Housing discrimination bill in limbo amid concerns over federal funding

Nearly six weeks have passed since Republican lawmakers approved a bill prohibiting local governments from banning “source of income” discrimination. Yet Senate File 252 still has not been sent to Governor Kim Reynolds, according to the legislature’s website.

While Iowa’s legislature is in session, the governor has three days to sign or veto any bill that reaches her desk, or it will become law without her signature. The governor’s staff often asks for an extra week or two to review a measure’s contents. But there is no recent precedent for the legislature to sit on a bill for this long.

The governor must eventually act on every bill the legislature passes. The unusual delay has fueled speculation that Reynolds may cast a rare veto of a bill approved by the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Communications staff for the governor and legislative leaders did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about why Senate File 252 has been held up. But signs point to the bill jeopardizing some federal housing funds.

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Pretext for secrecy on Jamison firing isn't fooling anyone (updated)

UPDATE: On April 26 the governor’s office released a redacted version of the written complaint against Jamison, now enclosed at the end of this post.

Governor Kim Reynolds and her staff continue to withhold details on the “credible allegations” of sexual harassment that ended Dave Jamison’s tenure as director of the Iowa Finance Authority last month.

To hear her tell the story, the stonewalling is all about protecting Jamison’s victims. But Reynolds could provide more details–and comply with state law–without revealing the accusers’ identities.

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Reminder: State employees can't boost the Reynolds/Gregg campaign at work

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend instructed all her agency’s employees today “to be mindful of state and federal guidelines regarding prohibitions of participation in political activities while on state time or using state assets.”

The action followed Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry about a September 29 e-mail from an operations manager to more than 60 Iowa Workforce Development colleagues, recruiting volunteers for the Kim Reynolds/Adam Gregg campaign under the subject heading, “A Message from Governor Reynolds’ Office.”

State law prohibits using “public moneys for political purposes.” Administrative rules written to implement that portion of the Iowa Code forbid public employees from using public resources “to expressly advocate the nomination, election, or defeat of a candidate,” or “to solicit votes, engage in campaign work.”

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State treasurer questions legality of planned budget fix

Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to transfer $13 million from the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund to balance the fiscal year 2017 budget “would not be in compliance with Iowa law,” according to a letter State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald sent to the governor today.

If his interpretation is correct, then a special legislative session will be required to cover the year-end shortfall. Reynolds’ staff dismissed and mocked Fitzgerald’s concerns.

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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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Weekend open thread: New leaders and new traditions

Governor Kim Reynolds took acting Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg on a whirlwind tour late last week to Osceola, Mason City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Gregg’s home town of Hawarden (Sioux County). Hundreds of people showed up for the Hawarden event; much smaller crowds turned out at the other venues. At each stop, Reynolds and Gregg praised former Governor Terry Branstad, and Reynolds repeated the four key goals she had laid out in her first speech as the state’s top official.

Early signs point to a highly political rather than policy-oriented Reynolds administration. The new governor’s top appointees are veterans of many Republican campaigns. Chief of staff Jake Ketzner worked on Branstad’s campaign in 2010 and managed the governor’s 2014 re-election bid; in between, he ran Representative Steve King’s 2012 campaign against Christie Vilsack. Deputy chief of staff Tim Albrecht spent most of his career as a spin doctor for GOP candidates or elected officials before joining a Republican-oriented political communications firm in late 2013. You don’t put guys like this in charge of your office if you’re a “policy wonk” or interested in reaching out to constituencies that felt ignored during Branstad’s tenure. These choices suggest that Reynolds plans to wage partisan warfare, day in and day out.

Over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard commented on how the Reynolds administration is already blurring the lines between official state events and 2018 campaign activities. Expect much more of this in the months to come.

Speaking of political games, progressive activists put up a parody site at ReynoldsGregg.org, pushing the message, “Kim Reynolds and Adam Gregg are Iowa’s new team, but unfortunately they have the same old failed priorities” (see screen shot below). Rynard recalled that GOP operatives including Albrecht relentlessly mocked Jack Hatch’s campaign for making the same mistake in 2014. At that time, quite a few of Iowa’s political reporters wrote stories about Republicans grabbing HatchVernon.com and the @HatchVernon Twitter handle. So far, those media outlets have not publicized the same incompetence on the part of the Reynolds team.

Other passages worth noting: earlier this month, the Iowa Board of Regents chose Michael Richards as president and Patricia Cownie and president pro-tem, replacing Bruce Rastetter and Katie Mulholland, whose terms ended April 30. Rastetter opted not to seek reappointment to the board, tacitly acknowledging that Iowa Senate Democrats would never have allowed his confirmation. Mulholland sought another six-year term, but for reasons that remain unclear, Branstad passed her over. Regent Larry McKibben had expressed interest in the board presidency, but he gave up without a fight and formally nominated Richards. I didn’t have a preference between McKibben and Richards; from my perspective, neither could possibly do worse in that job than Rastetter. This weekend, the Ditchwalk blog took an in-depth look at Richards: part 1 focused on his background and how he got the top job on the board, while part 2 looked at his early actions in the new position, speculating about whether Richards can fix the board’s “colossal credibility problem” after years of administrative abuses by Rastetter.

In March, Sean Bagniewski won the election to succeed Tom Henderson, the long-serving chair of the Polk County Democrats. Bagniewski announced on May 23 that former Senator Tom Harkin gave his blessing to have Iowa’s largest county Democratic organization hold an annual “Steak Fry” fundraiser. The inaugural event is scheduled for September 30 at Water Works Park in Des Moines; headliners have not yet been announced. Bagniewski joked, “One of my friends asked me how it felt to land the Steak Fry. It’s like adopting a baby gorilla. Where do you put it? How’re you going to feed it? How much is this thing going to cost?”

Final note: the New Leaders Council, “a nonpartisan program to recruit, train, and promote the next generation of progressive leaders,” is holding a fundraiser in Des Moines on Thursday, June 1. Money raised will support the five-month training program for next year’s New Leaders Council fellows. Local organizers hope to attract a more diverse class and are “doing more focused outreach to underrepresented communities” with a goal of having a 60 percent non-white and 55 percent female cohort of fellows for 2018. I enclose below more details about this week’s event and the training program.

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