Interview: What drives Senator Jeff Merkley

“We need to use every tool we have to reclaim our country,” U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley told me during his latest visit to Des Moines. “We are at the verge of a tipping point, and maybe we’re almost past it, in which the power of the mega-wealthy is so profound that we can’t tip the balance back in to we the people.”

The senator from Oregon spent much of Labor Day weekend in central Iowa supporting Democratic candidates for the state legislature. His fifth trip here since the 2016 election won’t be his last: he will be a featured speaker at the Polk County Steak Fry later this month. During our September 2 interview, I asked Merkley about the most important matters pending in the U.S. Senate, prospects for Democrats in November, and his possible presidential candidacy.

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Six questions Reynolds must answer about fired Iowa agency director

Governor Kim Reynolds fired Dave Jamison as Iowa Finance Authority director “effective immediately” this weekend, due to “credible allegations of sexual harassment.” Communications director Brenna Smith “declined to provide more details about the allegations” than what appeared in the official announcement, William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register.

“I’m sorry, but to protect the privacy of IFA’s remaining employees, no further comment will be made,” Smith said in an email.

That won’t cut it.

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Des Moines City Council Ward 3 forum: Neighborhoods and advocates

Thanks to Stefanie Running for a play-by-play of the October 10 candidate forum for Des Moines City Council Ward 3, featuring Michael Kiernan, Josh Mandelbaum, and Abshir Omar. First-person accounts of campaign events are always welcome at Bleeding Heartland. -promoted by desmoinesdem

6:30 PM
It’s really a lovely night. Mid 60s, you can smell fall emerging from the hundred-year-old neighborhood trees and the glowing sunset inching forward sooner each day. Max Knauer and Kate Allen have been working with neighborhood associations and advocacy groups since August putting this forum together. I volunteer as a social chair for Gray’s Lake Neighborhood Association (GLNA), so I’ve seen the work that they’ve put into the program. They’ve scheduled the forum right in the heart of my own neighborhood, so it’s barely a half mile for me to travel.

As I arrive, other neighborhood reps are setting up, Knauer fields questions from co-sponsors and attendees alike. The candidates arrive. I’ve spoken to all three digitally via email or facebook. Tonight I introduce myself. I’m Stefanie Running. I’ll be the rep for this very neighborhood. I’ll also be writing about tonight’s forum for Bleeding Heartland. All three are gracious and welcoming.

Unpacking my camera gear, I realize it’s non-functional. I forgot something. I can’t go back home because the event is about to start and I didn’t drive. So I sit and I prepare to take notes. I apologize, dear reader, for my lack of photos. That’s my favorite part. Sadly, what I lack in photos, I’m going to make up for in article length. I apologize in advance.

To make this article a little more readable, from this point on I’ll show the panelist’s comments in bold, the candidate responses will be in standard font, and my own comments in italics.

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Twelve depressing facts about racial disparities in Polk County

The Des Moines metro area has received top-ten rankings from dozens of national organizations or publications that evaluate the job climate, housing markets, or other factors affecting the quality of life.

Unfortunately, extensive research on the State of Black Polk County revealed “significant racial disparities in the traditional economic and financial indicators including banking, savings, employment, and housing.” The Directors Council and State Public Policy Group coordinated the yearlong project, producing the first-ever “snapshot of the financial stability and well-being of African Americans and Africans living in Polk County.” Iowa’s largest county is home to more than 31,000 black people, a little less than 30 percent of the estimated statewide African-American population.

I first learned of this study, now nearly six months old, when Teree Caldwell-Johnson presented key findings to congregants at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines during a break between Yom Kippur services on September 30. The full report is after the jump. For each portion, I’ve highlighted the facts and figures that most struck me.

These numbers partially explain why analysts for 24/7 Wall Street ranked the Des Moines metro area the country’s ninth-worst city for black people in 2015 and the third-worst last year.

On a related note: The Fifth Annual Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities, co-sponsored by the NAACP, is happening in Ankeny next Tuesday, October 10. More details are here and near the end of this post.

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Keeping all our options open: A vision for a "new century farm" in Johnson County

Thanks to Kurt Friese for this perspective on a controversy that brings together concerns over land use, local foods, and affordable housing. Fellow Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan explained his vote on the proposal here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It what might be called the most contentious vote of my time so far on the Board of Supervisors, on June 23 we chose one of three potential concepts for “phase 2” of the planning for the historic Johnson County Poor Farm. The concept, titled “New Century Farm,” is the most ambitious of the three, and is the only one of the three that keeps all our options open.

What it does not do is sell off public land to private developers, nor “pave the poor farm,” nor create urban sprawl. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a little background.

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