# Steve Kettering

Nuclear power in Iowa links and discussion thread

Expanding nuclear power is again a hot topic at the Iowa statehouse. It’s not clear whether Iowa Senate Commerce Committee Chair Matt McCoy can find the votes he needs to advance House File 561. McCoy announced last week that new language in the bill would protect consumers and satisfy a majority of his committee members. However, opponents say the changes address only one of many problems in a bill that would primarily benefit MidAmerican Energy at the expense of its ratepayers. McCoy was forced to delay consideration of House File 561 on March 8, but he is expected to bring up the bill before his committee sometime this week–if he has the votes.

Follow me after the jump for analysis on the prospects for passing House File 561 and the merits of the bill.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2012

The November special election in Iowa Senate district 18 confirmed that Democrats will maintain a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber during the legislature’s 2012 session, set to begin on January 9.

Senate Democrats and Republicans recently announced updated committee assignments. Majority and minority leadership teams are after the jump, along with all members of standing committees. I’ve also noted which senators are up for re-election in 2012 and which are retiring next year.

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McKinley resigning as Iowa Senate Republican leader, won't run in 2012

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in 2012 and will step down as leader of his party’s caucus when Senate Republicans meet in Des Moines on November 10. After the jump I’ve posted background on the drive to oust McKinley and thoughts about which Senate Republican will take his place next week.

McKinley’s retirement leaves Republicans without an obvious candidate in the new Senate district 14, which should be competitive in 2012. A map of this swing district is also below.

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Sabbaticals to be pretext for major education cuts?

The Board of Regents unanimously approved requests last week for 95 sabbaticals in the coming year, to be taken by faculty at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. That number was way down from the 167 sabbaticals approved a few years ago. But Republicans, including the next Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, had called for a moratorium on sabbaticals to save money.

House Republicans have estimated that eliminating sabbaticals at the regents universities for a year would save taxpayers $6 million. However, “According to the regents, the 95 sabbaticals carry a $422,000 cost for replacement teachers, and last year’s sabbaticals generated $5.2 million in grants.”

Oops. The Republican savings estimate is off by more than a factor of ten. How did that happen? The Iowa City Press-Citizen explains:

[Iowa House Republicans’] projected savings apparently includes salaries that professors will earn whether they are on sabbatical or not.

Great fact-checking there on the House Republican staff. You’ve been circulating this $6 million figure for months, based on a false assumption that if universities stopped granting faculty sabbaticals, they could stop paying those professors’ salaries.

In a rational world, politicians wouldn’t try to micromanage affairs at the state universities, and would recognize their mistake in exaggerating the cost of sabbaticals. But Republicans have found an issue with a lot of symbolic punch. Like Paulsen says, “Why should the taxpayers of Iowa be paying to basically give these folks a year off from teaching?” Good universities have controls to ensure that faculty have research and publications to show for their sabbatical time, but the breaks from teaching can easily be portrayed as a big paid vacation for elitist eggheads.

Steve Kettering, who will be minority whip in the Iowa Senate, told the Press-Citizen that the regents’ vote on sabbaticals “is a thumb in their eye […] It just furthers the distance the people of Iowa feel about their universities. There is just a difference between the lives Iowans lead and the lives of the people in the university sector.” Kettering said legislators may respond either through reducing appropriations to the regents universities, or by passing a law to stop sabbaticals. I don’t think Republicans would be deterred by a Legislative Services Agency analysis showing the cost savings in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars, rather than the $6 million Republicans dream of.

Under Democratic control, the Iowa Senate probably would not pass a specific law halting sabbaticals, and senators would resist deep cuts to the regents universities’ budgets. However, if the Republican-controlled House appropriates far less to the universities, citing the regents’ failure to control costs, the final budget deal struck between the state senators and representatives could end up reducing appropriations by a lot more than the true cost of sabbaticals. The three state universities’ operating request for fiscal year 2012 is about $639 million.

A related concern is that yet again, we learn that a Republican proposal to save millions of taxpayer dollars isn’t supported by facts. Paulsen has made big promises about cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget in the current year and beyond, in order to pay for GOP tax-cutting plans. Where will that money come from? Laying off some state employees and axing a few Democratic initiatives, like the Power Fund and voluntary preschool for four-year-olds, won’t add up to enough in savings. Significant cuts to higher education may be on the way, and the Board of Regents could become the scapegoat.

LATE UPDATE: University of Iowa President Sally Mason and P. Barry Butler, the university’s interim executive vice president and provost, published a guest column in the December 28 Des Moines Register defending “career development assignments.” Excerpts are after the jump.

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Upmeyer to be first woman Iowa House majority leader

Today the Iowa House Republican caucus elected Kraig Paulsen to be incoming House speaker and Linda Upmeyer to be majority leader. The vote was no surprise, since Paulsen and Upmeyer were the top House Republicans during the previous two sessions. It’s still a historic achievement for Upmeyer; no other woman has ever served as Iowa House majority leader. James Q. Lynch wrote a nice profile of Upmeyer here. I didn’t know her late father was Del Stromer, who served in the Iowa House for 23 years, rising to the position of speaker. Upmeyer will be the “gatekeeper” who decides which bills come to a floor vote in the House.

The rest of the House GOP leadership team includes Jeff Kaufmann as speaker pro tem, Erik Helland as majority whip, and four majority assistant leaders: Matt Windschitl, Renee Schulte, Dave Deyoe and Steve Lukan. There was some speculation last year that Helland’s drunk driving arrest might cost him his leadership spot in the GOP caucus.

Republicans are likely to hold a 60-40 majority in the House next year, unless recounts change the outcome of one or more close races this week.

UPDATE: Iowa Senate Republicans re-elected Paul McKinley as their leader Monday. The Senate Republican whip will be Steve Kettering, and there will be five assistant minority leaders: Merlin Bartz, Brad Zaun, Pat Ward, David Johnson and Tim Kapucian. Johnson and Bartz have been the most visible Senate Republicans in the battle to overturn marriage equality in Iowa.

Republicans are likely to hold 24 of the 50 seats in the upper chamber, unless a recount overturns Mark Chelgren’s 13-vote lead over Democrat Keith Kreiman in district 47.