On picket line, Tom Vilsack says Deere workers deserve "fair deal"

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stopped by the United Auto Workers picket line in Ankeny on October 20 to express support for John Deere workers who have been on strike since October 14. He is the first cabinet secretary in recent memory to join union members on a picket line.

While speaking to the workers, Vilsack recalled how important the UAW’s support was to his first gubernatorial bid in 1998. Backing from organized labor helped him win the Democratic primary by less than a 3-point margin. He then came from behind to defeat Republican nominee Jim Ross Lightfoot by a little less than 6 points in the general election. “You don’t forget the people who gave you an opportunity to serve. You just don’t.”

Regarding the issues that prompted the strike, Vilsack told the UAW members,

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Iowa governor wrongly claims credit for large budget surplus

Tax and budget policy expert Randy Bauer was Governor Tom Vilsack’s budget director for six and a half years and has evaluated tax and revenue policies for many state and local governments.

In late September, Governor Kim Reynolds announced that the State of Iowa had a $1.24 billion surplus for fiscal year 2021, which ended on June 30. In a news release, she and the state’s interim budget director credited their own fiscal management for the surplus. Top Iowa Republican lawmakers have echoed that message.

Was it really all that praiseworthy? I’d suggest not. Here’s why this record surplus was not the big deal Reynolds and her minions made it out to be.

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Iowa Democrats back Deere workers, Republicans mostly silent

Prominent Iowa Democrats were quick to express solidarity with United Auto Workers members who went on strike at midnight on October 14. But Republican officials were mostly silent as Iowa’s largest strike in decades began.

The work stoppage affects some 10,000 UAW members, of whom about 6,500 are employed at John Deere facilities in Waterloo, Ankeny, Davenport, Dubuque, and Ottumwa. Earlier this week, about 90 percent of UAW members voted to reject the company’s contract offer—a remarkable consensus, given that more than 90 percent of workers participated in the vote. Although Deere’s profits have increased by 61 percent in recent years, and CEO John May’s salary increased by about 160 percent from 2019 to 2020, the company offered workers only a 5 percent to 6 percent raise, with additional 3 percent raises in 2023 and 2025. Proposed changes to pensions also weren’t acceptable to most workers.

The last strike at John Deere plants began in 1986 and lasted for about five months. According to the Des Moines Register, the largest strikes anywhere in Iowa during the past three decades were a 1995 stoppage at Amana Refrigeration in Cedar Rapids, which involved about 2,000 workers, and a 2004 strike at Newton-based Maytag, involving about 1,600 workers.

The Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement supporting the Deere workers a few minutes after midnight, and many well-known Democrats added their voices throughout the day. I’ve enclosed many of those comments below.

Meanwhile, Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst, and U.S. Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) said nothing about the event directly affecting thousands of their constituents. Staff for Reynolds, Hinson, and Miller-Meeks did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries.

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Governor's own words helped sink mask mandate ban in court

A federal court confirmed on October 8 that Iowa cannot enforce the state’s ban on mask mandates in public schools, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Iowa on behalf of a disability advocacy group and eleven parents of children with disabilities.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Robert Pratt’s preliminary injunction follows a temporary restraining order he issued and extended last month, putting the law on hold. About two dozen Iowa school districts, including most of the largest, have since reimposed mask mandates, affecting more than 150,000 students.

The state immediately appealed Pratt’s ruling to the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In a written statement, Reynolds said, “We will never stop fighting for the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children and to uphold state laws enacted by our elected legislators. We will defend the rights and liberties afforded to all American citizens protected by our constitution.” 

The governor’s bluster is not consistent with the state’s own legal arguments, which have not asserted the Iowa or U.S. constitutions establish any right not to wear masks, or to have one’s children remain unmasked at school.

The irony is that Reynolds’ own public statements have bolstered the plaintiffs’ case against the law Republicans rushed to enact in May.

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Let's not change the definition of local control

Bruce Lear: Instead of allowing elected school boards to make decisions for a school district, Iowa’s governor now defines local control as parents deciding what’s best for their own children.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, especially since Governor Kim Reynolds has altered the definition of local control to justify signing a mask mandate ban for schools. There’s a reason “Community” is the middle name for almost every public school district in Iowa. 

Public schools are often a town’s largest employer as well as the community center. On Friday nights, the school’s fields or gyms can be the center of the universe for young athletes and their parents.

In fact, the relationship is symbiotic. The community helps the school thrive, and the school helps a community survive.

Too bad Reynolds distrusts Iowa communities so much she won’t allow local control over safety decisions fitting the community. Instea≈ and is appealing a federal court decision that put the mask mandate ban on hold. 

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Governor taps American Rescue Plan for IT project predating pandemic

Governor Kim Reynolds has allocated $13 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan funds for a data project that has been in the works since 2019.

Last year, the governor approved a request from the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to pay for the Master Data Management Program with $13 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But those funds were never spent, according to pandemic spending reports and documents obtained through public records requests.

OCIO recently transferred the $13 million earmarked for the data management project back to the agency that administers Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, spokesperson Cayanna Reinier told Bleeding Heartland on September 29. She added that OCIO is “in the process of restarting” the project and “looking forward to moving ahead” with it, now that the governor’s office has approved the use of American Rescue Plan funds.

It’s far from clear this program is an eligible expense under the latest federal relief package.

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