April 18, 2015

Ag Secretary Vilsack not commenting on Des Moines Water Works lawsuit

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he cannot comment on the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit alleging boards of supervisors in three northwest Iowa counties failure to manage ag drainage districts has contaminated central Iowa’s drinking water supply.

“But it is appropriate for me to talk about conservation and the role of USDA in all of this and I think what might surprise…many Iowans is how much conservation is actually taking place today in Iowa,” Vilsack says. Since January of 2011, the U.S.D.A. has awarded over $2.2 billion to Iowa farmers to help finance conservation projects to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus run-off into rivers and streams.

“The reality is that this is a very complicated situation,” Vilsack says. “It’s going to take time, but I am absolutely convinced that people are committed to better soil health and better water quality.” Vilsack suggests the federal government is doing its part to stimulate conservation measures on Iowa farmland, but the state government could and should be “more aggressive” in its support of water quality initiatives. Vilsack suggests something similar to the “Vision Iowa” program he imitated 15 years ago when he was governor .

“Let me just make a suggestion to our friends in the legislature and the governor: we did a great thing with Vision Iowa. We took gaming revenues and we put them on the table and we said to communities across the state: ‘What would you do if you had this money available to spur economic opportunity, tourism attractions, whatever?’ And people responded and we saw the landscape of this state change,” Vilsack says. “I think it’s time that we do that with water. There’s no reason why we can’t do something similar and then that could leverage significantly greater sums from the federal government.”

Vilsack points to the Republican governor of Michigan, who has committed $45 million in state money for a single water conservation project. Vilsack made his comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.



NYC mayor pushing his party to embrace progressive agenda

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is wrapping up a series of stops in Iowa and Nebraska, arguing it’s time to “transform America” by enacting “progressive” ideas like raising the minimum wage and taxing the wealthy to raise money for investments in education and infrastructure.

“I have been very clear about the fact that I thought in 2014 too many Democrats ran away from the president, ran away from ObamaCare, ran away from the discussion of income inequality, did not offer a bold, progressive vision,” de Blasio said during an interview with Radio Iowa.

De Blasio is in the midst of a campaign to unite progressives around a set of common goals, with plans next month to present a “progressive version” of the “Contract with America” that Republicans used with success in the 1994 congressional elections.

“This is both about substance and morality, but I also think it’s about practicality,” de Blasio said. “If you want to move people to actually show up and vote — there’s a very different reality around turn-out than it used to be in the past. If you want people to actually show up and vote, they’d better hear a plan for progressive economic change.”

This fall, de Blasio plans to host a presidential candidate forum specifically focused on income disparity, “because I can’t remember an issue this dire that went so unaddressed in Washington.” De Blasio calls the growing gap between the richest and the poorest Americans the “crisis of our time.”

De Blasio, who has been mayor of New York City for about 15 months, managed Hillary Clinton’s first campaign for New York’s U.S. Senate seat 15 years ago. This week, he’s taken some heat for not immediately endorsing her bid for president. De Blasio says he wants to see Clinton’s “clear, bold vision” for the country’s economy first.

“We have a profoundly different reality today than we did eight years ago when Secretary Clinton ran,” de Blasio said. “This is a different economy. It is much more stratified. The income disparity crisis has been growing intensely and literally a different set of issues and concerns than we even had just eight years ago and a different kind of economic crisis than I think we’ve ever seen as a country.”

De Blasio does say Clinton has a “progressive history” as a founder of the Children’s Defense Fund 40 years ago and for trying to reform the country’s health care system in the 1990s.

“She caught hell for that, but she did the right thing and I think it showed a lot of guts and it was exactly the kind of leadership we’re going to need today,” de Blasio said. “That being said, I’ve been very open about the fact — I have great respect for her and consider her a real friend — but I want to see a vision and so far we haven’t had that. It’s a beginning. It’s April 2015. It’s not even April 2016. There’s plenty of time, but I think for a lot of us, we need to see a vision.”

De Blasio said Republican presidential candidates seem to have “gotten the memo” that income inequality is a concern, but de Blasio suggested the GOP is offering just “lip service” to the issue rather than abandoning “trickle down economics.”

“Right now, the politics of this country favors the wealthy. The wealthy have a lock on the decision-making in Washington and most of our state capitals, so we’re not taxing the wealthy, we don’t have the resources, we don’t make the investments and we fall behind,” de Blasio said. “And our people are falling behind.”

De Blasio spoke Wednesday night in Omaha. He spoke today at the Harkin Institute at Drake University in Des Moines.

Erasing court records of those wrongly accused

State Capitol

State Capitol

The Iowa legislature has voted to make it easier for those wrongly accused of crimes in Iowa to get their records cleared. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, says people would be surprised how many Iowans are going to be affected.

“Probably every day in Iowa somebody is mistakenly accused of a crime that they didn’t commit and after going through the system, sometimes spending thousands of dollars on attorneys, they’re eventually either found not guilty or the charges are dismissed,” Wolfe says. “And under current law, that case file — all the information in it, all the untrue allegations — stays on their record forever.”

The bill sets up a process for those wrongly accused of a crime to have the court records “expunged” — a legal term that means erased. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, says this will help a woman in her area who was charged with a drug crime, but police soon determined it was a case of “totally mistaken identity” and they were looking for someone else.

“Well, then, you’d think it would be over, but for her it was not over,” Steckman says. “She has a degree as a medical assistant…she goes to apply for a job and the first thing they see on her records is that she was charged with dealing in meth…She can’t get a job anywhere because of the fact she can’t get it taken off Iowa Courts Online.”

Representative Chris Hagenow, a Republican from Windsor Heights, says it’s an example of bipartisan agreement — since the bill passed both the House and Senate without a dissenting vote.

“It’s just simply the right thing to do to make sure that people’s fundamental rights are protected,” Hagenow says, “that they do not have a lingering penalty or societal black mark for a crime for which they’ve been found not guilty.”

The bill got final approval in the House Tuesday. Senators gave it a final vote today and it’s headed to the governor for his review.

Clinton: ‘I want to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday’

Hillary Clinton made a stop at the Iowa Capitol.

Hillary Clinton met Silas Miller of Grimes during a stop at the Iowa Capitol.

A large crowd of onlookers gathered inside the first floor rotunda of the Iowa statehouse this afternoon for a glimpse of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She is in a private meeting at this hour with Democrats who serve in the Iowa House and Senate.

As Clinton walked by a row of reporters, Clinton said she was “having a great time” in Iowa. Clinton shook hands with several in the crowd and she took a picture with five-year-old Silas Miller of Grimes, who was wearing a gray t-shirt that said “Iowa: wave the next time you fly over.”

“It was awesome,” the young man told reporters after meeting Clinton.

His mother, Carrie Mueller, got a tip from someone inside the building that Clinton was coming. Twenty years from now, when they see the picture snapped today, Mueller may be able to say: “My son took his picture with the first woman president, which is very cool.”

Clinton made the trip to the statehouse after a roundtable discussion with a handful of small business owners in Norwalk.

“I want to build the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday, and I want to make middle class mean something again,” Clinton said. “And you cannot do that if you don’t have small business really building and driving economic growth.”

Clinton’s third coffee shop stop in two days

Democrat Hillary Clinton at a coffee shop in Marshalltown.

Democrat Hillary Clinton at a coffee shop in Marshalltown.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton met with a small group of Democrats in a coffee shop in Marshalltown this morning.

Clinton’s campaign team organized similar stops in Davenport and Le Claire yesterday, events designed to show Clinton listening and interacting with “real people” rather than speaking impersonally from the stage of huge campaign rallies.

A trio of retired school teachers who live in Marshalltown meet at the Tremont coffee shop most every morning and two of the three supported Clinton in the 2008 Caucuses. Karen Elder said she has “several months” to decide whether to support Clinton in 2016.

“I’ve always liked Hillary Clinton. I would have hoped she’d win the last election,” Elder said. “…But the voting arena is wide open, so whether I’ll vote for her or not, I don’t know.”

Donnis Grier supported Clinton in ’08, too, and this is her message to Clinton today.

“I think you’re the best prepared person for the job,” Grier said.

Photographers trying to get a picture of Clinton.

Photographers trying to get a picture of Clinton.

Pat Williams, a Republican and the third woman at the table in the back, was coincidentally wearing a red sweater today.

“I think she’s a lovely lady but not my choice,” she said.

Clinton walked in around 10 o’clock and chatted with the coffee shop’s owners. J.P. Howard renovated the property in the late 1990s and has had presidential candidates like Bill Bradley and Rick Santorum stop by, with a media entourage like the crew that showed up this morning to record Clinton’s movements.

“This is a very similar modus operandi,” he said of the media and campaign entourage that invaded his shop.

The waiter who took Clinton’s order said she asked for a latte with skim milk.

“Keeping up her figure,” he quipped as he rushed to fill orders from the others sitting at Clinton’s table.

Some of the regulars at the coffee shop say they remember when former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, visited the same area of Marshalltown, which is just off the courthouse square. They said the Bushes walked 12 blocks down Marshalltown’s Main Street to visit the Iowa Veterans Home as well as the city’s central business district.

Clinton defends ‘Common Core’ educational standards as ‘non-partisan’

Democrat Hillary Clinton campaigns in Monticello.

Democrat Hillary Clinton campaigns in Monticello.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton defended educators and the controversial “common core” standards for America’s schools during her first 2016 campaign stop in Iowa on Tuesday.

“I just want us to trust and respect especially our teachers again so that we can get to where we need to go,” Clinton said.

Clinton met with a small group of students and educators at a community college center in Monticello yesterday. The event was staged inside an auto tech lab for students at a Kirkwood Community College center in Monticello. One of the instructors who participated in the roundtable discussion lamented the attacks on “common core” standards for schools. Clinton called the attacks from many in the Republican presidential field “very painful” to hear, since the “common core” effort had started as a “non-partisan” agreement among the nation’s governors.

Clinton closed the 90-minute event by speaking about her decision to seek the presidency.

“Believe me, I know that it’s not going to be easy, that I’m going to have to work hard to earn every single vote and get every single Caucus-goer I can round up to show up next February,” Clinton said. “…I couldn’t walk away from what I see as the challenges we face and I want to build on what we’ve done to get out of the terrible recession and get back on our feet, but we have to run the race and I don’t want people whose views about how we run that race that I don’t believe are in the best interests of our country to be making the decisions.”

Read Radio Iowa’s previous story about Clinton’s appearance in Monticello.

Clinton will hold another roundtable discussion with central Iowa small business owners late this morning in Norwalk.

Senate confirms DHS chief despite closure concerns

Charles Palmer (DHS photo)

Charles Palmer (DHS photo)

The director of the Iowa Department of Human Services has won senate confirmation to stay in the job, despite complaints from some senators about controversial closings of state-run Mental Health Institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.

DHS chief Chuck Palmer was confirmed for another four-year term in the job by a vote of 39-11.

Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, calls the closings illegal because the legislature never approved them.

“So this is a gut check moment for this body,” Hogg said. “I think it is essential that we say, ‘No, we are not going to tolerate lawbreakers as directors of our departments.'”

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said Palmer is a compassionate and stable leader.

“This is a gut check,” Johnson said. “…I have full confidence in director Palmer.”

Johnson also discounted a district court judge’s ruling that Governor Branstad overstepped his authority in closing the Juvenile Home.

“What a judge says is an opinion,” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen anything there that negates what happened last November. Elections have consequences and if there was a lack of confidence by the people in the direction that we’re going, we would have heard that.”

Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, responded to Johnson.

“There would have been a bigger consequence to last November had the people of Iowa known the governor for three years has been planning to close these two mental health institutions,” Taylor said, “but he didn’t bother to tell anybody about that before the election.”

Palmer got five more votes than the two-thirds support he needed to win confirmation. The state senate on Tuesday also voted to confirm the governor’s budget director for another four year term. The woman who’s been leading the Department of Administrative Services since the governor fired the former director last year was also confirmed by the senate yesterday.