what I know about American history and government.

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Proposed CAFO rules won't protect Iowans or the environment

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. He wrote this essay after attending the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ virtual public hearing about the new Chapter 65 regulations on February 19.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been revising its regulations for animal feeding operations as dictated by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order 10, issued in early 2023.

Chapter 65 of the Iowa administrative code has long contained confusing and inadequate rules, which are open to manipulation by livestock producers and the DNR.

The DNR tried to revise the regulations recently to provide more protection for Iowa’s waters in areas of karst terrain. But the governor’s “Administrative Rules Coordinator” Nate Ristow blocked the proposed rule, because it would not reduce the “regulatory burden” on livestock producers.

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

The Iowa Board of Medicine has unanimously approved a new version of administrative rules related to a near-total abortion ban Republicans hope to enforce in the future.

The law, known as House File 732, is currently enjoined under a Polk County District Court order, which the state has appealed. If the Iowa Supreme Court eventually allows the ban to go into effect, the administrative rules would provide some guidance to physicians on how to approach the law’s (mostly unworkable) exceptions.

The revisions approved during a February 15 teleconference meeting address some objections physicians raised when the board discussed the rules in November and January. However, they do not change the reality that the rules don’t match how doctors normally interact with patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

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Iowa legislature's clock runs out on feeding hungry kids

Interactive School Nutrition Dashboard created by the Iowa Hunger Coalition

At least four bills that would have helped needy Iowa families feed their children didn’t make it through the state legislature’s first “funnel.”

Most bills not related to taxes or spending are considered dead for the 2024 session if not approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by February 16. Efforts to expand access to meals didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing, let alone consideration by a full committee. That was true even for one school lunch bill with 20 Republican co-sponsors.

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Grassley unrepentant as DOJ declares explosive claims to be "fabrications"

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley did his best last year to promote what he called “very significant allegations from a trusted FBI informant implicating then-Vice President Biden in a criminal bribery scheme.”

On February 15, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging that informant, Alexander Smirnov, with two felonies: making a false statement to a government agent, and creating a false and fictitious record. Last July, Grassley released that document (an FBI FD-1023 form) to bolster claims President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, had accepted bribes worth $5 million. Federal prosecutors determined the events Smirnov first reported to his handler in June 2020 “were fabrications.”

At this writing, Grassley’s office has not sent out a news release about the criminal charges returned by a federal grand jury in California. But in a statement provided to Bleeding Heartland, staff claimed the indictment “confirms several points Senator Grassley has made repeatedly.”

The spin was not convincing.

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A constructive proposal to improve Iowa's AEAs

A mother of a child with disabilities speaks to members of an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31 about Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to overhaul Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin) The full Iowa Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider an amended version of the governor’s bill on February 14.

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He emailed this text to all 150 Iowa legislators on February 3. His previous messages to lawmakers about proposed changes to AEAs are available here and here.

Dear Iowa State Senators and State Representatives:

My name is David Tilly. I am the parent of a child with a disability, a school psychologist and for the last 8+ years of my career I worked as the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education. I’d like to use my time today to begin discussion of how we might use the energy that has been generated by the AEA bills toward a positive result.

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Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

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A critical look at the Guidehouse report on Iowa's AEAs

Ted Stilwill served as director of the Iowa Department of Education under Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. He has also worked with a national nonprofit on program evaluation and school improvement work with several state departments of education and large school districts.

Last fall, Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services entered into a contract with Guidehouse, a business consulting firm, to produce a report on special education in Iowa. The study was designed to bolster Governor Kim Reynolds’ effort to decimate the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The report (enclosed in full below) does not name its authors. How much it cost the state is not known. The Reynolds administration has not shared its directions to Guidehouse. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. Nothing in the report indicates that a single Iowan was engaged in its preparation.

Most importantly, I believe the Guidehouse conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Of the three general negative charges against AEAs, none hold up to scrutiny, even when using data from the report.

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"It's embarrassing"—Democrats slam do-nothing Iowa House environment panel

From left: Democratic State Representatives Austin Baeth, Molly Buck, Josh Turek, Elinor Levin, Sharon Steckman, and Adam Zabner. Screenshot from video posted to Facebook on February 8.

“When I joined Environmental Protection, I never envisioned that I would be talking about a raccoon bounty, but here we are,” Democratic State Representative Josh Turek said on February 7, while the House Environmental Protection Committee considered the only bill on the agenda that day.

As they weighed in on the bill, Democrats voiced broader frustrations about the committee’s failure to engage with any of Iowa’s serious environmental challenges.

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Zach Nunn visits Ukraine on Congressional delegation

U.S. Representative Zach Nunn met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, members of the Ukrainian parliament, and intelligence officials in Kyiv on February 9 as a member of a bipartisan U.S. House delegation.

At this writing, Nunn has not posted about the trip on his social media feeds or announced it in a news release, but he appears in pictures others shared from the visit, and is second from the left in the photo above.

Four of the five members of Congress on this delegation serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A committee news release mentioned that Nunn “sits on the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions and currently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.”

Representative Mike Turner, who chairs the Intelligence committee, said at a news conference in Kyiv, “We came today so that we could voice to President Zelenskyy and others that we were seeing that the United States stands in full support of Ukraine.”

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Exclusive: ISU acquired $5 million plane for athletics

Photo of the Cessna 560XL recently purchased for ISU’s Athletics Department, cropped from an online listing of the plane for sale

Iowa State University recently acquired a Cessna 560XL airplane for $5.06 million, university staff confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on February 7. The 2004 model Cessna arrived in Ames last month and is intended to replace the university’s King Air 350.

ISU communications staffer Angie Hunt said via email, “the Cessna plane was purchased for the athletic department’s primary use,” with the ISU Foundation using the athletic’s department’s “cash reserves” for the transaction. She added, “No general funds or tuition dollars were used.”

Staff in the Athletics Department have already used the Cessna for several trips.

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Gevo plant in South Dakota will use 300 million gallons of water annually

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A Gevo official confirmed on February 2 that the company expects to use 300 million gallons of water per year, or 700 gallons per minute, at its planned Lake Preston, South Dakota Net-Zero 1 (NZ1) plant and an adjacent green hydrogen facility known as the Dakota Renewable Hydrogen (DRH) Project.

When asked if the water use estimate provided was for the NZ1 plant, the DRH plant, or both, Heather Manuel, vice president of corporate communications for Gevo, replied, “Both – we have an agreement with Kingbrook Rural Water for our water supply and do not require a permit.”

On February 6, 2023, Summit Carbon Solutions announced its partnership with Colorado-based Gevo, although that arrangement is not yet reflected on the South Dakota pipeline route. Sabrina Zenor, director of stakeholder engagement and corporate communications for Summit, stated on January 25 that Gevo would be added to the proposed CO2 pipeline route when the company resubmits its application to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The commission denied Summit’s initial application last September.

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Metrics don't matter: How Kim Reynolds fudged Future Ready Iowa goals

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats.

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds made “Future Ready Iowa” her trademark program designed to improve Iowa’s workforce, setting a goal to increase the number of Iowans who had attained a post-secondary education to 70 percent of the workforce by 2025.

Reynolds announced in last month’s Condition of the State address, “I’m happy to say that we’ve reached our ambitious goal, and we did it ahead of schedule.” Future Ready Iowa’s website likewise asserts, “we are now proud to report that we have met that goal as a state.”

Two years ahead of schedule sounds like a huge public policy accomplishment, right? Not so fast. On closer examination, Reynolds and her team fudged the numbers.

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No one needs a civility lecture from Jeff Shipley

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters at the Iowa state capitol on January 31, 2024.

“If you wish to enjoy civil rights, being able to act and behave civilly is a prerequisite,” State Representative Jeff Shipley tweeted on January 31, shortly after his latest effort to take civil rights protections away from transgender Iowans went down in flames.

Even for a practiced troll like Shipley, it was a remarkably ignorant and obnoxious statement.

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Governor's latest attack on trans Iowans can't be constitutional

Photo by Laura Belin from a rally outside the Iowa capitol on March 5, 2023

UPDATE: On February 6, Republicans advanced this bill from an Iowa House subcommittee. A few hours later, the full House Education Committee amended the bill to remove the driver’s license section, then approved it along party lines. Democrats requested a public hearing, which took place on February 12 (video). Following committee passage, the bill was renumbered as House File 2389. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t give LGBTQ Iowans even one full day to celebrate the downfall of a bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa’s civil rights law.

The latest legislative proposal from the governor’s office would lay the foundation for “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans and what one advocate called an “astonishing government violation of privacy rights.”

Although House Study Bill 649 contains some language designed to bolster the state’s potential defense in court, there’s no way the governor’s newest effort to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people could be constitutional.

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State agency released misleading school voucher numbers

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

On January 26, a month later than planned, the Iowa Department of Education released a summary of the annual certified enrollment numbers for Iowa’s public and private K-12 schools. The agency’s news release also provided our first look at the impact “education savings accounts” (also known as school vouchers) have had on public school enrollment across Iowa.

Public school enrollment for the current academic year was 483,699, a decrease of 2,776.8 students (0.57 percent) from the previous year. Conversely, private schools had a total enrollment of 36,195 students, an increase of 2,503 students (7.4 percent) over the previous year.

When you dig into the voucher numbers, however, things begin to get interesting. According to the Department of Education, 16,757 students used vouchers this year to attend a private school.

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

Members of the public at a January 31 Iowa House subcommittee considering House Study Bill 542, the governor’s bill on Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin)

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a follow-up letter he emailed to all 150 Iowa state legislators on January 30. His first message to lawmakers regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies is available here.

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. When I wrote my first comments to you regarding the AEA bill(s), I had only seen the bills themselves and was somewhat confused regarding the rationales for some of the bill components. The underlying report upon which this bill’s proposals are based was released recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request and posted here. This report was written by Guidehouse Inc., a respected national and international company. The report is quite well done in many regards. After reading this report, I am able to provide more specific analysis and more detailed recommendations on improving special education results in Iowa.

There appear to be three thematic issues (and a host of smaller inaccuracies) with the report that cause the report’s recommendations to be problematic. Fortunately, all 3 major issues can be fixed. The issues are: 1. The analysis is incomplete 2. The analysis/recommendations rely on unproven assumptions and 3. The analysis does not recognize the benefits inherent in the uniqueness of Iowa’s Education System structures. I will expand on each of these.

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Gender identity bill belongs in dustbin of failed, dehumanizing ideas

Photo by Nuva Frames, available via Shutterstock

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education. Editor’s note: An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill.

House File 2082 sought to make Iowa the first state in the country to remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and reconstruct it as a “disability.” That framing spreads harmful misinformation under the medical model of disability and undermines our shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive future for Iowa’s families and young people. 

We should understand that HF 2082 is both cruel and unnecessary, as transgender identity is not a disability and disability is also a protected class under Iowa Civil Rights law. 

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Trans Iowans face broadest civil rights threat in years

UPDATE: After this post was published, the Iowa Business Council, Technology Association of Iowa, and Greater Des Moines Partnership registered against the bill.

SECOND UPDATE: Subcommittee members voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill. Original post follows.

An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee will soon consider the broadest threat to trans rights since lawmakers added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the first year of a Democratic trifecta. House File 2082 would remove gender identity as a protected class, while redefining “a diagnosis for gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder” as a disability under the civil rights act.

Eighteen organizations are already registered against the bill, which is scheduled for a subcommittee hearing on January 31.

But as the Republican-controlled legislature’s attacks on transgender Iowans continue to escalate, some groups that helped hold the line against past efforts to rewrite the civil rights code are on the sidelines, for now.

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A cautionary note for Iowa Democrats who attended a GOP caucus

From left: Carolyn Jenison, Angelo Thorne, and Tanya Keith attend a Republican precinct caucus in Des Moines on January 15 after changing their party registrations. Photo by Tanya Keith published with permission.

The Iowa Democratic Party will soon send “presidential preference cards” to registered Democrats who would like to vote by mail for Joe Biden, Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson, or “uncommitted.” Voters will have until February 19 to request the cards, and will need to return them by March 5 (or with a March 5 postmark).

One group of Iowa Democrats should not attempt to vote by mail, however: those who switched parties in order to attend a Republican precinct caucus on January 15.

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Iowa hospitals must stop unlawful drug testing after births

Rachel Bruns is a volunteer advocate for quality maternal health care in Iowa. This article originally appeared on the Des Moines Register’s website.

The Des Moines Register article “What Patients Should Know About Hospital Drug Testing” missed some key information that may help families disrupt the illegal maternal and newborn drug screening practices taking place at Iowa hospitals and clinics.

The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in 2001 (Ferguson v. Charleston) that prenatal drug testing without specific informed consent is unlawful. Nevertheless, some Iowa clinics and hospitals continue to conduct such tests, when urine is gathered for testing of urinary tract infections or to check urine glucose or protein levels. Such practices are not only unlawful, but also create mistrust of the medical system—putting the lives of moms and babies at risk. 

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Iowa Utilities Board bill includes a good idea—and a lost cause

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

The Iowa Utilities Board has proposed companion bills on energy production in the Iowa legislature this year. The Sierra Club is focused on two provisions in House Study Bill 555 and Senate Study Bill 3075: including battery storage as part of an energy production facility, and designating nuclear power as an alternate energy production facility.

One of the primary criticisms of renewable energy, specifically wind and solar, is that they provide power intermittently. In other words, wind turbines don’t provide power when the wind isn’t blowing, and solar panels don’t provide power when the sun isn’t shining.

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Dubuque-based Iowa Senate seat no longer solid blue

State Senator Pam Jochum presents a resolution on brain health during Iowa Senate debate on January 17. Photo first published on her Facebook page.

Catching up on some legislative campaign news: Iowa Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum announced on January 12 that she won’t seek re-election this November. Jochum is the longest-serving current Iowa Democratic legislator, with sixteen years of experience in the state House followed by sixteen in Senate. Her colleagues chose her to lead the sixteen-member caucus last June. The last four years Democrats held a majority in the chamber, Jochum served as Senate president (the second-ranking position).

While the open seat in Iowa Senate district 36 leans Democratic, the Dubuque area is no longer as blue as it has been for much of the last century. Depending on who wins each party’s nomination, this could be a race to watch in November.

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America Needs Farmers—just not their politics

Photo of happy farmer by Serg Grbanoff, available via Shutterstock.

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

America Needs Farmers.

This statement has become a cultural touchstone. It became popular during the 1980s farm crisis, as a way to raise awareness of the difficulties suffered in the Midwest agricultural industry.

This phrase and branding has seen a bit of a renaissance in the past decade—featured on bumper stickers, commercials, apparel branding, and even partnerships with major universities like the University of Iowa.

America Needs Farmers, or “ANF,” has become less of a slogan for awareness, and more a brand or identity that Midwesterners tout alongside Carhartt or John Deere. The slogan is now almost synonymous with the Iowa Hawkeyes and rural farming, and is controlled by the Iowa Farm Bureau, a 501(c)5 organization representing farmers across Iowa.

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Ron DeSantis helped change Iowa for the worse

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended his presidential campaign in humiliating fashion on January 21, endorsing the man who had taunted and mocked “DeSanctimonious” for months.

Many political reporters have written about what went wrong for DeSantis, who ended up fighting for second place in Iowa after his team and allied super PACs spent at least $150 million and landed coveted endorsements. I wrote my own Iowa obituary for the Florida governor’s campaign shortly before the caucuses.

But make no mistake: despite gaining only 23,420 votes here last week, the DeSantis approach to politics left its mark on Iowa. While Governor Kim Reynolds formally endorsed her friend less than three months ago, she’s been copying his leadership style for years, hurting many vulnerable Iowans in the process.

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Summit Carbon project mired in contradictions

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

North Dakota officials were pulling no punches during an informational session held in Bismarck last month, highlighting the importance of the Summit Carbon pipeline to both the sustainable aviation fuel market and enhanced oil recovery efforts in the Bakken.

During a December 20, 2023, BEK TV special report that broadcast a Friends of Ag and Energy public information session on the Summit Carbon pipeline, held at Bismarck State College’s National Energy Center of Excellence, Governor Doug Burgum said, “Sustainable aviation fuel, if you want to call it the Saudi Arabia of sustainable aviation fuel, it’s going to happen somewhere between North Dakota and Iowa and in between, the corn belt.”

Kathleen Neset, a geologist and owner of Neset Consulting Service Inc. who moderated the panel, spoke after Burgum, stating the following at the outset:

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I'm suing the Iowa House Chief Clerk over denial of press credentials

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from arbitrarily denying reporters access to official information, and from discriminating against reporters based on their viewpoint,” declares a federal lawsuit filed on my behalf on January 19. Yet since 2019, the Iowa House Chief Clerk “has arbitrarily applied an ever-shifting credentialing system” to limit my “ability to gather and report political news” from the Iowa House chamber.

The Institute for Free Speech filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, making four claims under the U.S. Constitution. First, by denying me access to the Iowa House press bench, where other statehouse reporters can closely observe House debate and attend regular briefings by House Speaker Pat Grassley, Chief Clerk Meghan Nelson is violating my First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press.

Second, the complaint also states that Nelson’s policy, limiting access to reporters who provide “nonpartisan news to a broad segment of the public,” amounts to unconstitutional content-based and viewpoint-based discrimination, on its face and as applied to me.

Third, Nelson’s press credential policy “constitutes a prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment.” Chief Clerk Nelson has “unbridled discretion” to grant reporters access to the House press box, and “relies on the undefined, broad terms of the credential policy to subjectively exclude news media and deprive them of the ability to gather news in a manner equal to that afforded to other media representatives.”

Finally, the suit asserts that the press credential policy is vague in violation of my “First Amendment rights to free speech and press and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.”

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Iowa needs more thoughtful, inclusive approach to AEA reform

Dr. Andy Crozier is superintendent of the Central Lee Community School District. Author photo provided courtesy of the district.

I am writing to express my concerns about Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent announcement regarding the proposed reform of the Area Education Agency (AEA) system during her Condition of the State speech.

The suggested changes include moving AEAs under the Iowa Department of Education, narrowing their focus to special education, and allowing school districts to decide whether to opt into AEA services.

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Honestly, what did Kim Reynolds expect?

Screenshot of President Donald Trump and Governor Kim Reynolds at a rally in Des Moines on January 30, 2020

“I would say with a great deal of confidence that Kim Reynolds is the only person in the state of Iowa that could be a king or a queenmaker,” Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann told the Des Moines Register last February. “There’s a lot of people who like to cast themselves as kingmaker because it helps them to push their organizations, but she’s the only one that could be.”

Wrong.

Governor Reynolds spent much of the last two months campaigning for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and starred in a tv ad on his behalf. Yet her backing didn’t move the needle; polls showed support for DeSantis between the mid-teens and low 20s in Iowa for the last six months. As expected, he finished about 30 points behind former President Donald Trump at the January 15 caucuses.

DeSantis did eke out a second-place finish with 21.2 percent of the vote, about 2 points ahead of Nikki Haley. But that more likely stemmed from the Never Back Down super PAC’s extensive field operation, which was superior to what Americans for Prosperity Action delivered for Haley.

Reynolds should have known it was far too late to convince the GOP base to abandon Trump. She’d avoided offending his fans for years.

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Summit Carbon investors seek to sew up Republican support

Continental Resources executive chairman Harold Hamm, center right, is surrounded by Summit representatives during a December 21, 2023 hearing of the North Dakota Public Service Commission. From left to right are Summit Carbon’s general counsel Jess Vilsack; Summit Carbon CEO Lee Blank; Summit Carbon COO James “Jimmy” Powell (seated in the row behind the others); North Dakota Petroleum Council president Ron Ness; Hamm; and Summit Agricultural Group CEO Justin Kirchhoff. (Photo by Kyle Martin, published with permission)

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

While billionaire wildcatter and Summit Carbon Solutions investor Harold Hamm appears to be hedging his bets, Bruce Rastetter, founder of Summit Agricultural Group, which launched the CO2 pipeline project, announced his support for Donald Trump during a Bloomberg News roundtable on January 13 in Des Moines. A Summit Agricultural Group news release also announced the endorsement, which came just two days before Trump’s decisive caucus victory in Iowa.

Meanwhile, Trump lambasted former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, a vocal opponent of using eminent domain to build the Summit Carbon pipeline, in a January 13 post on his Truth Social platform. Trump declared Ramaswamy “not MAGA” and accused him of using “deceitful campaign tricks.” It was the first time the front-runner publicly criticized Ramaswamy, who ended his campaign and endorsed Trump immediately following the Iowa caucuses on January 15.

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Iowa caucus expectations games

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at the Des Moines Register Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on August 12, 2023. Photo by Juli Hansen, available via Shutterstock.

Dan Guild is a lawyer and project manager who lives in New Hampshire. In addition to writing for Bleeding Heartland, he has written for CNN and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, most recently here. He also contributed to the Washington Post’s 2020 primary simulations. Follow him on Twitter @dcg1114.

From an article I wrote for Bleeding Heartland four years ago: “Of all the Alice-through-the-looking-glass parts of the American political system, the one I have been completely unable to explain to foreigners are expectations and the Iowa caucuses.”

It usually goes something like this:

Sane person from another country: “Candidate X won”

Pundit: “Well, not really”

Sane person from another country: “But they got more votes”

Pundit: “But they were expected to win by 10 and they only won by 3, so they lost”

Sane person from another country: “That makes no sense. So who won? The person who came in second?”

Pundit person: “No, they got about what they expected. No, the clear winner is the candidate who finished third. There is no doubt they won.”

This Catch-22 aspect of primaries is absurd. But make no mistake: it matters, a lot.

In 2020 I developed a model to predict the effect of the Iowa caucuses on New Hampshire and national polling. A lot of that discussion focused on what happens when front-runners lose. But Trump will not lose tonight.

This chart shows the history.

I want to highlight two numbers:

First: when a Republican front-runner wins the Iowa caucuses, on average they get about a 1.3 percent bounce in New Hampshire in the 48 hours after Iowa.

Oddly, the candidate in second place in Iowa gains 4.3 percent in New Hampshire. Perhaps the best example was in 2000, when George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses with more than 40 percent of the vote, but saw his New Hampshire polling change not at all.

On the other hand, look at the Democratic race in 1984: Walter Mondale won by one of the largest margins in a multi-candidate race in Iowa caucus history. Yet within 48 hours, Gary Hart (who lost Iowa by more than 20 points) had gained 16 points in New Hampshire!

I have updated the model, and you can find it here.

As a what-if, I made a project based on two assumptions:

  1. Haley finishes second tonight with 24 percent of the vote, and
  2. Haley goes on to win New Hampshire by 5 points

The model predicts Trump’s national lead would be cut significantly.

Both of the assumptions are well within the realm of possibility—but very much depend on what transpires in the next six hours.

This post will be updated once the Iowa caucus results are known.

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Iowa’s half-century run as nation’s first presidential testing ground

Edmund Muskie, left; Gary Hart, right

Arnold Garson is a semi-retired journalist and executive who worked for 46 years in the newspaper industry, including almost 20 years at The Des Moines Register. He writes the Substack newsletter Second Thoughts, where this article first appeared.

Iowa has been America’s biggest stage for launching presidential campaigns for more than a half-century.

Virtually every presidential election since 1972 has been impacted by what happened in Iowa in January of an election year. During this period, scores of men and women who have wanted to become president of the United States have campaigned extensively in Iowa. They have been on the ground shaking hands in all 99 counties and spent tens of millions of dollars on lodging, transportation, meals, advertising, and more in the state.

It all began in the late 1960s, as America became sharply divided over the rapidly escalating war in Vietnam. As American casualties mounted, the passion among those who favored the war and those who opposed it grew in intensity.

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Last Selzer poll confirms: It has always been about Trump

Dan Guild is a lawyer and project manager who lives in New Hampshire. In addition to writing for Bleeding Heartland, he has written for CNN and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, most recently here. He also contributed to the Washington Post’s 2020 primary simulations. Follow him on Twitter @dcg1114.

Ann Selzer released her final pre-caucus Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register, NBC News, and Mediacom on January 13. Those who closely follow the caucuses know Selzer & Co has been amazingly accurate most of the time. But perhaps the biggest news out of the latest survey is how little news there is in it.

As the table below shows, the last Selzer poll was a little different from other Iowa polls released over the past two months. The stability here is incredible. But given the timidity Trump’s rivals have displayed, maybe that is not surprising.

That said, as I will discuss below, a shocking amount of volatility exists beneath the surface.

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How the 2024 Iowa Democratic caucuses will work

For once, I don’t have to write a whole Iowa caucus series explaining the complexities of delegate allocations or the viability threshold. Democratic caucus-goers won’t spend ages counting, realigning, or complaining about how the math worked out.

The 2024 Iowa Democratic caucuses should be drama-free affairs that wrap up in an hour or less.

While the Republican gatherings on January 15 will generate more excitement and suspense as attendees wait to find out who finished a distant second to Donald Trump, Democrats who brave the cold can expect a smaller and friendlier local meeting.

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An Iowa caucus like no other?

Screenshot of Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Newton, Iowa on January 12

Dan Guild is a lawyer and project manager who lives in New Hampshire. In addition to writing for Bleeding Heartland, he has written for CNN and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, most recently here. He also contributed to the Washington Post’s 2020 primary simulations. Follow him on Twitter @dcg1114.

I have written before about the incredible shifts that have happened late in Iowa caucus campaigns. Front runners beware, I wrote in 2016 (and that piece was prescient).

In 2020 I suggested Iowa would surprise, and predicted Pete Buttigieg would be the candidate most likely to do it.

This time it feels different, for good reasons.

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How Iowans can call in the watchdog

State Auditor Rob Sand speaks at a public town hall in Onawa (Monona County) on May 22, 2023. Photo provided by State Auditor’s office.

Rob Sand is Iowa’s state auditor.

As Iowa’s taxpayer watchdog, I hear from Iowans just about every day with concerns about state and local government. Oftentimes, there are steps my office can take to address those concerns; other times, the next step is as simple as directing folks to the best channel in state government to address their question. Sometimes, it’s easy to also confuse misplaced priorities for misspent money—one requires a change in leadership, and the other requires an audit investigation.

Randy Evans, the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, recently raised questions about the state auditor’s responsibility to investigate secret government settlements. Evans wrote in his column that the situation “should have State Auditor Rob Sand knocking on the doors at City Hall” and “asking questions on behalf of the tax-paying people of Davenport.”

What many people don’t know, however, is that the state auditor needs some kind of request to conduct a review at the local level.

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Iowa Department of Corrections asks for cannabis exemption

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana.

The Iowa Department of Corrections filed two study bills this week, asking Iowa legislators to make an exception to the state’s medical cannabis program, Iowa Code Chapter 124E.

Senate Study Bill 3020 and companion House Study Bill 524 call for amending the statute so the state can

Revoke a medical cannabidiol registration card issued to a person who becomes committed to the custody of the director of the Iowa department of corrections or placed under the supervision of the Iowa department of corrections.

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Iowa House speaker hints at new law on "sexually explicit" books in schools

Republican lawmakers may take additional steps to remove “sexually explicit material” from schools, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated on January 8. Speaking to fellow legislators, Grassley also blamed schools for politicizing what he called “a simple solution to protect Iowa’s students from inappropriate material.”

Grassley was the only House or Senate leader to address the school book bans in opening remarks on the first day of the legislature’s 2024 session. His comments came ten days after a federal court blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing a ban on library books and classroom materials that describe or depict sex acts.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2024

Iowa Senate chamber, as photographed by Nagel Photography, available via Shutterstock

The Iowa Senate convened in Des Moines on January 8 for the first day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (34 Republicans, sixteen Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees.

Fourteen senators (nine Republicans, five Democrats) were elected to the chamber for the first time in 2022. Seven of them (four Republicans and three Democrats) previously served in the Iowa House.

Fifteen senators are women (eight Democrats and seven Republicans), up from twelve women in the chamber prior to the 2022 election and more than double the six women senators who served prior to the 2018 election.

Democrat Izaah Knox is the second Black state senator in Iowa history. The first was Tom Mann, a Democrat elected to two terms during the 1980s. The other 49 senators are white. No Latino has ever served in the chamber, and Iowa’s only Asian-American senator was Swati Dandekar, who resigned in 2011.

Democrat Janice Weiner became the first Jewish person to serve in the Iowa Senate since Ralph Rosenberg left the legislature after 1994. Democrat Liz Bennett became the first out LGBTQ state senator since Matt McCoy retired in 2018.

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2024

Photo by Carl Olsen of the Iowa House chamber in 2020

Iowa House members return to Des Moines on January 8 for the opening day of the 2024 legislative session. Although the balance of power remains the same (64 Republicans, 36 Democrats), I’m publishing a new version of this post to note small changes in leadership or among the chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year’s session.

Thirty-eight House members (24 Republicans and fourteen Democrats) are serving their first term in the legislature. Two Republicans previously held other legislative offices: Craig Johnson served one and a half terms in the Iowa Senate, and David Young served two terms in Congress.

The House members include 71 men and 29 women (sixteen Democrats and thirteen Republicans), down from 31 women who served in 2021 and 2022. The record for women’s representation in the Iowa House was 34 female lawmakers in 2019.

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Senate File 496: An educator's dilemma

Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Steve Peterson has been an educator for more than 20 years and currently teaches fifth grade at Decorah Middle School. He is a master teacher and the president of the Decorah Education Association. 

On December 29, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing two parts of the wide-ranging education law Senate File 496: the ban on books depicting a sex act at all grade levels, and the prohibition on promotion or instruction relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The court’s preliminary injunction is good for the students I teach and for my colleagues in classrooms around the state. But the hold also comes at a great time for me, personally—because I was just about to report to the Iowa Department of Education that I may have broken the law.

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Court blocks Iowa's "staggeringly broad" book bans, teaching restrictions

UPDATE: Attorney General Brenna Bird filed notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit on January 12. Original post follows.

The state of Iowa cannot enforce key parts of a new law that sought to ban books depicting sex acts from schools and prohibit instruction “relating to gender identity and sexual orientation” from kindergarten through sixth grade.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher issued a preliminary injunction on December 29, putting what he called “staggeringly broad” provisions on hold while two federal lawsuits challenging Senate File 496 proceed. The judge found the book bans “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny,” and the teaching restrictions “void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

However, the state may continue to enforce a provision requiring school administrators to inform parents or guardians if a student seeks an “accommodation that is intended to affirm the student’s gender identity.” Judge Locher found the LGBTQ students who are plaintiffs in one case lack standing to challenge that provision, since “they are all already ‘out’ to their families and therefore not affected in a concrete way” by it.

Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird quickly criticized the court’s decision. But neither engaged with the legal issues at hand.

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A bad deal gets worse: Koch trying to buy Iowa fertilizer plant

Governor Kim Reynolds with her predecessor Terry Branstad in photo originally published on Reynolds’ official Facebook page in September 2020

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

Antitrust regulators should block the proposed sale of OCI Global’s Iowa Fertilizer Co. plant in Wever (Lee County) to Koch Industries. The deal would be outrageous, but we must look back to fully understand why.

HOW IOWA TAXPAYERS HELPED FUND OCI’S FERTILIZER PLANT IN WEVER

Then-governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds offered nearly $550 million in tax giveaways to OCI’s predecessor, Orascom, to build the plant prior to its 2017 ribbon cutting.

That included $133 million in local giveaways such as Lee County property tax abatement over twenty years. Another $112 million in state giveaways like corporate tax credits and forgivable loans. And an estimated $300 million in federal tax giveaways from the get-go thanks to the Iowa Finance Authority approving Orascom for $1.2 billion in Midwestern Disaster Area bonds created by Congress after the 2008 floods.

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An issue that hasn't yet been unfurled in Iowa

New design of Minnesota state flag

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

We Iowans apparently have been kidding ourselves.

Somehow, as we focus on taxes, water quality and allegations of big-government overreach, as we wrestle with immigration, inflation, drug abuse, school choice and women’s reproductive freedom, and as we contemplate transgender issues, academic freedom, religious rights and free speech on college campuses, Iowa has missed another issue—one that appears to be gaining momentum, and controversy, in some states.

The surprising topic of debate? State flags.

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Local news: birth pangs, death throes, and ghosts

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register and the Substack newsletter Showing Up, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

Local news coverage is going through significant birth pangs. I’ve intended to write about this topic for some time now, but every time I start, I come across something newsworthy that merits incorporation into my thinking—and into my column. So, this ramble comes with a disclaimer: “This emerging story will be updated as information becomes available.”

The term “birth pangs” indicates my view—more than just a hope—that something new indeed is being born, although from my perch, it’s not yet clear what the “new-new thing” will be. A dozen or more examples are likely to be birthed, multiple workable models. It’s also fair to note that a birth-pangs approach is vastly preferable to a death-throes approach, a term that may well apply to more moribund local news providers.

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State gaslights on Iowa's book ban, "don't say gay/trans" law

Image of frequently banned books by On The Run Photo is available via Shutterstock. All books shown here have been removed from multiple Iowa school districts, according to the Des Moines Register’s database.

A federal judge will soon decide whether to block enforcement of all or part of an Iowa law that imposed many new regulations on public school libraries and educators.

Two groups of plaintiffs filed suit last month challenging Senate File 496 as unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, the law prohibits school libraries and classrooms from offering “any material with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.” It also forbids schools from providing “any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six.”

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher of the Southern District of Iowa did not consolidate the cases, which contain some overlapping arguments. But he did consolidate the hearings on the plaintiffs’ requests for a temporary injunction, which would prevent the state from enforcing certain provisions of SF 496 while litigation proceeds.

Near the end of that December 22 hearing in Des Moines, the judge said he will rule on whether to issue an injunction by January 1, when provisions allowing the state to investigate or discipline educators or school districts for certain violations will take effect.

Attorneys for the state advanced several misleading or contradictory legal arguments at the hearing and in briefs filed last week.

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Clarke County livestock dwarf human population, heighten water crisis

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A labyrinth of limited liability companies own numerous animal feeding operations in Clarke County that continue to rely on the city of Osceola’s depleted water supply, even as city residents face restrictions since the Osceola Water Works Board of Trustees declared a water emergency on October 5.

A search of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) animal feeding operation website identifies 27 animal feeding operations in Clarke County. The chart below identifies these facilities, the majority of which appear to house hogs in enclosed structures commonly known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

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Who's behind the surge in Iowa's charter school applications

UPDATE: The Iowa State Board of Education approved all of the applications described below on January 11. Original post follows.

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

The Iowa Department of Education recently announced that five groups have applied to open eight new charter schools in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids for the 2024/2025 school year. Only one of those five groups is based in Iowa.

The full applications for each proposed charter school are available on this page of the Department of Education’s website. Be aware that some of these applications stretch to nearly 400 pages, so if you want to review them, plan to spend some time on the task.

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Exclusive: After budget boost, Iowa governor gave senior staff big raises

Governor Kim Reynolds gave four of her top staffers raises ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent several months after Republican lawmakers approved a major boost to the governor’s office budget.

The large pay increases took effect in early September, according to salary records Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request. All staff in the governor’s office had already received a 3 percent raise at the beginning of fiscal year 2024 in July.

Public employees often receive a small bump in compensation at the start of a new fiscal year, but few are able to obtain raises of 10 percent or more without a promotion or a significant change to their job duties.

A spokesperson for Reynolds described the salary hikes as an “important investment” and asserted that “offering salaries commensurate with experience and job responsibilities is critical to ensuring optimal performance and continuity of state government.”

However, data the governor’s office provided to Bleeding Heartland did not support the claim that many of Reynolds’ staffers were previously underpaid compared to counterparts in similar states.

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Iowa GOP leaders refuse to investigate nursing home abuse and neglect

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com. An earlier version of this commentary appeared in the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Quad-City Times published a six-part series on neglect and abuse in nursing homes. The articles told the stories of residents whose physical and mental health needs were not met, who were subjected to verbal or physical abuse by staff or other residents, and had been injured or had died.

The stories were tragedies. And sadly, tragic stories still regularly appear in Iowa Capital Dispatch and other Iowa media written by Clark Kauffman—the same journalist who authored the stories in 1996.

For more than 27 years, horrific stories of neglect and abuse have stemmed from far too many nursing facilities that have employed too few workers; failed to adequately compensate, train, and respect workers; routinely accepted exceptionally high levels of employee turnover; lobbied elected officials to increase annual appropriations of tax dollars but to also minimize oversight of their efforts; avoided criminal prosecution for their misdeeds; and have put the desire for profit ahead of the needs of the Iowans they exist to serve.

In 27 years, little has changed. At too many facilities, neglect, abuse and dehumanization of older Iowans continue.

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Regulators should derail Canadian bid for Iowa Northern Railway

Large wheels for agricultural equipment on a freight train; photo by Maksim Safaniuk, available via Shutterstock.

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

North American rail giant Canadian National announced on December 6 it would attempt to acquire the Waterloo-based short line railroad Iowa Northern Railway. Before that can happen though, the deal must undergo review by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board. The board should block this acquisition, and it’s not even a close call.

Short line railroads are the small and medium businesses of rail. Short lines like Iowa Northern Railway operate nearly half of all freight rail track in Iowa, according to the railroad interest group GoRail. These short lines run shorter distances and connect rural areas with larger, national rail networks.

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What Iowa's House members said about Biden impeachment inquiry

All four Republicans who represent Iowa in the U.S. House voted on December 13 to formally authorize an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The chamber’s 221 to 212 vote fell entirely along party lines.

House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote in a December 12 op-ed that the vote will allow the House Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means committees to “continue investigating the role of the president in promoting the alleged influence-peddling schemes of his family and associates […].” He said the formal inquiry “puts us in the strongest legal position to gather the evidence” as the House seeks to enforce subpoenas.

Critics have noted that while focusing on business activities of the president’s son Hunter Biden, House Republicans have yet to uncover evidence of any criminal activity involving Joe Biden, and are using unsubstantiated or false claims to justify their inquiry. Democrats have charged that Republicans are pursuing impeachment at the behest of former President Donald Trump.

None of Iowa’s House members spoke during the floor debate, but three released public comments following the vote.

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Vouchers have mixed impact on Iowa’s largest schools

Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville, Iowa, in photo from the school’s Facebook page

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Although the Iowa Department of Education won’t release official enrollment numbers until mid-December, available data already show how the new education savings accounts (commonly known as school vouchers) are affecting some of our state’s largest school districts.

The Council Bluffs Community Schools recently announced that they lost 30 students to nearby St. Albert Catholic School. The loss of those students means the district will lose $234,000 in state funding. Since teachers are already under contract for this year, and the decline in enrollment isn’t concentrated on one grade, the district will have a difficult time reducing costs.

In an interview with Sean MacKinnon of Omaha-based TV station KETV, Council Bluffs superintendent Vicki Murillo chose to look on the bright side by noting that while 30 students left the Council Bluffs school district, nearly 9,000 decided to stay.

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Scott County supervisors violate the law

Scott County Administrative Center (Photo by Ed Tibbetts)

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com.

Scott County continues to have trouble with elections.

Last year, a controversy erupted over a state legislative race. This year, it’s a school board contest.

On December 4, a 3-2 majority of the Scott County Board of Supervisors voted to reject the report of a three-person recount board in a closely contested Pleasant Valley School Board race.

The supervisors claimed the recount board broke the law.

So, the majority responded by breaking the law themselves.

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SK Growth pleads for extended deadline in SEC filing

SK Group logo in Kerala, India, in October 2023. Image by Jidev jidu photography, available via Shutterstock

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

On November 28, SK Growth Opportunities Corp., a Cayman Islands exempted blank check company formed in December 2021, filed a Schedule 14A Proxy Statement notifying the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of an upcoming “extraordinary general meeting” of shareholders, with the express purpose of extending a looming December 28, 2023, deadline to consummate a business combination. The meeting is slated to take place December 22.

According to SK Growth’s initial May 23, 2022, Form S-1 Registration Statement under the Securities Act of 1933, the anchor investor in its sponsor, Auxo Capital Managers, LLC, is a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korean chaebol SK Group. A chart depicting SK Growth’s organizational structure is listed below:

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Crisis in Iowa nursing homes demands our attention

Mary Weaver writes a regular column for the Jefferson Herald and Greene County News online, where this commentary first appeared. She is a former registered nurse and former public health nurse administrator, who currently chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus. Mary resides on a farm near Rippey.

I am saddened, as well as shocked by the horror stories erupting statewide about the deplorable, life-threatening situations occurring in Iowa nursing homes. Stories of gangrene resulting in amputations, a story of a person choking in their own saliva, a story of a person freezing in the winter of 2023 when the alarm door triggered was never given a response.

In complete transparency regarding this subject, in part of my former work life, I was a surveyor for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. That involved inspecting State Certified Home Care agencies as well as nursing homes.

The long-term care or nursing home survey team consisted of three or four people, and the team was usually in a facility for three or four days. Policies were reviewed, charts were audited, comparing orders written to implementation, interviews with residents were conducted, the ombudsman assigned to the facility was visited, staffing ratios for Registered Nurses and Certified Nurses Aids were reviewed using established formulas. Temperature checks of food served were done at mealtime.

It took one day for the team to write the report of the findings, usually a Friday, and the following Monday we were sent to the next facility. Facilities were visited once each year, but unannounced, and if a complaint was received regarding a facility, it was immediately visited.

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Exclusive: Agencies spent $1 million on Iowa governor's office costs last year

In March, Governor Kim Reynolds hailed passage of her state government reorganization plan, saying it would be “an important step” to “reduce the size and cost of government.”

The governor’s commitment to making government smaller and less costly hasn’t extended to her own staff.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, other agencies spent more than $1 million to cover operating costs in the governor’s office, documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show. Those funds allowed the governor’s office to spend nearly 50 percent more than its budget appropriation of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2023.

Reynolds’ chief of staff Taryn Frideres told state lawmakers in February that increasing the governor’s office allocation for the current fiscal year by about $500,000 (a 21 percent bump) would be “more transparent” and ensure that “our actual appropriation is closer to our expenses, so that we can budget in a more straightforward way.”

But records Bleeding Heartland reviewed indicate that the $2.8 million general fund appropriation Republicans approved for fiscal year 2024 will fall far short of what the governor’s office will spend on staff salaries and other expenses.

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With George Santos gone, attention turns to Bob Menendez

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

The U.S. House voted 311 to 114 on December 1 to expel Republican member George Santos. It was only the sixth time in the history of the House that members have taken such an action. Republicans split pretty evenly on the vote, with 105 GOP members voting to expel Santos and 112 voting to allow him to retain his seat. Democrats voted almost unanimously in favor of expulsion: the Democratic tally was 206 to 2.

To expel a member from either house of Congress, the U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds affirmative vote of that body (66 2/3 percent). That’s a high bar in itself, but the vote to remove Santos was about 73 percent affirmative, well above the bar.

To make the expulsion even more unusual, it was achieved when the House was controlled by Santos’ own party. What’s more, it was the first time since the Civil War that the House expelled a member who had not been convicted in a court of law.

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Summit Carbon Solutions: Five questions for Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and also serves as Director of the Atmosphere/Energy program at Stanford University, where he has worked for 30 years. He’s spent decades studying ethanol and carbon capture and has published two books that extensively explore those subjects as part of his broader research work examining clean, renewable energy solutions: 100% Clean, Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything (2020), No Miracles Needed (2023).

Thus, Jacobson’s work places him in the eye of the storm surrounding Summit Carbon Solutions’ plan to capture and carry “9.5 million metric tonnes per annum (MMTPA) of CO2 collected from the 34 ethanol facilities, although the pipeline has the potential to carry more.

Environmental Science & Technology, a biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Chemical Society, published Jacobson’s most recent study on October 26. That study, called Should Transportation Be Transitioned to Ethanol with Carbon Capture and Pipelines or Electricity? A Case Study, was funded in part by the Sierra Club.

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A close look at the second lawsuit challenging Iowa's book bans

From left: Author Laurie Halse Anderson, author Malinda Lo, and Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek. Screenshots taken during the November 30 news conference announcing a new legal challenge to Senate File 496.

“The right to speak and the right to read are inextricably intertwined.”

So declare the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit filed challenging Iowa’s new ban on certain library books and classroom materials.

The new federal lawsuit focuses on two provisions of Senate File 496, which Republican lawmakers approved in April and Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. A separate federal lawsuit filed last week challenges SF 496 in its entirety, focusing on additional provisions targeting LGBTQ students as well as the book bans.

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Preference cards will give Iowa Democrats four options for president

Registered Democrats who participate in the 2024 Iowa caucuses by mail will be able to select one of four options for president. The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee voted on December 2 to ratify presidential preference cards that will list President Joe Biden, U.S. Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, author Marianne Williamson, and “uncommitted.”

Biden, Phillips, and Williamson were the only candidates who submitted a letter requesting to list their names on the preference cards, Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register.

Uncommitted has always been an option at Iowa Democratic caucuses, and won the most delegates in 1976. In recent decades, few caucus-goers have chosen to stay uncommitted.

The party is not calling the preference cards “ballots,” in part to avoid upsetting New Hampshire officials who jealously guard that state’s law guaranteeing the first primary in the country. Although the cards will be tallied like ballots are, the caucus is a party-run operation, not an election administered by county and state officials.

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