September 20, 2014

On effort to defeat Islamic State, Harkin asks: ‘Where are the Saudis?’

Senator Tom Harkin says his “yes” vote this week on a federal budget plan that included money for arming and training rebels inside Syria was mainly to keep the federal government operating ‘til December 11. Harkin says he needs to know more from President Obama about the mission against Islamic militants before he’d vote to provide more money to the effort.

“We’ve got at least two months anyway to see what the president does and how he fashions this and how he shapes it,” Harkin says. “I think that gives us some time to do a little bit more analyzing of just what he wants to do there.”

Harkin says Saudi Arabia should do more to help defeat the terrorists who’ve formed what they call an Islamic State in portions of Syria and Iraq.

“Saudi Arabia has, well I’m close, 225 F15s. They’ve got a whole bunch of Tornadoes — those are French jets. Where are they? Why aren’t they providing the air cover?” Harkin asks. “…Where are the Turks? The Turks have a long border there. They’re part of NATO. They have all kinds of aircraft. Where are the Turks in this? Hopefully some of these answers will be forthcoming in the next month or so.”

Officials in Saudi Arabia have offered to allow those who volunteer to fight ISIS in Syria to be trained in Saudi Arabia. Harkin says that’s not enough.

“We know, from intelligence and other things, that the Saudis have been funding for years jihadist movements from Pakistan to Algeria and Morocco,” Harkin says. “So it’s time for the Saudis to figure out whose side they really are on.”

Harkin says his “problem” with the Saudis dates date to 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And Harkin says he’s concerned the U.S. may find itself back in a ground war in the Middle East. Harkin made his comments tonight during an appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.


Second gubernatorial debate between Hatch and Branstad set for Burlington

The second of three face-to-face debates between the two major party candidates for governor is set for this Saturday in Burlington. The latest poll shows Democrat Jack Hatch trailing Republican Governor Terry Branstad by 23 points. “I’m excited about the way the campaign’s going,” Branstad says. “I think so far we’ve met all of the targets that we’ve set, but we still have a ways to go and we’re not going to let up.”

With just 46 days left in the campaign, Hatch doesn’t have much time to close that sizable gap. “I have to show Iowans that there’s a difference between the governor and myself, that there are two different visions for Iowa and that we have the ability to move this state forward as opposed to staying kind of stale and moving in the wrong direction,” Hatch says.

Saturday’s debate will focus on economic issues and Hatch plans to criticize the state incentives Branstad approved for the Iowa Fertilizer Plant in southeast Iowa. Hatch says it boils down to $700,000 per job. “It’s not about that I’m opposed to the fertilizer plant,” Hatch says. “I’m opposed to a deal of a corporation that we give $110 million to. It is clear this state did not need to give them that much money.”

Branstad plans to tout the deal during Saturday’s debate. “It is an example of the success we’ve had in economic development,” Branstad says. “That area, Lee County, had the highest unemployment in the state when I was elected and we’ve reduced it by nearly 40 percent.” Hatch says

Branstad is benefiting from the work former Governor Tom Vilsack did to expand the financial services and renewable energy sectors of the economy. “But today we’re coasting on a vision and accomplishments of previous governors,” Hatch said Thursday. “It’s great to be living in Tom Vilsack’s Iowa, but I’m really ready to take the next step.”

Saturday’s debate is co-sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership, the local alliance of chambers of commerce, as well as KWQC Television in the Quad Cities and the Burlington Hawk Eye. The debate can be seen nationwide on C-SPAN. Burlington was the state’s first territorial capital and Branstad has a family connection to the city. It’s his mother’s home town.

“I had my first haircut in Burlington and my mother talked about Snake Alley and Crapo Park,” Branstad says. “You know, I grew up in northern Iowa, but certainly I have fond feelings about Burlington and I’m glad that the debate’s going to be held there.” Branstad’s mother, Rita Garland Branstad, was born in Burlington in 1926 and her family moved to Sioux City when she was 13. Saturday’s debate starts at 7 p.m. and will last an hour. It will be held at a middle school in Burlington and organizers say they’ve distributed all 500 tickets for seating inside the debate venue.


Future of Social Security, Medicare dominant issue in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race

Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat, was among several members of congress who spoke at rally in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The event was organized by the liberal group Americans United for Change, which has run campaign ads in Iowa on Braley’s behalf. Each speaker, including Braley, emphasized retaining the “basic promise” of the financial safety net provided to seniors by Social Security and Medicare.

“We need to strengthen them, not destroy them through risky Tea Party schemes,” Braley said, to applause from the crowd. “Now why is that important in Iowa? It’s important because there are 500,000 Iowans who depend on Medicare and 600,000 who depend on Social Security. Many of those Iowans are people with disabilities and children.”

With a flurry of ads and campaign activity from all sides, both Braley and Braley’s Republican opponent, Joni Ernst, are being criticized on these issues and Ernst herself is currently starring in her own TV ad, saying she’ll “keep the promise” of Social Security and Medicare.

“If we’ve made promises, we need to keep those promises,” Ernst said earlier this month during an appearance at a retirement community in Des Moines.

During that event Ernst criticized Braley for saying in 2006 during his first campaign for congress that raising the retirement age could be an option for fixing the Social Security system. Yesterday, Braley said raising the retirement age was not a “solution.”

“And that’s why I have voted in the last four congresses not to raise the retirement age on Social Security and Medicare,” Braley said.

Ernst has said raising the retirement age is not an option for current retirees or those nearing retirement, but might be one of the options to consider for younger Americans in their 30s and 40s. Ernst has also accused Braley of voting to cut Medicare and Braley addressed that yesterday as well.

“Why not work to improve Medicare, make it work better by cutting out the waste, the fraud, the inefficiency which is exactly what we’ve done in the Affordable Care Act and make it work better for seniors who in Iowa are spending almost a thousand dollars a year less on prescription drugs than they did before the Affordable Care Act?” Braley asked.

Ernst has also said transitioning younger workers into private Social Security accounts is one of several options that could be under consideration as policymakers struggle to ensure the system remains solvent. Braley repeatedly calls that a “Tea Party” idea that would break the “basic promise” made to every generation of Americans.

“That’s if you work hard and you invest your money in these great programs, Social Security and Medicare, they’re going to be there when you need them,” Braley said at yesterday’s rally. “We’re here today to say: ‘Live up to that promise. Keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare.’”

Two recent polls on Iowa’s U.S. Senate race came to conflicting conclusions. One showed Braley ahead by a handful of percentage points, while the other showed Ernst ahead by the same margin. Most polling data on the race since June indicates it’s a dead heat.

Manure spill at Dubuque County dairy farm

A dairy farm in northeast Iowa faces penalties after a manure spill was discovered in the Little Maquoketa River.

The spill happened last weekend, but officials didn’t find out about it until Wednesay when someone reported seeing dead fish in the river. According to state officials, the spill was traced to the Lawler Dairy Farm near Graf, in Dubuque County. It’s owned by Jeff and William Lawler of Peosta. The manure spilled out of an earthen basin, onto a grass waterway, into a ravine and then into a tributary of the Little Maquoketa River.

The Lawlers dug a pit near the basin to try to contain the manure, but state officials directed the farmers to build a temporary dam on the tributary. That way the manure-contaminated water can be pumed out of the stream and onto a nearby pasture.

According to a statement released by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, state officials will “pursue penalties for the spill” as well as for having an unregistered manure storage basin. The Lawlers also face a penalty for late reporting of a manure spill. The spill of any hazardous substance, including manure, is to be reported to the state within six hours.

Hatch says Branstad’s new ‘center’ not an original idea (AUDIO)

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s latest policy proposal is nothing more than following through on a new federal law. This is Branstad’s pitch on the plan, from a speech the governor made Tuesday.

“This is the third item that we have brought up as a new proposal in this campaign and we’re calling it a ‘Center for Human Capital Enrichment,’” Branstad said. “This will be a public-private partnership…This would bring together all stakeholders to identify demand, skills gaps and training needs.”

Hatch said this morning that it’s not a new proposal. It’s part of a federal law that the state will be required to implement next year.

“There’s no creativity there. You could be Jack Hatch, Terry Branstad or anybody else. That is what the law required,” Hatch said. “…Does he have any ideas of his own?”

Hatch made his comments during a speech to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, an alliance of 21 central Iowa chambers of commerce.

AUDIO of Hatch’s appearance, 45:00

Branstad spoke to the group Tuesday (find the audio here).

Branstad insists his proposal is unique.

“This is an Iowa approach that focuses on the success we’ve had, but is designed to make sure that it’s coordinated,” Branstad said late this morning, “and that (the state Departments of) Education, Economic Development and Workforce Development are working together.”

Hatch accused Branstad of merely copying the requirements of the “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014″ that President Obama signed in July.

“What he did was what any governor would have to do,” Hatch said. “He just accelerated it and embraced it as his own initiative.”

According to Hatch, it’s ironic Branstad is embracing a proposal signed into law by President Obama since Branstad has identified the federal government as the biggest obstacle to Iowa’s economy.

The new federal law, which Iowa Senator Tom Harkin helped craft, requires state workforce development agencies to coordinate with economic development and education initiatives to help businesses find the skilled workers they need.  The bill passed congress with bipartisan support.

(This post was updated at 12:47 p.m. with additional information.)

Davenport installs software to allow residents to see city’s checkbook

Davenport is among the first cities in Iowa to put a virtual checkbook online that’s now accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Brandon Wright, the city’s finance director, says they’ve started using new software this week that makes it possible to look up details about the hundreds of checks written by the city each week on the annual budget of nearly $80 million.

“For example, if you’re interested in a particular vendor, if you’re thinking, ‘I want to see how much the city spends at Menards,’ you can click in Menards and it will then bring up everywhere the city has spent money at Menards,” Wright says. “You can see it by departments as well, you can see Public Works versus the Finance Department, and you can see that level of detail.”

Wright says city payroll information is also accessible, by job title or by the employee’s name and by regular pay versus overtime. He says city staff wanted to make this information available for years, but until now, they couldn’t find software that would be user-friendly and that wouldn’t require vast amounts of staff time to prepare.

“What we’re hoping it really does is provide greater trust between our citizens and the city,” Wright says. “We want them to understand what we’re spending money on. If they have questions, we welcome their questions. We want them to come and ask them.”

The so-called “open checkbook application” soon will be accessible directly from the city’s website and is currently available at the website: “

New poll shows Branstad with 23 point lead, Hatch points to Truman’s ’48 comeback

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch

A new Quinnipiac University Poll finds Republican Governor Terry Branstad leading Democratic challenger Jack Hatch by 23 points.

Branstad’s campaign issued a written statement saying this shows Iowans “resoundingly” want Branstad reelected to a sixth term. Hatch told a crowd in Des Moines early this morning that 66 years ago to the day Harry Truman — who was trailing badly in the polls — brought his “whistle stop” tour to Iowa.

“And if you know anything about the history, it’s Dexter, Iowa, and (Truman’s) presentation to over 100,000 Iowa (and) Midwestern farmers that caught the attention of the media and the public and Harry S. Truman was on his way to capture the heart and soul of Iowa and America,” Hatch said, “and, on the day of the election — of course, was elected president of the United States.”

Hatch said Truman was able to “ignite” the countryside with his “plain talk.”

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

“No one thought he could win,” Hatch said. “The polls said he was a dead duck, but he campaigned throughout the heartland and talked to business people, Iowans, citizens and gave a presentation and a vision of what he wanted this country to be. We will do the same thing.”

Branstad scoffs.

“He’s no Harry Truman, but the truth of the matter is the people of Iowa can judge my record and my vision of the future and his record,” Branstad told reporters late this morning. “I’ve been to every county. There’s a lot of Iowa he’s never even seen.”

Truman won 28 states in 1948, including Iowa, and secured 303 votes in the Electoral College. On this day in 1948, Truman went to the National Plowing Match that was being held in Dexter, where he delivered a campaign speech, railing against what he called a “do-nothing” Republican congress that had “stuck a pitchfork in the farmer’s back.”

The Quinnipiac Univerity Poll released today found Governor Branstad had the support of 60 percent of those surveyed, compared to the 37 percent who said they’ll vote for Hatch. Pollsters found 44 percent of the likely voters surveyed don’t know enough about Hatch to form an opinion about him. Peter Brown, the poll’s assistant director, said with seven weeks until Election Day, Hatch has a “long, long ways to go” and it would be “one of the largest turnarounds in American political history” if Hatch were to win.

(This post was updated at 12:25 p.m. with additional information)