October 22, 2014

First Lady returns to Iowa to campaign for Braley’s Senate bid

MIchele Obama at Drake University.

Michele Obama during an appearance October 10th at Drake University.

First Lady Michele Obama returned to Iowa today to appear at a campaign rally at the University of Iowa for Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley.

Obama drew national attention 11 days ago when she appeared at a rally for Braley at Drake University in Des Moines and urged the crowed to support “Bruce Bailey” seven times before being corrected.

Obama addressed that gaffe right away by twice saying emphatically she was there to support “Bruce Braley.” “Some of you may remember the last time I was here,” Obama said and someone in the crowd shouted ‘You got it right.” She replied, “No, I got it wrong, a couple of times. But, I sort of laughed to myself because I though people should follow me home. Talk to Malia and Sasha, because I never call them the right names. I call Barack Bo, it just never works out very well,” Obama laughed.

She said the mistaken name didn’t matter. “Although I may’ve slipped up on Bruce’s name a couple of times, what I know I got right are Bruce’s values. That’s really what matters in these elections,” Obama said. Obama touted the efforts she said Braley has made to make college more affordable and accessible to students.

She went on to push the same theme as her last visit, the Democrats need young people to turn out and vote, citing the influence of young voters in her husband’s two presidential campaigns. “For years folks counted young people out. That was the conventional wisdom, that young people don’t care, that young people don’t show up for elections. But, boy did you’all prove ‘em wrong for Barrack Obama,” she said.

Obama says the margin of victory for her husband in the 2012 presidential race in Iowa worked out to just 27 votes for each precinct in the state. “I want young people to really hear that number, that’s just 27 votes. That’s why voting matters,” Obama says. She encouraged the young people to go an vote right after the event and told them to get their friends to register and also vote.

Braley is locked in a tight race with Republican Joni Ernst. Ernst is making stops today in Sioux City and Council Bluffs with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. The First Lady has been out campaigning for Democrats, but the president is making very few appearances.

Governor Terry Branstad said today Republicans are going to benefit from the president’s poor approval rating. “The country is going in the wrong direction. The national debt is approaching 18 Trillion dollars, so we think we have a real opportunity in all four of the congressional districts, as well as winning this Senate seat. Joni Ernst is a great candidate in the United States Senate,” Branstad said.

Branstad says there is a clear contrast between Braley and Ernst. “You have somebody who spent all his elected life in Washington, D.C., he’s a congressman, a trial lawyer who said bad things about Senator Grassley and Iowa farmers, versus a woman who grew up working hard on a farm and had a lot of responsibility at an early age, and now has become a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. And you don’t get to become a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard without significant leadership abilities,” Branstad said.

Branstad said he is happy to see the National Republican Party is putting money into the Iowa races, indicating the closeness of the races.


State unemployment rate up to 4.6% in September

Workforce-DevelopmentThe Iowa Workforce Development agency is reporting the state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent in September from 4.5 percent in August. IWD spokesperson Kerry Koonce isn’t surprised. “You’re seeing transition between summer and fall employment, so we’ll frequently see a little bit of bump this time of year,” Koonce says.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September compared to 6.1 percent in August. The number of unemployed Iowans increased to 77,900 in September from 76,500 in August. There are roughly 3,000 more unemployed Iowans compared to a year ago.

Koonce says there was also an increase in the total number of working Iowans. “It jumped from 1,626,400 (in August) up to 1,629,700 (in September),” Koonce says. “That’s 33,000 higher than it was this time last year, so that’s still very strong improvement for the economy.”

Iowa’s construction sector added 1,600 jobs in September, following an “unexpected” loss of 1,200 jobs in August. Construction has added jobs in five of the last six months. Education and health services also added 1,300 jobs last month. “We did see some losses in trade and transportation (-1,000 jobs), with most of that in the transportation area,” Koonce says. “We also saw losses in leisure and hospitality (-1,600), which does tend to trend down this time of year.”

Employment in Iowa’s construction, health care, and finance sectors are at or near record levels, according to Koonce. Manufacturing trimmed 100 jobs last month, marking the fourth straight month that sector has cut employment in Iowa. “We saw large growth (in manufacturing) last year, so that’s just kind of leveling off,” Koonce says. Compared to one year ago, there are around 400 fewer jobs in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

State unveils new emergency messaging system (Audio)

Alert-Iowa-logoThe Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management rolled out a new statewide electronic notification and emergency messaging system today at the department’s annual conference in Des Moines.

Audio:  Radio Iowa’s Dar Danielson reports  :68

State Homeland Security Department director, Mark Schouten, says the new “Iowa Alert System” was developed after the state learned 53 counties were paying for a system, 31 had no system, and 15 others were using a free system.

Governor Terry Branstad joined Schouten to send out the first message to the county emergency management directors in the audience and their cellphones immediately started beeping. Schouten says the system was developed by the federal Homeland Security agency and is known as the Integrated Public Alert And Warning System or IPAAWS.

County officials will be able to send out localized alerts and Schouten says the state will also be able to send state alerts that will be accompanied by a warning buzzer if there is an “imminent threat.” “It’s loud, it is obnoxious. I think it is made that way to get your attention,” Schouten says of the warning signal.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

HSEMD director, Mark Schouten.

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstand approved $400,000 to get the system going. “As I’e seen this system developed, it is confirmed that it will be a vital mechanism for local governments to provide safety and other important information to your residents,” Branstad says. Schouten says 34 counties have signed up for the system, and he says they hope to eventually have all 99 signed up for the new system with the state is providing for free.

“I think that’s one of the attractions of the system, we hope to get all the counties on the same messaging system, it’ll be free to the counties, free to the cities, free to the schools within that county,” Schouten says. “They’ll all be allowed to use it on a subscription base. The county coordinators will be able to send out those FEMA wireless emergency alerts.”

The system allows users to be very specific in sending out messages. Schouten cited the example of how one county coordinator used it already to find a man who had some mental health issues. “He left without permission from a hospital and they wanted to take him back into custody,” Schouten explains. “So they drew a circle on a map and messaged the people just within that circle, and within minutes, two or three people called up law enforcement and said ‘here he is he’s walking down our street.'”

Schouten says it’s an investment that helps all Iowans. “I think it’s such an effective tool that we are compelled to do it. I think it will end up saving lives,” according to Schouten. “There are just so many events in Iowa that we have not a lot of notice, but some notice. And if we can give that notice to the people who are affected by those disasters, then they are better able to take steps to preserve their own safety.”

Schouten says some counties still have contracts with the providers of their current service and they expect them to sign up with the new system once those contracts expire. He says the cost of the system should come down to around $300,000 a year once all counties are signed up.

The counties now signed up to use the system are: Black Hawk, Winnesheik, Jackson, Clinton, Scott, Cedar, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Washington, Louisa, Henry, Marion, Warren, Clarke, Ringgold, Decatur, Wayne, Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Humboldt, Webster, Clay, Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Gutherie, Adair, Cass, Pottawattamie, Harrison, Shelby, Woodbury.


Report finds no standard policy for law officers using tasers in Iowa

Taser-reportA two-year study by the Iowa ACLU and the University of Iowa College of Law Clinic has found no standard set of guidelines for Iowa law officers when it comes to using tasers. The devices use electrical charges to try and bring people under control.

U-I Law Clinic professor, Nathan Miller, help conduct the study of the taser regulations for law officers in all 99 counties and several cities.

“We looked at the kinds of things that they addressed, and we also looked at the expanding literature on tasers to understand the types of things policies might address. And then we developed kind of a range of policy considerations that we then looked to see how each county treats those different policy considerations,” Miller explains.

Miller says they were surprised to find no standard state policy guidelines. “You can drive from one part of Iowa to another and find yourself in places where the law enforcement officials have completely different limits on when and how and when they can use tasers,” he says.

Miller says there needs to be a discussion on some broad guidelines for using the weapons. “On the one hand you can think of them as just replacements for deadly force.,” Miller says, “On the other end of the spectrum you can think about them being used against individuals who are already restrained, or who are being passive and not posing any physical threat. And I would really like us to focus in on where do we put tasers in that continuum. Should they be closer to where there is a physical threat? Or should we passive and unresisting?”

He would also like to see more focused guidelines for Taser use against those who are at a higher risk of suffering problems. “You would expect to see things like the use of tasers on women who are pregnant or on juveniles or the elderly to have more or less uniform treatment across the state — and we did not see that,” according to Millers.

Other information in the report found that only 5 policies in Iowa prohibit the use of tasers on sensitive body parts. These sensitive body parts are the head, face, eyes, genitals and female breasts. The use of tasers on sensitive body parts was allowed with some restriction by 35 policies; 29 policies make no mention of these most sensitive body parts, providing no information, guidance, or rules for officers.

While the weapons are supposed to be non-deadly, Miller says at least two people in Iowa have died immediately after law enforcement used tasers on them. “We’ve seen more than 500 deaths from tasers in the United States between 2001 and 2013. But event when they are not fatal, they really present a number of physical risks, even to healthy people. And those risks are of course exacerbated when you are talking about vulnerable folks like pregnant women, children, the elderly, the mentally ill,” Miller says.

Miller says the expanded use of tasers has put Iowa in a position that many other states are also in. “There are no national and very few statewide policies on this, but one of the things that’s happening, as tasers are used by more and more law enforcement agencies, they are studied more and more, and we are coming to a better understand of the risks that they pose,” Miller says. “And so, I think the time is right to have a statewide conversation about what uniform taser policies we might want to adopt,” Miller says.

He says Iowa’s legislature should consider adopting statewide guidelines for using the devices before more problems develop.  Miller says a standard policy would benefit both citizens and law enforcement.

The report found more than 265 Iowa law enforcement agencies are currently using tasers, and that number will increase as state agents under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Department of Public Safety will soon also carry tasers.

See more about the use of tasers in Iowa here: Taser report PDF

New lotto game celebrated in New York event

Iowa Lottery VP, Mary Neubauer and CEO Terry Rich with Monopoly's Mr. Money.

Iowa Lottery VP, Mary Neubauer and CEO Terry Rich with Monopoly’s Mr. Money.

Representatives from the Iowa Lottery are in New York today as part of the start up of a new lottery game called “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club.” Lottery spokesperson, Mary Neubauer, spoke to Radio Iowa from Times Square.

“Everybody is wearing top hats, because obviously the top hat has always been one of the most popular playing pieces in the Monopoly game and it’s going to be the icon for this new Monopoly game,” Neubauer says. “There’s a big Monopoly playing board in Times Square, folks are lined up to play the game.”

This is the first $5 lotto game and she says it also has a new way to distribute prizes. “The idea is to spread the winnings around — so the top prize can only grow to a maximum of $25 million — and then the money that would have gone to help that prize just keep getting bigger and bigger will go for what’s called a shower of millionaires,” Neubauer explains. “So, when someone wins the top prize in the drawing, we will hold a separate drawing to determine million-dollar winners all across the country.”

There could be thousands of million-dollar winners depending on how much money is in the pool. Players can have the machine pick their numbers, or they can pick five numbers and the machine automatically picks a sixth number that coincides with a “property” on the Monopoly board game.

Billy Gardell will host the Monopoly game show.

Billy Gardell will host the Monopoly game show.

Another twist is a game show. “It will debut in February, and Billy Gardell, he’s Mike from “Mike and Molly” is going to be the host of that game show. He was here today, greeting the crowd and getting everybody hyped up,” Neubauer says.

Players become contestants on the game show by collecting a set of monopoly properties. Neubauer says the game will eventually be available across the country. “Iowa is one of 23 lotteries that are selling the game around the country, but more lotteries are scheduled to come on board by next spring,” Neubauer explains. “So, I think by next year there will be about 250 million people in all of the different states that are playing the game. And the U.S. population is about 313 million so, basically most of the country will be able to play this game by next spring.”

She says the $5 ticket is something new for lotto drawings, but they believe it will go over well. “Lotteries obviously have lots of scratch games for sale at any one time and $5 is the average purchase, the most popular purchase price for people who are buying scratch tickets. Yes, the research indicates that $5 is a very popular playing price,” Neubauer says.

The first weekly drawing for the Monopoly Millionaires’ Club is this Friday at 10:15 Iowa time. There will then be weekly drawings every Friday.

Photos courtesy of Mary Neubauer of the Iowa Lottery.

Polarized political climate leads to more ‘straight ticket’ voting

vote-002Iowa is one of just is one of just 14 states that allow “straight ticket” voting — letting Iowans check a single box on the ballot to cast a vote for every candidate from one party. Drake University political science professor Arthur Sanders suggests the option fits with voting trends.

“As our political system has become more polarized, we find less split ticket voting,” Sanders says. “People are much more likely now to be consistently Republican or consistently Democratic.”

According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, for example, 43 percent of the ballots cast in Linn County two years ago were “straight ticket” voters. Data isn’t available for all 99 counties, but for the 81 counties that did, about one-quarter of the ballots in the 2014 General Election in those counties came from “straight ticket” voters.

Sanders says incumbency is a major factor that leads to “split ticket” voting. For example, in 1990 Republican Governor Terry Branstad beat his Democratic opponent by 22 points, while Democratic Senator Tom Harkin won reelection that same year by nine points. Since there’s an open Senate race in Iowa in 2014, Sanders says a decisive Branstad win “could” help the Republican candidate, Joni Ernst.

“Coattails? The best political science evidence we have is that coattails can matter under certain kinds of elections under certain kinds of circumstances,” Sanders says, with a laugh.

Democrats like Bruce Braley are counting on the Democratic Party’s effort to get Iowans who are less inclined to vote in non-presidential elections to cast a ballot this year. Democrats have 35 “field offices” around the state for their outreach to prospective voters. Republicans have 13, aided by the outside group “Americans for Prosperity” which has five other offices around the state from which it is deploying vote-seekers.

First district candidates debate for final time

The Democrat running for Iowa’s first district congressional seat is calling for an increase in federal spending on public health initiatives to respond to Ebola, while his Republican opponent says more money isn’t the answer. During a debate Saturday night, Democrat Pat Murphy said mandatory federal budget cuts have reduced the government’s ability to respond.

“We actually have had a 10 percent in the Centers for Disease Control on their actual funding,” Murphy said. “It’s important to make sure they have the tools that they need so they can educate our health care workers that are on the front line.”

Rod Blum — Murphy’s Republican opponent — scoffed.

“Spoken like a true career politician. We never have enough money in government,” Blum said. “In fact, in the budget that the GOP submitted, they put more money in that budget, Pat, than President Obama requested for the CDC.”

The two candidates debated one another for an hour Saturday night on KWWL TV in Waterloo. Blum repeatedly called Murphy a “career politician” while stressing his own background as both a businessman and a political novice.

“I don’t want to go to Washington, D.C. to be important,” Blum said. “I want to go to Washington, D.C. to do something that’s important and that is get this country back on track.”

Murphy suggested his 25 years of experience in the state legislature gives him a realistic view of what can be accomplished.

“As a legislator, I understand that quite frankly you’re not going to go in and change the world, but the most important part is figuring out those things that you can work on to both improve your country as well as your district or your state,” Murphy said.

Both candidates are from Dubuque. They’re seeking the seat in the U.S. House that has been held by Democrat Bruce Braley, who is running for the U.S. Senate.