October 1, 2014

Branstad leads Hatch by 14 in new ‘Iowa Poll’

The latest Des Moines Register “Iowa Poll” on Iowa’s governor’s race shows incumbent Republican Terry Branstad still holds a double-digit lead, but Branstad’s job approval rating has also dropped by double-digits. The poll found Branstad at 48 percent, while Democratic challenger Jack Hatch had 34 percent support. Hatch was also unknown by 29 percent of those polled last week.

Branstad had a 63 percent job approval rating in February. It’s 51 percent now. Ten percent of those surveyed said they were undecided in this race. The remaining eight percent were split among other candidates and the option of “none of the above.”

Pollsters asked about recent statehouse controversies and tested how much voters knew about the attacks made in negative campaign ads. Here’s The Register’s story about their poll and here’s the page of results.

Body found in Iowa City confirmed as missing ISU student

Missing ISU student Tong Shao.

Missing ISU student Tong Shao.

Iowa City police says the body found in the trunk of a car at an apartment complex Friday has been positively identified at missing Iowa State University student Tong Shao.  Ames police say Shao, who was 20-years-old, was last seen in Ames on September 6th. Shao is from China.

The Iowa City Police Department says it is treating the death of Shao as suspicious.  The department is not releasing the cause of death pending the autopsy results. Police are seeking 23-year-old Xiangtan Li, a male Chinese student at the University of Iowa, as “person of interest in this matter as possibly having information regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Shao.”

Iowa City police says Li is a known associate of Shao and is believed to have returned to China but are still awaiting official confirmation.

The Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of this suspect. Anyone with information about this crime is urged to contact CrimeStoppers at 358-TIPS (8477) or online at www.iccrimestoppers.org.

Iowa State University President Steven Leath issued this statement:

“We were saddened to learn just after 5 p.m. Monday that the body of a young woman found in Iowa City is that of Tong Shao, an Iowa State junior who was majoring in chemical engineering. Since she was reported missing, members of the Iowa State community had been concerned for her safety and well-being. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends, both here and in China. She will be missed by all. We appreciate the hard work of the Ames, Iowa City and Iowa State University Police departments, as well as other law enforcement agencies, and understand that their investigation continues.”

New center at Hygienic Lab gives students science experience

Student Lily Fuger (left) explains to Nancy Grove how she detects levels of BPA in plastics.

Student Lily Fuger (left) explains to Nancy Grove how she detects levels of BPA in plastics.

A new center is now open in the lower level of the State Hygienic Laboratory building in Iowa City. It’s called the Center for the Advancement of Laboratory Science, and coordinator Drew Fayram, says it’s aimed at anyone with an interest in advancing the future of laboratory science.

“The center has a couple of conference rooms that can accommodate 150 people…and the really unique aspect of the center in my opinion, is the training laboratory with is situated just across the hall from the conference rooms,” Fayram says.

The center is said to be the only facility of its kind in Iowa — and one of few in the nation — that combines a functioning laboratory and a conference center for educators, students and other members of the community.

“The training laboratory is comprised of a laboratory classroom that can accommodate about 24 students or participants as well several specialty rooms off that main room that allow our learners to gain experience with some higher level scientific processes,” he explains.

One of the experiences that is a favorite of Fayram’s is a process that extracts the DNA from a strawberry. “It’s a good learning tool to show students how we can actually use physical and chemical processes to break something like a strawberry — which is very recognizable — down to the molecular level,” Fayram says. “And then we can actually take out the DNA, which is the building block of life, for them to see and to feel and play with.”

It’s a type of hands on learning that introduces students to how science works. “We can kind of incorporate lessons about what is DNA and how does it work and why is it important, and those type things,” Fayram says. The students also find out that the science they are doing is a key component of the work that’s done every day in the rest of the building. “We always loop it back to the work that we do here at the Hygienic Lab, and tell them how we use DNA when we’re testing for diseases,” Fayram explains. “Things like when we use the DNA from bacteria, or the RNA or DNA from viruses to help us identify which organism we are working with. And then that information can help doctors.”

The state has been focusing attention on the STEM or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math areas to get more students interested in the fields. Fayram says they work very closely with the STEM Council and do a variety of activities with student groups related to STEM. He says about 400 students and 40 teachers had already used the site for camps and training even before its grand opening last week. Fayram says anyone interested in the center can contact him via email at: drew-fayram@uiowa.edu or call him directly at 319-335-4864


Ernst leads Braley by six in Register’s ‘Iowa Poll’ (AUDIO)

Joni Ernst (file photo)

Joni Ernst (file photo)

A crowd of more than 700 Iowa Republicans erupted in cheers tonight as the results of The Des Moines Register’s “Iowa Poll” of the U.S. Senate race were announced. The poll found Republican Joni Ernst leading Democrat Bruce Braley by six points.

“We are going to win this seat back this November,” Ernst said during a speech this evening at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s fall banquet, laughing as the crowd applauded.

According to The Register’s poll, Ernst leads among independents and has a four-to-one edge in rural Iowa.

“A year ago who would have thought that a small town farm girl who teaches Sunday School and confirmation to seventh and eighth graders would be six points ahead of an eight-year congressman?” Ernst said.

Congressman Bruce Braley. (file photo)

Congressman Bruce Braley. (file photo)

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan headlined a private campaign fundraiser for Ernst earlier this evening, then the two made the trek to the Iowa State Fairgrounds to briefly address the crowd of Christian conservatives.

“I am so excited about the news that we had this evening,” Ernst said. “We’ve been running neck-and-neck for so long, but I tell you, getting out there, meeting with Iowans, they see the difference, the clear difference between the trial lawyer who has gone all Washington, D.C. on us and that Iowa farm girl who is going to remain committed to all of you.”

AUDIO of Ernst’s remarks, 8:30

Braley’s campaign manager released a memo, saying the Iowa Poll “is a snapshot of where this race begins.” The Braley camp points to Des Moines Register polls at similar points during past campaigns, including a September 1998 “Iowa Poll” that found eventual Governor Tom Vilsack trailing by 20 points. Braley’s campaign manager suggested the “sudden surge” for Ernst in the poll was because “spending by the Ernst campaign and her Republican allies has far surpassed spending on the Democratic side over the past few weeks.”

Braley and Ernst are scheduled to debate Sunday evening at Simpson College. The debate will be broadcast live at 5 p.m. on KCCI television in Des Moines and live streamed on The Des Moines Register’s website.

Audit finds 3 employees paid by Secretary of State after leaving jobs

Matt Schultz

Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

A report released today by the State Auditor’s office shows Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz allowed three political appointees to remain on the state payroll after they left their jobs. The audit was requested by Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat, after reports surfaced that Schultz allowed his chief deputy, Jim Gibbons, to collect a paycheck for six months after his job was eliminated in 2012.

Chief Deputy Auditor Warren Jenkins says,while reviewing the Gibbons case, he found two more instances where appointees were paid after they resigned. The audit shows Schultz’s office paid roughly $110,000 to those three appointees after their last day of employment.

“The majority of which was for Jim Gibbons, that was in excess of $90,000. The others (amounted) to a little over $20,000,” Jenkins says.

In addition, Jenkins says he could not determine what, if any, work the appointees did that would qualify them to remain on the payroll. “We looked at what documentation was available regarding work accomplishments and found there was basically very little written information as to what was accomplished,” Jenkins says.

Schultz, a Republican, is not seeking reelection as Secretary of State and is instead running for the office of Madison County Attorney. It’s unclear if the $110,000 will be returned to the state. “I would not anticipate it would be returned unless somebody, such as the legislature or somebody else, would initiate action to try and recover it,” Jenkins says. “The difficulty would be trying to determine how much the amount should be because we could not determine what was accomplished for that amount of money.”

Jim Gibbons was the wrestling coach at Iowa State University from 1986 to 1992. Gibbons was hired as chief deputy by Schultz in 2011 following an unsuccessful bid as a Republican congressional candidate.

Schultz issued a brief statement in response to Jenkins’ report, saying “There is nothing new here. What I have consistently maintained is that I acted on the advice of DAS, which was shown by the State Auditor’s office. The restructuring of the office saved the taxpayers over a quarter of a million dollars and those savings can continue in the future.”

Mary Mosiman, now the state auditor, took over Gibbons’ duties in the Secretary of State’s office after he was let go in May 2012. Jenkins’ report found Mosiman received $2,500 in excess vacation pay when she was Schultz’s deputy. Jenkins says Mosiman was unaware of the erroneous pay and has already reimbursed the state. She was appointed state auditor by Governor Branstad last year.

Statement from Senator Liz Mathis, co-chair of the Administration and Regulation Budget Subcommittee:

“During the 2014 session, it took repeated phone calls and emails by legislators to get Secretary of State Matt Schultz to answer basic questions about how he was spending taxpayer dollars. Now we know why he was not eager to answer questions about his potential misuse of public funds. An audit released today confirmed that Schultz handed out a six-figure salary to an employee who simply wasn’t working. This is a disgraceful example of favoritism and a misuse of the powers of the office of Secretary of State. It also proves again that Schultz is a poor manager who lacked the experience to oversee the Secretary of State’s office in a responsible way. Last December, the State Auditor raised serious questions about whether Schultz had misused more than $240,000 of federal funds on fruitless criminal investigations of Iowa voters. The audit released today shows Schultz misspent another $113,000 of taxpayer funds. And this may not be the last we hear about Schultz’s misuse and mismanagement. Today, I renew my call for Secretary Schultz to apologize to Iowa taxpayers for this misuse of public money.”

Statement from Brad Anderson, Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State:

“The Auditor’s report released today detailing the incredible mismanagement of the Secretary of State’s office under Secretary Matt Schultz is troubling and should concern all Iowa taxpayers. Iowa taxpayers deserve a Secretary of State who will do the job of Secretary of State rather than chase headlines and keep political cronies on the payroll without requiring them to show up for work. Iowans value work and have no tolerance no-show political appointees, especially at a time when our local election officials face tight budgets and struggle to pay for updated voting equipment. While my opponent in the Secretary of State’s race (Paul Pate) says he wants to ‘continue Secretary Schultz’s good stewardship of the office,’ I believe the time has come for new, fiscally responsible leadership in the office. I urge all the candidates in the Secretary of State’s race to join me and call on the no-show employees identified in the audit to either immediately document their work or return the salary they were paid to the general fund.”


Million Women Mentors – Iowa launches today (AUDIO)

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds kicks off the mentor program.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds kicks off the mentor program.

Iowa is joining a national effort to recruit mentors who’ll encourage young women to pursue careers in the so-called “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says “Million Women Mentors – Iowa” has the goal of lining up 5,000 men and women within the next four years who will mentor teenage girls.

“In high school we want to increase the number of women that are looking at the STEM classes and in college we want to increase the number of young women that are participating in undergraduate STEM careers and then to keep them in the STEM fields,” Reynolds says.

Jana Rieker, a Bankers Trust VP who is co-chair of the effort, says for every 100 females in college, only 12 are taking STEM courses and just three of them will wind up in a career in science, technology, engineering or math.

“So clearly there is an opportunity for us to make a difference by providing mentors for those young women,” Reeker says.

Iowa Association of Business and Industry president Mike Ralston — the other co-chair of the campaign to recruit mentors — says about 1500 adults from 13 Iowa businesses have already signed up to be a mentor.

“Company owners know that we need to make sure that Iowa’s young women and girls and young men and boys are involved in their careers to the highest of their potential,” Ralston says. “and so whether you’re in Waverly or Waukee or Lenox or Sheffield or wherever you are in Iowa, we want to make sure you have access to great opportunities and one way to do that is by having a mentor.”

Iowa is the first state to launch a public-private partnership to recruit mentors for young women.

The women’s basketball coaches at Drake, Iowa State, Iowa and UNI along with the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union are participating in a “Coaches’ Mentoring Challenge” to connect female students with mentors. Drake University Athletic Director Sandy Hatfield-Clubb says two players on the Drake’s women’s basketball team who are math and science majors are the first to sign up to be mentors.

“As a woman in a male-dominated field, I know first-hand how important mentors can be to building confidence, to building courage and to helping young people achieve their goals,” Hatfield-Clubb says.

The lieutenant governor describes her father as her biggest supporter and he encouraged her to pursue her dreams, but there wasn’t anyone pushing her to consider science or math as a career when she was in high school.

“I think maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m such a big cheerleader for this initiative,” Reynolds says. “When I see teams like their first robotics or their first Lego League, when I see young women and kids participating…and how excited and energized they are…I think I could have been a scientist, too.”

Go to the Million Women Mentors – Iowa website to learn more.

AUDIO of press conference at statehouse, 30:00

DOT looking to hire hundreds of snow plow operators

DOT snowplows. (file photo)

DOT snowplows. (file photo)

The Iowa Department of Transportation is planning to hire 200 to 300 more snow plow operators than usual for the upcoming winter season.

Andrea Henry is a spokesperson for the Iowa DOT. “We normally hire 300 to 400 (snow plow operators) and this year we’re hiring nearly 600 positions,” Henry says.

The boost in temporary workers is being made in preparation for especially bad winter storms that bring ice, high winds, and heavy snow. “We want to make sure when a big storm arises that we have plenty of coverage and we’re able to cover all routes successfully,” Henry says.

The agency wasn’t always able to do that last winter. “There were times when we needed to pull from other garages or other coverage areas,” Henry said.

Iowans who are interested in work as a temporary snow plow operator must have a Class A or B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) with an air brake endorsement and be available between October 15 and April 15.

Henry doesn’t anticipate the DOT will have any problem finding the needed workers. “There are a lot of farmers and construction workers who have positions in the summertime and are looking for work in the winter, so we hope we can attract those folks into these winter maintenance positions,” Henry said.

Pay for the work ranges from $11.39 to $16.13 per hour. The snow plow jobs available across the state are posted at: iowadot.gov/careers.