Veterans Day links and discussion thread

November 11 was first celebrated as “Armistice Day” in 1919 and became a national holiday in 1926. Congress changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day in 1954. Any thoughts about military service or veterans issues are welcome in this thread.

Earlier this year, the Iowa legislature approved several bills supporting Governor Terry Branstad’s Home Base Iowa Initiative. Some details are after the jump. Branstad himself is a veteran, and he tapped former U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell to co-chair the initiative.

The decline of veterans in Congress continues. Thirty years ago, about a third of the members of Congress had military experience. But only 81 of the 435 newly-elected members of the House of Representatives and thirteen of the 100 U.S. Senators have served or are serving in the U.S. military. No one in Iowa’s incoming U.S. House delegation has served in the military, although several have veterans in their immediate families. Outgoing U.S. Senator Tom Harkin is a veteran, and his successor, Joni Ernst, is a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

Seven of the 50 people who will serve in the Iowa Senate next year have military experience: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz (just elected to the Senate for the first time after several terms in the state House).

Of the 100 people just elected to the Iowa House, nineteen have military experience. The Republican veterans who were just re-elected are Dwayne Alons, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, and Dave Heaton. Five Republican veterans were just elected to the Iowa House for the first time: Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt. Four House Democrats who are veterans were just re-elected too: Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer. Retiring House Republicans Steve Olson and Tom Shaw are also veterans, as is retiring House Democrat Roger Thomas.

Many Iowa lawmakers have immediate family members who either served in the military or are doing active duty.  

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Iowa House rejects broadband access bill

When bills come to the floor of the Iowa House or Senate, the outcome of the vote is typically a foregone conclusion. Leaders rarely call up bills that don’t have the votes to pass. But in “the most surprising vote of the day, if not this year’s session,” Iowa House members on Friday rejected House File 2472, a bill designed to expand broadband access in small-town and rural Iowa. The initiative was among Governor Terry Branstad’s legislative priorities this year. While the goal is uncontroversial, especially in communities where people are stuck with dialup internet, lawmakers disagreed on how to accomplish the task.

The House Journal for April 25 includes details from the floor debate, including roll calls on two Democratic amendments that failed to pass on party-line votes. One of them was a “strike” amendment replacing the entire content of House File 2472 with stronger incentives favored by House Democrats. After the routine business of rejecting minority party amendments, a vote was called on final passage. But only 42 Republicans voted yes, joined by just two Democrats. I’ve posted a list of yes and no votes after the jump. House Minority Leader Mark Smith said Democrats opposed the bill because it “does not go far enough in expanding broadband access to more homes and small businesses.” The Republicans who voted no may have been put off by the size of the tax breaks or the lack of accountability. State Representative Guy Vander Linden told Radio Iowa, “We don’t say they need to meet any requirements in terms of our capacity, speed – anything. All we say is: ‘If you will put broadband infrastructure in place in any unserved or underserved area…we’ll give you all these benefits.’ That, to me, sounds like a blank check that I’m not willing to sign up to.”

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer has already filed a motion to reconsider the vote on this bill, so leaders may believe they can find the votes they need through friendly persuasion or arm-twisting. (She was one of the “no” votes, presumably to preserve her ability to file the bill again after realizing it would not pass.) Two Republicans (Clel Baudler and Ron Jorgensen) were absent from Friday’s vote. Assuming they support the broadband bill and Upmeyer changes her vote, House leaders would need to persuade four more Republicans or Democrats.

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Iowa Republican lawmakers who voted for the last minimum wage increase

Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and House Minority Leader Mark Smith both called for raising Iowa’s minimum wage in their opening remarks to fellow legislators yesterday. Increasing the minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 would raise earnings for roughly 332,000 Iowa workers, according to a 2012 estimate. It would acknowledge the reality that “the minimum wage does not keep a full-time worker out of poverty.”  

Governor Terry Branstad said last week that a minimum wage hike is “not part of my agenda,” suggesting that job training and efforts to attract high-skilled jobs would be sufficient. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen indicated that he sees a minimum wage increase as “[m]aking it harder to be an employer in the state of Iowa.”

However, appearing on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” program yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal pointed out that Branstad signed a minimum wage increase during the 1980s and that Paulsen had voted for the January 2007 bill that raised the wage. On the same program, Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer acknowledged that there may be support for a minimum wage increase in her caucus, since at least half of current House Republicans who were in the legislature in 2007 had voted for that minimum wage hike. Like Paulsen, Upmeyer was a yes vote. At the time, he was House minority whip and she was one of four assistant minority leaders.

Iowa’s last minimum wage hike was the first bill Governor Chet Culver signed into law. House File 1 sailed through, passing by 79 votes to 19 in the Iowa House and 40 votes to 8 in the Iowa Senate. All of the Democrats supported the bill. After the jump I’ve listed how all of the current Republican lawmakers voted on the minimum wage increase. Twelve supported the bill, thirteen opposed it, and one was absent for the 2007 vote.

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Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa House districts

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district, state by state. Last week the Iowa numbers were added to the database. I took a first stab at previewing the battle for control of the Iowa Senate next year, using data including the raw vote totals and percentages for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in each district.

The Daily Kos database includes Obama and Romney vote totals and percentages for each Iowa House district here. After the jump I’ve incorporated that information and other factors to predict which Iowa House districts will be competitive in 2014. Writing this post has been challenging, because every election cycle brings surprises, and many more seats in the lower chamber will be in play. Unlike the Iowa Senate, where only half of the 50 members are on the ballot in each general election, all 100 Iowa House members are on ballot in every even-numbered year. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber.

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Last-minute Iowa legislative scramble is nothing to brag about

The Iowa Senate wrapped up its work for the year shortly after midnight on May 23, and Iowa House members adjourned about 11 hours later. Lawmakers in both parties have been congratulating themselves for compromising on some big issues that ended in stalemate the previous two years. Rod Boshart compiled an excellent list of what the legislature did and didn’t approve during 2013.

We all can appreciate the desire to finish a big project before a holiday weekend, and since legislators stopped receiving per diem payments weeks ago, they understandably wanted to get out of town as quickly as possible. However, I found it disturbing that votes were held before most lawmakers, let alone members of the public, had time to digest final conference committee deals on education reform, an alternative to Medicaid expansion, property taxes, and the health and human services budget. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword. Had journalists and advocacy groups been able to look over the last-minute compromises, people might have discovered problematic language or even simple drafting errors, which could produce unintended consequences after Governor Terry Branstad signs these bills into law.

I have a lot of questions about the final education reform bill and the plan to provide health insurance to low-income Iowans, particularly those earning between 101 percent and 138 percent of the poverty level. I also need more time to sort through the budget numbers and final changes to the standings bill. After the holiday weekend Bleeding Heartland will examine the important results of the legislative session in more detail. For now, I’ve posted after the jump details on who voted for and against the major bills approved this week.

UPDATE: In the May 24 edition of the On Iowa Politics podcast, statehouse reporters Mike Wiser and James Lynch discussed how the big issues came together “behind closed doors,” with no public scrutiny or oversight. Lynch commented that to his knowledge, the conference committee named to resolve the impasse over Medicaid expansion never formally met, except perhaps for one organizational meeting. Lynch recounted one occasion when Iowa House Republican Dave Heaton was briefing journalists about the health care talks, and the journalists asked when that happened, since there hadn’t been any public notices of conference committee meetings. According to Lynch, Heaton replied, “We’re not having meetings, but we’re meeting.” Senate President Pam Jochum said that negotiations between Democratic State Senator Amanda Ragan and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer produced the “key to Iowa’s health care compromise.” Notably, Upmeyer didn’t have a prominent role in passing the House health insurance plan, nor was she named to the conference committee assigned to merge the House and Senate proposals.

Speaking to journalists on May 22, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Jochum weren’t able to answer a specific question about compromise wording reached regarding Medicaid coverage of abortions. That was no minor issue–it was the last sticking point holding up approval of the health and human services budget. In effect, Gronstal told journalists, you can see the wording after the final bill is published.

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Another Iowa legislative victory for Big Ag

Factory farm advocates failed in 2009 to circumvent the Iowa DNR’s rulemaking on applying manure over frozen and snow-covered ground. Then they failed in 2010 to win passage of a bill designed to weaken Iowa’s newly-adopted regulations on manure storage and application.

But this year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association succeeded in convincing state lawmakers to relax requirements for CAFO operators to be able to store their own manure properly. All they had to do was dress up their effort as an attempt to help families with aspiring young farmers.

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