March 27, 2015

Walker advisor resigns after Iowa GOP leaders express outrage

An advisor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s political action committee has resigned after Iowa GOP leaders complained about what they considered “offensive” tweets about Iowa.

Liz Mair was hired Monday and announced her resignation Tuesday night. She said the “tone of some of her tweets concerning Iowa was at odds with that which Governor Walker has always encouraged in political discourse.” Mair was to work for Walker’s PAC and was expected to be part of his presidential campaign, once he formally jumps in the race.

In January, Mair had tweeted that Iowa was “embarrassing itself” and that “American politics and policy” would be better off if Iowa’s Caucuses weren’t the first contest in the presidential selection process. The chairman of the Iowa GOP yesterday called her comments “offensive” and “ignorant.”

Rick Wiley, an advisor to Walker, issued a written statement after Mair’s resignation, saying: “We accept those who have a variety of viewpoints on issues, but what we ultimately must have is absolute respect for people across the country.” Mair had some key defenders, including Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of www.RedState.com — an influential conservative website. Erickson said Mair was a friend who was “very good” at her job — and Erickson said Walker had “botched” the whole episode by failing to stand up to Mair’s critics in the same way he stood up to union activists in Wisconsin.

………………….

 

DOT calls for removing 10 traffic cameras in six cities

A traffic camera in Des Moines.

A traffic camera in Des Moines.

The Iowa Department of Transportation released its review today of automated speed and red light cameras and it recommends removing at least one camera from each of the six cities. The DOT’s director of traffic and safety, Steve Gent, has been overseeing the process.

“Statewide there are 34 camera locations on the primary highway system that the DOT reviewed. Twenty-four of those locations will be allowed to stay and continue as is. Then nine will be required to be removed,” Gent says. He says one camera that had been taken down in Sioux City during construction will not be allowed to be reinstalled. The cameras have been at the center of controversy since they began operating, as they bring in millions of dollars to the cities.

The DOT created rules in February of 2014 to govern the cameras that are placed on state highways. Gent says the goal was to ensure the camera were being used as a tool to increase the safety on the roadways.

“The DOT was looking at crashes — how the crashes faired before the cameras went in versus after the cameras were put in — that was the primary driver,” Gent says. “Also we had to make sure that those cameras were within compliance with the state rules, and if they weren’t then we had to make modifications with that situation.”

He says they did look at other information regarding the cameras along with the crash data. “Is the city looking at other safety counter measures and just a variety of things that the DOT is looking at — what other safety counter measures has the DOT installed since the cameras went in,” Gent says. The cities were sent notices today.

Cedar Rapids was asked to remove cameras in three locations and make modifications to other cameras. Des Moines, Council Bluffs, Muscatine and Davenport were each asked to remove cameras. Sioux City was asked to remove cameras in two locations along with the one that will not be reinstalled. “The cities for the cameras that need to be removed, they have a month to do that, April 17th. And then if they want to appeal, they can certainly appeal that to the Iowa DOT director as spelled out in the Iowa administrative code,” Gent says.

It has taken over a year to get to the final decisions on the cameras. “Obviously it took longer than any of us thought it would, however, we wanted to do it right, we wanted to do it once, we wanted to do a comprehensive review, make sure that we got all the information and documentation that we needed from the cities, ” Gent explains. “We had to go back to each of the cities at least two additional times after getting their initial report to get the data that we need to make our evaluation.”

Gent says the cameras will be reviewed every year, but things should get easier. “Once we get through this first phase, the cameras that are in place, that are allowed to stay in place, will have a much better chance of staying there in the future,” Gent says. You can find the reports for each city on the D-O-T’s website at: www.iowadot.gov/ATEReports/atereports.html.

Here is a short summary of some of the recommendations and reasons from the DOT reports on each city:

Cedar Rapids
Disable speed detection from the camera system at the 1st Ave. and 10th Street intersection for the following reason: the westbound speed camera is within the first 1,000 feet of a lower speed limit.
This set of cameras is located 859 feet beyond a speed limit reduction from 60 mph to 55 mph.

I-380 Northbound near Diagonal Drive:Move the northbound interstate speed cameras located south of Diagonal Drive to the next truss north; located near 1st Ave. This allows this camera location to comply with the 1,000 foot requirement of Iowa

Remove or disable the northbound I-380 cameras near J Avenue: The location of the camera is well beyond the “S” curve and therefore beyond the area of concern. Move the southbound interstate speed cameras located near J Ave to the next truss south; located near G Ave.  This allows this camera location to comply with the 1,000 foot requirement of Iowa Administrative Code and will locate the camera closer to the beginning of the critical “S” curve.

Remove or disable the southbound I-380 cameras near 1st Avenue ramp:  The location of the camera is beyond most of the “S” curve and therefore beyond most of the area of concern. .

Council Bluffs
Remove the camera on at the 30th Avenue location as crashes essentially stayed the same.

Muscatine
Permanently remove the westbound camera at University Drive and U-S 61. Crashes have increased since the camera was installed. High number of speed violations as the camera is within 1,000 feet of a lower speed limit

Davenport
Permanently remove the cameras at the intersection of Kimberly Road and Elmore Avenue: ISU study showed crash increase and DOT crash data continues to reflect that trend

Sioux City

No reinstallation of cameras at Gordon Drive and Nebraska Avenue.

Remove the northbound and southbound cameras at the Lewis Blvd and Outer Drive intersection: Crashes increased after the cameras were installed

Remove the speed cameras from I-29: The number of annual crashes varies greatly over the past 10 years with specific trends both upward and downward. It is difficult to determine the effect the speed trailers have had on the number of crashes. The reconstruction project is in the process of building a new and safer freeway system throughout Sioux City. Other safety countermeasures have been implemented. Iowa Administrative Code: Limited use on interstate roadways.

Des Moines

Remove the eastbound I-235 cameras near Mile Marker 4.9:Crash rate was low before the cameras were installed. Iowa Administrative Code. Limited use on interstate roadways.

 

Des Moines Post Office faces thousands in fines for safety violations

Post-Office-box-003A post office in central Iowa is facing a sizeable fine for alleged safety violations, according to Scott Allen, spokesman for the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

“OSHA did issue citations to the Des Moines Main Post Office for one repeat and two serious safety violations involving standards for power industrial vehicles and forklifts,” Allen says. “They were fined $49,500.”

Allen explains why they investigated the facility. “This inspection was actually prompted by an employee complaint stating that power industrial vehicles were being operated with broken safety devices, creating unsafe conditions for the operators and other workers in the area,” Allen says. The Postal Service has a responsibility to make sure equipment is maintained in good working order, Allen says, as hundreds of workers nationwide are hurt every year when they’re hit by forklifts.

There were no injuries reported at the Des Moines facility. “The investigation found at least one of the forklifts and two tugs were operating with installed flashing lights that basically were not operating properly,” Allen says. “That’s causing a safety hazard for everyone in the area.” The fines have just been issued and the Postal Service has 15 days to contest the fine or request a hearing, though Allen says it’s not just about the money.

“The most important thing is to insure the workers in the area of these forklifts are safe,” Allen says. “They need to correct the issues and move forward from there.” OSHA cited the same postal facility for the non-functioning lights violation in 2010. OSHA issues repeat violations when an employer has been previously cited for the same or a similar violation in the past five years. The two serious violations were cited for failing to make repairs on a forklift and to remove it from service until it was fully functioning.

 

DNR adds telephone option to topsoil rule hearings

dnr-LOGO-thmbThe Iowa Department of Natural Resources is adding a call-in option to two of three public hearings this week on changes to rules for preserving the topsoil at construction sites. The DNR’s Joe Griffen says there are not well-defined standards for replacing the topsoil.

“Iowa has a requirement that requires 4 inches or more of topsoil to be placed on construction sites that require a stormwater permit if four inches or more of topsoil existed prior to construction,” Griffen says. The new rules would ease the 4-inch rule. Griffen says the change would be closer to the federal requirement which is to “preserve topsoil unless infeasible.”

Developers pushed regulators for changes to the two-year-old rule, saying it was more expensive and not enforced the same way at every site. Griffen says the DNR has already had some 500 comments on the proposed change, and that has prompted them to add the call-in option for the meetings in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. “They can call into an 800 number and then type in a code and then they’ll be in the loop,” Griffen says. “And what we’re asking for people if they wish to call in, is to email me and then I’ll have a list of names and I can call on them, and then after everyone has said their piece, then we can open it up to just general comments for people on the phone lines.” If you’d like to call in, you are asked to email Griffen at: joe.griffin@dnr.iowa.gov. He says they don’t have the ability to offer the call in feature for the hearing in Davenport.

Griffen says the call-in is something new for him. “I have never experienced this for hearings for rulemaking. Perhaps others have done it here — but to my knowledge this is the first time we have done it,” Griffen says. Griffen says all comments on the issue will be used in the Environment Protection Commission’s decision on the change. He says he will write up a Response Summary for all the comments expressed by people. “Now we don’t necessarily respond to each comment individually, because a lot of the comments will be similar, be we address the sum of the concerns of the folks out there,” Griffen explains.

The commission takes the comments into consideration before their vote on the rules. “And they will decide whether or not to adopt the rule as is. If they approve it, then we go to the administrative rules review committee, which is a legislative committee, for their review,” Griffen says.

The public hearings begin Wednesday in Cedar Rapids at 6 p.m. at the City Services Center in the Five Seasons Conference Room. The second meeting is March 25 at 6 p.m. in Davenport. The final meeting is at 1 p.m. at the Wallace Building Auditorium in Des Moines on March 27th.

Fiorina: it may be time to get out of “habit” of electing politician as president

Carly Fiorina

Carly Fiorina

Former Hewlett Packard president Carly Fiorina is considering a bid for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination — and she is due in Iowa this Saturday to headline a day-long women’s conference sponsored by the Polk County Republican Party.

“Women are half the nation, but we know that women sometimes disengage from the political process because they don’t like the tone of it, the vitriol of it,” Fiorina said during an interview Thursday. “They feel like it’s a lot of talk without a lot of results — frequently, unfortunately that’s true — and so this is all about getting women engaged.”

Fiorina wowed the crowd at Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit in January with her critique of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Fiornia told Radio Iowa that one reason she’s contemplating a run for the White House is because there’s a general sense of “disquiet” among Americans.

“They are worried about what’s going on in the world and in many cases they look at these vast government bureaucracies in Washington, D.C. and feel as though their government and their politicians have failed them,” Fiorina said. “I think what people think is missing is leadership.”

Fiorina, who lost a race in California for the U.S. Senate in 2010, suggests her lack of experience in elected office may be seen as a bonus by voters.

“Ours was intended to be a citizen government,” Fiorina said. “…We’ve somehow gotten used to this notion in the last 50 or 60 years that only professional politicians can run for office and I don’t think it’s a particularly good habit we’ve gotten into.”

And Fiorina said it would be helpful to have someone in the Oval Office who hasn’t been occupied by “running and winning” at politics, but who, instead, understands how the economy actually works.

“And for someone, as well, to understand executive decision making,” Fiorina said, “which is making tough calls in tough times for which you’re held accountable.”

In 1999 Fiorina became the first woman to lead a Fortune 500 corporation, but she had a rocky ride as CEO of Hewlett Packard. After five and a half years at the helm she was forced to resign by board members who complained about HP’s acquisition of rival Compaq. In business, Fiorina said, actions — not speeches — are what count.

“And, in terms of results, we took a company that was about $44 billion and took it to $88 billion — we doubled it in size. We went from growing at two percent to growing at nine percent. We tripled our rate of innovation to 11 patents a day. We quadrupled our cash flow. We went from lagging behind in every single product category in every market to leading in every product category in every market,” Fiorina said. “A company was transformed from falling behind to moving forward. I’ll run on that record all day long.”

Fiorina will speak this Saturday at the “Enlighten, Empower and Engage Women’s Conference” at the West Des Moines Marriott. The event starts at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to end at 3 p.m.

Iowa House passes bill requiring an ultrasound before an abortion

Joel Fry

Joel Fry

The Republican-led Iowa House has voted to require doctors to offer women seeking an abortion the opportunity to see an ultrasound image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus. The bill passed on a 57-39 vote after several hours of debate today.

“It is my belief that we are defending two lives here, both a mother and a child,” Representative Joel Fry, a Republican from Osceola, said to open the debate. “…It’s my attempt, my desire to bring to the forefront that one that is often not heard.”

Senator Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, opposed the bill.

“I’m tired of the government thinking they need to tell the 1.5 million…Iowa women what to do,” Steckman said.

Representative Sandy Salmon, a Republican from Janesville, voted for the bill.

“The woman will have the opportunity to get more full knowledge about the reality of the unborn baby growing inside her,” Salmon said. “Our hope is that with this knowledge she will choose to honor that baby’s right to live.”

Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, argued expanding access to family planning services was a better answer.

“This proposed bill is just another effort by some lawmakers to shame a woman who has made a difficult decision to end her pregnancy,” Mascher said.

Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, said hearing the heartbeat and seeing the sonogram will help the woman make a “fully informed decision.”

“Movement stops. The heartbeat falls silent. The miracle ends,” Holt said. “Those are the consequences of abortion that should be demonstrated.”

Timi Brown-Powers

Timi Brown-Powers

Representative Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo, responded: “We’re not the doctor. We’re not that patient. We don’t even know the circumstances. If a woman is raped, Representative Holt, is that really a miracle?”

Critics say the bill will force physicians to perform a more invasive ultrasound as most abortions occur in the early stages of a pregnancy when a traditional ultrasound image cannot be obtained.

The legislation is unlikely to be debated in the Iowa Senate, where Democrats control a majority of seats.

Emotional debate in legislature over changes in Iowa’s rules for absentee ballot

 

Deborah Berry

Deborah Berry

An African-American legislator was moved to tears during House debate of a bill that would make changes in Iowa’s Election Law. Representative Deborah Berry, a Democrat from Waterloo, said the bill is “disturbing.”

“This is a very sensitive subject for me because I can even think of — excuse me — my father,” Berry said, pausing as she choked up with tears, “who didn’t always have that right to vote.”

Berry’s father was 40 years old in 1964 when the Voting Rights Act was passed. All but one of the Republicans in the Iowa House approved a bill that says absentee ballots would have to be inside the county auditor’s office before the polls close on Election Day.

Under current law, absentee ballots are to be counted if they have a postmark showing the ballot was mailed the day before Election Day, even if the ballot doesn’t get delivered to the county auditor before the polls close. Many of Iowa’s oldest voters depend on mailing in their ballots, according to Berry.

“And now they have the chance of not having their ballots counted,” Berry said, her voice cracking with emotion. “It’s not fair and it’s not right.”

Quentin Stanerson

Quentin Stanerson

Republicans say the move is necessary because many absentee ballots are delivered to the county auditor’s office without a postmark. Republican Representative Quentin Stanerson of Center Point cites the case of Ringgold County, where 747 ballots were sent in by mail for the 2014 election, but only 39 of the ballots were postmarked.

“It is time to update the Code of Iowa to make the acceptance of absentee ballots consistent and reliable,” Stanerson said.

The bill establishes what Stanerson called a “sure count deadline” for absentee ballots.

“This bill would ensure voters that all absentee ballots returned to the county auditor’s office before the close of the polls will be counted,” Stanerson said.

Representative Berry said her first thought was the bill was designed to hurt Democratic candidates who have focused on turning out “early” votes through the use of absentee ballots. “It’s not about Democrats or Republicans,” Berry said. “It’s about people who are really trying to vote because they know so many people have died or were denied that right.”

Chris Hagenow

Chris Hagenow

Representative Chris Hagenow, a Republican from Windsor Heights, said the bill’s needed because too many post offices are failing to put a postmark on the envelopes absentee ballots are being mailed in.

“We’re not setting out to disenfranchise anyone. That is offensive on its face,” Hagenow said. “…To have a system to have a system where everyone’s vote counts equally, the first thing we need to have is a system with a consistent set of rules that applies to everyone in every situation.”

And Hagenow said by requiring absentee ballots to be physically inside the auditor’s office before the polls close in order to be counted provides that consistency.