July 7, 2015

Clinton jokes with media about the ‘rope’ photo

DSC_0818_edited-1Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used an Iowa City news conference to address the chatter about a photo showing how her staff using a rope to corral reporters trailing behind Clinton in a 4th of July parade in New Hampshire. Clinton walked up to a throng of reporters gathered in the Iowa City Public Library.

“Nick, is that the equivalent of a rope you have up here?” Clinton asked a staff member.

She was gesturing to the kind of dividers used in movie theaters and at the airport, to clearly mark where the line forms and how to move to the front.

“I think it should come down,” Clinton said, smiling. “I don’t want anybody feeling stressed.”

Clinton’s staff removed the dividing line and Clinton started answering questions.

(Photo by Asya Akca)


Clinton vows to make ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform cornerstone issue


Hillary Clinton in Iowa City.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to a packed room in the Iowa City Public Library this afternoon, accusing Republicans of proposing a “U-turn” for the country and promising as president she would push for “comprehensive” immigration reform.

“A lot of our people who are working hard here are people who have earned the right to stay and we have to change our system to take advantage of their contributions,” Clinton said.

Clinton said there’s no way to deport up to 12 million undocumented immigrants and Clinton used the word “sad” to describe how Republican presidential candidates are addressing the issue.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a nation of immigrants…and then I hear, you know, the Republican candidates — and it’s not only, you know, the ones that are most vitriolic — none of them support a path to citizenship,” Clinton said. “All of them would basically consign immigrants to second-class status.”

Clinton did not directly mention Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about Mexicans which have caused controversy, but Clinton, in general, accused Republicans of engaging in a “destructive” debate on immigration.

“And let’s face the fact we need comprehensive immigration reform,” Clinton said. “I don’t care how many people running for president on the Republican side try to demean immigrants, insult immigrants, cast aspersions on immigrants.”

During her speech to the crowd, Clinton mentioned the case of a popular Iowa City pastor who was recently deported and someone in the crowd asked her about the case, too. Clinton pledged as president she would deport criminals, but she’d urge prosecutors to use discretion in similar cases.

About 350 people made it into the library to see and hear Clinton, while about 100 more gathered on the sidewalk outside waiting for the chance to shake Clinton’s hand as she left. Clinton held a news conference inside the library after the event, joking with her staff that they should remove the “rope” behind which reporters and photographers were assembled. It was a reference to the image of Clinton’s press team using a rope to corral reporters following Clinton in a New Hampshire parade. Clinton’s staff removed the barrier and the questioning began.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Legislative leaders react to governor’s explanation of school funding veto

Kraig Paulsen (file photo)

Kraig Paulsen (file photo)

The top-ranking Republican in the legislature disputes Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s assertion that lawmakers “absolutely” knew he was likely to veto nearly 56 million dollars in spending for Iowa’s K-12 public schools.

“The governor or the governor’s office had not indicated a veto threat or that they would sign it to me or, to the best of my knowledge, to any House Republican,” says House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha.

Branstad has said he rejected the spending proposal because he is philosophically opposed to using bonus payments or “one-time money” for on-going expenses. Paulsen says he and other Republicans share the same philosophy — and that’s why the 55-point-seven million dollars in additional money for schools was to be used for one-time expenses, like new textbooks and school buses.

“Obviously I supported it and I voted for it,” Paulsen says.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal — the top-ranking Democrat in the legislature says the governor’s “surprising” action is “especially egregious in light of the fact that the legislature worked in a bipartisan fashion to not use one-time money to fund ongoing needs.” Gronstal and Paulsen both noted the legislature’s overall spending level was actually less than what Branstad himself had proposed in January.

Branstad says it was ‘abundantly clear’ he’d reject $55.7 million in school funding (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad today said legislators knew he would likely veto the nearly $56 million they set aside for Iowa’s K-12 public schools.

“My staff made it clear that was my position…it was made abundantly clear to them,” Branstad told reporters this morning during his weekly news conference.

Branstad did approve a 1.25 percent increase in per pupil spending, but he rejected the additional money legislators voted to provide for the current school year.

“I always reserve judgment on legislation ’til I see it in its final form, but I also try to be as clear as I can be as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t,” Branstad said. “Using one-time money for on-going is something I have consistently said it a bad budgeting practice.”

Branstad took action late Thursday on 14 bills that legislators passed, bills that outline a state spending plan for the next 12 months. School administrators say without that extra $55.7 million boost, many districts will have to make cuts, expand class sizes and either lay off staff or delay hiring. Some rural districts see the move as a back-door way to force cash-strapped districts to consolidate. Branstad said that’s “absolutely” not his intention.

“But the only way that we’re going to be able to keep our smaller school districts vital and successful is if we’re able to attract young families that have children,” Branstad said.

And the governor told reporters that’s one reason why he’s pushing to boost the Renewable Fuels Standard, since the ethanol industry is a boost to rural Iowa.

On Friday, Branstad’s staff released a statement emphasizing the governor had approved $3 billion in spending on K-12 public schools. Today, Branstad emphasized he had approved additional money for the state’s relatively new teacher leadership and mentoring program and two-thirds of school districts will be splitting that new money.

“That’s $100 million of additional money on top of the money they’re getting for the supplemental state aid,” Branstad said. “Plus we are focusing on early reading in the pre-K through third grade and providing through Reading Resource Center assistance there.”

According to Branstad, the “turmoil” in Iowa’s public schools is primarily caused by the legislature’s failure to follow the law and approve the level of general state aid for schools by the legal deadline — which was February of last year.

AUDIO of Branstad’s news conference, 27:00

Sanders says he has a ‘strong chance of winning Iowa’


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spent the first half of this Friday campaigning in Republican-leaning northwest Iowa. A crowd of over 200 greeted him for an early morning event in Sheldon and about 150 people crowded into the Better Day Cafe in Storm Lake to see Sanders over the noon-hour.

“The reason that we’re going around the state and into small towns is we understand the Caucus process and the votes here are as important as they are in Des Moines,” Sanders told reporters after his appearance in Storm Lake. “So we think we are putting together a strong infrastructure which is going to give us a strong chance of winning Iowa.”

A recent Quinnipiac University Poll found Sanders’ support in Iowa has more than doubled since May, to 33 percent of the likely Iowa Caucus-goers surveyed. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, a Vermont senator and the longest-serving independent in congress, said late last year he would not run for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidetial nomination unless he sensed a “grassroots revolution” — and Sanders declared as he was leaving Storm Lake that it’s happening.

“People are resonating to the message, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with economics and politics in America,” Sanders told reporters.

Brian Gerjets of Cherokee, a truck driver who is co-chair of Cherokee Democratic Party, saw Sanders in Sheldon and Storm Lake. He said Sanders is delivering a “common sense” message.

“Wake up people. Look around. Everything he’s telling you is the truth,” Gerjets said. “The billionaires are running this world. Whether Bernie can take it all the way to the end, that’s questionable.”

Lynn McMullen and his wife, Paula, run an antiques and woodworking store in nearby Fonda and they’re going to vote for Sanders in the Caucuses.

“He’s right on the issues as far as getting rid of Citizens United for one and also for single payer health care,” Paula McMullen said.

Lynn McMullen added: “It’s boiled down to wealthy elements and corporate people just buying the government. It’s not a democracy any more and we need to turn that around or it’s all over.”

Sanders answered questions for 15 minutes after delivering a 50-minute speech in Storm Lake. He praised President Obama’s move this past week to change the rules for overtime pay and repeated his call for 12-weeks of paid family and medical leave, as well as mandatory vacation for working Americans.

“Eighty-five percent of working men, 66 percent of working women are working longer than 40 hours a week,” Sanders said. “At the very least, we have got to guarantee that those workers have two weeks of paid family vacation.”

Two other presidential candidates are campaigning in the state today. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, stopped at the site of a wind turbine this morning in Ankeny to highlight his ideas for boosting renewable energy. This afternoon, Louisiana Bobby Jindal, a Republican, is touring a fire arms manufacturer in Sheldon then stopping in Spencer.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Branstad axes extra money for K-12 public schools, three state universities

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad has been hinting for weeks that he was unhappy with the legislature’s bipartisan compromise on education funding — and late this afternoon the governor used his item veto authority to reject nearly $56 million in proposed funding for K-12 public schools.

Branstad points to $3 billion in state aide that he did approve for public school districts, but the governor says he cannot approve a one-time allotment of $56 million more. This past Monday Branstad told reporters that kind of one-time spending could “set the state up” for an across-the-board budget cut if state tax revenues fall.

“I want to maintain stability and predictability,” Branstad said. “And I want to make sure that we have a sustainable budget for the long term.”

The president of the state teachers union says the extra money would have been “a small degree of relief” for some school districts and Branstad’s decision to cut that money out of the legislature’s budget plan shows “his lack of commitment to public education.” A top Democrat in the Iowa Senate says the governor’s move not only “undermines” the bipartisan deal legislators struck, it jeopardizes a proposed tuition freeze at the three state universities. Branstad rejected one-time spending increases for the University of Iowa, Iowa State Universty and the University of Northern Iowa.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee says there’s “no reason” for the governor to cut so deeply since there’s been strong growth in state tax revenue. The state collected more than $8 billion in taxes in the last 12 months.

In other official action Thursday, Branstad followed through and formally rejected the bipartisan proposal that called for keeping the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant open. The two facilities actually were closed for good earlier this week.

In addition to approving 14 budget bills that outline state spending plans for the next 12 months, there were a host of policy items stuck in the bills Branstad took action on today. For instance, non-public schools in Iowa are now required by state law to abide by the same school start date approved for public schools. The school start date debate raged until earlier this spring when legislators and the governor agreed that August 23 is the earliest day school may start in the fall.

Due to another policy item stuck in a budget bill, developers of a new reservoir near Osceola will have to prove they’ve exhausted all other options before they may seize property through eminent domain for the project. Backers of the project say they first started talking about Osceola’s limited water supply in 1992 and the area can’t grow economically without more water. Legislators who pushed for the new hurdles for  the project say they doubt developers’ claims that a current lake in Osceola couldn’t be expanded instead.

Loebsack says some in GOP ‘hyperventilating’ over same-sex marriage ruling

Congressman Dave Loebsack (right) with Dean Borg.

Congressman Dave Loebsack (right) with Dean Borg.

Congressman Dave Loebsack — the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation — says last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act means “ObamaCare” is “here to stay” and the court’s decision on same-sex marriage was “a great victory for equal rights.”

“Upwards of 60 percent of the American people think that that was the right decision,” Loebsack says.

Many of the Republican presidential candidates who’ve traveled through Iowa in the past few days have criticized the decision. Some have advocated for nationwide judicial retentions elections for members of the Supreme Court, as a means to ending life-time appointments to the court. A few have called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Loebsack says that’s just “hyperventilation.”

“The American people have decided already that same-sex marriage is accectable…and they are for it,” Loebsack says. “Now look, if folks on the Republican side of the aisle, whether it’s at the congressional level or those running for president, if they want to continue down this road they are not going to find a lot of support for the kinds of things they’ve been talking about.”

Loebdsack says the Constitution’s First Amendment already protects religious insitutions that refuse to marry a same-sex couple, but he is “open” to considering proposals from Republicans that might offer additional legal protections to churches, synagogues and mosques.

“To protect religious institutions, I can understand that, but to call it tyranny and use the kinds of language they’ve used before — this is the kind of language that Americans are tired of,” Loebsack says.

Loebsack made his comments this afternoon during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that will air on Iowa Public Television Friday night.