January 28, 2015

Two more wild deer test positive for Chronic Wasting Disease

Deer in a field.

Deer in a field.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the presence of Chronic Wasting Disease in wild deer for the second straight year. DNR spokesman, Kevin Baskins, says samples taken from two deer in eastern Iowa tested positive.

“Both of the deer were within a five-mile radius of where the first wild deer that tested positive last year was found — and that’s a little bit southwest of Harpers Ferry in Allamakee County,” Baskins says. CWD affects primarily deer and elk and is caused by an abnormal protein called a “prion” that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.

While the disease was detected again, it was only found in two samples. “Certainly our preference would have been to find zero,” Baskins says, “but it means we do need to intensify and get even more sampling done in that immediate area and determine if these were just isolated incidents, or if we may have more out there.” The DNR increased the amount of samples taken in the area where the first wild CWD case was discovered and Baskins says the two positives were from half of the 300 samples taken. He says there is the possibility of more positives once the rest of the samples from that area are processed.

But there have been no other positive tests for CWD in the testing done on deer in other parts of the state. “It should be pointed out that since 2002, we have sampled approximately 57,000 wild deer across the state for Chronic Wasting Disease, and these are the only three which have tested positive so far, and they have been in a five-mile radius of each other,” according to Baskins.

The DNR’s wildlife research supervisor says it is believed last year’s positive CWD test came from a deer that had wandered into Iowa from Wisconsin. Baskins says that could be the case again with the latest positive tests. “As a matter of fact, that’s what we believe is the deer from last year wandered in from nearby Wisconsin. If you go just across the river, that county has had Chronic Wasting Disease for a number of years,” Baskins explains. “We obviously had the one last year that we felt probably crossed, and it’s certainly possible these two are in that same category where they were somehow able to cross the river where CWD had been detected in Wisconsin earlier.”

Baskins says the department is trying to stay on top of the situation to prevent the spread that has happened in other states. He says there is not vaccination to give deer to prevent the disease. “But, they are working on some vaccinations. The other thing that makes CWD monitoring extremely difficult is the fact that there really isn’t a good, reliable live test for CWD, particularly in white-tailed deer,” Baskins says. “For the most part, the only way to really get reliable tests is in some of the organs and some of the lymp nodes that are harvest after the deer has been hunted.”

He says the testing program has gone well thus far. “We have had terrific cooperation from the hunters up in Allamakee County in terms of giving us a lot of samples to work with,” Baskins says. “Right now information is kind of the number one thing that we need in order to formulate an idea of how to stem the spread of this disease.” The DNR says there is currently no evidence that humans contract CWD by eating venison.

Photo courtesy of the DNR.


Young, King offer sharp criticism of Obama’s ‘State of the Union’

David Young  (file photo)

David Young (file photo)

Two of Iowa’s four congressmen say there are things President Obama discussed during last night’s “State of the Union” address that could win bipartisan support, but the other two Iowa congressmen are harshly critical of Obama’s speech. Republican Congressman David Young of Van Meter says Obama seems “intent on playing politics in his final two years in office rather than working with congress to find solutions.”

“It seemed like within just the first couple of minutes he said the word, ‘Veto,’ and nothing has even gotten to his desk yet,” Young says. “And we’ve been passing some good, bipartisan legislation here so far in congress.”

Republican Congressman Rod Blum of Dubuque says he, too, is concerned by Obama’s veto threats, but Blum says he “definitely could get behind” major tax reform, and that includes Obama’s call to close loopholes that let major corporations significantly reduce their tax bills.

“It’s one of the things I campaigned on. We need to reform the tax code. I’d like to see us lower taxes overall for companies, because they’re highest in the world — lower taxes for everyone,” but let’s get rid of all the loopholes and the crony capitalism,” Blum says.

Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa City is the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation. He says there are “opportunities” for bipartisanship and he sees both parties moving to increase federal support of job training programs.

“I think we have a chance at that, but I think the president also took the high road, if you will, and appealed to our better angels,” Loebsack says. “And that’s what people tell me — they want us to work together for them.”

Congresman Steve King.

Congresman Steve King.

Republican Congressman Steve King of Kiron took to Twitter before the president’s speech to blast Obama for having a “deportable” as a guest last night. A so-called “Dreamer” who was illegally brought into the U.S. by her parents when she was a child sat in the House balcony with First Lady Michelle Obama. King said on Twitter that the president “perverts prosecutorial discretion” by bringing the Texas college student into the prime time spotlight.

King told reporters in Washington that the president should “take heat” for his action to shield the young woman and others from deportation.

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst delivered the Republican response to President’ Obama’s speech (find more about that here).  Iowa’s other United States Senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, issued the following written statement after the speech:

“The President and I have major philosophical differences.  Tonight’s speech made clear where and how we differ. 
“What I hear from Iowa is that people want Washington to simplify the tax code, not make it more complicated.  Taxpayers expect tax fairness, not tax increases that punish success and discourage innovation.  Farmers are now scrambling to figure out how the President’s proposals would affect the transfer of the family farm from one generation to the next.  Parents who budget carefully to save money for their children’s education are seeing the President’s attempt to scale back the tax benefits that encourage the savings.   A speech that picks so many winners and losers leaves people wondering where they fall in the plan.  It’s a demoralizing approach.
“Instead of tax increases and new federal education entitlements that might be redundant, Washington needs to look for ways to restore the promise of prosperity.  Let’s foster opportunities that help all Americans get ahead.   This means reducing tax rates, looking for ways to make U.S. businesses more competitive worldwide, expanding export opportunities for U.S. farmers and manufacturers, and avoiding new regulations and mandates that hurt job creation.  It means worrying about an $18 trillion debt that future generations will inherit.  It means focusing on the core functions of the federal government, like national security, instead of finding alternate ways to spend money.  In the new Congress, I’ll continue working for fiscal discipline and holding government accountable.  Americans want more good government and a whole lot less Big Government.  They want the most bang for the buck.  Washington should deliver on that. 
“Iowans expect their elected representatives to look for areas for bipartisan agreement.  Wherever I can, I want to continue to honor their expectation.  Cyber security was a big part of the President’s speech, and I see that as an example of an area for potential strong bipartisanship.  A previous proposal that I put together with several colleagues included information sharing, enhanced criminal laws, and research.  As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m already working on legislation to create a fair national data breach notification standard.  The cost to consumers, businesses and national security is too much for us to ignore. 
“In closing, Senator Ernst is an ideal person to deliver the Republican response to the President’s speech.  She brings a new perspective that’s welcome in Washington.  I look forward to her leadership on military matters, farm policy, cutting wasteful spending, and everything else that’s shaped by her background and fresh approach.” 


Ernst says with ‘cooperation’ from Obama, GOP can pass ‘serious job-creating ideas’

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst gives the Republican response to the State of the Union address.

Iowa’s Joni Ernst, the first female combat veteran in the United States Senate, delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s “State of the Union” address this evening and began by using the moment to speak directly to voters.

“I’d like to talk about your priorities,” Ernst said. “…We heard the message you sent in November – loud and clear — and now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.”

Ernst suggested the past six years — the six years Barack Obama has been president — have been laden with difficulties.

“For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day,” she said. “We felt them in Red Oak – the little town in southwestern Iowa where I grew up, and am still proud to call home today.”

Ernst said many American families feel as if they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it, and she suggested with a “little cooperation” from the president, Republicans could pass solutions through congress.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like ObamaCare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions,” Ernst said. “That’s why the new Republican majority you elected started by reforming Congress to make it function again. And now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve.”

Ernst listed ideas like approving the Keystone pipeline, cutting tax rates and eliminating trade barriers in Europe and the Pacific. She also mentioned her service in the Iowa National Guard and referenced the “serious work” ahead in congress to “debate strategies to confront terrorism.”

“The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent,” Ernst said. “We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.”

Ernst closed by signaling that Republicans intend to “repeal and replace ObamaCare” and she said the Republican-led congress would “correct” the executive orders President Obama has issued.

Ernst drew attention from some quarters for the shoes she wore tonight — a pair of camouflage pumps, meant to draw attention to her status as a soldier as well as a senator. Ernst also shared a bit of her personal story during tonight’s nationally televised speech. She talked about her farm background, working the biscuit line at Hardees and wearing bread bags as a child over her “one good pair of shoes” to keep the mud off — stories she told during the 2014 campaign here in Iowa.

Regents approve U-I president’s retirement, emeritus status

Sally Mason

Sally Mason

The Board of Regents discussed and approved the retirement of University of Iowa president Sally Mason today at a special meeting in Iowa City. Mason announced last week she will retire on July 31st.

Board president Bruce Rastetter says Mason accomplished a lot after facing some difficult times at the start of her presidency. “We think back to the 2008 flood that devastated the campus shortly after your arrival, and the ability to work through those, replace students and their classroom availably –which wasn’t an easy task — and to go through that process while still, not just maintaining, but improving four-year graduation rates,” Rastetter says.

He credited Mason with pushing to see that the campus was rebuilt. “The challenges with FEMA that have been well noted in the press, and the challenge to make sure that those dollars were there for the rebuild that is going on today, was a critical part of President Mason’s tenure that was extremely important to do and her involvement with that,” according to Rastetter.

Rastetter says another key accomplishment for Mason came in fundraising. “The one-point-seven billion dollar fundraising campaign that’s never been done in the state should be well-noted,” Rastetter says. “But it’s already over one-point-four billion, and one the opportunities for Sally is to complete that.”

The Board of Regents met in a closed session to discuss the details of Mason’s retirement. They agreed to make her a tenured faculty member when she retires and president emeritus.

“My request to become emeritus president is so that I can maintain my connection to the University of Iowa in perpetuity,” Mason says. “This has been a very, very important part of my life. The team that I have surrounding me, that I have had the privilege to work with, has been extremely, extremely talented.”

The tenured faculty position allows Mason to stay at the university and be paid 60-percent of her current salary. It would include a transition year where she would not teach.

“The idea of a transition year, going back to the faculty, I’m going to keep that option open,” Mason says. She says she will stay active in the fundraising in the last six months of her tenure, and depending on how the search for her successor goes, she says she will stay involved until she can turn the fundraising duties over to the new person. Mason has been working on a year-to-year contract that pays her nearly $526,000. There is also a deferred compensation plan that Mason says is “still in play” for payment when she retires.

Several of the regents spoke about Mason during the meeting. Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City credited Mason with quickly learning the importance of the medical college and its operation. “From my vantage point, she has done an exemplary job in that endeavor in every respect I can think of,” Downer says. “The quality of what we are seeing the health sciences colleges and in the University Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is unsurpassed in the history of those outstanding programs.”

Hannah Walsh is the student representative on the board. “I had the opportunity to see you in three different roles, as a colleague, as a teacher and most notably as a role model. Each perspective has really provided me with deep respect for you and your dedication to improving higher education and the University of Iowa,” Walsh says. “But above all, I have to thank you for everything. I truly wouldn’t be sitting here today without your guidance and your help.”

Regent Larry McKibben of Marshalltown, thanked Mason for her work on the project to improve the efficiency of the three state schools. “I appreciate so much your enthusiasm at the University of Iowa in this project. And your help and your advice and your counsel as this project move forward. I was impressed with your presentations at our town hall meetings,” McKibben says.

McKibben credited Mason with having the vision of the board in moving the efficiency project forward. “And that is a vision of transformational development, putting us in a position for the next years, decades to come to be an efficient, high-quality education that is affordable to our families and our first-generation families in the state of Iowa. So, I very much appreciate that,” McKibben says.

The board also directed the executive director of the regents to begin the process of selection a search firm to find Mason’s replacement.


Key legislator seeks to remove state from school start decisions

Ron Jorgensen

Ron Jorgensen

A bill has been introduced in the Iowa House that ultimately would allow Iowa schools to start earlier in August, something Governor Terry Branstad is trying to stop. Branstad favors tying the school start date to the week in which September 1 falls, but Representative Ron Jorgensen of Sioux City says that’s a decision for local school officials, not the state to make.

“I’ve just been in support of local control and if the focus is just totally on education, I think that’s the way we should look at it.”

Branstad argues Iowa’s tourist attractions like the State Fair lose visitors, and teenage employees, when schools start classes in early August. Jorgensen is the lead sponsor of a bill that would give school officials unlimited local authority to set the first day of the school year.

“This would eliminate the waiver requirement for school districts and allow the school districts to set their own start date,” Jorgensen says.

Under current law, Iowa schools are supposed to start during the week in which September 1st falls, but school districts can apply for a waiver from the later start date. The Iowa Department of Education has automatically granted those waivers, but in mid-December the agency’s director announced schools would have to “adequately demonstrate” starting school at the end of August would have a “negative educational impact” on students.

Advocates of starting earlier in August say it allows students to take end-of-semester tests before the New Years break. Jorgensen says there’s also a need to coordinate the schedule with Iowa colleges, because many high schoolers are already taking college courses.

“And most of those colleges will start the second or third week of August also,” Jorgensen says.

Jorgensen, a former school board member, is a Republican and he was the main sponsor of Branstad’s education reform plan that cleared the legislature last year. Jorgensen is also chairman of the House Education Committee and he plans to bring his bill up for debate “as soon as possible.” There are already a dozen co-sponsors of Jorgensen’s bill to essentially eliminate any state limit on when schools can start.

Branstad sworn in for sixth term, urges focus on population growth

Governor Terry Branstad gives his inaugural address.

Governor Terry Branstad gives his inaugural address.

Terry Branstad has taken the oath of office for governor a sixth time. Branstad used his inaugural address this morning to urge legislators of both parties to “avoid partisan traps” and develop a “blueprint for growth” in the coming years.

“My message today is this: we are the architects of our future,” Branstad said. “This state that we love to call home, this heart of the heartland has an opportunity to grow.”

Kim Reynolds, Branstad’s running mate in 2010 and 2014, also took the oath of office this morning, for a second term as Iowa’s lieutenant governor. During her brief speech, Reynolds talked about the “enormous responsibility” she feels for the generations of Iowans to come.

“We have an obligation to create and promote a strong quality of life, a robust economy and a disciplined approach to government that benefits all Iowans,” Reynolds said.

The Inaugural Ceremony was held in a convention hall in downtown Des Moines and organizers said about 1,600 people were there to witness the event. Branstad began his remarks by thanking his family and the voters of Iowa.


The stage for the governor’s inaugural.

“I still marvel at a system and a state where a poor north Iowa farm boy can be elected governor,” Branstad said. “It remains a great honor and privilege to be chosen by the people of Iowa again and again to serve as your chief executive.”

Branstad said Iowa is “prospering” but he warned a lack of population growth will impede future development.

“The generational challenges that our state faces, the opportunities we must embrace call for a tried and true way of doing business in Iowa: working hard, setting long-term goals and making sacrifices to build Iowa’s future,” Branstad said. “Are we willing to make these commitments for Iowa?”

Branstad outlined a series of initiatives he argues will lead to both economic and population growth in the state, including an emphasis on getting students excited about subjects like science and math the moment they start school as well as getting high-speed internet access throughout the state.

“Looking around this room today, I know we can meet the challenge our state faces,” Branstad said. “It’s what we’ve always done. Embracing challenges and exceeding expectations is what makes our state so great.”

Lt/ Governor Reynolds speaks at the inaugural.

Lt/ Governor Reynolds speaks at the inaugural.

Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Des Moines, was the mistress of ceremonies for today’s event and she concluded with this response to Branstad’s remarks: “Congratulations Governor Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Reynolds and the legislature is ready to work with you to move our state forward.”

Branstad then led the crowd in another round of applause. Branstad, who turned 68 in November, closed his own speech by urging Iowans, and legislators in particular, to “embrace change.”

“My solemn promise to you to today is to always meet our challenges head on, earnestly and with building a more successful Iowa future as my guide,” Bransad said. “I’m ready to once again work with you to build Iowans future, so let’s build it well. Let’s build it together.”

After a two-hour reception at the governor’s mansion early this afternoon, the governor will attend an open house at the statehouse from 2-4 p.m.

A private reception is scheduled at 6 p.m. for those who donated the $1.25 million to put on today’s event, although the cost of inaugural festivities is about $400,000. The rest of the money raised will go into an endowment, for college scholarships.

A formal dinner and inaugural ball will be held from seven ’til midnight.


Man arrested in mystery Hot Lotto ticket case

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich (left) and DCI assistant director Dave Jobes.

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich (left) and DCI assistant director Dave Jobes.

Part of the mystery of a multi-million dollar Hot Lotto ticket that was bought in Des Moines in 2010 and never paid off was revealed Thursday.

The ticket with a jackpot of more than $16 million was presented just hours before it was to expire in 2011 by a lawyer, but was not paid off after the lawyer refused to answer questions about the ticket purchaser.

The DCI released video in October of the purchaser from the convenience store where the ticket was bought and asked for help in identifying the man. DCI assistant director Dave Jobes says that helped.

“We received a strong response to our request. Hundreds of individuals competed the survey that accompanied the video, several provided tips for agents to follow up with investigations,” Jobes says.

Those investigations eventually led to an arrest Thursday and two felony charges. “Eddie Raymond Tipton, age 51 of Norwalk, Iowa has been arrested and charged with two counts of fraud,” Jobes says.

Tipton works at an Iowa Lottery vendor. “The allegations for these charges stem from his statutory prohibition on playing or winning the lottery. That prohibition is based on the nature of his employment with the Multi-state Lottery Association where he currently works as the director of information security,” Jobes says.

Jobes says they believe Tipton bought the ticket and then worked with others to try and cash it. Iowa Lottery CEO, Terry Rich was also on hand for the announcement of Tipton’s arrest. “We’re disappointed to learn that someone who has worked as a vendor for the Iowa Lottery has been charged in this case,” Rich says. “At the same time we are gratified that thorough procedures and protocols we’ve developed to protect the security and integrity of our games worked to prevent a payment of a disputed prize.”

Rich says this brings them closer to solving the mystery of the ticket. “This truly is one of the strangest situations in the history of lotteries. We believe this is the largest lottery jackpot ever to be claimed, only to have that claim withdrawn,” according to Rich.

Tipton was arrested and being held on a $10,000 bond. Jobes says the investigation into the mystery ticket is continuing with many questions still unanswered. The prize from the unclaimed ticket was eventually given away in another contest.