July 24, 2014

Investigators release cause of fire in Cedar Rapids saloon

Investigators say dirty rags that got overheated caused the Wednesday morning fire at a Cedar Rapids bar.

The Chrome Horse Saloon and Slop House in Cedar Rapids is heavily damaged by the fire. Investigators with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department say the fire started in a plastic bucket under a table in the kitchen. Towels and rags that had been used to clean the bar were in that bucket According to the fire department, those towels and rags smoldered for a while “before generating enough heat to result in spontaneous combustion.”

The bar’s owners had video cameras positioned around the place for security and they gave the Cedar Rapids fire department the dramatic video footage from the kitchen area, showing how the fire got started. You can find the video here.

Officials say this “unintentional” fire is a good reminder that rags or towels used to clean up grease and other potentially flammable materials “should be placed in a metal container with a lid.”

Advocates press for another extension of unemployment benefits

A key labor group and two liberal advocacy groups organized a news conference today featuring an Iowan who lost his job three years ago. The groups hope by highlighting the plight of Bob Shultis, they’ll be able to increase public pressure on congress to again extend the number of weeks laid off workers can receive unemployment benefits.

Shultis was laid off in June 2011 from Clipper Wind Power in Cedar Rapids and he finally found a full-time job for roughly the same kind of salary this April.

“I applied for more than 200 jobs during that period,” he said. “No satisfactory offers. I did have jobs during those times. I did not turn down work, but the jobs were not good fits for my skill sets and also didn’t compensate me sufficiently to be able to support my family.”

Shultis said it was “degrading” to have to make a claim for unemployment benefits, but he disputes those who say extending the number of weeks out-of-work Americans can get unemployment checks will encourage those Americans to stay out of the workforce.

“The unemployment wasn’t even enough to make our house payment, let along provide food, clothing, medical care,” Shultis said. “That all came from my savings and thank God I invested well or we wouldn’t have made it. We would have been out on the street and homeless, there’s no doubt.”

Shultis was among those who were cut off from unemployment at the beginning of the year when congress failed to keep extended unemployment benefits in place. In 2008, Congress voted to make checks available for up to 99 weeks. Last year, lawmakers cut that to 73 weeks and then on January 1st unemployed workers became eligible for 26 weeks of benefits. Advocates for extending unemployment benefits are holding events across the country every Wednesday to call attention to the issue.

Iowa GOP had just $11,219 cash in the bank on June 30

The Iowa Republican Party’s finances took a nose-dive during the last quarter, nearly reaching red ink.

The Iowa GOP was already significantly trailing Iowa Democrats in fundraising when Danny Carroll was elected chairman of the party in late March. By the end of June, the party had just $11,219 left in the bank.

On June 28, the newly elected members of the State Central Committee voted Carroll out and chose Jeff Kaufmann as the Iowa GOP’s new chairman. Carroll told Radio Iowa today that he doesn’t want to make excuses, but he said the “continuing air of uncertainty” created by the battle for party leadership “made it impossible” for him to find someone willing to be the party’s fundraising chairman.

The party under Carroll’s leadership collected $11,500 dollars in donations from individuals in June and was able to end the month in the black due to a $17,500 check from the Republican National Committee. Carroll said he was “preoccupied” in May and June with organizing the party’s state convention as well as the special nominating convention for over 500 delegates who selected the Republican candidate for Iowa’s third district congressional seat.

Carroll agreed to give the party’s only paid staff member — former executive director Steve Bierfeldt — an exit package that included severance pay so Bierfeldt would not file for unemployment benefits. Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate Bierfeldt was paid up to $38,000 in his final month with the party.

Jeff Kaufmann, the party’s new chairman, said in a written statement that he is “disappointed in the mismanagement of party affairs by previous staffers and leaders,” but Kaufmann said his job is to “look forward” not backward. Kaufmann’s goal is to raise $300,000 for the party by the end of September. Since Kaufmann became chairman, he has hired new staff for the party, including an executive director, a communications director and a consultant.

On June 30, the Iowa Democratic Party had $366,474 cash on hand.

Forbes ranks Des Moines #2 best place for business & careers

Des Moines skyline at sunsent.

Des Moines skyline at sunsent.

Forbes magazine ranks Iowa’s capital city among the nation’s best places for business and careers.

Des Moines ranked #1 on the list last year. This year the magazine puts Des Moines in the #2 spot, behind Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Forbes article cited a report from Moody’s, a firm that analyzes the finances of governments and private sector businesses worldwide. It predicts the Des Moines economy will grow by four percent in each of the next three years.

The magazine also points to the cost of living in Des Moines, which is about six percent lower than the national average, as well as the cost of doing business, which is 17 percent below the national average.

The other three cities in the top 5 on the magazines “best places for business and careers” list are Provo, Utah and two places in Colorado — Denver and Fort Collins.

Iowa senator who battled Oprah Winfrey in 1996 has died

Berl Priebe

Berl Priebe

A former state legislator who once got in a national spat with Oprah Winfrey has died.

Berl Priebe of Algona served in the Iowa House for four years and in the Iowa Senate for 24 years. Priebe, who raised Angus cattle, took offense to a 1996 Oprah Winfrey show about Mad Cow Disease. Priebe blamed Winfrey for the dramatic drop in U.S. cattle prices. He demanded that Winfrey tell her viewers Mad Cow Disease had not been found in the United States. Winfrey responded, saying she had asked questions the American public deserved to have answered given the Mad Cow outbreak in Great Britain.

In 1988, Priebe brought an Iowa State University nutritionist before his Senate Ag Committee to complain about her warning that there might be a link between grilled red meat and cancer. Priebe quipped that the researcher “got a taste of what it was like to be on the griddle for a while.”

Priebe was one of four senators — two Democrats and two Republican — who were known as the “Montana Mafia.” The senators were known for gathering at Montana’s — a bar near the statehouse — to plot strategy for killing bills they opposed in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Former Senator Jack Rife, a farmer from Moscow, Iowa, who later became the state Senate’s Republican Leader, was a member of the Montana Mafia.

“He was a colorful character,” Rife said this morning from his eastern Iowa farm, where he is cutting hay. “I enjoyed him very much.”

Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, the current Democratic leader in the state senate, said Priebe had the unique ability to bring the senate to a stand-still.

“He was always quite adept and quite talented at figuring out the kind of amendment to offer that would put the place in a really uncomfortable position,” Gronstal said this morning.

Priebe, who owned race horses, then would often engage in what Priebe called “horse trading” to get something he wanted, in exchange for removing the roadblock he’d designed for another bill.

“It was great when he was on your side and it was maddening when he wasn’t because he could tie the place up pretty well,” Gronstal said.

This example from Gronstal illustrates Priebe’s ability to maneuver the levers of the legislature: “Berl Priebe always passed the first bill of the session, some bill out of ag committee…every single year. Even if somebody else was ahead of him, he figured out some way to make sure that his bill was the first bill to pass in the legislature.”

Priebe was also the long-time chairman of a powerful legislative committee that has the power to reject the rules and regulations state bureaucrats propose.

Priebe died Sunday at the age of 96. A memorial service for Priebe will be held Friday afternoon in Algona.

At least 139 Central American kids relocated to Iowa

An Iowa Latino leader says several children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who crossed into the U.S. along the southern border are now living in Iowa, but their arrival has been kept quiet to avoid controversy.

“There’s a number of Latino families who have extended family members who are in those three countries, so they have been driving down to Texas and elsewhere to pick up those children and bring them back,” Joe Henry, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, told Radio Iowa today. “But they’re keeping this kind of secret right now because our governor has not embraced this effort.”

Just this past Monday Governor Terry Branstad repeated his opposition to having any of the unaccompanied kids who came into the U.S. from Central America placed in Iowa.

“I’m very empathetic for these teenagers and kids, but they’ve come here illegally and it would be wrong for us to send a signal: if you come here illegally, we’re going to just disperse you throughout the country and you don’t have to go home,” Branstad said. “…The country can’t afford that and I’m not the only governor that’s taken that stand.”

State and federal officials now confirm up to 139 undocumented children from Central America were relocated to Iowa in the past six and a half months. According to Henry, many of the children need mental health counseling because of the violence they were subjected to before they got to the U.S., but he said the governor’s stand makes that difficult.

“Actually what the governor’s been doing is he has been creating a chilling effect on the whole process, so things are being done behind the scenes,” Henry said.

Henry calls the unaccompanied children refugees. Branstad calls them law breakers.

“The problem’s been caused by the federal government and the administration’s unwillingness or inability to secure the border and protect American citizens against the influx of illegals,” Branstad said Monday.

A spokesman for Branstad says the federal government didn’t notify state officials when these immigration children were being placed in Iowa. After questions from reporters this week, the governor’s staff confirmed nearly 12 dozen unaccompanied kids had been placed in Iowa homes since the beginning of the year, but “it remains unclear” whether all those children are from Central America. Jimmy Centers, Branstad’s spokesman, says the governor is concerned the situation “may encourage others to attempt the very dangerous journey across Central America and Mexico.”

RAGBRAI rider who died Monday was famous bicycle designer

An internationally known bicycle designer died while riding on RAGBRAI Monday. Sixty-three-year-old Tom Teesdale of West Branch built custom frames for bicycles. University of Iowa professor Steve McGuire taught design classes with Teesdale.

“Students just loved his teaching and to this day I’m not sure that they realized how important and famous this person who was working with them was,” McGuire told Radio Iowa this afternoon.

McGuire said a cyclist who got a Teesdale bike frame was like a violinist who got a Stradivarius.

“He knew how to match the geometry of a bicycle to a person in such a way that when a person got on a bike — a bike that he built — they felt like they were really riding a bike for the first time,” McGuire said.

Some of Teesdale’s innovations are now standard components of mountain bike frames. A bicycle Teesdale built is in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Europe and there’s one in the U.S. Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, too.

“Tom had a level of craftsmanship that some people would actually put in the category of national treasure,” McGuire said.

McGuire now builds bicycles, too, after learning the craft from Teesdale. McGuire has gone through about 23 Teesdale bike frames over the years and four remain in his garage, ready for a ride.

“About 15 years ago he actually built a tandem recumbent bike for my son, myself and my wife to ride. Our adult son has cerebral palsy,” McGuire said. “And this great frame builder, known internationally, built many of the special frame bikes that are used every year now in Iowa Special Olympics.”

McGuire spent time on the phone today, talking with friends and admirers of Teesdale.

“It’s been a really sad day, (with) tears, but I have to say that he went out in a wonderful way. He was riding a bicycle that he made for a trip that he took with his daughter on RAGBRAI,” McGuire told Radio Iowa. “You know, I can’t think of anything more fitting.”

RAGBRAI officials say Teesdale suffered from a medical condition while riding his bicycle near Graettinger on Monday and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Teesdale began building bike frames in 1976. His business is called TET Cycles and the company’s website says he has built “thousands” of custom bikes during his career.