# Jim Larew

Mauro resolves HAVA audit, lands Branstad administration job

Secretary of State Michael Mauro announced on December 29 that his office and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission have resolved all outstanding issues related to Iowa’s use of federal Help America Vote Act funds when Chet Culver was secretary of state. A federal audit originally questioned the use of about $2.5 million of the $30 million in HAVA funds Iowa received. By June of this year, federal officials reduced to $576,000 the amount Iowa would have to pay back.  The final agreement reached won’t cost Iowa anything.

For three years, state elections staff have worked to correct a long list of problems in an effort to avoid a large repayment, but federal officials concluded $221,000 in “disallowed costs” couldn’t be fixed or whittled down further.

However, the state won’t have to write a check to repay that money, said Secretary of State Michael Mauro said today.

Mauro asked federal officials to give the state a credit for expenses that were eligible for federal voting funds, but that Mauro chose to cover with state money knowing that questionable spending would likely need to be repaid.

Click here to view final correspondence from the EAC to the Secretary of State’s office. Governor Chet Culver’s general counsel Jim Larew emphasized in a statement that “no federal rules were broken,” and “Most of the federal rules that were interpreted to evaluate the Iowa HAVA program had not even been published by the time Iowa HAVA was completed.”

This settlement wraps up four years of outstanding work by Mauro as secretary of state. He never should have lost his re-election bid.

Last month, Governor-elect Terry Branstad praised Mauro’s work and said he would consider hiring him in his administration. On December 30, the Branstad/Reynolds transition announced that Branstad will nominate Mauro to head the Iowa Labor Commission. Before that term starts on May 1, 2011, Mauro will serve as deputy director at Iowa Workforce Development, beginning January 3.

I’ll post a more extensive update on Branstad’s personnel choices and policy statements in the next few days. After the jump I’ve posted Mauro’s press release and Larew’s statement on the HAVA audit resolution, as well as the Branstad statement on Mauro’s new position, which praised “the fair and even way [Mauro] administered election laws and how he effectively managed the Iowa secretary of state’s office.” No wonder Branstad never did much to help Mauro’s opponent Matt Schultz, in stark contrast to his longstanding and highly visible advocacy for attorney general candidate Brenna Findley.

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A bad start to the week for Culver

It’s looking like another rough week for Governor Chet Culver. News broke yesterday that his chief of staff is taking a new job, and the Department of Criminal Investigation is looking into campaign contributions from people who back a new casino for Fort Dodge.

Follow me after the jump for links and background on those stories.

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Culver opposes dirty water bill

Governor Chet Culver will not sign a bill that would weaken Iowa’s current restrictions on spreading manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Culver’s senior adviser Jim Larew confirmed the governor’s opposition during a February 22 meeting with members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Iowa CCI is among the environmental groups that have sounded the alarm about House File 2324 and a companion bill, Senate File 2229. The bills would exempt many large farms from the new manure application rules adopted last year. Earlier this month, the House Agriculture Committee approved HF 2324 with minimal debate.

Culver had previously promised to block the new proposal in private conversations. The bill’s lead sponsor in the Iowa House, Democratic State Representative Ray Zirkelbach, told IowaPolitics.com yesterday, “Basically I was told that the governor’s going to veto it no matter what … if it came to his desk […].” Zirkelbach contends that the bill is needed to help the struggling dairy industry. He denies that it would lead to more manure contaminating Iowa waters.

I am glad to see the governor take a stand against Zirkelbach’s proposal. Improving the manure application bill was a major victory during the closing days of last year’s legislative session. We should not have to keep fighting efforts to move us backwards on water quality.

The full text of yesterday’s press release from Iowa CCI is after the jump.

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Good news for Iowa water quality (for once)

State legislators have allowed clean water “anti-degradation” rules to stand, a step toward filling a significant hole in Iowa’s water quality regulations. A last-ditch effort by Republicans failed to win enough votes on the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee (ARRC) to set aside rules adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

I’ve joked that the ARRC’s unofficial motto is “Where good rules go to die,” because on several occasions the committee has rejected rules oriented toward environmental protection. Today Republican Senator Merlin Bartz tried to keep that tradition going with a motion to object to the new water quality rules. However, only Bartz’s three fellow Republicans on the committee (Senator James Seymour and State Representatives Dave Heaton and Linda Upmeyer) voted for rejecting the DNR’s rules. The six Democrats on the ARRC (Senators Wally Horn, Jack Kibbie and Tom Courtney, and State Representatives Marcella Frevert, Tyler Olson and Nathan Reichert) all voted against Bartz’s resolution.

Governor Chet Culver’s chief legal counsel, Jim Larew, spoke in favor of the rules at today’s ARRC hearing, saying they would help Iowa reverse the trend of declining water quality. Unfortunately, we’ve got a long way to go on this front. Further regulation of pollution is warranted, but the political will to accomplish that is currently absent in the state legislature.

Several non-profit organizations deserve special recognition today. Without their efforts, the DNR might not have moved forward to adopt the anti-degradation rules, as required by the Clean Water Act. The Iowa Environmental Council issued a release today with more background and details about the anti-degradation rules. Excerpt:

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 states were required to enact Antidegradation rules to prevent the further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams in the nation by 1985.  Iowa adopted rules but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Iowa that its rules violated federal law as early as 1997.  

Repeated delays in rewriting the rules led a coalition of environmental organizations – Iowa Environmental Council, Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Environmental Law & Policy Center – to file a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2007 requesting that the State act immediately to adopt antidegradation implementation rules.  This action initiated a rule-making process that included several opportunities for public comment and a hearing before the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, which approved the revised rules in December of last year. Monday’s meeting of the legislative Administrative Rules and Review Committee marked the final step in the decades-long process.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

Thanks again to the Iowa Environmental Council, the Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

UPDATE: I’ve added the press release from the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter after the jump.

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Chet Culver news roundup

Governor Chet Culver hired John Frew as chief of staff yesterday to replace Charlie Krogmeier, whom Culver appointed head of the Department of Human Services in May. Frew goes way back in Iowa politics, having worked for Senator John Culver (the governor’s father) and managed Tom Harkin’s first Senate campaign in 1984. Frew will begin as chief of staff in late September. Until then, Culver has named his general counsel Jim Larew as acting chief of staff. After the jump I’ve posted a news release from the governor’s office with more background on Frew and Larew.

Also on Thursday, the Culver/Judge re-election campaign announced that

A long-time and respected political strategist is returning to Iowa to help Governor Chet Culver’s campaign committee prepare for 2010. Teresa Vilmain will serve as a senior advisor to the Chet Culver Committee.

“Teresa Vilmain is not only synonymous with well-run, well-organized political campaigns around the nation, but she knows and loves Iowa,” said Governor Culver. “As we start to look ahead to 2010, Teresa will play a leading role in helping us prepare our effort to reach out to Iowans about the important issues we are working on in our state.”

I’ve posted the full text of that news release, containing more background on Vilmain, after the jump. Some highlights: she was deputy manager of Harkin’s 1984 campaign and general consultant to both of Tom Vilsack’s winning gubernatorial campaigns. Vilsack had to come from behind to beat Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1998 and faced re-election in 2002, which was a challenging national environment for Democrats.

First Lady Mari Culver was in Mason City on Thursday

to talk about state grant funding for shelters for domestic abuse, emergencies and the homeless and the need to apply for it soon.

Available through the $10 million Public Service Shelter Grant Program, a part of the Iowa Jobs Program (IJobs), the funding is for construction, expansion or upgrades. […]

Funding can be used for deferred maintenance issues, additional security measures and expansion, said Culver […]

I recommend reading the whole article in the Mason City Globe-Gazette for more on the pressing needs of Iowa’s crisis shelters. Click here to listen to the first lady’s comments about this program in an interview with KGLO radio. Applications for this portion of the I-JOBS money are due next Wednesday, July 15. Click the link for the Iowa Finance Authority’s contact information. Republicans can criticize the I-JOBS borrowing all they want, but this is another example of how I-JOBS will improve services that Iowans need.

Finally, I want to call your attention to a new poll that The Iowa Republican blog has been highlighting this week. I will have more to say about the poll in a future post, but for now, here are some important facts:

This statewide poll conducted by Voter/Consumer Research found that 53 percent of Iowans approve of the job Culver is doing as governor, while 41 percent disapprove. Furthermore, 48 percent of respondents had a favorable impression of Culver, while 41 percent had an unfavorable impression.

Of course, The Iowa Republican blog is putting a Republican spin on these results. Criag Robinson headlined one post “53 percent of Iowans want a new governor,” based on a question suggesting that 36 percent said Culver deserves re-election, while 53 percent said it’s time to give someone else the chance. He also touted the findings on some issue-based questions that had ridiculously biased wording.

The bottom line is this: in a Republican-commissioned poll, Culver has a 53 percent approval rating and a 48 percent favorability rating. Also, the statewide survey sample contains “35% Republicans, 37% Democrats, 25% Independent or declined to state, and 2% other/don’t know.” I’m looking into how that compares with the proportion of Democrats and Republicans who have cast ballots in recent Iowa general elections.

I’ll write more about this poll when The Iowa Republican releases more of the findings.

LATE UPDATE: Forgot to mention this story:

Gov. Chet Culver on Thursday directed state revenue officials to delay any enforcement against taxpayers who claimed disaster-related credits on their state tax returns that later were not validated by Iowa lawmakers.[…]

The federal changes approved for 2008 offered income-tax deductions, exemptions and other advantages for such items as disaster-related expenses, business equipment depreciation, education-related expenses, tuition and fees and certain sales tax charges. The state, however, did not retroactively adopt those deductions as part of the state tax code.

On Wednesday, Culver asked the state Department of Revenue to provide him “any and all options” to address the issue, and one day later he sent a letter to agency director Mark Schuling directing him to “hold off specific enforcement” for taxpayers who may have claimed federal disaster relief provisions on their state returns.

“I am aware that changes must be made by the Iowa Legislature in order for these same disaster relief provisions to be available for Iowa tax purposes,” Culver said in the letter. “This will require legislation in 2010 to couple with the federal law changes that will benefit those individuals and businesses directly impacted by the 2008 disasters.”

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