September 30, 2014

Senate Democrats propose ‘clean gov’t’ recommendations, GOP senators dismiss as ‘political gimmick’

Senator Matt McCoy, Senator Janet Peterson, Senator Brian Shoenjahn.

Senator Matt McCoy, Senator Janet Peterson, Senator Brian Shoenjahn (L-R) listen to Senator Julian Garrett during the committee meeting.

Democrats on the Iowa Senate’s Oversight Committee have endorsed a series of recommendations they say will “clean up state government.” Republicans on the panel accuse Democrats of engaging in “political theater” to try to discredit Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

AUDIO of committee meeting, 18:00

Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines who is chairwoman of the committee, said the recommendations are the culmination of public hearings over the past several months.

“These reforms are intended to fix underlying problems in state government,” Petersen said, “problems which if not addressed could damage the effectiveness of state government and leave the door open to similar scandals in future Democratic or Republican administrations.”

Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, accused Petersen and other Democratic colleagues of pursuing “petty” complaints.

“No laws were broken. No codes of ethics were violated,” Garrett said. “Instead, we have discovered that there is a difference of opinion in management philosophies…and we have learned that sometimes front-line workers don’t care for or particularly agree with their bosses.”

Senate Democrats are proposing spending millions to “update or replace” the current call-in system for filing unemployment claims. A computer glitch this past spring led the state to issue checks to Iowans who weren’t eligible for unemployment. Democrats are also proposing new protections for “whistleblowers” in state government. Garrett said the list of recommendations is a “campaign gimmick.”

“Senate Democrats have shown no proof of the allegations they’ve made,” Garrett said. “The truth is Iowa’s being run exceptionally well by Governor Branstad and Democrats are simply trying to tear him down for political gain.”

After the committee’s 20-minute meeting, Petersen responded to Garrett’s accusation.

“That’s just a bunch of baloney,” Petersen told reporters. “I believe Iowans deserve clean government and we told them we would go looking for answers and they were not the same (as) Governor Branstad and his secret investigation team uncovered.”

Republicans say the Democrats’ investigation into Branstad Administration activities has cost taxpayers $100,000. Democrats say that’s how much Department of Administrative Services staff say had to be spent to find and copy documents Democrats requested under Freedom of Information rules.

Both Democrats and Republicans say if they win majority control of the state senate in November, they’ll pass bills next year to respond to some of the issues raised during the past six months.

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.

Three potential 2016 presidential candidates rally with Iowa Christian conservatives

A trio of GOP prospects for the 2016 presidential campaign rallied with 700 Republicans Saturday night in Iowa, with messages sometimes exclusively focused beyond this November’s election.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz opened his speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet with a shot at the woman expected to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

“In the news today, somebody else was stopped climbing the White House fence,” Cruz said. “They said: ‘I’m sorry Hillary. Not yet.”

At the end of his speech, Cruz said Republican victories in 2014 set the stage for a Republican president who, in 2017, will repeal the Affordable Care Act. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal offered the audience a long critique of the Obama presidency, too.

“There are many things that worry me about President Obama and what he is doing to our country…but a lot of that could be reversed with a conservative leader in D.C.,” Jindal said.

Jindal and Cruz were scheduled speakers at the event, but Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan also stopped by after he appeared at a private fundraiser in Des Moines for Joni Ernst, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa. Ryan, too, hinted that Republican victories in 2014 could be a harbinger for 2016.

“The world is watching, which way will America go,” Ryan said. “Will this be eight years of a pause of going in the wrong direction, or an exception, or will this be a trend of things to come? Posterity’s being made right now.”

Listen to all three speeches here.


Braley, Ernst clash over their loyalties to campaign contributors

The two major party candidates for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat met face-to-face in an hour-long debate early Sunday evening — touting their rural Iowa roots and questioning their opponent’s loyalties.

Republican Joni Ernst grew up on a farm near Red Oak in southwest Iowa. Democrat Bruce Braley grew up in the small eastern Iowa town of Brooklyn, where his dad ran the grain elevator.

“I have not left my rural roots, but I think congressman you have left those behind in your ‘Beltway’ ways,” Ernst said.

Braley said: “I have never forgotten where I came from. That’s why I voted to pass a five-year Farm Bill.”

Each accused the other of being beholden to special interests who’re financing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads to try to sway Iowa voters.

“I’m not going to owe President Obama anything on Election Day. You’re going to owe the Koch brothers everything,” Braley said.

Ernst responded: “I owe nobody anything, except for these Iowa people.”

The Koch brothers are Oklahoma billionaires who made their money in the oil industry and have spent millions supporting conservative candidates throughout the country, including Ernst.

“Congressman Braley you’re not running against these other people. You’re running against me,” Ernst said. “…You are being funded by Tom Steyer who is a California billionaire extreme environmentalist.”

Ernst also accused Braley of doing the bidding of President Obama and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate. Braley countered with this.

“Senator Ernst would have voted to shut down the federal government with Ted Cruz. She’s called President Obama a dictator and thinks impeachment should be on the table,” Braley said.

Ernst replied: “Congressman, you threatened to sue a neighbor over chickens that came onto your property. You’ve talking about bipartisanship. How do we expect as Iowans to believe that you will work across the aisle when you can’t walk across your yard.”

Braley responded: “It’s not true. I never threatened to sue anyone. It’s not true.”

That exchange came near the end of the debate. Both began by stressing a message to appeal to independent voters. Braley repeatedly tried to tie Ernst to the so-called “Tea Party.”

“I’ll work with anyone who has a good idea that’s good for Iowa,” Braley said. “I’m a bridge builder, not a bridge burner.”

And Ernst told the audience she provided voters a “clear contrast” with Braley.

“I believe Washington is taking our country in the wrong direction and for the past eight years Congressman Braley has been there,” Ernst said.

The two candidates broke no new policy ground on issues like the minimum wage and immigration. Braley charged Ernst co-sponsored legislation in the Iowa Senate that ultimately would wind up banning abortion, certain forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization. Ernst said she “will support life,” but she also believes “in a woman’s right to contraception.”

The debate was held at Simpson College in Indianola and co-sponsored by KCCI TV and The Des Moines Register. It aired at 5 p.m. on KCCI and was live streamed on the newspaper’s website. You may watch it now here.

The two candidates are seeking the seat currently held by Democrat Tom Harkin. Harkin announced in January, 2013 that after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, he would not seek reelection in 2014.

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.

Braley and Ernst debate for first time this Sunday

Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst will meet Sunday at Simpson College for the first of three, face-to-face debates between the U.S. Senate candidates.

Ernst participated in dozens of joint appearances and debates during the GOP primary season, but Ernst said she’s been “studying” this week to prepare for Sunday.

“We are going to draw a very clear contrast between who Congressman Braley is and who I am,” Ernst told Radio Iowa during an interview earlier this week.

Braley rallied with Democrats in Marshalltown on Thursday, to tout early voting and he alluded to the stakes in the race.

“Believe me, I feel the significance of carrying on Tom Harkin’s legacy,” Braley said.

Harkin, a Democrat, has held one of Iowa’s U.S. Senate seats for nearly 30 years, but announced in January of last year that he would not seek reelection. Sunday’s debate will give the candidates a forum to make their case directly to voters over the course of an hour. The candidates and their allies have been trying to sway voters this summer with a barrage of 30- and 60-second ads. An analysis by eight Iowa newspapers estimates nearly $14 million has been spent on campaign advertising in the race over the past three and a half months. Braley jokes about the ads attacking him.

“You know there’s some days when I watch these ads and I worry about what my own family is thinking,” Braley said in Marshalltown Thursday.

Ernst told a crowd in Newton on Monday night that she’s withstood the barrage of negative ads and remains tied with Braley in nearly every poll taken of this race.

“We’re seeing through all of this and we’ll see who really does care about Iowans and the direction that our country goes,” Ernst said in Newton Monday night.

Sunday’s hour-long debate will be broadcast live at 5 p.m. on KCCI, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, and live streamed on The Des Moines Register’s website.

The Register plans to release a poll on the race this Saturday at 7 0.m.

Two candidates for attorney general clash in joint TV appearance

The Republican and Democratic candidates for attorney general are clashing over the incument’s performance in office. Democrat Tom Miller has been Iowa’s attorney general for 32 years. Republican Adam Gregg is an attorney who left his job in Governor Terry Branstad’s office to run against Miller.

“He refuses to travel the state to meet with Iowans who, after all, are his clients,” Gregg says. “(Miller) sides with the Obama administration every chance he gets and on top of that he’s got a disturbing trend of soliciting the targets of his investigations for campaign contributions.”

Miller denies the charges.

“Adam, you couldn’t be more wrong. You’ve got a litany there where you’ve hit each point incorrectly,” Miller says. “I do travel the state. I do take very seriously my responsibility to communicate with constituents and know what they’re thinking about.”

While a few other statewide races on November’s ballot feature candidates from other parties as well as Democrats and Republicans, the attorney general’s race is a just two-person contest between the Democratic incumbent and the Republican challenger. Gregg, who is waging his first campaign for elected office, is accusing Miller of running a partisan operation.

“It seems like every opportunity he gets he’s siding with the Obama Administration,” Gregg says. “It’s gotten so bad, in fact, he seems like Obama’s lawyer instead of Iowa’s lawyer.”

Miller calls that “nonsense” and cites his bipartisan work on a law that toughens penalities for those found guilty of human trafficking, as well as his opposition to the Obama Administration’s proposed regulation of water on farms.

“I’m the lawyer for the people of Iowa, for the ordinary Iowan, for state government — for Governor Branstad and the agencies,” Miller says. “…What I do in this office is I call ‘em as I see ‘em.”

Yesterday Miller and Gregg appeared together for the taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.