Democrats keep majority on Johnston city council

Bryan Burkhardt won the June 22 special election for a Johnston City Council seat despite a strong write-in campaign by local Republicans on behalf of Jim Gorsche. Unofficial results posted by the Polk County auditor’s office showed 1,032 votes for Burkhardt (51.1 percent), 783 write-in votes (38.8 percent), all but six of which were for Gorsche, and 203 votes for Adam Haar (10.1 percent).

Turnout was just under 14 percent, not bad for a summer local election, which received little media coverage.

Burkhardt, a Des Moines Area Community College professor and small business owner, will serve the remainder of Scott Syroka’s term, which runs through 2023. Elected to the council in 2019, Syroka resigned early this year to serve as deputy director of communications in the Biden-Harris administration’s Office of Personnel Management. John Temple has been filling the vacancy on the council since February; he didn’t compete in the special election.

Local elections are nonpartisan in Iowa, but Burkhardt and Haar, the top two vote-getters in the city’s May 25 primary, both had support from area Democrats. Gorsche finished third in the four-way primary.

Continue Reading...

Finding a path for people and wildlife in the Loess Hills

Patrick Swanson takes over this week’s edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday. -promoted by Laura Belin

Earlier this month marked the first of what I hope to be a more common event in western Iowa: an organized multi-day hike through the Loess Hills. 

Conceived and orchestrated by Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) and other partners, the Lo(ess) Hi(lls) Trek, as it was called, gave about 30 folks the opportunity to walk a route through and between conservation lands in Monona County. Golden Hills RC&D recently posted an excellent day-by-day synopsis of the LoHi Trek, so I won’t recap the details here.

As a participant, I would like to offer some of my reflections on this journey.  

Continue Reading...

Company that provided Test Iowa tests faced SEC investigation

Co-Diagnostics, the Utah-based company that provided hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests for the Test Iowa program, faced a U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation last year, Andrew Becker exclusively reported for the Salt Lake Tribune on June 17. Nomi Health, which signed no-bid contracts to provide COVID-19 testing with Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska, subcontracted with Co-Diagnostics for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

Records obtained and sources interviewed by Becker indicated that Co-Diagnostics went to a small regional hospital in Utah to validate its PCR tests while seeking Food and Drug Administration approval, instead of using equipment at Utah’s Public Health Laboratory. Senior state officials pushed for allowing the tests to be used in the Test Utah program prior to FDA emergency use authorization. In addition, the FDA issued the emergency approval more quickly than expected, even though officials within the federal agency reportedly “had concerns because Co-Diagnostics tests were manufactured in China.” 

The SEC began asking Utah officials questions in late April, Becker’s reporting shows. That was a few weeks after Test Utah launched and one week after Governor Kim Reynolds announced her administration had partnered with the same Utah-based companies for Test Iowa.

Continue Reading...

Greater Heights

Ira Lacher ponders growing diversity and anti-immigration sentiment.

I’m coming down off an incredible high — not from a substance I ingested but from a substance I viewed, specifically In the Heights, director John Chu’s cinematic interpretation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning musical about the dwellers of the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City.

Many of those residents, and the actors, actresses, and dancers who portray them, are descended from Latino immigrants. Movies being what movies are, all of them display an energy that derives strength from their ancestry, whether from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Ecuador, or other.

But regardless of “cinema o-verite,” that energy from the actual residents is real, and is pure American; the energy of hope, anticipation, and freedom.

Continue Reading...

Grassley's credentials suggest he'll be GOP choice for Senate

Herb Strentz: Chuck Grassley could have sought to quell Republicans’ anger and the turn to violence on January 6 by speaking out early and honestly rather than “winking” at the Big Lie. -promoted by Laura Belin

If Senator Chuck Grassley opts to run for re-election in 2022, it will be because he does not have the courage or the conscience to not run.

That turns the tables on what we expect from our elected public servants. But nowadays, lacking courage and conscience seems the key to appeasing Donald Trump and satisfying the Republican base. Today’s GOP demands its acolytes swallow the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 election and ignore “The Big Truth” that Trump lost the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots.

Sadly, it is no longer necessary to distinguish between the Republican Party and Trump followers — they have become one and the same.

And even though the latest Iowa Poll for the Des Moines Register found that 64 percent of respondents would rather that Grassley not run for an eighth term in the U.S. Senate, Iowa Republicans have an ample supply of other potential candidates with the no-courage, no-conscience credentials desired by the new GOP.

Consider the fate of a few Republicans who spoke out as a matter of conscience. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, if not already an outcast in today’s GOP and among those Trump considers losers, certainly became one for many Republicans after voting to hold Trump accountable for inciting the Capitol insurrection.

Because U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming put national concerns and needs and integrity ahead of destructive political games, she lost her House GOP caucus leadership role to to a Trump robot, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York.

Scott County GOP leader Dave Millage resigned in the wake of his unwelcome honesty in saying Trump should face an impeachment trial after egging on supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6.

Higher up in the Iowa GOP order, no such honesty or integrity is to be found when it comes to Trump and the demise of the Republican Party as a conservative voice. What the Des Moines Register had noted in a December editorial holds true today:

The winking silence over the past month about Joe Biden’s obvious victory from Iowa’s most senior elected officials — Gov. Kim Reynolds, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst — has been juvenile and unbecoming. […]

Reynolds kicked it up a notch on Thursday [December 10], telling radio host Jeff Angelo that she wished Iowa could have signed onto the state of Texas’ breathtakingly cynical plea to have the U.S. Supreme Court void millions of votes in four states, for no coherent reason, and kick off a process that could have ended with Republican-dominated state legislatures or Congress keeping President Donald Trump in office.

The Register, however, was a bit late in coming to grips with how Grassley, Ernst, and Reynolds genuflected in acceptance of Trump’s autocratic, bizarre rule. In April and June 2020, Laura Belin reported for this website on how Trump laid waste to a supposed landmark of Grassley’s Senate tenure (protection of whistleblowers) with little or no concern exhibited by the Iowa senators and governor.

Remember when we were told that the 2020 presidential election might rank as the most important election our nation’s history? Perhaps that was a bit over the top. But now it is the 2022 election that is so characterized.

Going back, even the 2016 election was viewed as critical and became even more so with Trump’s victory.  A commentary in The Guardian a month before the 2016 election carried the headline, “The 1935 novel that predicted the rise of Donald Trump.”

Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here features an antihero who whips up support among angry voters on the back of firebrand rhetoric, fearmongering populism and anti-Mexican sentiment. Sound familiar?

Jules Stewart, the author of the Guardian article, however, breathed a sort of sigh of relief: “In the end, though, it is only a work of fiction – and millions of Americans cling to the belief that it will remain so. Fingers crossed on 8 November [2016].”

Fingers again were crossed in the 2020 presidential election, and Joe Biden’s election was briefly celebrated.

But here we are again, back to distress as Professor Mark Danner of the University of California at Berkeley points out in the July 1 issue of the New York Review of Books. His commentary notes we have moved a step beyond false claims about Trump’s victory in 2020 — endorsed by silence or acquiescence by Iowa’s GOP leadership — to what is called “Reality Rebellion.”

The article warns, “By doubling down on Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen, Republicans are making their base angrier, more radical, and more likely to turn to violence.”

Grassley, thanks to his tenure and the respect he had commanded in the Senate, might have sought to quell that anger and the turn to violence on January 6 by speaking out early and honestly rather than “winking” at the Big Lie.

But he did not, and thus has the credentials or lack thereof the GOP is looking for in its 2022 candidates.

Top image: President Donald Trump listens as Senator Chuck Grassley speaks during the federal judicial confirmation milestones event at the White House on November 6, 2019. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue Reading...

A worrying headline for Chuck Grassley

The headline certainly caught my attention. “In new Iowa Poll, nearly two-thirds say it’s time for someone new,” the Des Moines Register noted.

Senator Chuck Grassley is 87. Among currently serving senators, only Dianne Feinstein is older (by about two months). The Social Security Administration estimates an 87-year-old has a life expectancy of five years. If re-elected to a six-year term at age 89, Grassley’s odds of dying while in office are significant. It makes sense that many would answer this question this way.

So is Iowa’s senior senator really in trouble?

Continue Reading...

Update on efforts to obtain a federal cannabis exemption for Iowa

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. promoted by Laura Belin

In February 2019, I asked the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Board, which regulates our state’s medical cannabis program, if there was anything we could be doing about federal drug law, such as obtaining a federal exemption (21 C.F.R. § 1307.03) like the one that currently exists for another federal Schedule I controlled substance, peyote (21 C.F.R. § 1307.31).

In August 2019, at my request, the board recommended that the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) obtain a federal exemption for cannabis. However, the department refused, saying none of the other 46 states that have enacted medical cannabis laws have requested federal exemptions, and that Iowans were not being injured by the federal criminalization of cannabis.

Keep in mind that patients had been testifying before the board about discrimination in schools and health care facilities because of the federal criminalization of cannabis. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller signed a September 2019 bipartisan letter from attorneys general saying the current federal policy “poses a serious threat to public safety.”

Continue Reading...

Iowa ethics board to review COVID-19 ads featuring governor

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will review advertisements featuring Governor Kim Reynolds, which were funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The board’s executive director Mike Marshall told Bleeding Heartland on June 18 that some commercials from the “Step Up, Stop the Spread” campaign launched last November “are now under review by the Ethics Board.” Earlier this month, State Auditor Rob Sand asked the board to consider whether the ads violated Iowa’s law banning state officials from engaging in “self-promotion with taxpayer funds.”

Marshall said he anticipates the ethics board will discuss the matter in closed session at its next meeting, scheduled for August 12.

Continue Reading...

Iowa Supreme Court rejects challenge on Raccoon River water quality

Neil Hamilton is the former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor emeritus at Drake University law school. He submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case on behalf of several Drake law professors, who urged the Iowa Supreme Court to define the political question doctrine narrowly in order to preserve “citizen’s access to the courts of Iowa for the vindication of their constitutional rights.”

In a closely decided 4-3 split ruling the Iowa Supreme Court rejected a case filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Action and Food and Water Watch alleging the state of Iowa failed to protect the interests of the public in the Raccoon River. The case involved an appeal from the Polk County District Court rejection of the state’s motion to dismiss the case. 

The majority ruled the district court’s decision should be reversed and the case dismissed, concluding the plaintiffs do not have standing to bring the suit, and their effort to use the public trust doctrine to establish the duty of state officials is a “nonjusticiable political question.” The majority’s ruling and analysis generated three separate dissenting opinions, all agreeing the case should move forward, in large part because the state had conceded the plaintiffs had standing and the merits of the public trust doctrine were not in question.

A reading of the majority opinion shows it was premised on a determination by the four justices to not involve the Court in the difficult and controversial political issues involving water quality in Iowa. This motivation was demonstrated in at least four ways:

Continue Reading...

A new vision for Iowa agriculture and Iowans

John Norwood is a Polk County Soil and Water Commissioner.

These are my prepared remarks from the June 17 event announcing the Central Iowa Water Quality Infrastructure Project. I initiated a new bundled approach with the help of many others after attending an agricultural field day several years ago, where I wondered, how we could improve our effectiveness? Polk County, state, and federal government agencies are involved with the project; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig also spoke at Thursday’s kickoff.

The program is novel because Polk County is moving from single installations that used to require each landowner hiring a contractor, to batch installations of 50 and next year more than 100, using a general contractor bidding approach run by the county. The Soil and Water Conservation District actively targets sites using mapping technology and direct landowner outreach to secure participation, as opposed to waiting for landowners to come forward. The county, state, and municipal sources provided 100 percent cost share, and the installation is largely turnkey for the participants.

Secretary Naig, my fellow commissioners, partners, members of the media, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate the opportunity to join you all today to celebrate this innovative ground-breaking, systematic approach to getting things done. This strategy was born from a chance meeting with Charlie Schafer at a field day several years ago, me asking a lot of questions out of curiosity, followed by several coffee conversations, where together we began to reimagine a new way for delivering conservation infrastructure at scale. And then we widened the circle to include other key players in the conversation who built on the vision and drove it forward with the help of many others. Two of whom you will hear from in a few minutes.

First let me note that this type of locally led effort can be tailored whether we are delivering water quality infrastructure or soil health systems. If the strategies are scalable, turnkey, and targeted, the impact can be magnified many times. What we do in Polk County can be replicated in any of our other 98 counties, and as a “learning organization” that is how my District can support a larger effort. Stay tuned.  

Continue Reading...

Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

Continue Reading...

Axne, Feenstra vote to repeal Iraq war authorization

Democratic Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) and Republican Representative Randy Feenstra (IA-04) voted on June 17 to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. House members approved the legislation by 268 votes to 161, with 49 Republicans joining all but one Democrat to support the repeal.

Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) were among the 160 Republicans to vote no.

None of Iowa’s representatives released a statement about this vote or mentioned it on their social media feeds. Bleeding Heartland sought comment from staff for all four members on the morning of June 18, but none replied. I will update this post as needed if anyone explains their reasons for voting yes or no on this effort to “rein in presidential war-making powers for the first time in a generation.” Jennifer Steinhauer reported for the New York Times,

Continue Reading...

Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

Continue Reading...

Critical Alamo Theories

Dan Piller: Iowa Republicans may learn the same lesson that Texas has reluctantly absorbed: history is not easily contained by the dry wording of a law.

Governor Kim Reynolds happily signed a law that her fellow Republicans approved in the Iowa House and Senate, banning the use of “specific defined concepts” on race or sex for local governments, schools, and public universities.  

The law is principally aimed at racial diversity sensitivity training, but the governor fired a warning broadside to Iowa’s school teachers when she declared in a written statement that the bill bans “Critical Race Theory,” even though those words are nowhere in the bill. Speaking recently to the Carroll Times Herald, Reynolds added that schools would be able to teach about destruction of Native American life in Iowa, “As long as it is balanced and we are giving both sides […].”

What “Critical Race Theory” and “both sides” really mean, at least in K-12 education, probably will have to be hashed out before judges, perhaps with the same entertainment value achieved almost a century ago with the famous Scopes Trial in Tennessee. But Reynolds’ message to Iowa teachers was unmistakable: tread very, very carefully when talking to students about race.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Honewort (Canadian honewort)

Today’s featured wildflowers are the opposite of “showy.” If you’ve spent any time in the woods or near woodland edges, you’ve probably walked by these plants without noticing.

Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis), sometimes known as Canadian honewort, is native to most of the U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Like bedstraw, wild chervil, enchanter’s nightshade, and Virginia stickseed, honewort plants have tiny white flowers and thrive in shady wooded habitats.

Deer don’t care for honewort plants, but according to the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, “Its young leaves and stems may be used as a seasoning like parsley or as a boiled green; the roots may be cooked and eaten like parsnips.” However, “Caution is advised because many similar species of the carrot family are deadly poisonous.” I have never attempted to eat any part of honewort plants. I’ll leave them for the many kinds of insects that are attracted to the flowers or feed on the foliage.

Continue Reading...

When public health gets political

Richard Lindgren: The “commonweal” of public health has taken a back seat to political resentment and anti-science myths propagated by social media. -promoted by Laura Belin

Despite a strong start at vaccinating its populace against COVID-19, my former home state of Iowa has begun to slip in the national rankings in its percentage of vaccinated residents. In Texas, some hospital workers have taken their management to court to fight suspensions for refusing the vaccine, despite experiencing over 52,000 deaths of Texans from COVID in those same hospitals.

What is going on here? Sometimes a simple scatter-graph tells a great story:

Continue Reading...

IA-01: How Liz Mathis might match up against Ashley Hinson

Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis told Iowa news outlets on June 14 that she is “seriously considering” running for Congress next year and will announce her plans in late July.

Mathis won her first race in a 2011 special election for Iowa Senate district 34, covering much of the Cedar Rapids suburbs. She has since been re-elected three times. Republicans did not invest in Senate district 34 in 2012, made an unsuccessful play there in 2016, and opted not to field a candidate against Mathis in 2020.

My Democratic contacts in Linn County expect Mathis to run in the first Congressional district. I am inclined to agree. If she weren’t leaning toward running, she would probably not disclose her plans until after Iowa adopts new maps, which is unlikely to happen before September.

Mathis retired last month from Four Oaks, which provides services to children in the Cedar Rapids area. So she could devote full-time efforts to a Congressional campaign whenever the state legislature is not in session. Since her Iowa Senate term runs through 2024, she doesn’t need to give up her current office to compete for IA-01.

My Republican contacts expect U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson to run for U.S. Senate if Chuck Grassley retires. For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming Grassley will seek an eighth term, and Hinson will seek re-election in IA-01.

Continue Reading...

They only have to win once

Jim Chrisinger sounds the alarm about the Republican Party’s efforts in at least fourteen states to rig elections in their favor. -promoted by Laura Belin

The thing is, we who believe in democracy have to win every election. The Trumpers, who don’t believe in democracy, only have to win once. Here’s why.    

Take Georgia for example, a red state trending purple. Democracy held in 2020 because of people like Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, his staff, and local election officials across the state, most of whom are Republican. They did the right thing.  

But now, juiced by Trump’s Big Lie, the wheels are in motion for a new reality. The Georgia GOP passed a new round of voter suppression against minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups. They are preparing to gerrymander for 2022 and the coming decade. They recently enacted authority for the legislature’s appointees to overturn local election results. Raffensperger, the state’s chief election official, and other officials who faithfully fulfilled their duties in 2020, are being challenged in 2022 by Trumpers who believe the Big Lie.  

Continue Reading...
View More...