July 28, 2014

Ernst criticized for taking campaign cash from ExxonMobil PAC

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Republican Joni Ernst says she has no reservations about having organizations that oppose ethanol help raise money for her U.S. Senate campaign.

Ernst will appear Wednesday at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser sponsored by the political action committees for ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. Ernst was asked this morning if she felt “uncomfortable” attending a fundraiser sponsored by ethanol critics.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable because they know where I stand with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Ernst said. “I stand firmly behind that and my record in the Iowa Senate backs that up.”

A new ad blasts Ernst for not refusing the campaign contributions from an “army of lobbyists” representing “big oil.” Ernst has said she’s philosophically opposed to taxpayer subsidies for ethanol, but would support them until tax subsidies are eliminated “for every sector.”

Ernst is the subject of another ad which calls her an “extremist” who would privatize Social Security.

“Oh for heaven sakes,” Ernst said this morning when asked about the label. “I am not extreme, I’ll tell you that.”

Ernst said promises made to seniors who are getting Social Security benefits today must be kept, but she is open to changes for future generations.

“We need to look at solutions moving forward to make sure that my daughters and my grandchildren, all of our children and grandchildren, have that same Social Security system or a semblance of that,” Ernst said. “Whatever form that is in, we have to make sure it’s there for our children and grandchildren.”

Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, returned to the Iowa campaign trail today after two weeks of active duty spent training in Wisconsin.  Listen to audio from her campaign speech and news conference here.

In other news from Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Democracy for America — the group founded by former presidential candidate Howard Dean — has endorsed Democrat Bruce Braley. Over the weekend, Politico – a D.C.-based publication – reported the Braley campaign recently replaced its ad maker and pollster.

State auditor says current state budget amounts to $7.4 billion in spending

State Auditor Mary Mosiman is predicting the state budget will remain in the black for the next 11 months, even though the latest budget plan spends $171 million more than the state is expected to collect in taxes. Mosiman says the state’s ample surplus will cover the difference.

“These are dollars that are not new revenue in this fiscal year, but they are revenes that have been received over previous fiscal years.” Mosiman says.

Mosiman has just released her analysis of the state spending plan lawmakers and the governor approved this spring for the budgeting year that began July 1. She gives lawmakers good marks for “spending discipline” and for filling up all the reserve accounts set aside for economic emergencies. But Mosiman is warning that lawmakers cannot keep dipping into the state surplus to finance education reform and fulfill the promise that the state would make payments to local governments as commercial property tax rates go down.

“In other words we have two key laws that were enacted in 2013 that start having a financial impact on this year and future year budgets,” Mosiman says, “so long-term planning is key.”

Mosiman says the state currently has a $746 million surplus, but by June 30 of next year it will likely be reduced to around $575 million. Legislators drafted a budget plan this spring and Governor Branstad took final action on the budget bills in May and June, nixing some spending proposals. The auditor’s report concludes the final spending plan for state government operations totals $7.4 billion.

Mosiman, a Republican, was appointed state auditor over a year ago by Governor Terry Branstad and she’s on the November ballot, seeking a four-year term as state auditor.

Hatch: ‘I value lieutenant governor…more than Governor Branstad does’

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says it’s important for his running mate and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who is Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s running mate, to have a public debate before the November election.

“The lieutenant governor’s office is very obviously important,” Hatch said this morning. “That person has to succeed the governor if there is any reason for him not to carry out the functions of his office and I value the lieutenant governor, apparently, a lot more than Governor Branstad does.”

Last month, Branstad’s campaign said Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds would not debate Monica Vernon, the person Hatch chose as his running mate and who was confirmed as the Iowa Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor during the party’s state convention June 21st. In 1990, Iowa’s governor and lieutenant governor began running together in the same way the president and vice president do. Hatch saod it’s important that Iowans be able to evaluate the person who’d be a heart-beat away from the governor’s office.

“We’re elected together,” Hatch said. “This is an opportunity for Iowans to see what the team of the office of governor and lieutenant governor can do for the state.”

In June, a spokesman for the Branstad campaign said this is a campaign “between Terry Branstad and Jack Hatch and that is whom voters expect to see in a debate.” Branstad has agreed to three debates, one at the Iowa State Fair on August 14, followed by a debate in Burlington on September 20 and one on October 14 in Sioux City. Hatch has been pressing for more debates, in places like Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities.

Ernst says it’s up to Braley “to refute” attack on his VA hearing attendance (AUDIO)

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst, the Iowa Republican Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, says it’s up to Bruce Braley, her Democratic opponent, to explain why he missed 78 percent of the hearings held by the House Veterans Affairs Committee when he served on the panel.

“I think he should have been attending those hearings, obviously,” Ernst told reporters this morning. “I heard in one account he had said that he had to skip a meeting to go to another meeting and he didn’t actually go to that other meeting…but that’s up for him. He has to justify why he wasn’t there at a time when he was failing our veterans.”

Ernst, a unit commander in the Iowa National Guard, returned to the campaign trail this morning after two weeks of active duty. She spoke briefly at an early morning rally with about 150 veterans and National Guard soldiers and did not mention Braley by name or his attendance at VA hearings. The subject is now being pressed by a $2.4 million ad campaign against Braley. During a news conference, Ernst was asked if it was appropriate for the ad to accuse Braley of being AWOL — absent without leave — on veterans issues.

“That’s up to him to refute, but I think those are important issues and we need to focus on those,” Ernst said. “We’ve made a lot of promises to our veterans and we need to make sure that we are taking care of our veterans.”

“Joni Ernst can choose to ignore Bruce’s long record of achieving results for Iowa’s veterans, such as securing overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops, working across the aisle to support disabled veterans, and helping thousands of veterans re-enter the workforce by providing businesses with tax breaks to hire veterans returning from duty,” Sam Lau, a spokesman for Braley’s campaign, said in a written statement. “But she can’t hide her extreme views…that put her out-of-step with Iowa’s middle class families.”

Ernst told reporters VA Hospitals should remain open, but she would support giving veterans vouchers or cards that they could use to obtain care at a local hospital or clinic, rather than forcing veterans to drive to a Veterans Affairs facility for care. According to Ernst, the problems with long wait times and substandard care have not cropped up at Iowa’s VA facilities.

“I wish I could say that in every state out there, but unfortunately we have had many, many issues and we need elected officials that are willing to take on these problems head-on — not ignore them, not bury their heads in the sand,” Ernst said during her speech at the rally. “We need to address these issues head-on and find solutions.”

Ernst also said she opposes reducing the size of the U.S. active duty military force to pre-World War II levels.

AUDIO of Ernst’s morning rally, 17:33

AUDIO of Ernst’s news conference, 7:00

(This post was updated at 11:22 a.m. with additional information.)

Maryland Governor O’Malley campaigns with Democrats in eastern & western Iowa

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley returned to Iowa this weekend to campaign with Iowa Democrats, building more ties with Iowa activists who could be key contacts if O’Malley decides to run for president in 2016.

“It’s something that I’m seriously considering, but I’m here to campaign for Jack Hatch and for the other good Democrats here in Iowa,” O’Malley told Radio Iowa during an interview today. “…I hope to come back and do more.”

Just over three decades ago, O’Malley worked in eastern Iowa as an organizer for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign.

“I got out there around Christmas time and Scott County had yet to be organized, so Scott County was my primary area of responsibility,” O’Malley said.

On Saturday, O’Malley was just north of Scott County, in Clinton, to headline a fundraiser for a state senator, then he went to North Liberty to help another Democratic candidate for the state senate. On Sunday, O’Malley was in western Iowa where he headlined two private fundraisers for Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, then he and Hatch spoke to Iowa Democratic Party volunteers headed out to go door-to-door in Sioux City to register voters. Despite recent world events, O’Malley said he senses the “primary anxiety” among most voters all across the country is the economy.

“And while we’ve done some good things as a country to avoid going over the fiscal cliff or sliding into a second Great Depression or having our financial markets totally collapse, the truth of the matter is there’s still a lot of anxiety throughout the country and in every state about whether or not our children will be able to live better lives than we have lived,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley is a two-term governor who cannot seek reelection due to Maryland’s term limits. During a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters, Iowa Republican Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann called O’Malley one of the “most liberal, eastern elite” governors in the country.

“Governor O’Malley is out of the mainstream,” Kaufmann said.

And Bill Dix, the Republican leader in the state senate who also participated in the telephone news conference, suggested the Iowa Democratic candidates who’ve campaigned alongside O’Malley this weekend are tainted.

“Looking at Governor O’Malley’s record, clearly they have a different solution,” Dix said. “It’s big government.”

Dix suggests O’Malley is a classic “tax and spend” liberal. O’Malley calls himself a progressive.

“No state that I’m aware of has ever cut its way to prosperity,” O’Malley said. “We need to be fiscally disciplined, but you also have to be smart enough to make investments to bring about that better future that I think everybody hopes for.”

Hatch called O’Malley a “practical” governor.

“I don’t have any problems campaigning with a governor that has lifted his state for the past five years as the number one state in public education,” Hatch said today.

High school students in Maryland must pass a test in order to graduate, for example, and the tests for the Class of 2015 will be tougher. O’Malley, who hinted he’ll be back in Iowa before November’s election, headlined the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention in June and he served as the headliner at Senator Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry fundraiser in 2012.

Tyson plant in Cherokee will close September 27

The Tyson plant in Cherokee will close in three months.

In a prepared statement released today, a Tyson Foods executive said the plant in Cherokee, along with one in New York and another in New Mexico “have been struggling financially” and “it no longer makes business sense to keep them open.” The plant in Cherokee employs 450 people. It will be closed September 27.

The company says a “combination of factors” led to the decision, including “the age of the Cherokee facility” and the “prohibitive cost” to modernize it. The plant in Cherokee, which Tyson acquired from IBP in 2001, began producing processed meats in 1965. Hot dogs, deli meats, hams and Canadian bacon are being made there today.

According to the company’s website, Tyson currently operates 21 facilities in Iowa, including transportation hubs, nine plants that process pork and two that process beef.

Harkin hosts forum with focus on finding jobs for Americans with disabilities

Senator Tom Harkin visits with Meghan Malloy & her son, Judah.

Senator Tom Harkin visits with Meghan Malloy & her son, Judah.

Senator Tom Harkin hosted a forum at Drake University late this afternoon to mark the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

Governor Terry Branstad, who was among the panelists, said he tells business owners they will make their business better by making accommodations and hiring workers who have a disability.

“The people that we have with disabilities that work for the state tend to have better attendance, they’re very conscientious and they make great employees,” Branstad said.

Senator Harkin said his own brother, Frank — who was deaf, only missed three days of work during the 23 years Frank worked at a factory making jet engine parts.

“It was a noisy place. His boss, Frank’s boss, the foreman comes and says: ‘This is the best worker I’ve got. He never makes a mistake. He’s always here on time. Gets more parts done per hour than anybody else.’ And he finally figured it out. He didn’t hear all the noise and stuff. He just kept right on working. Nothing bothered him,” Harkin said. “…That’s why I say sometimes people with disabilities can out-perform.”

Steve Bartlett, the former mayor of Dallas, is also a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who helped round up votes for the Americans with Disabilities Act from his fellow Republicans. He was among the panelists who addressed the issue.

“We’re still behind on employment, so we still have to find some ways to break those barriers to that the reasonable accommodations are much more easily identified and accessible going forward,” Bartlett said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 20 percent of adults who have a physical or intellectual disability are working. The unemployment rate among disabled Americans is more than double the unemployment rate for the entire worforce. Kelly Buckland of Idaho, a national leader on disability issues who was on the panel, told the crowd the Social Security Disability system needs to change.

“We still have a completely outdated benefit system where we pay people to not work and we penalize them if they do go to work,” Buckland said. “…We’re tired of living in poverty. We’re tired of being unemployed.”

Michele Meadows of Des Moines, Miss Wheelchair Iowa, told the crowd she’s become an advocate for finding better transportation solutions, so people like her can get to work.

“I realized that when I had the accident three years ago that I had a lot of work to do educating people around me,” Meadows said. “I did not have a color of my skin. I did not have a slant in my eye. All I had was a wheelchair and everybody running to the other side of the sidewalk. I realized that my civil right’s movement better start with my mouth.”

Today’s event was organized by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University.