# Flood Recovery

The Forgotten Iowa

(Thanks to lovethebay for cross-posting a piece that first appeared in the Huffington Post. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

On the last night of my holiday trip to my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I asked my parents to take the long way to our dinner. I wanted to see first-hand those parts of the city still devastated by the historic flood of June 2008. In Washington, DC, where I now live, talk about Iowa revolves around the churning machinery for the GOP presidential nomination and the Iowa caucuses that kick off that national process. A list of 50 influential Iowa Republicans recently generated a fair amount of chatter; a Sarah Palin book tour stop on the Western side of the state generated another round of "will she run?" prognosticating; road-weary reporters and campaign operatives dissect new restaurants in the Des Moines area. That is the Iowa of the national political conversation. But it is not the Iowa I saw.

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Brad Zaun needs to clarify his stand on flood relief

As of yesterday, 44 of Iowa’s 99 counties are under disaster proclamations because of flooding in June or July. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee noted today that Republican Brad Zaun, the GOP nominee against Representative Leonard Boswell, has a record of opposing government assistance for flood victims. At an IowaPolitics.com forum in March of this year, Zaun suggested that Americans have forgotten about “personal responsibility” and gave this example: “We lost that as a country, we expect when there’s a flood or something that’s going on, the government to come in and help us.” Like all other Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate, Zaun voted against the bills that created the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program in 2009. I-JOBS included $100 million to rebuild the University of Iowa campus, $46.5 million to rebuild sites in Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Palo, Elkader and Charles City, plus $118.5 million in “competitive grants available for reconstruction of local public buildings and flood control prevention.”

Zaun told the Des Moines Register that the DCCC took his remarks out of context, adding, “Obviously the people who are affected by the [Lake Delhi] dam break, I would obviously expect the government to play a role in that… there’s certainly is a role for government when there’s big disasters like this.”

What would that role be, Mr. Zaun? You voted against recovery funding after the biggest flood disaster in this state’s history. The Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth observes, “Republicans have previously said their opposition [to I-JOBS] was primarily due to their concern about long-term debt and not a sign of opposition against flood mitigation or recovery.” Fine. Let Zaun spell out how he would have paid to rebuild the University of Iowa and Linn County landmarks, let alone finance flood mitigation efforts elsewhere, without state borrowing. We didn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars lying around in 2008 and 2009, because the worst recession in 60 years brought state revenues down.

Zaun wants to have it both ways: he brags about opposing I-JOBS but doesn’t want voters to think he’s against government aid when there’s a “big disaster.”

Speaking of incoherent campaign rhetoric, Zaun’s comment about flood relief at the March forum was part of his answer to a question about new financial regulations. After lamenting the lack of “personal responsibility” in this country, Zaun concluded, “there needs to be some changes with our banking system, but its not with more government red tape and I would not support that current bill [under consideration in Congress] that you’re talking about.” I would love to hear details about the banking system changes Zaun would support.

Getting back to flood recovery, I still wonder what Representative Steve King has against the federal flood insurance program. Unfortunately, property owners around Lake Delhi are unlikely to benefit from that program, because Delaware County had declined to participate.

UPDATE: Boswell’s campaign released this statement on July 27:

“It is unfortunate that Senator Zaun made such insensitive and out-of-touch comments, especially as Iowans are experiencing widespread flooding across the state for the second time in two years. He has a long record of repeatedly voting against helping Iowa’s families, small businesses, and farmers in the aftermath of the 2008 floods. Iowans pay taxes into their local, state, and federal governments with the expectation that when a disaster strikes their investment will pay off. They trust that they will have a place to go, someone to counsel them, and a way to rebuild their homes and businesses. After all, this is their tax dollars – their government. I know that my conscience would never allow me to stand idle as these families, small business owners, farmers, and communities suffer following a natural disaster. This November Iowans will have to choose whether they want to elect a representative that will stand by them in times of need and fight for their fair share of their tax dollars, or someone who turns his back on his constituents.”

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Branstad still pushing false claims, wrong priorities

One day after Terry Branstad won the Republican nomination for governor, his accountability problem was back on display. Speaking to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual convention in Ames yesterday, Branstad told the audience, “I want to get rid of the present incumbent because he’s driven the state into the biggest budget deficit in history.”

In the psychological field, projection is “a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.” I’m not qualified to offer any professional diagnosis, but Branstad’s the guy who really did keep two sets of books to hide illegal deficits. It’s incredible to hear him keep making that false claim about Governor Chet Culver’s administration. The governor and Iowa’s legislative leaders haven’t run up any budget deficit, let alone the largest deficit ever. If Culver were running deficits, Iowa wouldn’t have a top-level credit rating or be considered one of the states “least like California” in terms of fiscal problems.

How long will Branstad keep getting away with making stuff up about Culver’s record? Your guess is as good as mine.

In other news, Branstad promised the Association of Business and Industry crowd that if elected, he wouldn’t allow key priorities of organized labor like the prevailing wage or collective bargaining bills to become law. I doubt ABI has to worry about that, since Iowa Democrats haven’t delivered on those issues during the past four years.

Culver visited a Cedar Rapids preschool yesterday and blasted Branstad’s “20th Century thinking” on preschool funding:

“This is an investment we cannot afford to not make in the future,” Culver said about the preschool initiative. He said he budgeted $90 million this year for the program and $115 million next year. […]

“While we want to continue to fund preschool … Terry Branstad wants to take that away,” Culver said. […]

The fiscal 2011 funding will assist an additional 150 school districts and school district collaborations under the statewide voluntary preschool program, he said. It is projected that during the 2010-2011 school year about 21,354 four-year-olds will be served by the preschool program in 326 school districts across the state.

Many Iowa families could not afford early education for their children without the state program. Culver is right to pound Branstad for his screwed-up priorities. Culver also criticized the Republican for wanting to go backwards on state-funded stem cell research, women’s reproductive rights and flood recovery funding for the Cedar Rapids area. Like everyone else in the Iowa GOP, Branstad has criticized the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative but not explained how he would have paid for the flood reconstruction and prevention projects Iowa needs.

Branstad told Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he would not try to repeal the I-JOBS bonding, but “also compared I-JOBS to the Greek debt crisis.” Give me a break. The professional investor community drove down the interest rate of the initial I-JOBS offering because of Iowa’s solid fiscal condition and plan for repaying the bonds. In fact, I-JOBS was one of the top 10 “deals of the year” in 2009 according to Bond Buyer, the daily newspaper of public finance.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

Governor Chet Culver kicks off his re-election campaign on Monday, May 17. The governor, First Lady Mari Culver, and Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge will hold events in 41 counties over five days. Members of the public can RSVP to attend the Culver campaign events here.

Details on those and many other events can be found after the jump.

Bike to Work week also begins next Monday and runs through May 21. According to the Iowa Bicycle Coalition,

In 2009, 716 employers, 114 cities, and 2,395 commuters (22% first-timers) participated. Approximately 63,188 commuting miles were pledged, 3,510 gallons of gas saved, and $7,336.83 saved in fuel costs. Contact Mark Wyatt at (515) 309-2867 or mark@iowabicyclecoalition.org.

Here's hoping the bicycle commuters will get warm, dry weather next week.

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Don't believe everything Republicans tell you about I-JOBS

Iowa Republicans have been throwing around misleading talking points about the I-JOBS program since the Iowa legislature approved the infrastructure bonding initiative last spring. I’m still waiting for Republicans to address some basic questions, like where would they have found $45 million for flood recovery efforts in Linn County without I-JOBS? What was their plan for repairing ten flood-damaged structures at the University of Iowa, if they didn’t want to issue $100 million in state bonds to leverage $500 million in federal funds to rebuild the campus?

Some Republicans have called for delaying infrastructure projects until we have enough cash to pay for them up front, but Iowa’s worst-ever flooding hit the state during the most severe national recession since World War II. There was no realistic way to pay for flood recovery efforts without state borrowing. Even David Yepsen, a notorious skeptic about state spending, could see that. During the summer of 2008, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson pointed out, “When you borrow money, that allows you to fix things as quickly as possible,” he said. “You can’t move as quickly on a ‘pay-as-you go’ basis.” Yet every Republican in the legislature voted against borrowing money to repair the damage from the devastating 2008 floods.

In addition to the flood recovery funds allocated to Linn County and the University of Iowa, the I-JOBS program included $118.5 million for “reconstruction of local public buildings and flood control prevention,” to be awarded by competitive grants. It wasn’t enough to fully meet local infrastructure needs across the state; requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million. But it was a good start.

Republicans recently seized on a new talking point: some I-JOBS money is supposedly being spent on projects unrelated to disaster recovery. By way of example, State Representative Pat Grassley mentioned the community center in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. I contacted Windsor Heights City Manager Marketa George Oliver about this allegation, and she forwarded a copy of a letter from Mayor Jerry Sullivan to Grassley. You can view the whole letter here, but the small print is hard to read, so here’s the relevant excerpt (emphasis in original):

The City is currently constructing a new Community Center. The structure that used to be in [Colby Park] at this location was originally built in a flood plain and was repeatedly flooded. It sustained flood damage year after year and flood after flood. The new structure is being built out of the flood plain and protected from any future flooding, mitigating the effects of a natural disaster. The Center, once finished, will be a heating/cooling facility in the event of prolonged power outages, which is much-needed in our region. In the event of natural disasters, it will also be available as temporary housing. […]

The I-Jobs program gave us the ability to make a substantial investment in mitigating and responding to natural disasters. The program was also able to support our efforts in a timely manner, unlike many other grants programs.

Oliver explained to me that a heating/cooling center is a place residents without power can go during a cold spell or dangerous heat wave.

Republicans will continue to attack the I-JOBS program during this year’s campaigns for governor and state legislature. Democrats need to be ready to defend these infrastructure investments, because journalists will sometimes pass along ill-informed claims like Grassley’s without providing context or an opposing view. In addition, some Republican candidates may falsely suggest that I-JOBS pays for ongoing spending programs instead of capital projects, like bridge and sewer repairs. Maybe they are thinking of Republican Terry Branstad, who borrowed money to solve the state’s cash flow problems in 1992.

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We have a candidate in House district 37

2008 was a good election for Iowa Democrats, but we still lost several very close statehouse races. In House district 37 (map here), Republican Renee Schulte defeated first-term incumbent Art Staed by 13 votes (0.07 percent).

This week Cedar Rapids attorney Mark Seidl announced his plans to run in this district and laid out his priorities:

“Although no one would have wished for any of them, the natural, fiscal, and economic disasters that have struck us in recent years present unique opportunities for rethinking each level of our government,” Seidl said.  “In going forward, we must concentrate on reconstituting and enhancing our advantages-recreating two cities which are an essential part of Iowa’s character, conserving our tremendous natural resources in agriculture and renewable energy production, and preparing the next generation of Iowans to be leaders and innovators in the future.”

This district is winnable in light of Schulte’s tiny margin of victory and a slight Democratic voter registration advantage. Nevertheless, Seidl will need to pound the pavement to win back this seat. Schulte is a hard worker who was out door-knocking last Friday, 11 months before the election when the temperature was in the 20s. Also, Schulte may benefit from an “enthusiasm gap” if Democratic voters are demoralized and Republicans energized next November.

Schulte bucked the majority of her party by voting for a bill that allowed authorities to impose a local option sales tax in disaster areas. Linn County voters approved the 1-cent tax in March, and the proposal received a majority of votes in Cedar Rapids as a whole. I don’t know whether it carried the Cedar Rapids precincts that are in House district 37.

Like other House Republicans, Schulte voted against the I-JOBS state bonding initiative, which allocated $45 million to Linn County for disaster relief (here is how that money was allocated).

I suspect that in this district, much will depend on how voters perceive the effectiveness of the state’s response to the 2008 floods.

UPDATE: Schulte is already organizing volunteers to help with voter contacts. We will need all hands on deck in this district.

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