Lopsided governor's race imperils whole Democratic ticket

The filing deadline for campaign finance disclosures is always an exciting day for political reporters. My plan for this week was to write a series of posts about fundraising and spending for each of Iowa’s statewide races: governor, attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor, and secretary of agriculture.

I shifted gears after reviewing the latest reports for Governor Kim Reynolds and Deidre DeJear, the only Democrat actively campaigning for governor.

Unless things change dramatically in the coming months, Reynolds will be able to use most of her war chest to help down-ballot Republicans.

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Four thoughts about Mary Ann Hanusa's state auditor campaign

Former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa finally gave up her Congressional ambitions and announced on January 5 she’s running for state auditor. She won’t face any competition in the Republican primary, coming out of the gate with endorsements from Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Chuck Grassley, and Senator Joni Ernst.

Democrat Rob Sand won the 2018 state auditor’s race by 660,169 votes to 601,320 for GOP incumbent Mary Mosiman (50.9 percent to 46.4 percent). Turnout set a modern midterm record for Iowa that year. Participation could be far lower in 2022—perhaps 1.1 million to 1.2 million voters.

Whether Hanusa emerges as a strong challenger will become more clear as her campaign unfolds, but here are some initial thoughts.

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Iowa Ag Department still ignoring state auditor's warnings

With the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Single Audit for the 2020 fiscal year in the rear view mirror, the State Auditor’s office has been churning out its annual “reports of recommendations” for state government agencies and other entities. The majority of reports issued so far have cited no concerns related to internal control or compliance with statutory requirements.

However, the latest report for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), published on November 23, pointed to several practices “for which we believe corrective action is necessary.”

A news release noted that State Auditor Rob Sand “recommended the Department strengthen internal controls over receipts in certain Bureaus,” adding, “The finding discussed above is repeated from the prior year.”

That’s an understatement. Sand and the previous two state auditors have been warning IDALS about the same internal control problems for more than ten years.

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Governor will struggle to justify CARES Act funds for staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds used $448,449 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover a shortfall in her office budget without documenting that 21 of her staffers were “substantially dedicated” to the pandemic response, a state audit determined.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General asked state auditors in January 2021 to review whether the spending complied with rules governing the use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Bleeding Heartland was first to report in September 2020 on CARES Act payments supporting the governor’s permanent staffers, and reported exclusively last December on how documents were altered to make a “FY 2020 Shortfall” in the governor’s office budget appear to be “COVID-19 Personnel Costs.”

State Auditor Rob Sand warned the Reynolds administration in October 2020 that without adequate documentation, COVID-19 relief funds used to pay governor’s staff salaries might need to be repaid to the federal government. The report issued this week advised the governor to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund “for other eligible and supported uses prior to the December 31, 2021 deadline.”

The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters the office is “now working with Treasury to provide them documentation” to support the CARES Act spending.

That’s easier said than done.

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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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