September 23, 2014

Hatch would raise compulsory school attendance age to 18

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says it’s time to change state law and require 16, 17 and 18 year olds to stay in school.

“Why would we give up on this age group?” Hatch says. “And what happens when they quit high school? They join an undistinguished pool of 40,000 unemployed Iowa adults that don’t have their high school education.”

Current Iowa law requires children to be enrolled in school from the age of six until they reach 16. Hatch says it’s no longer acceptable to let Iowa teenagers drop out of high school.

“You need a high school education diploma or an equivalent degree to apply for the global jobs that are in front of our advanced manufacturing, information technology or financial services industries of this state,” Hatch says.

Hatch says if he’s elected governor, he’d support increased state funding for alternative high schools that help drop-outs get their GED.

“We will not give up on those kids quitting school,” Hatch says.

The state law governing school attendance also stipulates that high school drop-outs cannot get a full driver’s license until they reach the age of 18. Sixteen-year-olds can be required to stay in school until the spring if their 16th birthday is on or after September 15.

Democrats outpace Republicans in absentee ballot requests

State election officials report requests for absentee ballots for the November election have dramatically increased compared to the last “midterm” election.

It’s called a midterm election because it’s held in the middle of the four-year presidential term, when voter turn-out is lower. As of Friday, over 112,000 Iowans had asked for an absentee ballot. That’s twice as many as were requested by this point in 2010.

Just over half of this year’s absentee ballot requests came from registered Democrats. Just over a quarter have come from Republicans. The rest came from Iowans registered as “no party” or independent voters. Early voting in Iowa starts this Thursday, September 25.

Statistics from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office:

Total absentee ballot requests for 2014 election as of Friday: 112,178

     Requests from registered Democrats: 57,869

     Requests from registered Republicans: 31,099

     Requests from registered “no party” voters: 23,043

     Requests from voters registered in other parties: 167

Total absentee ballot requests at this point in September, 2010: 56,725

     Requests from registered Democrats: 34,318

     Requests from registered Republicans: 12,710

     Requests from registered “no party” voters: 9,664

     Requests from voters registered in other parties: 33


Hatch says Branstad will use ‘bully pulpit’ to push for same-sex marriage ban

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, says Iowans “should be very skeptical” of Republicans like Governor Terry Branstad who say making same-sex marriage illegal in Iowa isn’t a top priority.

“I think we have to realize that you get a Republican House and a Republican Senate and you have a Republican governor, then marriage equality is at risk,” Hatch says.

Branstad says governors have no “direct role” in setting up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

“It is a legislative matter and I respect the fact that the legislators are the ones that are going to make a decision on this,” Branstad says.

Hatch, who supports same-sex marriage, says Branstad has made it “very clear” the only legitimate marriages should be between a man and a woman.

“It is their number one social agenda, without a doubt,” Hatch says. “…We should be very scared of the agenda of the Republican leadership.”

Terry Branstad

Terry Branstad

Branstad says he’s focused on education and economic development and this isn’t a priority issue for him, but Branstad says Iowa voters “should have the opportunity” to decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“It’s up to the people to decide who they want to send to the legislature, if they want people who are going to give the people of Iowa a chance to vote on this issue,” Branstad says.

Branstad says voters appreciate a governor who is “focused and doesn’t try to do everything.”

“I’m running for reelection as governor of Iowa and I’m focusing on things that are important to the people of Iowa and that the governor has a role in,” Branstad says. “I do respect the fact that there are people who have strong views on this issue and that is not my responsibility. It is a legislative matter.”

Hatch suggests Branstad has “enormous power” to speak out for the ban same-sex marriage.

“Don’t let him fool us that he doesn’t have this authority. He does. He has the authority of the bully pulpit,” Hatch says. “…I think he’ll use it and, unfortunately, I think he’ll use it in the wrong way.”

In 2009 the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that it was unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples. In 2010, during the last campaign, Branstad said the court had made the “wrong decision.”

Even if Republican legislators pass a resolution in 2015 calling for a statewide vote to ban same-sex marriage, the same resolution would have to pass again in 2017 — so the earliest the matter could be presented to voters would be in three years from now.

Iowa Fertilizer Plant the focus of tonight’s gubernatorial debate

The fertilizer plant under construction in southeast Iowa was a major point of contention during this evening’s debate between the two major party candidates for governor. The incumbent, Republican Terry Branstad, defended his administration’s decision to award $110 million worth of state incentives to the Egyptian company that’s building the plant near Wever.

“We’re very proud of it and the CEO of the company recently said they’re just getting warmed up,” Branstad said. “When they complete this, they’re looking at expanding it.”

Democratic challenger Jack Hatch said that’s $700,000 worth of state incentives per job and that’s a “bad deal” for taxpayers.

“The state has the responsibility to invest in our communities and our small businesses, not the big, undeserving corporations like we have,” Hatch said.

The debate was held in Burlington — about 14 miles away from the construction site in neighboring Lee County. Branstad called the development a “great deal” and, over time, Branstad said local southeast Iowa governments will reap millions.

“The net result is the Fort Madison School District and Lee County are going to get net plus of $2.9 million additional tax revenue every year and the State of Iowa is also going to gain revenue,” Branstad said. “If it hadn’t located here, we wouldn’t get those additional tax revenues.”

Hatch said rather than giving $110 million worth of incentives to one company, there would have been greater economic impact if that money had been spread out among businesses statewide.

“The top-down approach that Governor Branstad has been using, where Des Moines picks winner and losers, is the wrong approach to use when we’re recovering from a recession,” Hatch said.

The two candidates quarreled over Branstad’s job creation claims and each questioned the other’s commitment to raising the minimum wage. The conduct of the campaign was a simmering issue during Saturday’s debate as well, with Hatch complaining about Branstad’s ads that criticize Hatch’s property development business.

“Governor, I’d like to ask that you take the key from one of your political heroes, Ronald Reagan and he said…’You stop lying about me and I’ll stop telling the truth about you,’” Hatch said, to applause from his supporters in the crowd.

Branstad didn’t back down.

“If he wants to disprove our claim that he has gained substantially and made millions of dollars at the taxpayers’ expense, I would challenge Senator Hatch to release four more years of his taxes,” Branstad said. “He’s only done one. I’ve done 24. I’m willing to do another four of the previous four before I came back as governor if he’s willing to do that.”

Branstad served four years as Iowa’s lieutenant governor, then 16 years as Iowa’s governor and left office in January of 1999. In 2010 he won a fifth term as governor. The political culture of Illinois was cited during Saturday’s hour-long debate. Hatch listed a number of controversies that have popped up over the last four years, including Branstad’s order to close the Iowa Juvenile Home and the disclosure that some state employees were being paid extra to stay quiet about their exit settlements with the state.

“This is the kind of leadership you’d expect from the governor of Illinois, not the governor of Iowa,” Hatch said.

Branstad responded.

“This is Iowa, not Illinois. Most of the former governors of Illinois are in prison. I’m back in office ’cause the people of Iowa trust me,” Branstad said, drawing applause from his supporters in the room. “They know me. They can rely on me.”

Tonight’s debate was sponsored by the Greater Burlington Partnership — an alliance of local chambers of commerce and by the Burlington Hawk Eye and WQAD television. The third and final debate between Branstad and Hatch will be held in Sioux City on October 20.

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.