Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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ACTION: Help preserve public input on CAFOs

The state Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) is considering new rules that would limit public input during the permit approval process for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Iowa. Up to now, members of the public have been able to speak before the EPC concerning proposed new CAFOs. Under the new rules, only representatives of the entity applying for the permit, the county board of supervisors, and the Department of Natural Resources would be able to speak at EPC hearings on CAFO permits. People and entities that might be affected by downstream or downwind pollution from the proposed CAFO would not be allowed to speak at such hearings.

The public can submit comments on the new rule through this Thursday, August 6.

After the jump I’ve posted action alerts sent out by 1000 Friends of Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They contain some talking points for public comments and contact information for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowa CCI also mentions two points worth preserving in the new rule, which industrial agriculture interests are apparently trying to have removed.

Comments must be received by Thursday, so if you are using the regular mail, please send your letter as soon as possible. There are also three DNR public hearings this week in Spencer, Des Moines and Ainsworth (details below).

I’ve also posted two pieces containing further background information after the jump. These may help you prepare comments to submit to the DNR. Shearon Elderkin discusses a controversial EPC decision last summer, which prompted the rewriting of the rules on the CAFO permit application process. Elderkin served on the EPC from August 2008 through April 2009. She had to step down when Iowa Senate Republicans blocked her confirmation for the position.

The final document you can find below is by Cedar Rapids attorney David Elderkin, Shearon’s husband. He covers the legal issues at hand in more detail.

Please take a few minutes to submit a public comment on this issue by Thursday, August 6. Please forward to any friends or relatives in Iowa who might be willing to comment as well.

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Culver appoints Elderkin to Power Fund, La Seur to Environmental Protection Commission

I love it! Governor Chet Culver announced four appointments today: Shearon Elderkin for the Iowa Power Fund board; Carrie La Seur for the Environmental Protection Commission; John Mathes as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home; and Tomas Rodriguez as Iowa’s State Public Defender. A press release containing some biographical information about the nominees is after the jump.

Earlier this month Iowa Senate Republicans blocked Elderkin’s appointment to the EPC and La Seur’s appointment to the Power Fund board, despite both women’s strong qualifications. I appreciate the governor’s commitment to giving these women the chance to continue their volunteer public service.

Republicans also rejected Gene Gessow, Culver’s nominee to head the state Department of Health and Human Services. It will be interesting to see where Gessow lands.

UPDATE: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement issued a press release on April 30 welcoming the appointments of Elderkin and La Seur. Excerpt:

“We are pleased Gov. Culver is appointing these two individuals who are dedicated to working towards a cleaner environment in Iowa,” said CCI board president Barb Kalbach, “We have full confidence that they have the capacity and leadership to stand up for policies that protect our air and water and serve the common good.”

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Why did Iowa Senate Republicans reject three Culver appointees?

The Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate is the smallest it’s ever been in this state’s history, but they let us know this week that they are not entirely irrelevant. On Tuesday all 18 Republican senators blocked Governor Chet Culver’s appointment of Shearon Elderkin to the Environmental Protection Commission. The 32 Senate Democrats supported Elderkin, but nominees need a two-thirds majority (34 votes) to be confirmed.

The following day, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked Gene Gessow’s appointment as head of the Department of Human Services. Also on April 15, two Senate Democrats joined with the whole Republican caucus to reject a second term for Carrie La Seur on the Iowa Power Fund board.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley released statements explaining each of these votes, but I doubt those statements tell the whole story, and I’ll tell you why after the jump.

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No time like today to contact your state legislators

The 2009 legislative session is ending soon, and if you haven’t contacted your state representative or senator yet, quit procrastinating. I don’t think legislators diligently read every e-mail when the session gets busy, so I recommend calling them.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

I encourage you to tell your state representative and state senator that you support the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien and want them to respect that ruling.

Although I haven’t had time to finish writing a post here about the tax reforms being proposed this year, I support most of what’s in the package, including ending federal deductibility. Right-wing groups are urging Iowans to call their legislators about this issue, so if you support the Democratic tax reform plan, please say so. This article describes the proposed changes to Iowa’s tax code, which Democratic legislative leaders and Governor Culver have agreed on.

Please also mention to members of the Iowa House that you want them to reject SF 432 (here’s why) or remove the Liquid Manure division in SF 432.

If you are speaking with a state senator, especially a Republican senator, please also mention that you want Shearon Elderkin to be confirmed as a member of the Environmental Protection Commission. Culver appointed her to that body last year, and she has been a good vote for the environment.

I happen to know Shearon (pronounced like “Sharon”), because we used to serve on the same non-profit organization’s board of directors. She reads widely on public policy and asks tough questions. She also is a good listener and does not view issues through the prism of partisan politics. Even after serving with her for more than a year, some of our board members did not know whether she was a Republican, Democrat or independent. (For the record, she’s a moderate Republican.)

Feel free to mention any other pending bills or tips for contacting legislators in this thread.

UPDATE: Senator Jack Hatch, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, says Gene Gessow’s confirmation as director of the Department of Human Services “is in trouble.” I posted Hatch’s speech calling for Gessow to be confirmed after the jump. If your state senator is a Republican, you may want to bring this up as well.

SECOND UPDATE: 1000 Friends of Iowa sent out an action alert regarding Elderkin’s nomination. I’ve posted that after the jump.

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