# Jonathan Narcisse

Recognizing Bleeding Heartland's talented 2018 guest authors

The Bleeding Heartland community lost a valued voice this year when Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese passed away in October. As Mike Carberry noted in his obituary for his good friend, Kurt had a tremendous amount on his plate, and I was grateful whenever he found time to share his commentaries in this space. His final post here was a thought-provoking look at his own upbringing and past intimate relationships in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Friese was among more than 100 guest authors who produced 202 Bleeding Heartland posts during 2018, shattering the previous record of 164 posts by 83 writers in 2017. I’m thankful for every piece and have linked to them all below.

You will find scoops grounded in original research, commentary about major news events, personal reflections on events from many years ago, and stories in photographs or cartoons. Some posts were short, while others developed an argument over thousands of words. Pieces by Allison Engel, Randy Richardson, Tyler Higgs, and Matt Chapman were among the most-viewed at the site this year. In the full list, I’ve noted other posts that were especially popular.

Please get in touch if you would like to write about any political topic of local, statewide, or national importance during 2019. If you do not already have a Bleeding Heartland account, I can set one up for you and explain the process. There is no standard format or word limit. I copy-edit for clarity but don’t micromanage how authors express themselves. Although most authors write under their real names, pseudonyms are allowed here and may be advisable for those writing about sensitive topics or whose day job does not permit expressing political views. I ask authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest, such as being are a paid staffer, consultant, or lobbyist promoting any candidate or policy they discuss here.

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I'm voting no March 6 (twice if I don't get caught)

Heather Ryan makes her case against the local option sales tax for Iowa’s largest county. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In case you haven’t heard, there is a special election scheduled on the intentionally obscure date of Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Polk County residents must decide if they believe an additional 1 percent sales tax will help solve their financial woes. I will be voting “No.” Twice if I don’t get caught. Here’s why:

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Jonathan Narcisse, Remembered

State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad’s tribute to his friend Jonathan Narcisse. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Jonathan Narcisse, advocate, media presence, and publisher of several newspapers, including “The Bystander,” Iowa’s most enduring publication geared towards an African American audience, died last Saturday, February 17. He was 54–young, but not unusual for a black man in America.

He was also my former campaign manager, business associate, peer, and friend. So I write this with sadness in my heart for the loss Iowa experiences as a result of his death, and with joy in my soul that he is no longer in pain.

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Third-party and independent candidates in Iowa's 2014 elections

The filing period for general election candidates in Iowa closed last Friday, so it’s a good time to review where candidates not representing either the Democratic or Republican Party are running for office. The full candidate list is on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website (pdf(. After the jump I discuss all the federal, statewide, and state legislative races including at least one independent or minor-party candidate. Where possible, I’ve linked to campaign websites, so you can learn more about the candidates and their priorities.

Rarely has any Iowa election been affected by an independent or third-party candidate on the ballot. Arguably, the most recent case may have been the 2010 election in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Final results showed that Democratic incumbent Bruce Braley defeated Republican challenger Ben Lange by 4,209 votes, while conservative candidates Rob Petsche and Jason Faulkner drew 4,087 votes and 2,092 votes, respectively.

Any comments about Iowa’s 2014 elections are welcome in this thread.

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IA-Gov: Jonathan Narcisse running as "Iowa Party" candidate

August tends to be a slow news month, which is a good thing, because Bleeding Heartland has a lot of news to catch up on from July. For one thing, Jonathan Narcisse has qualified for the general election ballot as a candidate for governor representing the Iowa Party. (There are no other Iowa Party candidates running this year.) You can find issue positions and news clips on the Narcisse campaign’s website. He campaigned in ten counties last week, and yesterday highlighted his education proposals during his speech on the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox”  at the Iowa State Fair.

The former Des Moines school board member ran for governor as the Iowa Party candidate in 2010, winning nearly 2 percent of the statewide vote. Late last year he described that independent candidacy as “naive” and a “mistake.” However, the Iowa Secretary of State’s office determined that he did not submit enough signatures to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot. Narcisse challenged his exclusion on what he called a “technicality” (failing to list the office he was seeking on some of the petition pages). However, a Polk County District Court and later the Iowa Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit.

Presumably, Narcisse will draw more votes from Iowans who might lean toward Democratic nominee Jack Hatch. However, his support for opting out of the “Common Core” curriculum may attract some social conservatives who are dissatisfied with Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

At least one other candidate for governor is likely to qualify for the general election ballot in Iowa: Dr. Lee Hieb, the Libertarian Party’s nominee. She has until close of business on August 15 to submit enough valid signatures to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. That hasn’t been a problem for Libertarian candidates in recent election years.

IA-Gov: Iowa Supreme Court rejects Narcisse bid for spot on primary ballot

State Senator Jack Hatch will be unopposed on the Democratic primary ballot for governor. The Iowa Supreme Court issued a short opinion on March 31 affirming without comment a District Court’s decision rejecting Jonathan Narcisse’s claim that he submitted enough signatures to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. The Supreme Court justices agreed to hear the case on an expedited schedule because primary ballots need to be sent to the printer soon. They did not explain the reasoning behind affirming the lower court’s decision. Reports last week indicated that three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices would hear Narcisse’s appeal: David Wiggins, Daryl Hecht, and Edward Mansfield. However, the ruling released yesterday indicates that all justices concurred except for Brent Appel, who recused himself.

Speaking by telephone this morning, Narcisse confirmed that he will run a write-in campaign for the Democratic primary. He said he was “disappointed the Supreme Court affirmed the decision without reviewing the evidence.” He acknowledged his campaign’s oversight in not making sure the “governor” line was filled in on all the nominating petitions: “Ultimately, this happened because we messed up, but the law was not equitably applied. This was not a disqualifiable offense.” He particularly objected to how the District Court considered a 2012 election law ruling from Arizona but rejected as evidence the Iowa panel ruling from the same year allowing State Senator Joe Seng to run for Congress, despite missing information on some of his nominating petitions.

Narcisse said he has “no illusions about a write-in campaign” but is compelled to keep talking about issues that need to be addressed, including the “disparity in justice,” the “phony war on drugs which is really a war on the poor,” and Iowa’s “bipartisan alliance brutalizing poor working people.” In his view, Hatch “has not fought the good fight the way he should have.” Narcisse said he has not decided yet whether he would mount a second bid for governor as an independent.

After the jump I’ve posted a more extensive comment from the Narcisse campaign about the lower court’s ruling on his ballot access.

UPDATE: Added a comment below from Alfredo Parrish, who represented Narcisse.

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Narcisse loses first court battle to run in IA-Gov Democratic primary

For now, State Senator Jack Hatch remains unopposed on the Democratic primary ballot for Iowa governor. Jonathan Narcisse appealed his exclusion in Polk County District Court on Wednesday, citing precedent from a 2012 panel decision allowing State Senator Joe Seng on the primary ballot in IA-02. Yesterday Judge Michael Huppert ruled against Narcisse, saying the missing information on some petitions left those who signed unable to conclude that the candidate was running for governor.

Narcisse’s attorney, Alfredo Parrish, has already appealed the decision. I enclosed after the jump a statement explaining Narcisse’s case. I think he has a valid argument, based on how officials bent the rules to accommodate Seng.

You can read the 2012 Seng decision here (pdf). Pages 4 through 7 contain the most relevant information. Some petitions allowed were missing Seng’s county of residence, which is admittedly a much less serious defect than Narcisse’s petitions leaving blank the line for office sought. But the panel also counted Seng petitions that were missing the Congressional district number. “Likewise, we find that, absent any showing of any intent to mislead by the candidate or confusion on the part of the signatories, the Davis County signature pages that lacked only the congressional district number substantially comply with the intent of section 43.14 and should be counted.” To this non-lawyer, that sounds very close to not telling voters the office you’re seeking. I suppose there is a slight difference if Seng’s petitions showed he was running for Congress, while the disputed Narcisse petitions did not list any office. Iowa’s rules are designed to prevent any “bait and switch” during the signature collection process.

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Jonathan Narcisse to challenge exclusion from IA-Gov primary ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Narcisse plans to fight for inclusion on the Democratic primary ballot. The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office rejected some of his petitions because the line listing the office he was seeking was left blank. After the jump I’ve posted a statement from Narcisse blasting what he called a “gross act of political disenfranchisement” to use a “technicality” to keep him off the ballot. I also enclosed the letter Director of Elections Sarah Reisetter sent to Narcisse and an example of one of the invalid signature pages, provided by the Iowa Secretary of State’s communications director.

No doubt, some of the people circulating Narcisse’s petitions did not fill all of them out correctly. Iowa law on ballot access is clear, and our rules are less restrictive than those in many other states.

One recent event bolster’s Narcisse’s case, however: two years ago, State Senator Joe Seng was able to get on the Democratic primary ballot in Iowa’s second Congressional district despite the exact same problem with his petitions in two counties. Three senior state officials (Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Attorney General Tom Miller, and Deputy State Auditor Warren Jenkins) reviewed the matter after a voter in IA-02 challenged Seng’s petitions. That panel unanimously decided “to count a few pages of petition signatures that had previously been tossed out because the top portion – listing Seng’s name, where he was from and what office he was seeking – hadn’t been completely filled out.” Schultz told the media that while “Senator Seng probably should have been more organized,” it was a “close call.” Miller cited an Iowa tradition of “being somewhat favorable, deferential to someone having access to the ballot.”

If Narcisse manages to get on the ballot, he will face State Senator Jack Hatch in the Democratic primary on June 3. Otherwise Hatch will be unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

UPDATE: To clarify, I understand and support the reasoning behind Iowa’s ballot access rules. Senior officials never should have bent the rules to accommodate Seng. Now that they have, Narcisse can claim he deserves the same indulgence. John Deeth notes in the comments that it’s not clear exactly what information was missing from some of the Seng petitions. Perhaps scanned copies still exist somewhere, which would show whether the problem was a blank space where he should have indicated the office he was seeking.  

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IA-Gov: Terry Branstad has primary challenger, Jack Hatch does not

Governor Terry Branstad’s Republican challenger, Tom Hoefling, has qualified for the primary ballot after submitting his nominating petitions on March 14, the final day. I don’t see any way Hoefling could win a primary, but it will be interesting to see how large the conservative protest vote is against Branstad. GOP turnout should be larger than usual on June 3, because of competitive primaries for the U.S. Senate seat and the first, second, and third Congressional districts.

Last night the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicated that Jonathan Narcisse filed papers to run for governor as a Democrat. However, his petitions must not have had enough valid signatures, because his name does not appear on the full candidate list (pdf). The other long-shot Democratic hopeful, Paul Dahl, apparently never filed petitions. That leaves State Senator Jack Hatch as the lone Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In other statewide candidate news, no Republicans stepped up to run against Attorney General Tom Miller or State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald. By this time in 2010, Brenna Findley was already campaigning around the state against Miller, and two Republicans were running for treasurer.

As expected, Sherrie Taha is the Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture; she will face GOP incumbent Bill Northey. Jon Neiderbach is the Democratic candidate for state auditor; he will face GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman, whom Branstad appointed last year. The secretary of state’s race pits Democrat Brad Anderson against Republican Paul Pate. 2010 Libertarian nominee Jake Porter also plans to register for the ballot this summer.

Chet Culver rules out running for IA-03 or for governor

Multiple Bleeding Heartland readers have told me that former Governor Chet Culver was seeking input on a possible Congressional campaign this year. I was skeptical, given Staci Appel’s big lead in fundraising and backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Since Representative Tom Latham announced plans to retire, many labor unions and interest groups have confirmed their support for Appel as well.

Today Culver released a statement to the Des Moines Register confirming that he won’t run for Congress or for governor this year.

“While my passion for serving Iowa remains as strong as it’s ever been, timing is everything, and I will not be a candidate for public office in 2014,” he said. “I am excited to support the Iowa Democratic Party’s great ticket of candidates up and down the ballot, and I look forward to continuing to work now and in the future to make Iowa an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

So far, Appel’s only competition in the IA-03 Democratic primary is Gabriel De La Cerda, a first-time candidate who hasn’t raised much money. State Senator Jack Hatch is the leading Democratic candidate for governor. Jonathan Narcisse and Paul Dahl have also announced plans to run for governor as Democrats this year.

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IA-Gov: Jonathan Narcisse announces, Ed Fallon endorses Jack Hatch

At least two Democrats will run for governor this year. Jonathan Narcisse, a former Des Moines School Board member and third-party gubernatorial candidate, announced his candidacy this morning at the African-American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. I don’t have a video from today’s event, but after the jump I’ve posted a speech Narcisse gave last month when he announced the creation of his exploratory committee. Among other things, he proposes to provide free college education for Iowa students who agree to do community service during the summers and to stay in the state for a certain number of years after graduation. Bleeding Heartland posted more background on Narcisse here. He received a little less than 2 percent of the vote in his independent campaign for governor in 2010.

Narcisse will be a big underdog in the Democratic primary, where State Senator Jack Hatch is better known, has more political experience, and will have the resources to run a more extensive statewide campaign. Hatch just reported raising nearly $300,000 for his gubernatorial campaign in 2013, plus $140,000 in loans from himself and his wife. At year-end, his campaign had $236,943.18 cash on hand.

This morning, former State Representative Ed Fallon endorsed Hatch, saying he “has been a strong progressive voice fighting for a better Iowa” for decades. Fallon represented areas of central Des Moines in the Iowa House for twelve years; during part of that time, Hatch served in the state House and Senate. Fallon ran for governor in 2006 and finished third in the Democratic primary for governor with about 26 percent of the vote. I’ve posted part of his e-mail blast after the jump.

Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Added clips on the Narcisse announcement below.

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IA-Gov: State Senator Janet Petersen not running

State Senator Janet Petersen has decided against running for governor in 2014, she told Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette yesterday.

Petersen, 43, said family concerns led to her decision. She has children age 6, 9 and 12, and a husband who travels frequently for work. She said trying to balance the demands of a statewide race with her work in the Senate is also a worry. […]

Petersen weighed the prospects of a campaign “struggling with taking on a governor who has been governor forever and doesn’t miss a parade or ribbon cutting,” she said. And, in the end, she decided to stay out of the race.

Last month Petersen ruled out running for Congress in the third district.

An early endorser of Tyler Olson for governor, Petersen had been considered a likely running mate for Olson if he had won the Democratic nomination. Now she’ll go on the list of likely candidates for governor sometime in the future.

State Senator Jack Hatch is now the prohibitive favorite to be Governor Terry Branstad’s Democratic opponent this year. Jonathan Narcisse may enter the Democratic primary, but otherwise Hatch would face only token opposition from Paul Dahl.

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IA-Gov: Jonathan Narcisse may run as a Democrat

Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson reports today that Jonathan Narcisse is considering a gubernatorial bid as a Democrat in 2014. Narcisse endorsed Chet Culver during the 2006 IA-Gov primary, then briefly considered running against Culver in the 2010 primary before launching an independent campaign instead. You can find background on Narcisse here and issue positions from his previous campaign on this website. In the 2010 general election, he received more votes than the Libertarian candidate, finishing with 20,747 votes statewide (about 1.9 percent). According to Henderson’s report today, Narcisse has ruled out running as an independent next year and now considers his 2010 choice “naive” and a “mistake.”

Since State Representative Tyler Olson ended his campaign last week, State Senator Jack Hatch is the only declared Democratic candidate for governor. Former State Representative Bob Krause is still in the exploratory phase but sounds likely to make his campaign official early next year. He recently told the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s James Lynch that Olson’s departure will be a “turning point,” adding, “I’ve turned from a dark horse to a horse.” State Senator Janet Petersen, an early Olson endorser, is also thinking about running for governor.

How third-party candidates fared in Iowa's 2010 elections

This summer, the Libertarian Party in Iowa embarked on a “10 percent strategy,” hoping to win 2 percent of the vote for governor in order to secure major-party status in 2012. Iowa lacks a tradition of strong third-party voting like our neighbor to the north, and the unofficial results indicate that no alternative to Terry Branstad and Chet Culver cleared the 2 percent threshold in the governor’s race. Iowa Party candidate Jonathan Narcisse came closer to that mark than Libertarian Eric Cooper.

Although no third party is set up to have a larger statewide impact in 2012, minor party candidates received an unusually high share of the vote in some areas. In a few races, the votes for third-party candidates exceeded the difference between the Democrat and the Republican.

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IA-Gov: No joy for Culver in new Register poll (updated)

The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa poll shows Republican Terry Branstad leading Governor Chet Culver by 52 percent to 33 percent among likely voters. Selzer and Co surveyed 803 Iowa adults, of whom 550 were classified as likely Iowa voters, between September 19 and 22. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent.

I expected Branstad’s numbers to drop somewhat following the Republican primary, but his margin over Culver is almost exactly the same as the Register found the last time it polled this matchup in February. At that time Branstad led Culver 53-33, and Culver’s approval rating was 36 percent.

The new Selzer poll has no good news for Culver. His approval rating is 35 percent. Not only is Branstad polling above 50 percent, he leads “with voters from communities of all sizes, in all congressional districts and from all age groups and income levels.” No-party voters support Branstad by a 46 percent to 27 percent margin.

Culver’s campaign issued this statement on September 25:

“We believe that this poll serves as wake up call to Iowa voters,” said Governor Culver’s campaign manager, Donn Stanley. “When all is said and done, we believe that Iowans will ultimately choose Chet Culver, a leader who stands for Iowa values.

“The fact is,” Stanley continued, “all one has to do is look back as recently as Tom Vilsack’s race against Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1998 to see that this poll is not a harbinger of things to come. At this point in the race, Tom Vilsack was down a full 20 points in the Iowa Poll. I’m sure Governor Lightfoot would be happy to tell you the degree to which the Iowa Poll predicts the outcome of the race.”

That’s true, but Vilsack was not an incumbent with low approval ratings in a tough economy. Only 59 percent of likely voters said their minds were “firmly made up,” but I don’t know how Culver can convince the other 41 percent to give him another chance. It’s not as if no one ever heard of Branstad’s shortcomings:

Overall, 53 percent of likely voters say the candidate they are supporting is someone they can most easily tolerate, while only 36 percent say he is the best person for the job.

I hope the Culver campaign has budgeted well enough to stay up on television from now through election day. I doubt the Democratic Governors Association will spend any more money in Iowa this year.

UPDATE: More findings from the Register’s new poll are after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: Third-party candidates edition

August 13 was the deadline for third-party candidates seeking state offices to submit their nominating petitions to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. (Third-party candidates for county offices have until August 25 to do so).

This pdf file contains the complete list of candidates who have qualified for the ballot for federal offices, statewide offices or seats in the Iowa House and Senate.

Four candidates filed for the governor’s race: Jonathan Narcisse of the Iowa Party, Eric Cooper of the Libertarian Party, David Rosenfeld of the Socialist Workers Party, and a “fathers’ rights” activist named Gregory James Hughes. John Deeth noted that Iowa has more gubernatorial candidates than in any cycle since 1994, and that “the first cycle since 1998 that the Greens have had no top of the ticket candidate” in Iowa.

When Narcisse announced plans to run for governor, many people assumed he would draw votes primarily from Governor Chet Culver, whom Narcisse supported in 2006. However, Narcisse told the Des Moines Register this week,

“One pleasant surprise has been the number of [Bob] Vander Plaats supporters breaking our way. They understand, despite the rhetoric of candidate [Terry] Branstad, that his sixteen years in office make it clear he just doesn’t care about their priorities. So I’m seeing a lot of that support pour my way especially from rural communities,” said Narcisse.

Libertarian candidates also filed for U.S. Senate and in the first and second Congressional districts, as well as for secretary of state. Given how easy it is to qualify for the ballot in Iowa House and Senate districts (50 signatures for a House race and 100 signatures for a Senate race), I was surprised not to see more Libertarian candidates file for the state legislature. They didn’t venture beyond college towns. Libertarian candidates filed in Senate district 15 and House district 30, both in the Iowa City area where Republicans didn’t field a candidate against Democratic incumbents (Senator Bob Dvorsky and State Representative Dave Jacoby). They also fielded a candidate in House district 46, which includes a big chunk of Ames. Democratic incumbent Lisa Heddens has a Republican challenger too.

The Libertarian candidate for governor, Eric Cooper, has set a goal of winning at least 2 percent of the vote this year to gain major-party status. After that, Libertarians would field candidates in as many statehouse districts as possible in 2012 and beyond. But why wait until then? If I were a Libertarian trying to spread a message about the Republican Party betraying small-government principles, I would have fielded candidates against lots of Republican incumbents, especially those who have no Democratic challenger. They might have received a surprisingly large protest vote, generating some free media attention for the Libertarians in November.

This is an open thread. Share anything on your mind this weekend, whether or not it relates to the upcoming elections.

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Narcisse confirms plans to run for governor

Jonathan Narcisse will file to run for governor as an independent, he confirmed yesterday during campaign stops around the state. Narcisse had supported Terry Branstad during the 1980s and Chet Culver’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, but now believes neither Branstad nor Culver is “offering solutions.” Earlier this year, Narcisse declared that he would challenge Culver in the Democratic primary, but he did not submit signature petitions before the filing deadline. The hurdle for running as an independent is much lower; candidates need to collect only 1,500 signatures and file nominating papers by August 13.

Narcisse has chosen Rick Marlar as his running mate. Marlar finished third with 12 percent in the Republican primary for Iowa Senate district 45. Rod Boshart reported that Narcisse picked Marlar

because they share the same fervor for reform. Marlar, a truck driver for 30 years and former pilot who logged four years in the submarine service, lives on 40 acres near Wayland and understands rural and farm life, he said. Narcisse said Marlar reminded him of another truck driver in Iowa who was successful in gubernatorial politics, Ida Grove native Harold Hughes, who was elected governor and served in the U.S. Senate during his political career.

If Marlar wants to stand up to the Republican establishment, he’d be better off running as an independent in Senate district 45, where Branstad’s close ally Sandy Greiner won the primary easily with 66 percent of the vote.

Narcisse believes he has a shot if he can get into this fall’s debates between the gubernatorial candidates. His campaign strategy:

“Culver and Branstad are going to wage an unprecedented negative campaign. They’re going to just pound each other to a bloody pulp,” Narcisse predicted. “I believe that by the time they get through hammering each other, on Nov. 2, if Iowans could vote for none of the above that none of the above would beat Branstad and Culver. So my job now is to become ‘None Of The Above Narcisse.’”

I don’t ever remember third-party candidates being invited to the Iowa gubernatorial debates. If the media include Narcisse, they would have to include others such as Libertarian Eric Cooper and Constitution Party candidate Rick Phillips. Narcisse will need to raise much more money to run the 99-county campaign he is planning. His May campaign disclosure report filed showed $3,360 in cash contributions, a $5,135 loan, and $2,945 cash on hand.

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Governor's race fundraising roundup

The major party candidates for governor have submitted financial reports for the first four and a half months of this year. Former Governor Terry Branstad raised the most money during the period and is on track to spend more than $2 million before the June 8 Republican primary. Governor Chet Culver raised almost as much as Branstad since January 1 and has the most cash on hand by far. Republican candidates Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts are way behind in terms of fundraising.

More details and analysis are after the jump. UPDATE: I’ve listed the contributors who gave at least $10,000 to the Culver or Branstad campaigns during the latest reporting period.

By the way, the three Republican candidates face off in their third and final debate today at noon. You can watch live at the Des Moines Register or Iowa Public Television sites.  

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Culver won't have a primary challenger after all

Jonathan Narcisse told the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich yesterday that he won’t run against Governor Chet Culver in the Democratic primary. He plans to register for the ballot as an independent candidate.

Narcisse says he collected enough signatures to get on the ballot (the deadline is Friday), but he said his changed his mind about filing based on what he heard from Iowans as he’s traveled around the state.  “They really want an independent voice,” he says, someone not tied to either party.

I asked Narcisse if he would be willing to release the signatures, because otherwise people will be skeptical that he was able to collect them. He didn’t outright refuse but he also didn’t say he would release them. He said he’s used to dealing with skepticism from the media but he’s focused on making his case to voters around the state.  But if he’s going to say he’s collected them, he should prove it.

Obradovich posted a press release from Narcisse, which explained his decision and thanked the volunteers who “helped me obtain the signatures that I needed to be on the June 8th primary ballot.”

Ever since Narcisse announced plans late last month to run for governor as a Democrat, many political observers have privately predicted that he would not be able to meet the signature requirements. Narcisse can speak knowledgeably about public policy for hours, but his campaign manager is a management consultant and former teacher with no previous political experience. Democrats seeking statewide office in Iowa had to submit more than 4,000 total signatures (0.5 percent of the party’s statewide vote in the 2008 presidential election), including at least 1 percent of the party’s vote total in that election in at least 10 counties. (Statewide Republican candidates needed to meet the same percentage targets, but that worked out to fewer total signatures because Barack Obama did so much better than John McCain in Iowa.)

A strong statewide organization could collect more than 4,000 signatures on short order; Republican candidate Rob Gettemy’s campaign collected 3,000 in the second Congressional district in just two weeks. I agree with Obradovich that observers will remain skeptical about Narcisse’s campaign if he doesn’t release his nominating petitions. Republican blogger Craig Robinson writes today that Narcisse’s story has shifted dramatically in the last three days. He concludes, “The inability for Narcisse to get on the Democratic primary ballot is a deadly blow to any credibility he may have had as a candidate.”

Ed Fallon had been recruiting some Democrat other than Narcisse to challenge Culver, but nothing materialized. In my opinion, Culver didn’t deserve a primary challenger despite the many complaints you hear about him from Iowa Democrats.

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Wrong time, wrong place for a Democratic primary

Ed Fallon confirmed this week that he is trying to recruit a primary challenger against Governor Chet Culver. Fallon has been sounding the alarm about Culver’s re-election prospects for some time. He now believes Culver will lose to Terry Branstad, and Iowa Democrats would have a better chance nominating someone else for governor.

I voted for Fallon in the 2006 gubernatorial primary and wrote a short book’s worth of posts at this blog on why I supported his 2008 primary challenge to Congressman Leonard Boswell.

This time, I think his efforts are misguided, and I explain why after the jump.  

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Recent Chet Culver news roundup (updated)

The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver’s been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.

Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

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Prospects for third-party candidates in the governor's race

Commenting on the Iowa Family Policy Center’s recent endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, Kathie Obradovich wonders whether

Vander Plaats might run as an independent, or third-party candidate if he loses the GOP primary. His spokesman, Eric Woolson, did not pledge that Vander Plaats would support the GOP nominee: “Our focus has been entirely on winning the GOP primary and the general election.”

My hunch is that Vander Plaats won’t embark on a third-party candidacy if he loses the Republican primary. In fact, he will probably need to rule out that option soon or risk losing support from party activists this spring. Everyone knows that Vander Plaats would be helping Governor Chet Culver if he continued to campaign against the Republican nominee.

By the same token, the Iowa Family Policy Center stands to lose too many of their regular donors and supporters if they back an independent candidate for governor. If Terry Branstad wins the Republican primary, the smart play for the IFPC would be to focus on the statehouse races.

Jonathan Narcisse is a far more likely independent candidate for governor this year. Follow me after the jump for more on his political niche.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Events coming up during the next two weeks

There aren’t many political events during the second half of December, but there’s plenty going on during the next couple of weeks. Event details are after the jump. Post a comment or send me an e-mail (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know of something I’ve left out.

If I can shake this cold I plan to attend the Culver-Judge holiday party this Saturday. Any other Bleeding Heartland readers going?

State Representative Chris Rants and Jonathan Narcisse have already started their debate series. You can view the schedule and download mp3s of the debates here.

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The Rants/Narcisse roadshow: a new headache for Culver

State Representative Chris Rants will “debate” former Des Moines School Board member Jonathan Narcisse on various issues during the first half of December. The Iowa Republican blog has the preliminary schedule for the debates in Bettendorf, Ankeny, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo, as well as footage from yesterday’s joint press conference by Rants and Narcisse.

Scheduling the “debates” is a clever move by Rants, who is running the best gubernatorial campaign in the GOP field so far. These events will not be good news for Governor Chet Culver.

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Better late than never

Superintendent Nancy Sebring and a “facilities advisory committee” are recommending that the Des Moines school district save $2 million a year after 2011 by not extending a contract with Taylor Ohde Kitchell to manage construction projects for the district:

Currently, Taylor Ohde Kitchell has a $19.3 million contract to oversee construction projects through June 30, 2011.

“We have fewer dollars to spend, and we want as much of those to go into schools and impacting students and adults at those schools,” Sebring said.

This sensible recommendation is long overdue, and the school board should adopt it unanimously.

School board member Jonathan Narcisse is unpopular with his colleagues. But to his credit, he had been demanding a thorough review of the contract with Taylor Ohde Kitchell for years. Unfortunately, the majority of Des Moines school board members in a position to do something about this matter dismissed the concerns of those who criticized the contract, including Narcisse and Nan Stillians.

Last year attorney Nicholas Critelli investigated this matter and found that Taylor Ohde Kitchell didn’t comply with the law on competitive bidding for school projects. Critelli recommended that the Des Moines school board terminate the contract with the construction management firm and consider filing suit as well. However, the majority on the school board voted not to sue or even terminate the contract early.

As a parent of a child in the Des Moines public school system, I hate seeing big money continue to be spent on this contract, but it’s comforting to know that the current superintendent doesn’t plan to repeat her predecessor’s mistakes.

The Des Moines Register covered other recommendations from Sebring and the facilities committee here. If the school board approves the plan, Des Moines schools that weren’t renovated during the past decade with local-option sales tax money are likely to have some improvements funded by state sales tax revenue.

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Comparing two lapses in judgment by Des Moines school board members

Jonathan Narcisse, the odd man out on the Des Moines school board, did something dumb recently:

Craig Richman, 16, a sophomore wrestler at Roosevelt High School, wrote an e-mail to school board members last week that voiced his frustration with the state’s “no pass, no play” rule, which benches athletes whose grades slip.

Richman blamed his academic struggles on advanced math classes. He said it was unfair that he should be required to sit out for six weeks for “challenging myself” and added that he is retaking the algebra class that gave him trouble.

Board member Jonathan Narcisse, one of three board members to respond to Richman, said Monday that he thought the teen needed some “tough love.”

His e-mail told Richman: “Suck it up, man. Hit the books. Work out, and stay in shape, and don’t make the same mistake ever again.”

Richman’s parents feel Narcisse’s 11-paragraph e-mail was unnecessarily harsh. But they are more upset with a story Narcisse shared with the teen about an athlete who hadn’t focused enough on his academics and was last seen at a convenience store “asking customers for money for wine and offering (oral sex) for money.”

I happen to support the “no pass, no play” rule for high school students, and I think we’ve all had the experience of writing something in an e-mail we wish we could take back later. However, Narcisse should be particularly careful not to use inappropriate language when communicating with students. I sympathize with his point that the kid needs to take his lumps and study harder, but he could have made that point without any sexual references.

School board chair Ginny Strong wrote a letter to Narcisse

on behalf of the board that said members are “appalled” at his response to the student. The letter warns Narcisse against inappropriate language in communications that are carried out in his capacity as a board member.

“It is highly and completely inappropriate for a board member to reference a sexual act in response to a high school student’s e-mail,” Strong said.

Point taken. Now let’s compare Narcisse’s offense to a recent decision taken by the school board and announced by Strong in a press release last Friday:

Des Moines school officials today said they will not sue the construction management firm that has overseen millions of dollars in projects paid for with sales tax money.

School board members paid attorney Nicholas Critelli $49,000 for a 13-month investigation that reviewed the findings of a 2007 state auditor’s report that showed competitive bid laws were broken on school construction projects.

Critelli was charged with completing a more detailed review of construction projects and found additional projects also violated bid laws. Critelli recommended to the school board they consider legal action against the firm that oversaw all of the work, Taylor Ohde Kitchell.

The district has a $19.3 million contract with Taylor Ohde Kitchell to oversee construction projects through June 30, 2011. School officials also have decided not to terminate their contract with the company. Critelli wrote that Taylor Ohde Kitchell was responsible for the violations because of the conditions of its agreement with the district, and therefore was in violation of its contract.

Strong’s press release indicated that legal action “with little or no chance of success does not serve the best interests” of the community. The Des Moines Register added that the school board discussed Critelli’s report “briefly” at an October meeting, but Critelli was not there to take questions about the investigation.

I am not an attorney and can’t assess the prospects for a potential lawsuit against Taylor Ohde Kitchell. But I respect State Auditor David Vaudt, whose findings prompted the school board to hire Critelli, and it seems that Critelli thoroughly examined the issues at hand.

As the mother of a child in a Des Moines public school, I wonder why the school board would pay Critelli $49,000 to look into this matter and then ignore his recommendations. Even if they decided not to sue, they could have at least terminated the Taylor Ohde Kitchell contract.

As a Polk County resident, I wonder why the school board seems unconcerned with holding Taylor Ohde Kitchell accountable for how nearly $20 million in local-option sales tax dollars were spent.

By the way, Duane Van Hemert, who oversaw the bidding process on these projects as the school district’s facilities manager, refused to cooperate with Critelli’s investigation. That alone ought to raise some red flags for the school board members. (Van Hemert resigned from his position with the school district a year and a half ago, soon after Nancy Sebring became superintendent.)

Current and former school board members take pot shots at Narcisse, but he was among the community leaders who raised questions about the Taylor Ohde Kitchell contract years ago. Where were Des Moines school board members when the alleged wrongdoing identified by Vaudt and Critelli occurred? They were dismissing critics of Van Hemert and the school board as a bunch of name-callers.

If members of the school board are “appalled” by a boneheaded e-mail that offended one student and his parents, they should be equally “appalled” by Vaudt’s and Critelli’s findings.

Here’s hoping people committed to better governance and oversight will get on the Des Moines school board in the future.

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Someone on the school board needs to ask tough questions

Critics of Des Moines school board member Jonathan Narcisse may want to revise their opinions in light of this report published in the Des Moines Register on September 26:

The Des Moines school district should sue the construction management firm that has overseen projects paid for with a local-option sales tax, an attorney hired by the school board recommended in a report released Thursday.

The recommendation came after a year-long review by attorney Nicholas Critelli that showed competitive bidding laws were broken on school construction projects. The violations were in addition to those found in a 2007 state auditor’s report.

The district has a $20 million contract with Taylor Ohde Kitchell to oversee construction projects. The firm is responsible for the violations, Critelli wrote.

Critelli’s report affirmed Auditor David Vaudt’s report that four contracts for work at East High School were split into nine smaller purchase orders. The contracts – $115,362 for an annex and $67,387 for a gymnasium – should have fallen under a state law that requires competition for any project of more than $25,000.

To download a pdf file of Critelli’s report, click here.

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail Jonathan Narcisse sent to his supporters in October 2007, one month after he was elected to the Des Moines school board:

The Taylor Ohde Kitchell contract remains a concern and I am waiting for more specific reports and evaluations. This is a $20+ million contract being paid out of local option tax dollars. One man working for T.O.K., Doug Ohde, was paid $19,200 for his September hours, his total compensation paid for 160 hours of work. Others working for T.O.K. were paid $11,675.36, $10,723.43 and $10,576.48 out of our tax dollars for their September hours.

Our Board Chair Dick Murphy has stated if I want to know what Doug Ohde is doing to earn those tax dollars I should contact the company and ask him, but I prefer to see a performance evaluation by the District and will pursue details.  After all, Doug Ohde is being paid more than our Superintendent.

That’s former school board chairman Dick Murphy, who unwisely tried to get his colleagues to censure Narcisse following the latest school board election.

By the way, the Des Moines Register reported that Taylor Ohde Kitchell and Duane Van Hemert, the district’s former facilities manager, “refused to participate” in Critelli’s investigation.

Van Hemert resigned not long after Nancy Sebring replaced Eric Witherspoon as superintendent. For years before that, Narcisse and Nan Stillians of the Save Our Schools organization had been criticizing the Taylor Ohde Kitchell contract and various decisions made by Withersppon and Van Hemert. To get a taste, read this feature on Stillians and Save Our Schools, published in the Des Moines area weekly Cityview in May 2006.

In those days, I used to hear Stillians and Narcisse referred to as “rabble-rousers” or worse, and they did sometimes use intemperate language. However, many of their concerns turned out to be justified. Meanwhile, no one on the Des Moines school board seemed to be asking tough questions during Witherspoon’s tenure as superintendent.

Earlier this month, voters re-elected three incumbents to the Des Moines school board. Narcisse had backed three challengers, Mike Pike, Steve Flood and Kris Crisman. Those challengers raised concerns about Taylor Ohde Kitchell and other aspects of the school district’s management during the campaign. For example, read this campaign flier promoting the candidacies of Flood, Crisman and Pike.

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail Narcisse sent to his mailing list on September 26:

Attached above is a map from the September 9, 2008, election. The pink, orange and yellow precincts were won by Ginny Strong, Jeanette Woods and Dick Murphy.  The dark blue precincts were won by Mike Pike and Steve Flood. Mike Pike captured the most precincts. Mike Pike, Steve Flood and Kris Crisman finished first, second and fourth in the two Eastside wards and Pleasant Hill.

If this Des Moines School District election had operated under a Ward system, voters of these precincts would have gained meaningful representation on the Des Moines School Board.  Instead, between 10-15 precincts on the west side continue to control the outcome of Des Moines school board contests.  Below are a few examples of the disparity between how we on the DMPS board treat Eastside schools compared to how we treat Westside schools.

   * Prominent Westside schools like Greenwood, Hannawalt, and  Hubbell were not consolidated and were moved to the head of line for local option tax money, while the Eastside saw super-sized elementary schools like Brubaker with 700 students, and Adams closed, despite strong and prolonged protests and a legal appeal still in process before the Iowa Supreme Court.

   * The District spent $11,148 per pupil on our 4th most affluent non-choice elementary Walnut Street school; while we spent $6,738 –or $4,410  less per pupil –at our poorest school Willard on the Eastside where 93.46% of students receive free or reduced-fee lunches. The District spent more money per pupil at Merrill than at Weeks, despite Weeks containing twice as many students living in poverty as those at Merrill so defined.

   * The Eastside showed exceptional support for re-opening a full-time Technical/Vocational school; however, the District plans to invest more to expand programming in Westside students through the prestigious I.B. [international baccalaureate] program.

I still believe that it is a mistake to interpret the recent school board election as a sign that voters are happy with the status quo in Des Moines public schools. I believe that many people supported the incumbents because they feared the challengers would give the religious right a foothold on the school board.

I support switching to a ward system for school board elections in Des Moines, so people on the east side do not continue to feel disenfranchised by the process.

Whether or not that reform is enacted, it is important for school board members to keep a close watch on administrators so that abuses like those uncovered in Critelli’s report do not happen again.

Final note: This article from the Des Moines Register troubles me:

A consultant charged $36,000 to teach Des Moines school board members how to monitor Superintendent Nancy Sebring’s job performance under a new management method that wraps up its first year next month.

Up to another $22,000 is budgeted – the money also can be used for conference fees and subscriptions – to help board members understand the so-called “policy governance” model, which gives them the authority to set broad goals but grants Sebring and top administrators the power to decide how those directives are met. Sebring, for example, would decide which schools hire additional kindergarten teachers if board members decided that smaller classes sizes are needed.

The district hired James Hyatt of Charney Associates in January 2007 to teach the model, which is derived from the way corporate boards of directors oversee their chief executive officers. The district hopes to get a $15,000 grant to help pay for Hyatt’s work.

The method has critics, who say it gives the superintendent leeway to make important decisions that are not immediately made public.

Sebring seems like a good superintendent, but the last thing the Des Moines school district needs is for school board members to become less engaged in how the district is managed.

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Does the DM school board majority want to get Narcisse re-elected?

Because if they do, they should stay on the present course.

I didn’t write much about the Des Moines school board campaign, because I don’t live in the school district and didn’t have a firm grasp of what all the eight candidates stood for.

As I noted last week, three incumbents kept their seats in a relatively high-turnout election. The outcome was a setback for school board member Jonathan Narcisse, who was hoping to get a few allies elected.

That said, it appears to me that the majority on the board is now overplaying its hand in an effort to further marginalize Narcisse. Not only do I suspect this will backfire, I also think they are wrong about the prevailing level of satisfaction with Des Moines Public Schools.

At its meeting last Tuesday, the school board majority chose not to act on Dick Murphy’s ill-advised motion to censure Narcisse, probably because Narcisse had retained the prominent attorney Alfredo Parrish. Instead, the board

referred his alleged misconduct to Polk County and state officials for further investigation.

Board members voted 5-1 to forward alleged violations of state ethics laws and school board policies to the Polk County attorney’s office and Iowa attorney general’s office. Narcisse abstained from the vote.

The board rejected member Teree Caldwell-Johnson’s proposal to refer the alleged violations to an independent agency for investigation before referring them to authorities.

“Not once in closed or open session has this board been presented evidence to support the claims,” said Caldwell-Johnson, who cast the lone no vote.

Narcisse isn’t going to win any awards for congeniality, but I doubt that this action will diminish his standing among those who elected him to the school board.

From what I gather, the people who are comfortable with current governance of the Des Moines Public Schools interpret the recent election results as proof that the people are satisfied with the status quo.

However, Narcisse represents a significant number of Des Moines residents who are concerned about graduation rates and other problems in the district’s schools. If he wants another term on the board, I wouldn’t bet against him finishing in the top four next September (when four seats will be up for grabs).

The Des Moines Register’s reporting on the school board race focused on the fact that three challengers backed by Narcisse lost. But did they really lose because of their association with Narcisse and his criticisms?

A major controversy that developed during the school board campaign received little attention in the Register’s reporting. Some community activists, led by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, repeatedly sounded the alarm about a threat to the school board from the religious right.

Gil Cranberg reported shortly before the election on the contents of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa’s newsletter:

The headline on the lead article in the publication warns, “Religious Right Plots to Control Iowa’s Largest School District.”

The Alliance’s board represents a large number of religious denominations. Its mission includes challenging “political extremism based on religion;” and its goal is to ensure “that the work and influence of government and religious entities remain separate.” The Interfaith Alliance newsletter identifies the Iowa Family Policy Center as opposed to these goals and says it is “helping to elect three candidates to the school board.” The three are unnamed. Connie Ryan Terrell, the Interfaith Alliance’s executive director, said that’s to avoid engaging in electoral activity and jeopardizing the organization’s tax-exempt status.

The Alliance is not bashful though about bashing the Iowa Family Policy Center. The newsletter said the Center is “not supportive of public education and works tirelessly to privatize education by diverting additional public funds to private schools.” Further, the newsletter said, the Family Policy Center “advocates for prayer in school, teaching intelligent design as science curriculum and posting the Ten Commandments in public schools.”

If you read Cranberg’s piece, you will learn that those three unnamed candidates (opposed by the Interfaith Alliance and supported by the Iowa Family Policy Center) are the same three candidates Narcisse was supporting.

It wasn’t just one newsletter. The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa sent out several mass e-mails alluding to a threat to the public schools in Des Moines. One that I received on August 28 included this passage:

The religious right is not concerned about academic integrity, graduation rates or academic equity across a school district.  Regardless of Supreme Court rulings or state law, the religious right inserts itself into school board races across the country to gain control of school boards and impose conservative Christian education and “family values” on the public school students. Their ultimate goal is privatization of the public schools, which you can be assured, will not be equitable.  It is important these concerns are raised in the election process rather than debating them later at school board meetings.

I know you care about your community overall and specifically the children of your community.  I ask you to get involved!

·        Ask all the candidates if they have received the support (verbal, voter-organizing, or financial) of the Iowa Family Policy Center or the Iowa Christian Alliance.

·        Ask all the candidates, do they support having a public education system or should the public education system be privatized?

·        Ask all the candidates, if elected, what role will their faith and/or values play in shaping public policy for the school district?  What is their view on maintaining a boundary between religion and government, including public schools?

·        Ask all the candidates, would they vote to support or oppose the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, or Christian doctrine in the SCIENCE curriculum taught by the district’s teachers?

·        Ask all the candidates, do they support or oppose the districts’ employment and student non-discrimination policies which includes sexual orientation and gender identity?  And how would they work to enhance the implementation and effectiveness of this policy?

An e-mail from the Interfaith Alliance on September 2 urged readers to attend school board candidate forums and ask similar questions.

I am convinced that this issue is partly why turnout was so high on September 9. I know of people who voted for the Des Moines school board incumbents because they were worried about giving the religious right a foothold.

It didn’t help that two of the three candidates aligned with Narcisse sent their own children to parochial schools. Obviously, they still have a right to run for the school board, because their property taxes support public schools. On the other hand, many people felt that people who kept their own kids out of public schools should not be involved in governance of those schools.

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa sent out the day after the election:

It’s a good day for public education, religious freedom and democracy!

Regardless of where you live in Iowa , most of you knew about the particularly bitter election battle for 3 seats on the Des Moines School Board.

Most of you were aware of the work of the Iowa Family Policy Center ( Iowa ‘s largest religious right organization) to “reclaim” Iowa ‘s largest school district.  You understood the potential danger if that came to fruition, not only for the Des Moines school district but for the entire state.

And I am sure most of you know by now that IFPC was NOT successful in “reclaiming” the Des Moines schools!  Voters across Des Moines averted IFPC’s efforts with an amazing turnout (about twice as many as last year).

The children, families, staff, schools, district and democracy won!

On September 18 the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa sent out a fundraising e-mail, noting with pride that

It’s been a little over a week since the voters in Des Moines resoundingly pushed back the efforts of the religious right to “reclaim” the Des Moines school board.  Thank you for your support and for your help to inform other voters.

My point is that I would caution administrators and school board members not to conclude that the voting public are mostly satisfied with the Des Moines Public Schools. They may have supported incumbents for different reasons. If so, they may not be in a hurry to punish Narcisse next year.

Speaking of Des Moines residents who feel poorly served by the public schools, I support David Yepsen’s proposal to move away from at-large elections for seats on the Des Moines school board:

Winners who come out of individual districts have to listen to their constituents and work with winners from other districts to get things for their own. Out of that political process, everyone benefits.

At-large elections haven’t worked in the Des Moines schools. Instead, some neighborhoods feel left out. Huge majorities from one neighborhood can impose leaders on others. This is a particular problem in Des Moines, where for generations, the community has sometimes split into east-side, south-side and west-side factions.

It’s flared up again in our schools because the east-siders and south-siders think the west-siders, who often elect more of the board members, aren’t doing as much for the east-side and south-side schools as they do for their own. Never mind the facts that suggest otherwise – the feeling is there.

Electing board members from districts would help cure it. It would also encourage more people to seek office. As it is now, many qualified people from some neighborhoods don’t run for the board because they figure they have no chance in a citywide election. If candidates had to come out of districts, more new leaders would be tempted to run.

West-siders have dominated the Des Moines school board for a long time. Bringing some balance to the board would reduce tension in the community.

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Dial down the hostility on the Des Moines School Board

The Des Moines school board election was one of the most bitterly contested in Iowa this year. Eight candidates, including three incumbents, ran for three seats. One incumbent who was not up for re-election, Jonathan Narcisse, publicly supported a trio of challengers. The campaign was marred by anonymous fliers attacking Narcisse as Narcisse slammed some of his colleagues in print and on the radio.

The three incumbents were re-elected with relatively high turnout at 12.7 percent:

Ginny Strong, 8,017 votes

Dick Murphy, 7,863 votes

Jeanette Woods, 7,200 votes

Kittie Knauer, 6,979 votes

Steve Flood, 5,699 votes

Mike Pike, 5,504 votes

Kristine Crisman, 4,385 votes

Larry Barrett, 1,741 votes

The fourth-place candidate, Kittie Knauer, is a retired high school principal in the district and probably has a decent chance to win a seat if she tries again in the future. Speaking to the Des Moines Register, she did not rule that out.

Flood, Pike and Crisman were the three challengers backed by Narcisse:

Flood, who some observers thought had the best shot among the challengers to break through the status quo Tuesday, said the incumbents’ sweep is a loss to those school children who are less fortunate.

“I didn’t lose tonight,” he said. “The children of Des Moines that weren’t born into privilege lost tonight. The children of Des Moines that don’t have a voice lost tonight.”

Crisman, Flood and Pike said they did not think their affiliation with Narcisse hurt their chances at the polls.

“I didn’t run to get elected. I don’t have the ability to tell the lies you need to tell to get elected,” Flood said. “I ran to reveal the truth about what’s going on in our school district. That’s all Jonathan does every day.”

Crisman said she was disappointed by the results, which show “apparently people keep wanting to go with status quo,” which she said includes high schools that are “dropout factories.”

Narcisse has been an irritant to fellow school board members for two years, and by his own admission has “contributed to a toxic environment in ways.”

He gave it his best shot, and the incumbents won. Now Narcisse should work on repairing relationships during the coming year. (He is up for re-election in 2009.)

Board chairman Dick Murphy is not helping matters by putting a vote to censure Narcisse on the agenda for the school board’s first post-election meeting:

Specifically, the censure motion charges that:

– A publication tied to Narcisse, the Iowa Bystander, received advertising money from the school district, a conflict of interests.

– Narcisse did not review bills as required before he asked for an approval vote.

– He did not attend expulsion hearings, as board members must do.

– Narcisse alleged that the board violated open meetings laws with legally private sessions called to discuss Superintendent Nancy Sebring’s contract.

Sebring and Narcisse sparred earlier this year over comments he made about the district’s dropout rate.

Narcisse said Friday that he was not notified when it was his turn to review the bills and moved to approve payment. He said he did not solicit business for the Iowa Bystander, told members last fall that he had connections to the paper, and has since dissolved his financial interest in it.

Narcisse also said he was not notified of the expulsion hearings.

What constructive purpose does this censure motion serve? Murphy should withdraw it from the agenda. He is only exacerbating the tensions on the board and in the community.

I agree with former school board member Jon Neiderbach that censuring Narcisse is a waste of time and a distraction from work that needs the board’s attention.

After the jump I have posted an open letter from Neiderbach, which a friend forwarded to me.

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DM school board won't challenge state law on school board elections

The Des Moines school board on Tuesday voted not to waste money and its own attorney’s time on challenging a new state law that requires school board elections to be held only in odd-numbered years beginning in 2009.

It’s a good decision, because the legal challenge almost certainly would have failed.

The board voted earlier this month to implement the new law by shortening the terms of Jon Narcisse and Patty Link by one year. Instead of facing re-election in 2010, three years after they were first elected, they will face voters in 2009.

Although Narcisse has criticized that plan, it’s a lot better than an idea floated earlier in the spring, which would have shortened his term by a year while allowing Link to serve until 2011 before facing re-election.

Patty Link is a very smart woman

Earlier this year, the state legislature enacted a law changing the rules for school board elections. The goal was to save money by having these elections held every other year, and to have board members elected to four-year terms, rather than three-year terms.

Last night the Des Moines school board voted to deal with the new law by shortening the terms of Patty Link and Jonathan Narcisse by one year. Both were elected to three-year terms in September 2007, but they will now face voters in 2009.

There had been speculation that the board would implement this law by shortening Narcisse’s term to make him face voters in 2009, while lengthening Link’s term so she would be up for re-election in 2011. I thought that was a terrible idea for several reasons, which you can find if you click that link.

Today’s Des Moines Register says Link herself

proposed the idea to shorten both their terms, even though some supporters wanted her to claim four years, she said. “I think it’s the fairest way to do it,” Link said. “It’s confusing to play with the years. I don’t want to have the perception that one board member is favored over another.”

That is exactly right. Narcisse is somewhat of an outsider on the current board, but he was elected by people who wanted an outspoken critic of past school boards and district administrators to represent them.

Narcisse was not happy about last night’s vote. He criticized the “disenfranchisement” of voters who elected him and Link to three-year terms, but it would have sent a far worse message to treat board members unequally. Now that school board elections are to be held only in odd-numbered years, it simply isn’t an option for Narcisse and Link to face the voters in 2010 after three years on the board.

The Des Moines school board also voted 6-1 (with Link opposed) to challenge the new state law in court. I doubt they will be successful, though:

Many groups have been opposed to this new law, including the Iowa Association of School Boards, which has said it wants to get it repealed. The law was advertised this year as a way to cut election costs.

The [Des Moines] district’s legal counsel, Beth Nigut, advised the board that there is a precedent from 1907 that allows the legislature to shorten or even end the terms of elected officials, and warned that a lawsuit’s outcome is uncertain. Board members stated they want to pursue other angles, however, such as the short time frame in which they are expected to make a decision.

The law was passed just in April and all districts must have plans in place by Aug. 1 regarding how to transition to equal number of seats coming up for election every two years.

That doesn’t sound like an unreasonable time frame to me. Most school boards meet twice a month. Three months seems adequate to hold hearings and adopt a final decision on implementing the law.

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Don't even think about it

It would be a terrible mistake for the Des Moines school board to go down the path outlined in the Des Moines Register on Friday:

Fine print in a new statewide election law gives the Des Moines school board the option to cut short controversial member Jon Narcisse’s three-year term, a move he says would be “an assault against democracy.”


Eric Tabor, chief of staff for the Iowa attorney general’s office, said the Legislature has the authority to alter school board terms. Secretary of State Michael Mauro said there was “absolutely, unequivocally, no intent to put any board member in any district in jeopardy.”

Boards are instructed to consider the number of votes board members received in the last election when they decide how to meet the law’s requirements. Patty Link won 4,021 votes and Narcisse 3,029 in September.


Phil Roeder, spokesman for the district, said a few options would comply with the law:

– Shorten Narcisse’s and Link’s terms by one year, with re-election in 2009.

– Decrease Narcisse’s term and increase Link’s by one year, with re-election in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

– Alter the 2008 election terms so that one or two members are elected to one-year terms; Narcisse and Link would then be up for re-election in 2009 and 2011, respectively, or both in 2011.

I don’t care what the law allows them to do–any solution that appears to favor Link (a well-connected and well-liked white woman) over Narcisse (an outspoken critic of district policies who is also the only African American on the board CORRECTION: Teree Caldwell-Johnson, who is African-American, also serves on the Des Moines school board) would be a disaster.

If the goal is to get Narcisse off the board sooner, I doubt making him into a martyr is going to achieve that. He was elected precisely because of his criticism of past leadership on the school board and in the district administration.

I know people involved in the Save & Support Our Schools organization who strongly backed Narcisse’s candidacy. They felt that too many Des Moines school board members had failed to ask tough questions of superintendent Eric Witherspoon over the years. (The current superintendent, Nancy Sebring, seems to be more responsive to community concerns.)

The school board should find a way to implement this new law without appearing to single out Narcisse for punishment.  

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