10 years of marriage equality in Iowa

Ten years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously held in Varnum v Brien that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

Justice Mark Cady wrote the opinion, which cost three of his colleagues (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. Assigned the task of writing by random drawing, Cady “strongly believed the court should speak in one voice” on such a controversial matter, Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen wrote in their 2015 book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality. In fact, Cady “was convinced there was no room for even a concurring opinion–an opinion in agreement with the court’s conclusion but not its reasoning.” (pp. 134-5)

Thousands of Iowans have enjoyed a better quality of life since our state became the third to give LGBTQ couples the right to marry. Lambda Legal, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of six Iowa couples, has posted a timeline of key events in the case. State Senator Zach Wahls wrote today about the Supreme Court decision’s impact on his family.

I wanted to mark this day by sharing highlights from Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of that historic event. My deepest condolences go out to the friends and relatives of former Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht. The Iowa Judicial Branch announced today that Hecht has died. He stepped down from the bench in December 2018 while battling melanoma. Of the seven justices who joined the Varnum opinion, only Cady, Brent Appel, and David Wiggins still serve on the high court.

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Weekend open thread: ISU cronyism and favoritism edition

Insider dealing at the University of Iowa has drawn intense scrutiny since President Bruce Harreld’s hiring last year. This week, several news reports cast an unflattering light on the culture President Steven Leath is fostering at Iowa State University.

The July 9 Des Moines Register carried a front-page story by Lee Rood on Leath’s recent purchase of land from one of the companies controlled by Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter. After trying to weasel out of answering questions regarding what he called his “personal life,” Leath insisted he got no “special deal” on the land. However, the arrangement appears highly irregular, as discussed below following excerpts from Rood’s article.

Two recent stories by Vanessa Miller for the Cedar Rapids Gazette raised further questions about what kind of operation Leath is running. Click through to read about the hiring of former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach for a high-paying job that was never advertised, as well as Kurtenbach’s restructuring of ISU’s information technology services unit, which involved eliminating 23 positions and paying 19 people not to work since May 25. Excerpts from those stories are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

P.S.- Speaking of cozy Republican networks, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on Friday that the University of Iowa “is retaining a social media startup company with Republican Party ties that benefited from earlier no-bid contracts.” Wholecrowd is run by Jim Anderson, who served as Iowa GOP executive director during part of the time the University of Iowa’s current Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes was a staffer for the GOP state Senate caucus. Under no-bid contracts Matthes signed with former Iowa GOP state party chair Matt Strawn’s company, Wholecrowd did the same kind of “digital advocacy” work as a subcontractor. The university’s new contract, signed directly with Wholecrowd after a competitive bidding process, seems to have cut Strawn out as the middleman.

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"Party school" findings shed new light on University of Iowa's secrecy on polling

Since November, the University of Iowa has refused to release documents related to annual statewide polls measuring Iowans’ attitudes about the university over the last three years. Officials have cited a provision in Iowa Code allowing “Reports to governmental agencies” to remain confidential if their release “would give advantage to competitors and serve no public purpose.” But Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans has referenced decisions by the Iowa Supreme Court and lower courts, which indicate that the exemption “was not designed to cover documents produced for the government at public expense.”

I have assumed the university was concealing documents related to the polling because the work was among several projects awarded through no-bid contracts to a company controlled by former Republican Party of Iowa Chair Matt Strawn. Peter Matthes, the university vice president who supervised those contracts, had prior connections to Strawn through Iowa Republican circles. Matthes also was involved in hiring new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, both as a member of the presidential search committee and as a participant in one of Harreld’s secret meetings with key decision-makers.

An exclusive report by Ryan Foley for the Associated Press yesterday pointed to a more straightforward reason to keep the poll findings secret: Iowa’s image as a “party school” had hurt its reputation “as a serious academic institution.”

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Bruce Harreld ignores request for documents on U of I opinion poll, Matt Strawn's work

After a contentious recent e-mail exchange with a prominent alumnus, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld vowed that he will “continue to respond to his critics via email,” because “I value direct and candid feedback from our students, faculty, staff, and alumni and if I stop responding I won’t be the kind of president this institution needs and deserves.”

That sentiment doesn’t apply to all critics, though. Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director Randy Evans had received no reply from Harreld more than two weeks after urging him to release documents related to a statewide opinion poll and other work the University of Iowa awarded through no-bid contracts to a company owned by former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn.

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Five troubling aspects of the University of Iowa's no-bid contracts with Matt Strawn

As if we haven’t heard enough lately about backroom dealings involving the University of Iowa, Ryan Foley reported yesterday for the Associated Press,

The University of Iowa has quietly awarded several no-bid contracts totaling $321,900 to a prominent GOP consultant for polling and social media services often delivered through subcontractors, a review by The Associated Press discovered.

Critics say the contracts with former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn’s namesake company — uncovered through a public records request — look like a sweetheart deal among Republican insiders and a potential waste of money.

That’s putting it mildly.

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