July 30, 2015

Governor’s chief of staff resigns

Matt Hinch

Matt Hinch

Governor Terry Branstad’s chief of staff announced Wednesday he’s resigning to take a job in the private sector. Thirty-five-year-old Matt Hinch has been Branstad’s chief of staff the past two years.

His last day on the job will be August 7th. Hinch is Branstad’s second chief of staff since the governor returned to public office in 2011. A news release from the governor’s office did not provide details about Hinch’s next job. A spokesman for Branstad said the governor will name a new chief of staff in the near future.

Governor, NAACP promote conference on racial disparity in prisons

Governor Terry Branstad and Betty Andrews, president of Iowa chapter of NAACP.

Governor Terry Branstad and Betty Andrews, president of Iowa chapter of NAACP.

A third annual summit on racial disparities in Iowa’s prisons, to be held next month in Ankeny, is being expanded to two days and moved to a larger facility. Iowa NAACP President Betty Andrews spoke at a statehouse news conference today to promote the summit.

“For far too long, Iowa has ranked at the top of the list of states for the over-representation of African-Americans in the criminal justice system” Andrews said. For more than a decade, Iowa has ranked number-one in the nation for the number of African-Americans per capita in the criminal justice system.

“For every one Caucasian person, there are 13.6 African-Americans in the prison system per capita here in the state of Iowa,” Andrews said. “That is more than double the national average.” African-Americans represent just over 3 percent of Iowa’s population, but they make up 26 percent of the inmates in Iowa’s prisons.

Disparities-newser-2“This is nothing short of a crisis,” Andrews said. “Does that mean that black people in Iowa are worse than (black people) in other states? We think not. The one thing we know is Iowa has to deal with this disparity from within the criminal justice system and from within the community.”

Governor Terry Branstad plans to attend next month’s summit and at today’s news conference, he claimed Iowa has made “some strides” in reducing racial disparities in prisons. “As we’ve reduced the prison population, we’ve also seen the recidivism rate go down,” Branstad said. “You might think, you increase paroles and recidivism would go up, but they’ve done a good job of identifying people who are ‘good risks’ and we’ve actually made progress.”

The Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities is scheduled for August 28-29 on the DMAAC Campus in Ankeny.


Advocates say candidates should focus more on education, kid’s health

Child-and-Family-policy-cenIowa voters want the presidential candidates to talk more about on how their proposed policies would impact children, according to a public opinion poll released today. Charles Bruner, director of the Child and Family Policy Center, is hoping the results of the survey will also direct the media to focus more attention on kids’ health and education.

“In 2012, when we did analysis of the presidential debates, we found although kids are 24-percent of the population and 100-percent of our future, less than 2-percent of questions were asked around child policy issues,” Bruner said. The poll involved 501 Iowans who voted in either the 2012 or 2014 elections.

Bruner said the results should push the candidates to speak up on child policy issues. “Overall, when we asked around 11 policy questions, 77-percent said that kids were a very important issue to address, second only to jobs and the economy,” Bruner said. “When asked about what are the one or two most important issues, kids actually ranked at the top.”

Brian Ahlberg is director of the Every Child Matters Education Fund. “The broad conclusion that we reached from this is something that we already felt and thought we knew, which is that Iowa voters clearly want presidential hopefuls to speak directly to how their policy stances will affect children,” Ahlberg said. “They want campaign debates, overall, to focus on which investments are needed to assure the best opportunities for our kids’ success.”

Iowa Pork Producers Association names new leader

Pat McGonegle

Pat McGonegle

The state’s primary pork producers organization has a new leader. The Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) Board of Directors has announced Pat McGonegle of Urbandale will become the organization’s new CEO on October 1st.

He’ll replace Rich Degner, who is retiring after 35 years with IPPA, the last 17 as CEO. McGonegle has been with National Pork Producers Council for 19 years. Iowa is the country’s top pork producing state, raising more than 20 million hogs a year.

Annual DNR wildlife survey to begin Saturday

Pheasant-hunt-smallThe Department of Natural Resources is preparing to launch an annual wildlife population survey. Kevin Baskins, spokesman for the DNR, says the 15-day long effort will begin this Saturday, August 1st.

Data is collected from 208 routes statewide, each covering about 30 miles. “And that gives us kind of a snapshot of what the populations look like going into the hunting seasons,” Baskins said. A recently released survey of hunters found they harvested an estimated 216,000 pheasants last year, a 30 percent increase compared to 2013.

“We are cautiously optimistic about the (pheasant) numbers being up even further this year,” Baskins said. Another mild winter likely helped the survival rate of pheasants and quail, but wet months of May and June are sending mixed messages. “Sometimes (a wet spring) isn’t the best for successful nesting for young pheasants,” Baskins said. “They tend to get wet and cold and the survival rates go down. Regardless of that, we do expect pheasant numbers to be up even more this year.”

Iowa’s statewide snowfall average was 21.2 inches. The statewide spring rain average was 8.6 inches. According to Baskins, pheasants do best during mild winters with less than 30 inches of snow followed by a warm spring nesting season with less than eight inches of rain. Information from the population survey will be released in mid-September.


Project AWARE picks tons of garbage from the Wapsipinicon River

Volunteers collecting junk during Project AWARE.

Volunteers collecting junk during Project AWARE.

Organizers of an annual river cleanup event have released the results of this year’s effort. Lynette Seigley, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is coordinator of Project AWARE. Volunteers paddled and cleaned 65 miles of the Wapsipinicon River through Buchanan, Linn and Jones Counties in eastern Iowa.

“A total of 30 tons of trash were pulled from the river,” Seigley said. “The bulk of that was tires and scrap metal.” Volunteers removed 677 tires and 14.56 tons of scrap metal. The river cleanup ran July 11th through the 16th and involved a record number of volunteers.

“We had 433 people participate at one point or another,” Seigley said. In addition to Iowans, volunteers came from Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. Seigley said there was even one person from Sweden.

The was the 13th year for Project AWARE, which stands for A Watershed Awareness River Expedition. “For the event, we’ve now surpassed 1,000 river miles that have been cleaned up across Iowa,” Seigley said. According to Seigley, 91-percent of the trash pulled from the river this year was recycled.


Iowa National Guard soldier dies in accident in Guam

Drew Bellairs

Drew Bellairs

An airman with the Iowa National Guard drowned over the weekend while serving on temporary duty in Guam. Drew Bellairs, of Osage, was just 20-years-old.

Colonel Greg Hapgood, spokesman for the Guard, says the accident happened late Saturday at Marbo Cave in Mangilao, Guam.

“He swam into a series of caves and his friends …they tried to resuscitate him, but to no avail,” Hapgood said. “Authorities in Guam are describing this as a tragic accident. Our hearts go out to his family.”

Drew Bellairs is survived by his father and mother, David and Beth Bellairs, sisters Jenny and Natalie, and brother Sam, all of Osage. Bellairs graduated from Osage High School in 2013 and was a student at  Iowa State University. He was a member of the Maintenance Group, with the Iowa National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing based in Sioux City.

“He was on temporary assignment to Guam as a mechanic and crew chief for a KC-135 aircraft,” Hapgood said. “He’d only been there a short time before this accident happened.” Bellairs enlisted in the Iowa National Guard in July 2012.

Photo courtesy of the Iowa National Guard.