# Bruce Rastetter



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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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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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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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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Celebratory high-fives are premature for Summit Carbon Solutions

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

Landowners targeted for eminent domain by Summit Carbon Solutions won several victories in recent weeks, but the fight is far from over. Though wounded, Summit continues to threaten the private property rights of thousands across Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  

Three companies have proposed CO2 pipelines in Iowa: Summit, Navigator, and Wolf. Navigator cancelled its project last month after regulators in South Dakota and Illinois denied permits following fierce opposition from impacted landowners and concerned citizens. The Illinois Commerce Commission recommended the Wolf permit be denied, and the company has not yet obtained a permit in Iowa.

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Summit Ag wells could pump massive amount of water in Kossuth County

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

Summit Agricultural Group operates at least seventeen wells in Kossuth County alone that have not applied for water use permits through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Water Allocation Compliance and Online (WACOP) permitting system, Bleeding Heartland has learned.

The DNR confirmed the lack of permit applications in response to questions prompted by landowner Alan Laubenthal’s October 5 testimony at the Iowa Utilities Board’s evidentiary hearing in Fort Dodge on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline.

“The department has not received permit applications for these facilities,” DNR outreach and marketing bureau chief Tammie Krausman confirmed in a November 3 email. “It is the applicant’s responsibility to know if they need a permit and apply according to the requirements. The requirement is 25,000 gallons in a 24-hour period. While facilities are capable of pumping more than 25,000 gallons per day, the permit requirement is based on the actual usage of water.”

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What's missing from Iowa's carbon pipeline debate

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

There’s something missing in the debate over Iowa’s proposed carbon capture pipelines. Too often the discussion breaks down along familiar frames of the pipeline companies against landowners, or labor unions against environmentalists. When we stop the analysis here, we lose sight of what the fight is really about: the role of monopoly power in Iowans’ lives.

To date, no politician of either party is making this connection. Some have gotten close in their critiques of the pipeline companies, but none have highlighted the role of corporate monopolies in enabling these proposed schemes to exist in the first place. It’s strange because, as prominent politicians like U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar note, history is sitting right there in front of them.

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Bruce Rastetter weighs in with Iowa lawmakers on school vouchers

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

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

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

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

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GOP leaders in deep red Iowa county object to CO2 pipelines

“I did not see this coming,” tweeted Carolyn Raffensperger, an environmental lawyer and the executive director of the Science & Environmental Health Network. She was referring to the Hancock County Republican Central Committee asking the Iowa Utilities Board to reject proposed carbon dioxide pipelines.

Republican-controlled boards of supervisors in dozens of Iowa counties (including Hancock) have formally objected to CO2 pipeline plans in their jurisdictions. But the December 19 letter, which the utilities board published on December 29, appears to be the first time a county GOP organization has weighed in.

Republican candidates routinely receive more than 70 percent of the vote in this part of north central Iowa, and Democrats have not fielded candidates lately for most Hancock County offices.

The Hancock GOP committee argued against the pipelines on four grounds. Although only one company (Summit Carbon Solutions) has proposed a route crossing Hancock County, the signers asked the board to file their objections to all CO2 pipelines.

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Bruce Rastetter seeks to parlay campaign cash into carbon pipelines

Emma Schmit is senior Iowa organizer with Food & Water Action.

The Republican Party of Iowa is the party of Bruce Rastetter. For years, he has amassed an enormous fortune at the public’s expense both here and abroad. And for years, he has invested in Iowa GOP candidates, in order to advance his own interests. After Governor Terry Branstad appointed him to the Iowa Board of Regents, he used that position to promote a business venture that could have displaced more than 162,000 refugee farmers in Tanzania, and to lean on a professor who discussed the ethanol industry’s impact on groundwater sources.

Rastetter knows how to call in favors. And he’s not done yet.

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Iowa Democratic Party refuses to address carbon pipelines

Emma Schmit is a member of the Iowa Democratic Party State Central Committee representing the fourth district. Emma is also chair of the Calhoun County Democrats and webmaster for the Fourth District Democrats.

I’ve always been a proud rural Democrat. But it has never been an easy road in a largely Republican county. We’ve been booed in parades, yard signs have been lit on fire. Canvassers have faced a litany of threats and intimidation – from a gun being brandished to bumper stickers and spark plugs being stolen from a vehicle. While I was working the polls on Election Day 2020, my dad was busy removing my yard signs and window placards because he was worried for my safety.

Despite everything, I’ve always believed that the party was worth fighting for because the party was fighting for me, for Iowa, and for a better future. 

However, right now, the party’s governing body is failing us.

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Iowans don’t want carbon pipelines - here’s why

This post was co-authored by Emma Schmit, Food & Water Watch; Jess Mazour, Sierra Club Iowa Chapter; Caitlin Golle, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Mahmud Fitil, Great Plains Action Society; and Angie Carter, Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Virtually unknown two months ago, proposed hazardous liquid carbon pipelines are the latest environmental disaster to hit Iowa’s newspaper headlines. Threatening everything from peoples’ lives to their land and our climate, it’s no surprise these pipelines have garnered mass opposition from the get-go, uniting Iowans of all stripes.

On behalf of the 73,000 Iowans we represent, with members in every county, we oppose carbon capture pipelines. Carbon pipelines are a danger to Iowans and our land, a false climate solution, and a distraction from the real work of reforming our agricultural and energy sectors to combat the looming climate emergency. They are an affront to our shared vision for Iowa’s future — where communities work together to protect our water, land and climate for future generations and those who live downstream.

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The 21 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2021

It’s time for another review of Bleeding Heartland’s most widely-read posts from the year that just ended. I always struggle a bit with this task, because the work I’m most proud of doesn’t always overlap with what resonated most with readers. Also, I’m wary of watching traffic numbers too closely, because I try not to let potential clicks drive my editorial decisions.

However, I always gain some insight from this review, so here goes.

This list draws from Google Analytics data about total views for 598 posts this website published during 2021: 362 written by me and 236 by other authors. I left out the site’s front page and the “about” page, where many people landed following online searches.

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Iowa House district 37 preview: Mike Bousselot vs. Andrea Phillips

Republicans nominated Iowa Department of Management Director Michael Bousselot this weekend to be their candidate in the September 14 special election to represent Iowa House district 37. Bousselot received about 75 percent of the vote on the first ballot; one of his two rivals for the nomination withdrew his candidacy before convention delegates voted.

Bousselot did not respond to phone or email messages on August 13 asking whether he would take a leave of absence from his day job, assuming he won the GOP nomination for the special election. But he and Democratic candidate Andrea Phillips are clearly ready to devote substantial time and energy to the abbreviated campaign.

House district 37 was among the most expensive state legislative races in 2020; Democrats spent nearly $800,000 on behalf of Phillips, while Republicans spent about $575,000 defending State Representative John Landon, who passed away in late July.

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Iowans in Congress report big 2Q fundraising numbers

Candidates for federal offices are raising more money than ever, and that trend was noticeable in the second-quarter Federal Election Commission filings for Iowa’s four U.S. House incumbents. Most of them reported fundraising numbers that would have attracted national attention just a few cycles ago. Many large donors live outside Iowa, a sign that national committees are driving contributions to candidates perceived to be in competitive districts.

The cash on hand totals may seem daunting for challengers who recently launched their campaigns or are still considering it. On the other hand, war chests are less important than they used to be, given the massive growth in outside spending on battleground U.S. House races. A fundraising advantage for an incumbent in 2021 may not be a major factor by next summer.

With that caveat, let’s review where things stand for the three Republicans and one Democrat who represent Iowa in the lower chamber of Congress.

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New Iowa carbon task force looks like greenwashing

“If someone tasked you with making an exhaustive list of who could profit from carbon sequestration, this is what you would come up with,” tweeted Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa who has written extensively about agriculture and water quality.

He was referring to the Carbon Sequestration Task Force, which Governor Kim Reynolds established through a June 22 executive order. In a written statement touting the initiative, Reynolds said Iowa “is in a strong position to capitalize on the growing nationwide demand for a more carbon free economy.” She will chair the task force, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig will co-chair.

The task force looks like a textbook greenwashing effort: deploying concern about about “sustainability” and “low carbon solutions” as cover for policies that will direct public money to large corporations in the energy and agriculture sectors.

One tell: Reynolds did not involve any of Iowa’s leading environmental organizations, which have long worked to reduce carbon emissions.

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Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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As GOP lawmakers threaten free inquiry, governor emphasizes "bottom line"

Herb Strentz: Republican bills to ban tenure at Iowa’s state universities have moved forward in both chambers. Governor Kim Reynolds isn’t concerned. -promoted by Laura Belin

When one surveys the efforts of the Iowa legislature and Governor Kim Reynolds this legislative session, the words “striving for equality” may not come to mind — what with efforts to undercut public education, sabotage access to abortion, punish the LGBTQ community and enact other vindictive measures, as noted by Kathie Obradovich in Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“Equality” does come to mind, however, albeit in an oddball way — the efforts of some legislators to bring Iowans down to their level of what Iowa should be about.

That may be a harsh way to look at Iowa law-making, but it is merited by House File 49 and Senate File 41, proposals to make Iowa the first state in the nation to outlaw tenure at its public universities, in our case Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

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Governor names Michael Bousselot to lead Iowa's budget agency

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on February 1 that she had selected Michael Bousselot to serve as director of the Iowa Department of Management, effective February 8. That agency handles state budget planning as well as disbursements from Iowa’s general fund and various other funds, such as the Coronavirus Relief Fund and other federal money flows related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The appointment means that loyalists who formerly worked in the governor’s office will head Iowa’s budget and homeland security departments, provided that state senators confirm Reynolds’ nominees.

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State auditor to review Iowa's COVID-19 "strike teams"

State Auditor Rob Sand announced on January 26 that his office will examine the state’s use of COVID-19 “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard. A news release noted,

Reports show public record emails in which a metal-working manufacturer owned by major donors to Governor Reynolds received a strike team deployment upon a personal request made to her office, while the same county’s public health department saw its requests for locations with higher needs ignored.

Bleeding Heartland exclusively reported on those emails. In one exchange, an employee of the GMT Corporation in Waverly told Bremer County’s public health administrator, “I requested testing and was told that we would most likely be denied with only one case. Our owners contacted the governor directly and she authorized the testing for us.”

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Exclusive: Governor fast-tracked COVID tests for firm linked to major donor

Governor Kim Reynolds authorized using state resources to conduct COVID-19 tests at a workplace that had only one confirmed case after the company’s owners reached out to her last May.

Iowa National Guard and Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) personnel facilitated coronavirus testing at GMT Corporation, a machine parts manufacturer in Waverly, on May 22, 2020. Fewer than a dozen Iowa businesses received such visits during the two months the state’s “strike team” program was active, when coronavirus testing kits were not widely available.

Summit Ag Investors, the asset management arm of Bruce Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group, owns a majority interest in GMT. Emails Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request indicated, and GMT’s top executive confirmed, that someone from Summit Ag “contacted the governor directly” after GMT staff learned they “would most likely be denied” testing assistance from the state.

Neither Summit Ag executives nor staff in the governor’s office responded to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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IA-04: Bob Vander Plaats adds to bad news piling up for Steve King (updated)

One of Iowa’s most prominent social conservatives has compounded U.S. Representative Steve King’s political problems.

Bob Vander Plaats worked closely with King during the 2010 campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices, and the two were among Senator Ted Cruz’s top Iowa supporters before the 2016 caucuses.

But Vander Plaats just endorsed King’s leading GOP primary rival.

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IA-01: Strong fundraising for Abby Finkenauer and Ashley Hinson

Iowa’s first Congressional district will be among the country’s top-targeted U.S. House races next year. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate this district a toss-up, for good reason. Although voter registration numbers slightly favor Democrats, voters in northwest Iowa swung heavily to Donald Trump and to Republicans for down-ballot offices in 2016.

Three Republican candidates have announced plans to challenge first-term U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer, but at this writing, only State Representative Ashley Hinson appears relevant to the conversation. Thomas Hansen announced his candidacy on May 1, but his first Federal Election Commission filing shows just one donation from the candidate and one expenditure for gas, leaving $18.36 cash on hand. (FEC staff have already dinged Hansen for not filing his campaign’s statement of organization on time.) The third GOP candidate, Darren White, filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC last month but has not filed a July quarterly, indicating that he has not raised or spent any significant sum.

Former U.S. Representative Rod Blum, who lost to Finkenauer in 2018, raised nothing during the second quarter and spent only a token amount to keep campaign e-mail accounts working. Blum paid for some polling during the first quarter and has not ruled out running for Congress again. Republican insiders appear to prefer Hinson, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed in detail here.

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Iowa Regents didn't bargain in good faith with UNI faculty, UI grad students

The state broke Iowa law by refusing to negotiate in good faith when the Iowa Board of Regents delayed contract talks with unions representing University of Northern Iowa faculty and University of Iowa graduate students in late 2016 and early 2017, the Public Employment Relations Board determined in separate rulings last week.

Following the 2016 election, when it was clear Republicans would have total control of state government, United Faculty and the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) attempted to negotiate new contracts for their members, following a bargaining schedule used in previous years.

But the governing body for Iowa’s state universities instructed its attorney not to engage in such talks until after GOP lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad had eliminated most public employee bargaining rights under Iowa Code Chapter 20. Bruce Rastetter was the Regents president at the time. He didn’t seek reappointment by Branstad in 2017, as it was clear Iowa Senate Democrats would have blocked his confirmation.

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IA-04: Steve King doesn't seem worried--or does he?

U.S. Representative Steve King’s clout has taken big hits lately. He won his ninth term in Congress by only a 3.3 percent margin in Iowa’s most conservative district (partisan voter index of R+11). Once-staunch allies like Governor Kim Reynolds sought to distance themselves from his toxic racism. The leader of his caucus stripped him of all House committee assignments.

Three other Republicans announced plans to seek the 2020 nomination in the fourth district, and campaign finance reports filed on April 15 confirmed that many heavy hitters are backing King’s best-known challenger, State Senator Randy Feenstra.

The incumbent’s recent fundraising and campaign spending would suggest that he’s not concerned about his re-election prospects.

But in other ways, King is working diligently to maintain support among the conservatives he needs to continue his political career. Fortunately for him, taxpayers are bankrolling much of that outreach.

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Seven ways Mary Mosiman helped bury ISU's airplane scandal

A year ago this week, State Auditor Mary Mosiman released the findings from her office’s only examination of the wide-ranging scandal surrounding former Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s use of university-owned airplanes.

To say the self-styled “taxpayer’s watchdog” failed to properly investigate Leath’s personal trips on the taxpayer’s dime would be an understatement.

Mosiman did not try to find out how many times Leath misused ISU’s airplanes or how much his personal travel cost the university. Because the auditor looked the other way, Iowans will never know the scope of a top official’s misconduct at a large public institution.

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Clean water and the governor’s race

Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer from Adair County and board chair of CCI Action Fund. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In the gubernatorial debate on Wednesday night, lots of issues were discussed, but one got short shrift: Iowa’s clean water crisis.

Iowans across party lines want clean water and air. But pollution from corporate factory farms is making that impossible, as millions of gallons of untreated waste ends up in our waterways.

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IA-Gov: Reynolds hits the panic button

Governor Kim Reynolds launched her first negative television commercial on July 20, with a spot focusing on decisions Fred Hubbell made as chief executive of Younkers during the 1980s. The move came a few days after another national election forecaster declared the Iowa governor’s race a “toss up,” as Cook Political Report did last month.

Incumbents who are confident about their standing with voters don’t typically go negative on tv this far out from an election. New campaign disclosures filed on July 19 show that while Reynolds had more cash on hand than her opponent–even after spending $1.2 million on advertising since the end of May–Hubbell more than doubled her fundraising during the same period and will likely be competitive financially through the November election.

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Iowa Senate district 25 preview: Tracy Freese vs. Annette Sweeney

Voters in Iowa Senate district 25 will elect a successor to disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix on April 10. The special election campaign is happening on a compressed timetable because the vacancy arose during the Iowa legislature’s session. Dix should have faced pressure to resign last year over his many missteps in handling sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus. Instead, he stepped down unexpectedly last week after publication of a video and photographs showing him “in a romantic relationship” with a lobbyist.

Local Democrats nominated Tracy Freese for the special election on March 17. Sweeney won the GOP nomination three days later. The former Republican lawmaker will be heavily favored on April 10 and in the November election for a full four-year term. However, if Freese keeps it closer than expected, the special election may provide a snapshot of high Democratic voter engagement, like the recent over performance by Todd Wendt in Iowa Senate district 3 and Rita DeJong in Iowa House district 6.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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Health care debate explodes myth of Kim Reynolds the researcher

This year’s Congressional health care debate exposed a lot of hypocrisy and dishonesty among Republicans who never had a solid plan for how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Politicians may yet revive something resembling the health care legislation that is dead for now.

The image of Governor Kim Reynolds as some kind of policy wonk should be destroyed beyond repair.

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Bill Northey's heading to the USDA. Who will take his place?

President Donald Trump has officially nominated Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to a senior position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In another sign of this administration’s lack of basic competence, the USDA’s news release says Northey will be Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, while the statement from the White House says he will be Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. (See excerpts enclosed below, along with Northey’s official biography.)

Either way, U.S. Senate confirmation should be smooth sailing, clearing a path for Governor Kim Reynolds to appoint a new secretary of agriculture later this year or in early 2018. The appointee would presumably be a prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination next spring.

This thread is for any speculation about successors to Northey. A few months ago, I thought State Representative Pat Grassley was a lock for the job. He was seen as a likely candidate for secretary of agriculture in 2014 or 2018, had Northey run for higher office. His grandfather, Senator Chuck Grassley, is co-chairing the Reynolds campaign for governor.

And yet: ever since Pat Grassley tweeted last week that he was “not convinced” a state tax incentives package worth $400,000 per long-term job created by Apple was “good value for Iowa taxpayers,” I’ve been wondering whether he and the governor had a falling out. Perhaps word reached him that Reynolds is leaning toward someone else for secretary of agriculture. The governor has been talking up the Apple deal as a major accomplishment. Her chief of staff, Jake Ketzner, is not known for showing tolerance toward Republicans who criticize or question his boss.

Former State Representative Annette Sweeney could be a contender. She’s executive director of the Iowa Angus Association, having previously headed a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women. Before that, she served as Iowa House Agriculture Committee chair and floor-managed the country’s first “Ag Gag” bill.

The political map drawn up after the 2010 census put Sweeney and Pat Grassley in the same legislative district, and she lost a tough, expensive 2012 primary widely viewed as a proxy war between Bruce Rastetter and Senator Grassley. The two Iowa Republican powerhouses were on opposite sides again during last year’s GOP primary in the fourth Congressional district.

Sweeney is a childhood friend of Rastetter, who has been a major donor to Reynolds and before that, had tremendous influence over her mentor, Governor Terry Branstad (see also here). Reynolds’ chief of staff Ketzner became a senior adviser to Chris Christie’s presidential campaign around the same time Rastetter endorsed the New Jersey governor.

Iowa Democrats do not have a declared 2018 candidate for secretary of agriculture yet. Northey narrowly defeated Denise O’Brien in his first statewide election, then won his second and third terms by comfortable majorities.

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IA-02: Christopher Peters set to run against Dave Loebsack again

Dr. Christopher Peters announced today that he will visit all 24 counties in Iowa’s second Congressional district next week “to speak with Iowans about his plans for the 2018 election.” Since I’ve never heard of someone holding more than two dozen events to publicize a decision not to run for office, it’s a safe bet the Coralville surgeon will be launching his second attempt to defeat Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack.

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ISU president seeking greener runways

Iowa State University President Steven Leath resigned today, effective later this spring, in order to lead Auburn University. Impressed by Leath’s land-grant university experience, Auburn’s trustees hired him following a controversial closed search. In a message to ISU supporters, Leath said he and his wife had “expected to retire here.”

However, we now realize our destiny is in Alabama and leading one of the nation’s great Land-grant universities to even greater prominence.

I leave with a promise fulfilled, and that was to leave the university better than I inherited it. I leave with Iowa State achieving record enrollment, retention rates, graduation rates, job placement rates as well as records in fundraising and research funding, and numerous other metrics. I am proud of the many accomplishments that we achieved in economic development and community engagement.

A brief statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter thanked Leath for his service and noted, “ISU has made great strides during his tenure, including achieving record enrollment.”

The terms of Leath’s contract at Auburn have not been finalized, but it’s a safe bet he will be paid substantially more than the $525,000 base salary he has received since the summer of 2015. The previous Auburn president earned $2.5 million a year, mostly in deferred compensation. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that Leath “will be forfeiting deferred compensation of $625,000 that would have accrued had he remained [ISU] president in June 2020.”

Leath had several good reasons to jump ship.

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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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University of Iowa reinstates scholarships to undergraduates

The University of Iowa has decided to reinstate scholarships to undergraduates who were informed recently that they would lose promised funding. I enclose below an e-mail many students received this morning from President Bruce Harreld.

Two students had already filed class-action lawsuits over the university’s decision to terminate five scholarships in order to save some $4.3 million. A trial pitting the university against children of alumni would be a public relations nightmare. In addition, Harreld would have had to explain under oath why university officials wrongly claimed last week to have warned current scholarship holders that awards were contingent on state funding levels.

In today’s message to students, Harreld noted,

Over the past few days we heard from many families who were unaware this was a renewable scholarship reliant on state support. While this was not a need-based award, we also heard from families who budgeted for college based on the scholarships and feared financial hardship with the programs’ elimination.

The University of Iowa takes its relationship with students and alumni very seriously and, therefore, will honor the awards previously made to those currently receiving this scholarship. […]

Moving forward we must continue to place a priority on need-based and merit-based awards, which is why the Iowa Heritage Award will no longer be offered to new students who start at the university in 2018.

I also enclose below a statement released by the university.

UPDATE: Added comments from James Larew, the attorney representing plaintiff Jenna Pokorny.

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3,000 University of Iowa students will pay the price for Republican budget policies

See important update below: Jon Muller questions whether the University of Iowa “committed an act of scholarship fraud.”

Three weeks after Governor Terry Branstad signed into law large mid-year budget cuts for Iowa’s state universities, some 3,015 incoming or current students at the University of Iowa learned that they will be picking up part of the tab.

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Republicans deliver worst month ever to Iowa students and educators

For all their talk about helping Iowa provide a “world class” and “globally competitive” education, Iowa Republicans are unwilling to provide the resources public schools need to keep up with rising costs.

And for all their talk about getting “better teachers in the classroom” and giving “hardworking teachers … all the tools necessary to succeed,” Iowa Republicans seem determined to discourage people from pursuing a teaching career in this state.

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Will ISU's president ever fully cover the cost of his personal medical travel?

Six weeks after Iowa State University released the Internal Audit report on ISU Flight Service and University Owned Aircraft, I’ve made surprisingly little headway toward filling in the gaps.

Not for lack of trying.

The Iowa Board of Regents and ISU have withheld information that should have been included in a “comprehensive audit” purporting to cover every flight President Steven Leath has taken on a university airplane.

For today, I will focus on one issue: ISU staff’s refusal to tell me whether Leath has reimbursed the ISU Foundation for the full cost of flights to Rochester, Minnesota in July 2015. The matter raises questions about the foundation’s compliance with federal tax code and the accuracy of ISU’s official narrative.

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How Kim Reynolds built her $1.1 million war chest

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take many advantages into the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, by virtue of being the incumbent after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China.

Though Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is considering a bid for the Republican nomination next year, he may have second thoughts after looking at the Reynolds committee’s latest campaign finance reports. The lieutenant governor ramped up her fundraising during 2016 and has more than $1.1 million in the bank.

Contrary to the picture painted by spin doctors for Reynolds, most of the money came from major donors.

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Iowans shut out of Trump's cabinet, and Chuck Grassley's not happy

The less said about President Donald Trump’s divisive, angry, poorly-delivered inaugural address, the better.

Catching up on transition news of particular importance to Iowa, yesterday Trump’s team finally announced that former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Perdue had long been considered a front-runner for the last cabinet position to be filled, but Trump delayed the selection for weeks in an apparent scramble to find a Latino. (He is the first president since Jimmy Carter not to appoint any Latinos to a cabinet-level position.)

The only Iowans Trump has tapped for important jobs so far are Sam Clovis, who is heading the transition at USDA, future U.S. Ambassador to China Governor Terry Branstad, and Eric Branstad, in line to become White House liaison to the Commerce Department. (By some accounts, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Steven Colloton is on Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Senator Chuck Grassley had expressed concern about the delay in choosing a secretary of agriculture and specifically about rumored efforts to find someone other than a white man for the job. He didn’t sound pleased about the Perdue appointment either.

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Don't panic: Iowa House Education chair doesn't want to abolish tenure

State Senator Brad Zaun’s bill to prohibit “the establishment or continuation of a tenure system” has worried many people who understand how badly that policy would harm Iowa’s state universities. Wisconsin Republican lawmakers spurred an exodus of highly-regarded faculty from that state’s top university, and the Wisconsin law to weaken tenure didn’t go nearly as far as Zaun’s bill would.

Fortunately, the bill seems unlikely to clear the Iowa House Education Committee–if it even gets that far.

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17 Iowa politics predictions for 2017

Two weeks late and humbled by the results from previous efforts to foretell the future, I offer seventeen Iowa politics predictions for the new year.

I struggled to compile this list, in part because it’s harder to come up with things to predict during a non-election year. I didn’t want to stack the deck with obvious statements, such as “the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will shred collective bargaining rights.” The most consequential new laws coming down the pike under unified Republican control of state government are utterly predictable. I needed time to look up some cases pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. Also, I kept changing my mind about whether to go for number 17. (No guts, no glory.)

I want to mention one prediction that isn’t on this list, because I don’t expect it to happen this year or next. I am convinced that if the GOP holds the governor’s office and both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2018, they will do away with non-partisan redistricting before the 2020 census. I don’t care what anyone says about our system being a model for the country or too well-established for politicians to discard. Everywhere Republicans have had a trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Iowa will be no exception. So if Democrats don’t want to be stuck with permanent minority status in the state legislature, we must win the governor’s race next year. You heard it here first.

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Higher education would take a huge hit in Branstad's budget

While delivering his final condition of the state address to Iowa lawmakers on Tuesday, Governor Terry Branstad warned that he was offering “difficult” recommendations to cover a shortfall of more than $100 million in the current-year budget. His speech played up the good news: “My proposal does not include across-the-board cuts, does not reduce funding for K through 12 education, does not reduce property tax credits and does not include furloughs for state employees.”

The bad news was buried deep in a 196-page two-year budget blueprint. Nearly a third of the governor’s proposed spending cuts this year would fall on Iowa’s public universities and community colleges. The underfunding doesn’t stop there.

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Bruce Rastetter still in the running to be Trump's agriculture secretary

Bruce Rastetter visited Trump Tower in New York today, as seen in this photo Craig Robinson posted on Twitter. Since making a fortune in the agriculture sector (large hog lots and ethanol), Rastetter has been among the largest Iowa donors to Republican candidates. He gave the maximum allowable contribution of $2,700 to Trump’s campaign in August, shortly before joining the GOP nominee’s informal agricultural advisory committee, aptly described by Brian Barth as a “who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates.” Rastetter had supported New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before the Iowa caucuses and maxed out to several Republican U.S. senators as well as to Christie’s presidential campaign.

Trump said little about food or agricultural policy during his campaign and has kept people guessing about his favored candidates to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rastetter’s name didn’t appear on short lists for the job published in the New York Times or Modern Farmer, but he was mentioned in similar stories by Politico and Successful Farming. Such articles aren’t necessarily accurate; Idaho Governor Butch Otter has confirmed that he is being vetted for secretary of agriculture, and his name wasn’t on any short list that I’ve seen.

I assumed Rastetter was no longer a serious contender for Trump’s cabinet in part because of his connection to Christie, who appeared to have fallen out of favor soon after November 8. Vice President-elect Mike Pence took charge of the transition effort and specifically “assumed oversight of the transition at USDA,” according to Daniel Looker’s November 21 report for Successful Farming.

On the other hand, Rastetter is a frequent and influential adviser to Governor Terry Branstad, whom Trump selected to be U.S. ambassador to China this month. He was backstage during Trump’s December 8 “thank you” rally in Des Moines. Though he doesn’t obsessively brag about his wealth like the president-elect does, Rastetter has a large enough bank balance to fit into a cabinet packed with billionaires and multimillionaires.

Picking Rastetter to run the USDA would reassure biofuels supporters who are deeply concerned that Trump chose opponents of the Renewable Fuel Standard to run the U.S. Department of Energy (former Texas Governor Rick Perry) and the Environmental Protection Agency (Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt). For what it’s worth, Branstad has claimed “Trump personally reassured him that Pruitt ‘is going to be for ethanol.’” If Trump keeps his promises on immigration policy, the agriculture sector may be facing a different set of problems. Barth observed in this Modern Farmer story that deporting millions of undocumented immigrants “would undermine the agricultural workforce and ripple out in the food economy in unforeseen, but likely negative, ways.”

Rastetter is currently president of the Iowa Board of Regents, the governing body for Iowa’s state universities. His six-year term on that body expires in April 2017, and Democrats have enough Iowa Senate seats to block his confirmation, should Branstad appoint him to another term.

UPDATE: Ryan Foley of the Associated Press predicted that Rastetter’s attempt to use Iowa State University to promote a major land acquisition in Tanzania “will be thoroughly re-examined” if Trump names Rastetter to his cabinet. Foley reported in 2012 that Rastetter “blurred the line between his role as investor in AgriSol Energy […] and his position on the Board of Regents” when working with ISU on his company’s “plan to develop 800,000 acres of Tanzanian farmland for crop production.” Bleeding Heartland posted many more links here on Rastetter’s attempted “land grab” in Africa.

Tom Philpott reviewed the top prospects for the USDA job in a December 20 piece for Mother Jones. Rastetter’s not on his list. Philpott considers him a “truly heinous” option for various reasons.

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on December 21, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller said, “I do not know if Mr. Rastetter is being considered for a particular post. Obviously he’s someone who comes with a wealth of knowledge and is very well-known in Iowa politics. But [I] don’t have any particular updates on his meeting with transition officials.” (Trump is spending this week at his Florida resort.)

JANUARY UPDATE: After a late push to find a Latino for the USDA position, Trump was supposedly leaning toward former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, according to Politico’s morning “Playbook” on January 2. Marvin G. Perez and Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg later the same day,

Perdue appears to be emerging from a broad pack of candidates. Trump and his aides have interviewed several others, including former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano, former Texas U.S. Representative Henry Bonilla, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, former California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, Idaho Governor Butch Otter, and North Dakota U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat

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Twelve holes in the internal ISU Flight Service audit

The Iowa Board of Regents gave Iowa State University President Steven Leath a well-choreographed vote of confidence on Monday. First, Chief Audit Executive Todd Stewart took the board through highlights from his team’s review of ISU’s Flight Service, noting the “full cooperation” provided by ISU staff. Then a contrite yet defensive Leath took the floor. Still insisting he did not violate any policies or laws, the president admitted he could have shown “better judgment” and said he is “very sorry” about “things I should have done differently.” In particular, he “used the university planes more frequently than was absolutely necessary, and should have been more transparent about some of the use.” He promised to be “more thoughtful” and learn from this experience. The 12-page auditor’s report and full statement from Leath are enclosed at the end of this post.

Regent Larry McKibben was up next to thank Leath for his leadership and contribution to positive trends at ISU, adding that he hopes for more “great things” during the next five years. The chair of the Regents’ audit committee has never viewed what he called a “ding on an airplane wing” as grounds to change his opinion of Leath. His remarks before the regents went into closed session signaled that the overseers would neither fire nor severely sanction the ISU president.

After board members evaluated Leath’s performance, Board President Bruce Rastetter asserted that Leath had “eliminate[d] any questions about the personal benefit that he may have received by using the university aircraft,” having reimbursed the ISU Foundation for costs associated with some flights. He went on to say,

“Clearly, President Leath’s acknowledgment that he takes full responsibility for the issues identified in the audit and that he should have been more transparent about the use of the planes reassures this board, and I hope all Iowans, that the president deserves our continued trust and support,” Rastetter said. “Furthermore, the board believes the audit has put to rest any concerns about President Leath’s use of the aircraft.”

This Iowan is not reassured. The audit has big holes and failed to fully account for costs of Leath’s airplane habit.

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Bruce Rastetter not on Trump's short list for agriculture secretary?

Today the New York Times published short lists for every position in Donald Trump’s cabinet, “using information from the Trump transition team, lawmakers, lobbyists and Washington experts.” The leading names for secretary of agriculture are Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

Six Iowans were among more than 60 people on the “Agricultural Advisory Committee” Trump’s campaign announced in August. Governor Terry Branstad has never expressed interest in a federal government job. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, unless Branstad seeks a seventh term. Sam Clovis is under consideration for deputy chief of staff for policy. Former State Representative Annette Sweeney, who leads a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women, doesn’t have the stature for a cabinet position. The same goes for Ron Heck, a farmer and past president of the American Soybean Association.

Then there’s Bruce Rastetter, who made a fortune building factory farms and another fortune in the ethanol industry. Often described as a “kingmaker” despite the mixed results for candidates he has favored, Rastetter may soon need a new gig for throwing his weight around politically. His term on the Iowa Board of Regents, where he is nominally president but de facto the decider for the nine-member board, expires at the end of April 2017. Even after last week’s devastation, Democrats have enough votes in the Iowa Senate to block Rastetter’s confirmation, assuming Branstad renominates him to the governing board for the three state universities.

Trump is reportedly considering quite a few corporate executives for cabinet positions, so why isn’t Rastetter on the short list? He may be a casualty of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s declining influence in Trump’s inner circle. Rastetter has long been on good terms with Christie, but the governor was replaced as leader of Trump’s transition team soon after the election. (A source told Deadspin that “Trump had just picked Christie as transition chair nominally, as everyone had assumed the New Jersey governor would never actually have to do any work.”)

What will be Rastetter’s next political move if no federal job is forthcoming, and the Iowa Senate declines to confirm him to another term on the Board of Regents? Spin your own scenarios in this thread.

P.S.-Searches on the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board’s website indicate that Rastetter gave less money to Iowa Republican candidates and political committees during the 2016 cycle than he had during the previous several elections. His only five-figure gifts in 2015 or 2016 were $10,000 to Kim Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor, $25,000 to Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix’s committee, and several gifts totaling $40,000 to House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s committee. That’s a significant drop from Rastetter’s large contributions to GOP candidates and committees during the 2014 and 2012 election cycles. He hasn’t given any money to Nick Ryan’s Team Iowa PAC since 2012, when his donations to that PAC alone totaled $120,000. The Team Iowa PAC ceased to be a major player in Iowa legislative races after the 2012 election. The American Future Fund 501(c)4 group, for which Rastetter provided “seed money” in 2007, spent less to influence federal elections in 2014 and 2016 than it had in 2012.

UPDATE: Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is reportedly behind the “purge” of Christie loyalists from Trump’s transition team. When Christie was a U.S. attorney, he put Kushner’s father in prison.

State auditor and Board of Regents looking more deeply into ISU airplane use

Iowa State University President Steven Leath continues to insist his use of university aircraft violated no policies or laws.

We’ll learn more in the coming months, because the State Auditor’s Office is looking into the matter, and yesterday the Iowa Board of Regents approved a plan to audit every ISU Flight Service flight since Leath was hired in 2012.

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If ISU pilots chose to land at Elmira, it wasn't for cheap fuel

Iowa State University finally released its aviation insurance policy and some other documents related to President Steven Leath’s use of university-owned aircraft on October 12, a week after Leath promised to be “open and transparent” about the controversy.

While I work my way through those incomplete materials, let’s take a closer look at one of the least plausible narratives ISU has floated in connection with this scandal: en route to and from an NCAA Sweet Sixteen basketball game in March 2014, pilots of the university’s King Air 350 200 “unilaterally decided” to refuel at the Elmira Corning Regional Airport in Horseheads, New York. The stops supposedly chosen by the pilots allowed Leath’s brother and sister-in-law to hitch a ride at no additional cost to ISU.

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University of Iowa's Robillard to resign as top medical official; reasons unclear

One of the most powerful figures at the University of Iowa over the past year and a half is stepping down as vice president of medical affairs and dean of the medical school. I enclose below this morning’s news release from the university, which did not explain Jean Robillard’s decision but said he “will remain on the faculty of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics. A search for his successor will commence immediately, with Robillard continuing as vice president and dean until a new leader is named.” Whether one or two people will be hired to replace him is not yet clear.

Robillard served as dean of the Carver College of Medicine for four years before becoming vice president for medical affairs in January 2007. As chair of the presidential search committee formed in February 2015 and as interim university president beginning last August, he played a central role in recruiting and eventually selecting the UI’s current President Bruce Harreld. Not only did Robillard lead the public search for Sally Mason’s successor, he attended secret meetings that were part of a parallel process and disbanded the search committee immediately after Harreld was named as a finalist over “significant faculty opposition.” He refused to meet with investigators from the American Association of University Professors, who later declared that the presidential search had been “manipulated to reach a foreordained result.” The handling of that search prompted the AAUP to sanction the University of Iowa this summer.

Although Robillard is 72 years old, his retirement–which a university spokesperson called “completely voluntary”–is surprising. Harreld told journalist Jeff Charis-Carlson last October that he did not plan high-level staff changes in the health care division: “‘I think that’s in very good hands,’ Harreld said of the leadership of Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president for medical affairs and a member of the presidential cabinet.” Soon after, Robillard helped orchestrate renaming the children’s hospital after alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, without public input. Jerre Stead was both a longtime business contact of Harreld’s and a co-chair of University of Iowa Health Care’s $500 million capital campaign beginning in 2011. He was an important figure in the behind-the-scenes events that led to Harreld’s hire.

In February of this year, the university reorganized its health care operations to allow Robillard to serve as medical school dean while continuing as VP for medical affairs. Harreld sanctioned the reshuffle, which the Iowa Board of Regents approved retroactively two weeks later, even though “Changes this high in the administrative level at one of Iowa’s public universities typically require approval from the Iowa Board of Regents,” Charis-Carlson reported at the time.

Building a “kid-friendly, state-of-the-art” children’s hospital has been a focus of Robillard’s work for years. That facility is set to open in December; cost overruns raised its price tag by some 25 percent over the budget the Board of Regents approved in 2012. Charis-Carlson reported in April on the controversy surrounding the multi-million-dollar contract to furnish the new hospital, which UI officials awarded without competitive bidding to a company with ties to an regent.

Last week, nurses and labor union members protested the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics over chronic under-staffing at the main hospital, despite rising occupancy rates.

I will update this post as needed. Any insights related to Robillard stepping down are welcome as comments in this thread or as confidential private messages (my e-mail is listed near the lower right corner of this page). UPDATE: Added comments from Robillard below.

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Seven ways ISU President Leath's airplane excuses don't add up

Iowa State University President Steven Leath tried on Monday to cut off further scrutiny of how he used a university plane. Shorter version of the seven-paragraph statement you can find near the bottom of this post: I did nothing wrong, and I won’t do it again. End of story. Leath has donated $15,000 to the ISU Foundation scholarship fund to cover costs associated with fixing and storing a Cirrus SR22 damaged in a July 2015 “hard landing.”

While ISU spokesperson John McCarroll slow-walks my information requests, refusing to send me even the insurance policy that should take his staff minutes to retrieve, now seems like a good time to explain why Iowans haven’t heard the last about this scandal.

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ISU president used university plane for personal trips, didn't pay to fix damage

Iowa State University President Steven Leath has flown one of the university’s planes on at least four personal trips, without the apparent knowledge of the official in charge of ISU’s flight program, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on September 23. Leath reimbursed the university for some costs associated with those trips but not for expenses incurred after he damaged one of the planes through pilot error in July 2015.

Although Leath’s use of the plane appears to have violated both ISU policy and state law, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter has already released a statement supporting Leath.

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Throwback Thursday: A year since Bruce Harreld shook up the University of Iowa

One year ago today, the University of Iowa’s Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Iowa Board of Regents, saying the board “has failed in its duty to take care of the University of Iowa and citizens of Iowa and shown blatant disregard for the shared nature of the university governance.” Five days earlier, the regents had offered the university presidency to Bruce Harreld, passing over three other finalists with substantial support among campus stakeholders and far more experience in higher education.

Harreld’s first year on the job did little to reassure his critics, in part because he’s never acknowledged any flaws in the process that brought him to Iowa City. The American Association of University Professors issued a detailed report last December on the presidential search. Cliffs Notes version: key members of the Board of Regents decided early on to pick a “non-traditional” candidate from the business world, who would preside over “transformative” change at the university; diminished faculty power on the search committee; made Harreld a finalist without a committee vote and despite substantial opposition from faculty; and discounted input from staff, students, and faculty in choosing Harreld over finalists with strong backgrounds in academic administration.

In June, delegates to the AAUP’s national meeting voted unanimously to sanction the University of Iowa for “substantial non‐compliance with standards of academic government” in connection with Harreld’s hiring. Soon after, Harreld commented on the sanctions, “It’s bizarre to me. […] It doesn’t make any sense.” As Mark Barrett noticed, Harreld had the same reaction last fall when asked about controversy surrounding his secret meetings with decision-makers before he formally applied for the presidency: “I find the criticism bizarre, to be really honest about it. […] There is an assumption that I somehow was given preferential treatment. I didn’t see that at all.”

Speaking of bizarre, the University of Iowa will hold a celebration next week to “officially welcome” Harreld to campus, more than ten months after he started work.

I decided to mark this anniversary by cataloguing my coverage of events that inspired the hashtag #prezfiasco. Before Harreld arrived on the scene, University of Iowa politics had inspired only a handful among more than 5,000 posts I’d written over eight and a half years. Some pieces about the Harreld hire turned out to be among the most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2015.

Readers with a strong interest in this subject should check out Barrett’s more extensive archive of “Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates” at the Ditchwalk blog.

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Branstad, Rastetter, Northey join Donald Trump's Agricultural Advisory Committee

So much for an “unofficial” role: Governor Terry Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Republican power-broker Bruce Rastetter are among more than 60 people named this morning to Donald Trump’s “Agricultural Advisory Committee.” Its “executive board members will convene on a regular basis,” according to a news release I’ve posted after the jump. Note that the campaign statement misspells Northey’s name and describes Rastetter as having hosted the “first Republican Presidential debate.” Actually, Rastetter organized an Iowa Ag Summit at which nine presidential contenders (not including Trump) appeared in March 2015. New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner was the first to report Branstad’s and Rastetter’s involvement as Trump advisers last week.

The other Iowans on the list released today are:

• Sam Clovis, who traded in his conservative and religious principles last summer to become Trump’s “national chief policy advisor”;

• former State Representative Annette Sweeney, a friend of Rastetter’s since childhood who chaired the Iowa House Agriculture Committee until redistricting forced her into a losing primary battle against fellow House Republican Pat Grassley. She was a key player in passing Iowa’s unconstitutional “ag gag bill,” the first of its kind in the country. Soon after finishing her legislative service, Sweeney became president of a public policy group called Iowa Agri-Women.

• Ron Heck, identified as an Iowa farmer and past president of the American Soybean Association.

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread. Northey is widely expected to run for governor in 2018 rather than seek a fourth term as secretary of agriculture. His likely opponents in a GOP gubernatorial primary include Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. While the lieutenant governor has repeatedly urged Iowans to vote for Trump at public events, Corbett has wisely kept some distance between himself and the presidential nominee. He steered clear of Trump’s rally in Cedar Rapids on July 28.

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Weekend open thread: More Iowa Republicans throwing in with Trump

While Republican insiders across the country despair about the presidential race, dozens urging the Republican National Committee to stop investing in Donald Trump, others wishing in vain that Trump would drop out, and some even quitting their political jobs, Iowa’s most influential Republicans continue to stand with the GOP nominee.

This week, Governor Terry Branstad confirmed plans to advise Trump on policy; his major influencer Bruce Rastetter will reportedly do the same. In addition, two other well-known GOP operatives took on formal roles in Trump’s Iowa campaign. Jamie Johnson will be coalitions director and Jake Ketzner a senior advisor. Johnson is a veteran of Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid. After a spell supporting Ted Cruz, he landed with Rick Perry’s short-lived campaign this cycle. An ordained minister, he will presumably focus on engaging evangelical Christians, a key constituency for Santorum in 2012 and for Cruz this year. Jake Ketzner managed Representative Steve King’s re-election campaign in 2012, the year he faced Christie Vilsack in a substantially redrawn district. Ketzner left Branstad’s staff for a lobbying job last summer and soon became a senior adviser to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Iowa caucus campaign.

Why are more respectable Republicans joining what looks like a sinking ship? For one thing, the latest public polls show Trump running better in Iowa than in national polls or surveys in swing states with more diverse populations. So even if Trump gets blown out nationally, working on his campaign here might not be a liability, especially if he carries Iowa or loses by a relatively small margin. Also, hitching your wagon to a toxic nominee is less risky when your state’s governor, lieutenant governor, GOP U.S. senators and representatives are giving you cover. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that going all-in for Trump helped our state’s establishment secure a promise from the nominee that if he’s elected, the Iowa caucuses will remain first in the nominating calendar.

Neither Branstad nor any Republicans who represent Iowa in Congress have responded to my questions about worrying aspects of Trump’s candidacy. To my knowledge, only two GOP elected officials in Iowa have publicly ruled out voting for Trump: State Senator David Johnson and Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara. Tips are welcome if readers know of other GOP officials willing to say #NeverTrump. I’ve sought comment from many whom I considered “likely suspects.”

Several experienced Iowa campaign operatives have said they won’t vote for the GOP nominee, including David Kochel, a former strategist for Mitt Romney and senior figure in Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign. Justin Arnold, former state political director for Marco Rubio, explained in a March op-ed column for the Des Moines Register why he would not support Trump under any circumstances. He announced earlier this month that he has joined the direct mail and political consulting firm Majority Strategies. That company’s clients include U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) and at least one Iowa GOP state committee.

Joel Kurtinitis, a onetime staffer on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and former Republican State Central Committee member, published a blistering commentary at The Blaze on Friday: Five Things You Can Never Say Again After Voting Trump. I enclose below excerpts from a piece that social conservatives might describe as “convicting.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign continues to build a strong field operation in Iowa and other battleground states, while Trump’s ground game is remarkably weak and in some areas literally missing in action.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Iowa State Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Sunday, August 21. A summer cold moving systematically through our household has so far kept us from the fairgrounds, but we will get there once or twice this week. Bleeding Heartland has previously published my best advice for enjoying the fair, especially in the company of young children. The schedule of candidates speaking at the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox” near the administration building is here. Like Brad Anderson, I was surprised Senator Chuck Grassley passed on the opportunity. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, though. Grassley tends to avoid putting public events on his schedule in Polk and several other large-population counties.

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Branstad to be "unofficial" Trump adviser; Bruce Rastetter may have same role

New Jersey journalist Claude Brodesser-Akner had the scoop today for NJ.com: Donald Trump’s soon-to-be-announced economic advisers include Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and “Bruce Rastetter, a multimillionaire livestock and bio-fuel tycoon who insiders say is also a leading candidate to be Trump’s agriculture secretary.” They

will advise Trump on agribusiness and energy policy, according to a source within the Trump campaign who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

“There’s a clear nexus between [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie, the Branstads and Rastetter,” explained one Iowa GOP insider familiar with all three men’s dealings with one another but who was fearful of alienating the Iowa governor by speaking out publicly.

Rastetter helped talk Branstad into running for governor again in 2009 and was his campaign’s top donor in 2010. He has exerted substantial influence since Branstad returned to office in 2011, speaking to the governor “at least once a week.” Rastetter tried to recruit Christie to run for president in 2011 and endorsed him in a highly-publicized event last September. Though Branstad did not endorse any presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, several people close to him were involved in Christie’s campaign.

Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes confirmed via e-mail that the governor “was asked to advise Mr. Trump in an unofficial role. He will be offering his advice on important issues to Iowa, none more important than renewable fuels.” Iowa Republicans have seized on a recent report by Reuters, suggesting that as president, Hillary Clinton might change federal policy on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate for biofuels blends into gasoline. The governor’s son Eric Branstad is running Trump’s general election campaign in Iowa, having coordinated an ethanol industry group‘s political efforts here before the caucuses.

Hammes declined to comment on Rastetter’s possible role in the Trump campaign or a prospective Trump cabinet. At this writing, Rastetter’s office has not responded to my inquiry. The man often described as an “ethanol baron” sought to enhance his reputation as an authority on agriculture policy last year, when he organized an Iowa Ag Summit, attended by nine presidential hopefuls and a who’s who of Iowa GOP elected officials. Though Rastetter would surely want to have a strong voice in any Republican administration, I have trouble seeing him in a cabinet secretary’s role, with many public events and press availabilities. The way Trump’s poll numbers are looking lately, we will likely never find out whether Rastetter was really the top contender to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

UPDATE: According to Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, Rastetter met privately with Trump not long before the nominee’s July 28 rally in Cedar Rapids. Excerpts from that story are after the jump, along with comments Hammes provided to Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller.

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Weekend open thread: ISU cronyism and favoritism edition

Insider dealing at the University of Iowa has drawn intense scrutiny since President Bruce Harreld’s hiring last year. This week, several news reports cast an unflattering light on the culture President Steven Leath is fostering at Iowa State University.

The July 9 Des Moines Register carried a front-page story by Lee Rood on Leath’s recent purchase of land from one of the companies controlled by Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. After trying to weasel out of answering questions regarding what he called his “personal life,” Leath insisted he got no “special deal” on the land. However, the arrangement appears highly irregular, as discussed below following excerpts from Rood’s article.

Two recent stories by Vanessa Miller for the Cedar Rapids Gazette raised further questions about what kind of operation Leath is running. Click through to read about the hiring of former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach for a high-paying job that was never advertised, as well as Kurtenbach’s restructuring of ISU’s information technology services unit, which involved eliminating 23 positions and paying 19 people not to work since May 25. Excerpts from those stories are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.- Speaking of cozy Republican networks, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on Friday that the University of Iowa “is retaining a social media startup company with Republican Party ties that benefited from earlier no-bid contracts.” Wholecrowd is run by Jim Anderson, who served as Iowa GOP executive director during part of the time the University of Iowa’s current Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes was a staffer for the GOP state Senate caucus. Under no-bid contracts Matthes signed with former Iowa GOP state party chair Matt Strawn’s company, Wholecrowd did the same kind of “digital advocacy” work as a subcontractor. The university’s new contract, signed directly with Wholecrowd after a competitive bidding process, seems to have cut Strawn out as the middleman.

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Weekend open thread: Good tsar, bad advisers edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

A bunch of Iowa primary election previews are in the works to post between now and Tuesday. Still trying to decide on my last few guesses for the latest Bleeding Heartland election prediction contest.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Board of Regents will meet this week to discuss, among other things, how to handle the upcoming search for a University of Northern Iowa president and whether to approve a staff recommendation on raising tuition for the coming academic year.

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Lawsuit claims secret Harreld meetings violated Iowa law

A retired University of Iowa employee has filed suit to nullify last year’s hiring of University President Bruce Harreld, on the grounds that five members of the Iowa Board of Regents violated the state’s open meetings law, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press.

I enclose below more background on the case as well as the full text of the plaintiff’s court filing.

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Hold on to your hats: Search for new president coming to UNI

I have a bad feeling about this: after three years as University of Northern Iowa president, Dr. William Ruud is leaving Cedar Falls to lead Marietta College in Ohio. That college and the Iowa Board of Regents confirmed Ruud’s plans shortly after Jeff Charis-Carlson broke the news yesterday.

Moving from the top job at a well-regarded state university to a private college one-tenth the size isn’t a typical path for academic leaders. So, did Ruud jump or was he pushed?

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Branstad names Bruce Rastetter ally Michael Richards to Board of Regents

Governor Terry Branstad appointed Michael Richards to the Iowa Board of Regents last Friday. Subject to confirmation by the Iowa Senate, Richards will serve the last five years of Mary Andringa’s term on the nine-member board, which oversees Iowa’s state universities. Andringa announced her resignation in late April, saying she had “underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role.” (It soon emerged that she is a paid director for the Herman Miller furniture company, which received a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract from the University of Iowa last year.)

An alumnus of the University of Iowa undergraduate college and medical school, Richards has held management positions in various corporations, inside and outside the health care field. The official announcement of his appointment mentions several of those jobs as well as Richards’ philanthropy.

Richards continues a long tradition of major political donors securing spots on the prestigious Board of Regents. He made contributions totaling more than $40,000 to Branstad’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns. (Details on that giving are after the jump, along with the May 6 press release.) Last year, Richards gave $10,000 to Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who is almost certain to run for governor in 2018, as well as $2,500 to Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. He has given nearly $100,000 to other Republican candidates around the country.

Richards has been a close political ally of Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. In 2011, he joined a small group of business Republicans led by Rastetter, who encouraged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Last year, he joined Rastetter and most of that group to endorse Christie’s presidential campaign.

The Iowa Senate has confirmed hundreds of Branstad’s nominees unanimously or nearly so. During the legislature’s 2017 session, I don’t expect Richards to have any trouble winning confirmation to serve out Andringa’s term on the Board of Regents. The two appointees to that board whom senators rejected in 2013 had political baggage that Richards lacks.

UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Vanessa Miller’s latest report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Democratic lawmakers see the Senate confirming Richards next year.

LATE UPDATE: News emerged in early June that Branstad was considering Richards for the vacancy before Andringa had announced her resignation, so I’ve added more details below. Branstad has known Richards for far longer than Rastetter has been one of the governor’s most influential advisers.

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This is not what leadership looks like

When the Iowa Board of Regents picked Bruce Harreld over finalists far more qualified to be president of a major university, supporters of the hire touted the non-traditional candidate’s leadership ability, honed in the corporate world. Regents President Bruce Rastetter has repeatedly commented on Harreld’s “successful, collaborative skills” and experience “making organizations better and bringing teams together and developing a strategic plan of how we make organizations better.”

Six months into Harreld’s tenure, those purported leadership skills have yet to be seen. The president declined to respond when challenged over the University of Iowa’s refusal to release documents related to statewide opinion polling. He extended Athletic Director Gary Barta’s contract for five years despite lawsuits and federal investigations of possible gender discrimination on Barta’s watch. (The university didn’t disclose that decision until a journalist asked weeks later to see the contract.) When the Associated Press reported that the head of campus police had “interfered with an investigation into a hit-and-run drunk driving accident by his stepson,” an incident not disclosed even to key members of the Board of Regents, Harreld made no public statement for two days. Then he told one reporter “there’s no there, there”–less than 48 hours before the university announced the official’s demotion.

Yesterday Harreld showed up at a forum on social justice issues unprepared to answer the most obvious question that could have been asked.

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Mary Andringa stepping down from Iowa Board of Regents (updated)

Saying she had “underestimated the time required to fully serve in this role,” Mary Andringa announced today she will step down from the Iowa Board of Regents, just one year into her six-year term. I enclose the official statement below, along with more background on Andringa, who has had a long and distinguished career in business and industry advocacy work. As a regent, she is best known for participating in a secret Ames meeting with Bruce Harreld and three other board members, then sending Harreld an effusive e-mail encouraging him to apply for the University of Iowa’s presidency.

Governor Terry Branstad will select Andringa’s successor on the nine-member Board of Regents, almost certainly after the state legislature has adjourned for this year. Consequently, the Iowa Senate will consider that nominee during the 2017 session.

Since 2011, state senators have confirmed the overwhelming majority of Branstad appointees unanimously or nearly so. However, Senate Democrats rejected two of Branstad’s picks for the Board of Regents in 2013. Craig Lang faced criticism for allegedly interfering with state university policies during his first term as a regent, while Robert Cramer drew fire for his record of social conservative activism, including as a member of the Johnston school board.

Branstad thinks highly of Andringa, naming her to a newly-created state economic development board a few years before appointing her to the even more prestigious board that oversees Iowa’s state universities. In fact, Branstad and his onetime chief of staff Doug Gross were said to have recruited Andringa to run for governor in 2009, a few months before GOP heavyweights persuaded Branstad to come out of political retirement. A poll commissioned by an organization linked to Gross had tested voters’ interest in female business leaders as potential gubernatorial candidates. Some news coverage in the spring of 2009 named Andringa among the possible GOP challengers to Governor Chet Culver.

UPDATE: Casting Andringa’s resignation in a new light, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on April 28 that the outgoing regent “has long been a director for a national furniture company but failed to publicly disclose that relationship before its local distributor signed a major no-bid contract with the University of Iowa last year.” Excerpts from that story and from Jeff Charis-Carlson’s report on that no-bid contract are after the jump.

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IA-04: Joni Ernst is all in for Steve King

Today U.S. Senator Joni Ernst became the third Iowa Republican heavyweight to endorse Representative Steve King, who faces a primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Ernst didn’t just allow King’s campaign to announce her support in a statement, she also filmed a short video which I’ve enclosed below, along with a transcript.

Birds can be heard singing in the background as Ernst praises King for supporting life, liberty, the military, four-laning U.S. Highway 20, and the fuel blender tax credit. The sound you can’t hear is the door slamming on Bertrand’s already slim chance to win this primary.

Ernst served with Bertrand in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus from 2011 through 2014, so has observed his political work more closely than most Republicans. She could have stayed neutral, though seven-term incumbent King was heavily favored to win the IA-04 primary even before Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley publicly backed him.

As with Grassley’s endorsement, I wonder whether Ernst wanted to dish out some payback to Nick Ryan, the dark money operative who was recruiting a primary challenger in IA-04 and endorsed Bertrand immediately after the state senator made his campaign official.

Ryan worked for Mark Jacobs during his race against Ernst and others in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate. (Bruce Rastetter, a frequent ally of Ryan and major ethanol industry figure who is also supporting Bertrand against King, backed Ernst early in that race.)

Bertrand has been promoting himself as someone who will deliver for IA-04 in Congress, rather than trying to be a “national figure.” Last week, he asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register’s William Petroski that there is widespread “discontentment” with King, who “has gone Washington.” Echoing that talking point, Ryan told Petroski, “I believe we can do better. I want a conservative congressman that cares more about getting things done for his district than booking an appearance on Fox or MSNBC.”

Ryan can raise a lot of money to spend on campaigns, but his track record in Iowa GOP contests is mixed. Unsuccessful candidates who benefited from spending controlled by Ryan include: Jim Gibbons in the 2010 primary for Iowa’s third Congressional district, Annette Sweeney in the 2012 primary for Iowa House district 50, Jacobs in the 2014 Senate primary, Matt Schultz in the 2014 primary for IA-03, and Mike Huckabee before the latest Iowa caucuses.

P.S.-Asked this morning whether he wants “to see King defeated” in June, Governor Terry Branstad replied, “It’s up to the voters to decide in each of these instances and I’ve always had confidence in the voters of Iowa to make a good decision and I will obviously support the Republican nominees,” O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa. Branstad made headlines by calling for Ted Cruz’s defeat less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. King was Cruz’s leading surrogate in Iowa after endorsing the Texas senator for president in November.

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Weekend open thread: "The resources we have" edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. The Des Moines Register ran an extraordinary lead editorial on Saturday about a Des Moines police officer’s “pattern of misconduct” and “poor judgment.” Click through to read the most strongly-worded warning about a law enforcement official I’ve seen in an Iowa newspaper.

An emerging compromise on higher education funding was one of the biggest state-level news stories of the week. The Iowa legislature’s joint Education Appropriations Subcommittee, co-chaired by Democratic State Senator Brian Schoenjahn and Republican State Representative Cecil Dolecheck, agreed on April 13 that the fiscal year 2017 budget for higher education will include an additional $6.3 million for public universities: $2.8 million for the University of Northern Iowa, $2.2 million for Iowa State University, and $1.3 million for the University of Iowa. Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell noted that the increases work out to a little less than 3 percent more state funding for UNI, 1.2 percent for ISU, and less than 1 percent for UI.

The Iowa Board of Regents had requested an extra $20 million in state funding for the coming fiscal year: $4.5 million for UI, $8.2 million for ISU, and $7.65 million for UNI. Governor Terry Branstad’s draft budget had included a combined $8 million in additional state funding for the public universities. Last month, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said at least $8 million would be needed to avoid raising tuition. In a statement released April 14, Rastetter said the board would “immediately start discussions regarding tuition increases at our universities for Fall 2016.”

More background and details on the higher education funding compromise are after the jump, but I want to highlight a couple of misconceptions. Russell quoted Dolecheck as saying “we did the best we can with the resources that we have,” and quoted Schoenjahn as saying lawmakers tried to stretch “the precious resources we had” but couldn’t do more without raising taxes.

No. Just last month, the Iowa House and Senate approved a tax bill that will reduce fiscal year 2017 revenues by nearly $120 million: $97.6 million by harmonizing Iowa tax code with federal statutes, and around $21 million by reducing state sales taxes for manufacturing companies. Another $280 million was taken off the table long before this year’s budget negotiations began, when most lawmakers in both chambers approved an expensive commercial property tax cut in 2013. Leaders of both parties bragged about that tax cut at the time but did not acknowledge how the windfall for commercial property owners would affect the state’s ability to pay for other priorities down the road.

Speaking on behalf of the union that represents UNI faculty, Professor Joe Gorton said this week, “It seems clear to me that the regent universities are being sacrificed on the altar of corporate welfare.” An Iowa Fiscal Partnership analysis from January shows Gorton was closer to the truth than were Schoenjahn or Dolecheck. Business tax credits are expected to cost the state around $272 million during fiscal year 2017.

Writing at Blog for Iowa this weekend, Dave Bradley argued, “Had Branstad’s administration not given tax cuts to businesses without consulting the legislature we would probably [be] OK. […] while the special interests that the Republicans have given breaks to are no longer paying what they once did, Iowa’s parents will see higher tuition fees on their kids university bills.” Fact-check: mostly false. Over many years, the legislature approved and failed to revise Iowa’s generous business tax breaks. Most Democrats in both chamber joined their GOP colleagues to pass the costly property tax cut three years ago. Just six state senators and thirteen representatives voted no; I’ve listed them after the jump. The Branstad administration did try to enact the manufacturing sales tax break without legislative approval last year, and was on track to succeed. However, the tax bill lawmakers negotiated and approved last month included a scaled-back sales tax break, superseding the Department of Revenue’s proposed administrative rule.

Speaking of money for state universities not living up to expectations, Ryan Foley of the Associated Press revealed on April 15 that Rastetter has paid only $1.5 million toward his 2008 pledge of $5 million to the University of Iowa’s football program. Before 2015, Rastetter had donated just $500,000 toward that pledge, raising “questions about whether the delay was part of the pressure he put on former university President Sally Mason.” Excerpts from Foley’s article are at the end of this post.

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Local government advocates concerned about Iowa Supreme Court ruling on open meetings

Advocacy groups representing local government bodies are concerned that the Iowa Supreme Court’s new decision on open meetings will make it difficult for elected officials to obtain information from staff and conduct business. On Friday, a divided court ruled that Warren County supervisors were not in compliance with Iowa law when they used a staffer as a go-between while working out a county downsizing plan behind closed doors. Writing for the majority of four, Justice David Wiggins argued that allowing such a scheme “would result in absurd consequences undermining the clear purpose of the open meetings law.” He further explained that “open meetings requirements apply to all in-person gatherings at which there is deliberation upon any matter within the scope of the policy-making duties of a governmental body by a majority of its members, including in-person gatherings attended by members of a governmental body through agents or proxies.”

Three justices dissented, seeing it as a job for state lawmakers “to redefine the requirements of the open meetings law” and warning that the court’s new standard “will have a chilling effect on well-intentioned public officials” who rely on information from staff when considering policy options.

The full text of the majority decision and dissents in Hutchison v Shull can be found here. Bleeding Heartland posted background on the case and highlights from the opinions here.

Justice Thomas Waterman’s dissent lamented the absence of “friend of the court” briefs from the Iowa State Association of Counties, the Iowa League of Cities, and the Iowa Association of School Boards. I asked representatives of each organization to explain how their training for elected officials addresses Warren County-like methods to avoid discussing public policy in open meetings. I also sought comment on the Hutchison v Shull majority ruling and on the concerns Waterman raised.

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IA-04: Bruce Rastetter confirms support for Rick Bertrand

You didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work this one out, but Bruce Rastetter helpfully confirmed today that he will support State Senator Rick Bertrand’s GOP primary challenge to Representative Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.

Assuming Rastetter puts his money where his mouth is–and years of disclosed and undisclosed political contributions suggest that he will–he may become a major donor to Nick Ryan’s effort to take out seven-term incumbent King.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Ag Summit anniversary edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

A year ago this weekend, nine presidential candidates, both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, three of our U.S. House representatives, Governor Terry Branstad, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds were among the speakers at Bruce Rastetter’s inaugural Iowa Ag Summit. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the early front-runner in the presidential field and had just rolled out his first big batch of endorsements here. Although Donald Trump had recently hired heavyweight conservative organizer Chuck Laudner, few people expected him to be a strong contender for the Iowa caucuses. The billionaire didn’t make it to Rastetter’s event; like Marco Rubio, he initially accepted the Ag Summit invitation but developed schedule conflicts later.

Jeb Bush looked like a strong presidential contender in March 2015. He was raising money like no one else in the GOP field and had hired veteran Iowa political operative David Kochel earlier in the year. The day before the Ag Summit, the Des Moines Register ran a front-page feature on Bush that was so flattering to the former Florida governor, I felt compelled to write this post and begin work on a lengthier critique of the Register’s political coverage, which took nearly two months to complete.

Chris Christie was among the Ag Summit speakers. More than six months later, he picked up endorsements from Rastetter and several other prominent Iowa business Republicans. Christie’s poor performance on caucus night showed the limits of the would-be kingmaker’s influence, and that of others in Branstad’s orbit who had actively supported Christie’s presidential campaign.

Rastetter invited more than a half-dozen prominent Democrats to his Ag Summit. Wisely, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and all of the potential presidential candidates blew off the event. Only one Democrat spoke to the gathering: former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, in her capacity as co-chair of America’s Renewable Future. That group was formed and funded by biofuels companies and related interest groups to advocate for the Renewable Fuel Standard. (Later in 2015, America’s Renewable Future spent more than $100,000 on radio ads and direct mail attacking Ted Cruz over his stand on the ethanol mandate.)

I enclose below a video of Judge’s remarks a year ago this weekend. Near the beginning of her speech, she commented, “Let me say from the outset, I truly believe that I disagree with just almost everyone that you will see on this stage today, on almost every issue. However, I certainly hope that we do agree on the importance of maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard and keeping Iowa leading our nation forward in the development of renewable fuel.”

I doubt anyone would have predicted a year ago that Walker wouldn’t even make it to the Iowa caucuses, that Trump and Cruz would be leading in the GOP delegate count, or that Judge would enter the race against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

P.S.- The Greeley (Colorado) Tribune published a good backgrounder on where all the remaining presidential candidates stand on agricultural issues.

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Iowa GOP caucus-goers deliver big hit to Terry Branstad's clout

Donald Trump was the obvious Republican loser last night. Despite leading in the last ten Iowa polls released before the caucuses, Trump finished more than 6,000 votes and three percentage points behind Ted Cruz, widely perceived before yesterday to have peaked too soon. Record-breaking turnout was supposed to be a winning scenario for Trump, yet a plurality of caucus-goers cast ballots for Cruz as attendance surpassed the previous high-water mark by more than 50 percent.

For Iowa politics watchers, another big takeaway jumped out from the caucus results: Governor Terry Branstad’s advice doesn’t carry much weight with rank and file Republicans.

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Memo to journalists: Craig Robinson's firm makes money off the Iowa caucus campaign

Craig Robinson is among the go-to Republicans for national press covering the Iowa caucuses. His insights are partly informed by a wealth of experience: as a staffer on Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign before the 2000 caucuses, as political director of the state GOP during the year before the 2008 caucuses, and as publisher of The Iowa Republican blog since 2009.

One salient fact rarely, if ever, makes it into the news stories quoting Robinson about prospects for Republican contenders in Iowa: his company Global Intermediate has been paid to do direct mail for or against certain candidates in the field.

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Bruce Harreld ignores request for documents on U of I opinion poll, Matt Strawn's work

After a contentious recent e-mail exchange with a prominent alumnus, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld vowed that he will “continue to respond to his critics via email,” because “I value direct and candid feedback from our students, faculty, staff, and alumni and if I stop responding I won’t be the kind of president this institution needs and deserves.”

That sentiment doesn’t apply to all critics, though. Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans had received no reply from Harreld more than two weeks after urging him to release documents related to a statewide opinion poll and other work the University of Iowa awarded through no-bid contracts to a company owned by former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn.

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Cruz finally going after Trump as Iowa polls show tight race at the top

For months, Ted Cruz deliberately did not engage with Donald Trump, positioning himself well to inherit the support of voters who might lean toward the Republican front-runner. But since Cruz emerged as the primary threat to him in Iowa, Trump has hammered the Texas senator during his media appearances and at his campaign rallies. Trump has attacked on policy grounds (“Ted was in favor of amnesty”) and repeatedly raised doubts about whether Cruz, born in Canada to a U.S. citizen, is eligible to become president.

Over the last few days, Cruz finally started hitting back at Trump during public events and media availabilities. A poll in the field this week is testing numerous anti-Trump talking points with Iowa voters, and signs point to the Cruz campaign or an aligned group commissioning that survey. I enclose below Simpson College Professor Kedron Bardwell’s notes on the message-testing poll; look for Cruz to employ some of those lines during Thursday night’s presidential debate.

The Iowa Republican caucus polling average shows a tight race between the top two contenders here, with all other candidates well behind. But a closer look at the Iowa findings, particularly the latest from Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News, suggests that Cruz could easily exceed his topline numbers on caucus night. Meanwhile, Trump seems more likely to underperform his polling numbers, hampered by a much less competent ground game.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2015

As I mentioned on Tuesday, writing is a labor of love for me. Some posts are much more labor-intensive than others.

All of the pieces linked below took at least a couple of days to put together. Some were in progress for weeks before I was ready to hit the publish button. (No editor, deadlines, or word limits can be a dangerous combination.) A few of the particularly time-consuming posts required additional research or interviews. More often, the challenge was figuring out the best way to present the material.

Several pieces that would have qualified for this list are not included, because they are still unfinished. Assuming I can get those posts where they need to be, I plan to publish them during the first quarter of 2016.

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The 15 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2015

While working on another piece about Iowa politics highlights from the year, I decided to start a new Bleeding Heartland tradition. Writing is a labor of love for me, as for many bloggers, but let’s face it: not all posts are equally lovable.

The most important political events can be frustrating or maddening to write up, especially when there is so much ground to cover.

Any blogger will confirm that posts attracting the most readers are not necessarily the author’s favorites. The highest-traffic Bleeding Heartland post of 2015–in fact, the highest-traffic post in this blog’s history–was just another detailed account of a message-testing opinion poll, like many that came before. Word to the wise: if you want a link from the Drudge Report, it helps to type up a bunch of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes, committing to a topic leads to a long, hard slog. I spent more time on this critique of political coverage at the Des Moines Register than on any other piece of writing I’ve done in the last decade. But honestly, the task was more depressing than enjoyable.

Other pieces were pure pleasure. Follow me after the jump for my top fifteen from 2015.

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Spokesman: Governor Terry Branstad uses neither public nor private e-mail

E-mailing practices by government officials have drawn an unusual amount of scrutiny this year, thanks to the national press corps’ months-long fixation on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server and e-mail account during her years as secretary of state. Though the most sensational reports about Clinton’s e-mails were wrong, a drumbeat of news articles and commentary pointed to her private e-mail use as a scandal, or at least a serious political problem.

For years, people who have submitted records requests for Governor Terry Branstad’s e-mails have been told the governor does not use e-mail. So I was surprised this week to see footage of Branstad telling his top donor and Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter to “send me an e-mail” with facts about Bruce Harreld, at the time a candidate for the University of Iowa presidency. Iowa Public Television’s “Governor Branstad: Behind the Scenes” documentary includes video of Branstad talking with Rastetter during the Iowa State Fair. I transcribed the brief conversation here.

In light of Branstad’s comment to Rastetter, I asked the governor’s communications director Ben Hammes to clarify whether Branstad has an e-mail account for official or private use. He replied, “The governor does not use email or have email. The governor was referring to sending information to our office, which is what he asks of constituents, when he is traveling around Iowa. He will often ask them to send information to the appropriate policy person in our office.”

Since Branstad asked Rastetter to send “me” an e-mail (rather than asking for the background to be sent to his staff), I asked Hammes whether he could confirm that the governor never communicates directly with Rastetter or with anyone else via e-mail, and that “people wishing to e-mail information to the governor can do so only by e-mailing intermediaries.” Hammes responded, “Correct. The governor does not have an email account.” Duly noted with regret, since the lack of an official e-mail account will make it harder for reporters and future historians to reconstruct Branstad’s actions and decision-making process during his fifth and sixth terms.

On a related note, today’s New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter “relied on a personal email account to conduct a portion of his government business during his first months at the Pentagon.” Today’s lead editorial in the Des Moines Register took Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley to task for, among other things, using a private e-mail account to discuss city business. The newspaper also criticized city policy that allows officials to search for and disclose e-mails that are the subject of open records requests, because those people “lack the technical expertise to conduct document searches” and “have a strong motive to withhold damaging emails they have sent or received.” Hensley is refusing to release a legal opinion on whether she should recuse herself from a policy matter because of a potential conflict of interest. The controversy doesn’t reflect well on the longtime city council member, who I believe is positioning herself to be Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s running mate for the 2018 governor’s race.

UPDATE: I had forgotten that Branstad admitted during a deposition last year to using a Blackberry. More details on that are below. I am seeking further comment on whether the governor receives work-related or private messages from people on that Blackberry.

DECEMBER 21 UPDATE: Hammes was quick to respond to my first questions on this topic last week, but four days since I followed up with a question about the Blackberry, still radio silence from the governor’s office.

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Bruce Harreld walks into "teachable moment"; some critics give the wrong lecture

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has been paying out of pocket this fall for coaching from a “top-notch” communications consultant, but his public speaking skills apparently need more work. Last week Harreld suggested to the university’s Staff Council that instructors who go to class unprepared for their teaching obligations “should be shot,” Ryan Foley reported today for the Associated Press.

It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last time Harreld has some trouble adapting to academic culture.

But I hope it will be the last time Harreld’s critics on campus discredit themselves by reacting to the president’s missteps in a ridiculous way.

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Thoughts on Terry Branstad's longevity and legacy

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December 14 marked 7,642 days that Terry Branstad has been governor of Iowa, making him the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, according to Eric Ostermeier of the Smart Politics website. Because most states have term limits for governors, “The odds of anyone passing [Branstad] in the 21st Century are next to none,” Ostermeier told Catherine Lucey of the Associated Press.

Speaking about his legacy, Branstad has emphasized the diversification of Iowa’s economy, even though a governor has far less influence over such trends than Branstad seems to believe. Some have cited “fiscal conservatism” as a hallmark of Branstad’s leadership. I strongly disagree. The man who has been governor for nearly half of my lifetime is stingy about spending money on education and some other critical public services. He opposes bonding initiatives commonly used in other states to fund infrastructure projects (“you don’t borrow your way to prosperity”). But he is happy to provide tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations that don’t need the help, without any regard for the future impact of those tax expenditures on the state budget. Many of Iowa’s “giveaways” in the name of economic development will never pay for themselves.

Branstad’s governing style has changed Iowa in important ways. He has altered Iowans’ expectations for their governor. He has expanded executive power at the expense of both the legislative branch and local governments. And particularly during the last five years, he has given corporate interests and business leaders more control over state policy. More thoughts on those points are after the jump, along with excerpts from some of the many profiles and interviews published as today’s landmark approached.

P.S.- Speaking of Branstad doing what business elites want him to do, Iowa Public Television’s “Governor Branstad: Behind the Scenes” program, which aired on December 11, included a telling snippet that I’ve transcribed below. During a brief chat at the Iowa State Fair, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter asked Branstad to call Bruce Harreld, at that time one of the candidates to be president of the University of Iowa. That Rastetter asked Branstad to reassure Harreld was first reported right after the Board of Regents hired the new president, but I didn’t know they had the conversation in public near a television camera.

P.P.S.-Now that Branstad has made the history books, I remain convinced that he will not serve out his sixth term. Sometime between November 2016 and July 2017, he will resign in order to allow Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to run for governor in 2018 as the incumbent. Although Branstad clearly loves his job, he is highly motivated to make Reynolds the next governor. She lacks a strong base of support in the Republican Party, because she was relatively inexperienced and largely unknown when tapped to be Branstad’s running mate in 2010. Even assuming she is the incumbent, Reynolds strikes me as more likely to lose than to win a statewide gubernatorial primary. Remaining in Branstad’s shadow would give Reynolds little chance of topping a field that will probably include Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

P.P.S.S.-I will always believe Branstad could have been beaten in 1990, if Democrats had nominated a stronger candidate than Don Avenson. Attorney General Tom Miller lost that three-way primary for one reason only: he was against abortion rights. Miller later changed that stance but never again ran for higher office.

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Five troubling aspects of the University of Iowa's no-bid contracts with Matt Strawn

As if we haven’t heard enough lately about backroom dealings involving the University of Iowa, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press,

The University of Iowa has quietly awarded several no-bid contracts totaling $321,900 to a prominent GOP consultant for polling and social media services often delivered through subcontractors, a review by The Associated Press discovered.

Critics say the contracts with former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn’s namesake company — uncovered through a public records request — look like a sweetheart deal among Republican insiders and a potential waste of money.

That’s putting it mildly.

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Hasty U of I hospital renaming shows Regents' contempt for critics of Bruce Harreld hiring

The Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously on Wednesday to rename the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital the “Stead Family University of Iowa Children’s Hospital,” to honor contributions made by alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead.

The regents sought no public comment on the proposal, which was unveiled with the bare minimum of advance notice required under Iowa’s open meeting law.

They also “had no discussion on the name change” before voting to approve it, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press.

The Steads deserve recognition for supporting a children’s hospital where countless Iowans have received life-saving care. Many people with comparable wealth are far less generous. The university acknowledged the Steads’ $20 million commitment to the hospital by naming the Pediatrics Department after the donors and fundraising campaign co-chairs in 2013.

By rubber-stamping the university’s request to rename the hospital, the Board of Regents failed to consider the opportunity cost of giving up naming rights for a nearly century-old institution in exchange for an additional $5 million pledge from the Steads.

The optics of renaming the hospital without public input are also bad, coming so soon after the regents’ pick of Bruce Harreld as president of the university. Not only has Jerre Stead had longstanding business relationships with Harreld, he and university Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard and Regents President Bruce Rastetter strongly influenced Harreld’s hiring.

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Steve King: Ted Cruz is the "constitutional conservative" who can "restore the soul of America"

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Representative Steve King endorsed Senator Ted Cruz for president a few minutes ago, calling the senator from Texas “the answer to my prayers, a candidate God will use to restore the soul of America.” After going through several key issues, including the need to stop President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and to repeal “root and branch” the 2010 Affordable Care Act, King said his candidate would need to be committed to those policies. In addition, King said a successful candidate needs to be able to appeal not only to establishment Republicans, but also to “constitutional Christian conservatives” and libertarians. The candidate must be able to raise enough money to run a strong campaign, and must be able to inspire Christian conservatives for a large turnout. In King’s view, one reason Republicans lost the 2012 presidential race was millions of Christian conservatives staying home.

King argued that Cruz is “unmatched in his tenacity to take on the Washington cartels” and has “consistently stood on principle” against the D.C. elites. He “does listen, and he does think.” Asked how much he will do to support Cruz before the Iowa caucuses, King joked that “if they’ll let me,” he is prepared to hit the campaign trail, adding, “I’m in with both feet, I’m in all the way.” Asked to sum up his reasoning in one sentence, King said, “Ted Cruz is the full package, the constitutional conservative that can restore the soul of America.”

King didn’t endorse a candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses, and didn’t take a stand the previous cycle until shortly before the 2008 caucuses, when he endorsed Fred Thompson. I suspect that coming out so early for Cruz reflects King’s concern about Donald Trump’s and Ben Carson’s long ride at the top of the Iowa and national polls. During the Q & A, King said he hopes his endorsement will add “clarity” to Cruz’s position on immigration, and asserted that some others are trying to distort Cruz’s stance on that issue. When a reporter asked King why he doesn’t see Carson as a candidate who can restore the soul of America, King praised Carson’s intellect but suggested that Washington, DC is not “a zone that he is familiar with.” Later in the Q & A, King made a similar point about Trump–he doesn’t know enough about how Washington works. He made clear that he would support Trump if he became the GOP nominee and said he appreciated that Trump has raised some of the issues King has worked on for a long time.

UPDATE: Added below some reaction to today’s news and the official video of King endorsing Cruz, which the senator’s campaign sent out a few minutes before King made the big reveal at his press conference. One of the pro-Cruz super-PACs also announced King’s endorsement before the congressman did.

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New poll is testing messages and attitudes about the University of Iowa

A poll in the field this week is measuring Iowans’ views of the University of Iowa and whether certain changes would increase the perceived value of a degree from the university. The phrases enclosed below reflect what one respondent was able to recall from the survey, which lasted approximately 15 minutes.

I hope to update this post with much more detail about the question wording. If you receive this call (or any message-testing poll), please take notes and send them to the e-mail address at the bottom right of the Bleeding Heartland front page.

The survey included at least one question about the performance of the University of Iowa’s new president, Bruce Harreld. In interviews with Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio today, Harreld said he has been “building trust” by meeting with as many stakeholders on campus as possible. He also endorsed a plan to seek more state funding for the university next year. Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen on November 6 that the “faculty vitality” proposal would provide $4.5 million for recruiting new faculty and increasing salaries of tenure-track faculty during the 2017 fiscal year. Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter orchestrated adding $4.5 million to the budget request for the University of Iowa a few days after the regents hired Harreld. The move was widely perceived as an effort to placate those who disapproved of the hiring before a scheduled meeting of the Faculty Senate. Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program will broadcast the full episode with Harreld this Friday and Sunday.

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Kraig Paulsen lands sweetheart deal at Iowa State University

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When Kraig Paulsen announced plans to resign as Iowa House speaker and not seek re-election in 2016, he indicated he would continue to work as an in-house attorney for the trucking company CRST International Inc.

News broke last week that Paulsen has landed a high-paying position at Iowa State University’s College of Business. University officials waived a policy requiring such jobs to be advertised when they offered Paulsen the job, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 6.

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Bruce Rastetter recruited Bruce Harreld earlier than previously acknowledged

Bruce Harreld officially begins work today as the University of Iowa’s 21st president. Speaking to the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson on October 30, Harreld promised to “fight, fight, fight for this institution”–a response to widespread fears that he would accede to the Iowa Board of Regents’ plan to shift funding away from the university.

In the same interview, Harreld revealed new details about how he was recruited for the presidency, undermining parts of an official narrative that had already shifted several times during the month of September.

Critics of the Board of Regents’ decision to hire the only finalist who had no base of support on campus are being told to stop complaining and give the new president a chance. I wish Harreld every success in his new job and hope to be proven wrong about what his tenure will mean for the university.

But this is no time to stop scrutinizing the hiring process and whether leaders of the search committee and the Board of Regents misled the public about their early contacts with Harreld. The University of Iowa is a public institution. The search for its new president cost taxpayers more than $308,000. Iowans have a right to know if the search committee‘s deliberations and finalists’ campus forums were merely a sham concealing the Regents’ intent to choose a hand-picked candidate.

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Will elite support translate into Iowa Republican caucus-goers for Chris Christie?

From a liberal’s perspective, Bruce Rastetter is the closest thing Iowa has to a James Bond villain. After making his fortune off a polluting industry (large-scale hog confinements), Rastetter provided the “seed money” for the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, which quickly became one of the most influential conservative dark money groups, a “prolific funder” of negative ads often “deemed false.” In 2009, Rastetter played a key role in coaxing Terry Branstad out of political retirement. He then parlayed his status as the top donor to Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign into an appointment to the prestigious Iowa Board of Regents. Thanks to a little intervention from the governor, Rastetter moved quickly into a leadership position on that board, where he “blurred the line” between business and board work, hoping to expand one of his corporations’ land holdings on another continent. Last month, Rastetter made news as the apparent mastermind behind hiring business executive Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, over strong objections by stakeholders on campus.

A certain type of Republican is as attracted to Rastetter’s power as many Democrats are repelled by it. The “quiet but fierce” Rastetter is a top donor to GOP establishment candidates and committees in Iowa. He dislikes the “kingmaker” label often attached to him, but who else could get the governor, lieutenant governor, both U.S. senators, three U.S. House members, and nine presidential candidates to show up for an event in its first year, the way Rastetter did for his Iowa Ag Summit in March?

Rastetter says he donates to candidates to “make a difference,” not to “get access.” Whatever his motives, he has tremendous influence. Governor Branstad said earlier this year that he keeps in touch with Rastetter “at least once a week” and “greatly” values the businessman’s opinions. So do some other high-dollar Republican donors, who flew with Rastetter to New Jersey in 2011, hoping to recruit Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Last week, most of those business leaders stood with Rastetter again to endorse Christie’s presidential bid. The event in Des Moines capped a good couple of months for Christie here in recruiting backers from the Iowa GOP establishment.

How much will those endorsements help the New Jersey governor win over rank and file Iowa Republicans who show up at precinct caucuses?  

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Dear U of I, backroom dealings are nothing new.

(Many thanks for this detailed analysis of machinations behind the scenes to orchestrate and sell the public on closing the Malcolm Price Laboratory School at the University of Northern Iowa. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

BACKGROUND FOR THE BLEEDING HEARTLAND READER

Malcolm Price Laboratory School was a small K-12 school attached to and operated by the University of Northern Iowa.  MPLS was primarily used by the teacher education program to train teachers.  It was a critical part of UNI, “the teacher’s college”.  Year after year, however, with mounting budget pressures at UNI, talk would take place about closing MPLS.  Tired of this annual worry, supporters of MPLS through the help of their local legislatures, pushed for and obtained legislation creating the Iowa Research & Development School at MPLS.  This group thought the days of threats of closure were over since their existence was now statutory.  In 2012 they found out they were wrong.

In light of the recent events at the University of Iowa regarding the president selection process, I think it appropriate to share a narrative I drafted back in 2012 when UNI closed MPLS and other programs.  It was the fruit of an open records request for email.  The intended audience was the parents and supporters of MPLS.  

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More signs Bruce Harreld had inside track for University of Iowa presidency

As if the “fix was in” camp needed any more ammunition: weeks before the nine members of the Iowa Board of Regents interviewed finalists to lead the University of Iowa, Board President Bruce Rastetter arranged for Bruce Harreld to meet with four other regents at the Ames office of Summit Agricultural Group. Rastetter is the CEO of that company. Earlier in July, he and three search committee members had met Harreld for lunch in Iowa City after Harreld spoke to senior staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, at the invitation of the search committee chair.

Follow me after the jump for more on today’s explosive revelations, as well as yesterday’s decision by a University of Iowa’s faculty group to censure Harreld “for his failure of professional ethics.”  

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Shifting official line raises questions about Bruce Harreld's first Iowa City visit

New details emerged this week about J. Bruce Harreld’s contacts with some members of the University of Iowa’s search committee in early July, weeks before he officially applied to become the next university president.

Inconsistent official statements about Harreld’s first campus visit will raise more suspicions about special treatment for the man the Board of Regents hired two weeks ago, over the opposition of university faculty and students.  

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Regents' gesture on funding won't stop backlash against new University of Iowa president

Contradicting official documents released less than a week ago, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter announced yesterday that “he will seek $4.5 million in additional funding for the University of Iowa” during the 2017 fiscal year after all.

The three-sentence news release is intriguing on several levels:

1. The way it conflates Rastetter’s personal opinion with a shift in Board of Regents policy.

2. The unusual timing of a state government body announcing a policy change on a public holiday.

3. The unconvincing attempt to give newly-appointed University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld some credit for the conciliatory move.

4. The effort to spin a relatively small funding increase as a significant investment in the university’s “strengths” and “core mission.”

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