July 28, 2014

Maryland Governor O’Malley campaigns with Democrats in eastern & western Iowa

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley returned to Iowa this weekend to campaign with Iowa Democrats, building more ties with Iowa activists who could be key contacts if O’Malley decides to run for president in 2016.

“It’s something that I’m seriously considering, but I’m here to campaign for Jack Hatch and for the other good Democrats here in Iowa,” O’Malley told Radio Iowa during an interview today. “…I hope to come back and do more.”

Just over three decades ago, O’Malley worked in eastern Iowa as an organizer for Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign.

“I got out there around Christmas time and Scott County had yet to be organized, so Scott County was my primary area of responsibility,” O’Malley said.

On Saturday, O’Malley was just north of Scott County, in Clinton, to headline a fundraiser for a state senator, then he went to North Liberty to help another Democratic candidate for the state senate. On Sunday, O’Malley was in western Iowa where he headlined two private fundraisers for Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate for governor, then he and Hatch spoke to Iowa Democratic Party volunteers headed out to go door-to-door in Sioux City to register voters. Despite recent world events, O’Malley said he senses the “primary anxiety” among most voters all across the country is the economy.

“And while we’ve done some good things as a country to avoid going over the fiscal cliff or sliding into a second Great Depression or having our financial markets totally collapse, the truth of the matter is there’s still a lot of anxiety throughout the country and in every state about whether or not our children will be able to live better lives than we have lived,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley is a two-term governor who cannot seek reelection due to Maryland’s term limits. During a Friday afternoon conference call with reporters, Iowa Republican Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann called O’Malley one of the “most liberal, eastern elite” governors in the country.

“Governor O’Malley is out of the mainstream,” Kaufmann said.

And Bill Dix, the Republican leader in the state senate who also participated in the telephone news conference, suggested the Iowa Democratic candidates who’ve campaigned alongside O’Malley this weekend are tainted.

“Looking at Governor O’Malley’s record, clearly they have a different solution,” Dix said. “It’s big government.”

Dix suggests O’Malley is a classic “tax and spend” liberal. O’Malley calls himself a progressive.

“No state that I’m aware of has ever cut its way to prosperity,” O’Malley said. “We need to be fiscally disciplined, but you also have to be smart enough to make investments to bring about that better future that I think everybody hopes for.”

Hatch called O’Malley a “practical” governor.

“I don’t have any problems campaigning with a governor that has lifted his state for the past five years as the number one state in public education,” Hatch said today.

High school students in Maryland must pass a test in order to graduate, for example, and the tests for the Class of 2015 will be tougher. O’Malley, who hinted he’ll be back in Iowa before November’s election, headlined the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention in June and he served as the headliner at Senator Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry fundraiser in 2012.

Harkin hosts forum with focus on finding jobs for Americans with disabilities

Senator Tom Harkin visits with Meghan Malloy & her son, Judah.

Senator Tom Harkin visits with Meghan Malloy & her son, Judah.

Senator Tom Harkin hosted a forum at Drake University late this afternoon to mark the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law on July 26, 1990.

Governor Terry Branstad, who was among the panelists, said he tells business owners they will make their business better by making accommodations and hiring workers who have a disability.

“The people that we have with disabilities that work for the state tend to have better attendance, they’re very conscientious and they make great employees,” Branstad said.

Senator Harkin said his own brother, Frank — who was deaf, only missed three days of work during the 23 years Frank worked at a factory making jet engine parts.

“It was a noisy place. His boss, Frank’s boss, the foreman comes and says: ‘This is the best worker I’ve got. He never makes a mistake. He’s always here on time. Gets more parts done per hour than anybody else.’ And he finally figured it out. He didn’t hear all the noise and stuff. He just kept right on working. Nothing bothered him,” Harkin said. “…That’s why I say sometimes people with disabilities can out-perform.”

Steve Bartlett, the former mayor of Dallas, is also a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives who helped round up votes for the Americans with Disabilities Act from his fellow Republicans. He was among the panelists who addressed the issue.

“We’re still behind on employment, so we still have to find some ways to break those barriers to that the reasonable accommodations are much more easily identified and accessible going forward,” Bartlett said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 20 percent of adults who have a physical or intellectual disability are working. The unemployment rate among disabled Americans is more than double the unemployment rate for the entire worforce. Kelly Buckland of Idaho, a national leader on disability issues who was on the panel, told the crowd the Social Security Disability system needs to change.

“We still have a completely outdated benefit system where we pay people to not work and we penalize them if they do go to work,” Buckland said. “…We’re tired of living in poverty. We’re tired of being unemployed.”

Michele Meadows of Des Moines, Miss Wheelchair Iowa, told the crowd she’s become an advocate for finding better transportation solutions, so people like her can get to work.

“I realized that when I had the accident three years ago that I had a lot of work to do educating people around me,” Meadows said. “I did not have a color of my skin. I did not have a slant in my eye. All I had was a wheelchair and everybody running to the other side of the sidewalk. I realized that my civil right’s movement better start with my mouth.”

Today’s event was organized by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University.

Braley criticized for missing House VA Committee hearings

Republicans have been criticizing Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley for missing most of the hearings the Veterans Affairs Committee held when Braley was on the panel. Now, a national group is spending $2.4 million to air that complaint in ads on Iowa TV stations.

Congressman Braley, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate this year, attended five of the 19 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings held during the two years Braley was on the committee. The ad from “Concerned Veterans for America” says Braley “skipped an astonishing” number of hearings. Dan Caldwell, a former Marine who is the group’s legislative campaign manager, says Braley was absent or “AWOL” in 2011 and 2012 when veterans needed him most.

“He neglected his responsibilities as a member of the VA Committee and it was quite (clear) these responsibilities were a low priority to him,” Caldwell says.

The ad mentions one particular hearing Braley did not attend which focused on the long-wait times for veterans seeking care in the VA system as well as bonuses being paid to some executives in the Veterans Administration.

“The VA Committee…has been very proactive in flushing out a lot of these problems with the VA and Congressman Braley obviously neglected his duties as a member of the full committee and that, in our mind, is unacceptable,” Caldwell says.

The Concerned Veterans for America ad asserts Braley was too busy attending three different fundraisers on September 20, 2012, to go to that particular VA Committee hearing. Braley’s staff says Braley was not at a fundraiser during the time of the VA Committee hearing, but attended a House Oversight Committee hearing instead, an assertion Caldwell disputes.

“In that (Oversight) hearing he offered no testimony, there are no recorded remarks,” Caldwell says. “…What it looks like he did was show up briefly, got recorded attending and then left.”

Democrats charge “Concerned Veterans for America” is mainly financed by the Koch brothers, businessmen who have donated millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes.

State Representative Todd Prichard, a Democrat from Charles City who is a major in the Iowa National Guard, defends Braley.

“It’s about getting results for the people you represent and it’s about taking care of those people back home and that’s what Bruce did,” Prichard says. “That’s what he did for the people I served with.”

Prichard’s guard unit served 17 straight months in Iraq, but when the soldiers returned in 2007 they were declared ineligible for military education benefits. They were also denied combat pay.

“Things that were promised to us that weren’t really delivered,” Prichard says. “But Bruce was able to work to get us kind of what we had coming for the service.”

Prichard also cites Braley’s work to extend another federal law that offers grants to returning soldiers with disabilities, so they can retrofit their homes.

“That’s how I know Bruce, as a champion and somebody who’s going to go to bat for veterans ’cause that’s what he’s done for me and the people I served with,” Prichard says.

As for the attendance issue in D.C., Braley’s staff says the congressman attended 15 of the 17 hearings held by the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee he was assigned to, so Braley’s overall attendance record for committee and subcommittee hearings was above 50 percent.

Attendance records were an issue in the U.S. Senate race earlier this year. Joni Ernst, who won the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination in June, was criticized by one of her Republican opponents for missing about 40 percent of the votes taken in the Iowa Senate in the 2014 legislative session. Ernst is a state senator and an Iowa National Guard unit commander. A Cedar Rapids Gazette analysis concluded about 10 percent of the state senate votes she missed where taken while she was on active duty. The other 90 percent were missed because Ernst was out campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Appel calls for freeze on congressional pay

Staci Appel – the Democratic candidate in Iowa’s third congressional district — is promoting what she calls a “no perks pledge.”

“You know, we’re all frustrated with congress and it’s got absolutely nothing done, but it’s found time to enjoy a long list of perks funded by taxpayers,” Appel says.

Appel is citing several “perks” she’d refuse if she’s elected to the U.S. House. Appel says she’d vote to freeze congressional pay until congress raises the minimum wage and passes another measure to ensure women are paid the same rate as men get for the same job.

“I think it’s about priorities,” Appel says. “…I don’t believe members of congress should get a raise until every Iowan is getting a fair shot at getting ahead.”

Appel also objects to politicians who’ve left congress for a job as a D.C. lobbyist, but collect their congressional pension while they’re being paid to lobby congress.

“I think it’s called double-dipping,” Appel says. “It’s one of those things you shouldn’t do with chips and dip and you definitely shouldn’t do it with our taxpayer money.”

Appel would also vote to expand the waiting period before congressional staff can work for a lobbying firm. The “cooling off period” is now one-year. Appel says it should be two years. Appel outlined her ideas today during a speech in Des Moines and she challenged her Republican opponent, David Young, to agree to take the same anti-perk positions.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a written statement this afternoon.

“Staci Appel was voted out of office because she supported wasteful spending during her term in the Iowa Senate, including $80,000 to fix a pipe organ and more taxpayer dollars to pay for decorative flower pots,” NRCC spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said.

Appel served one term in the state senate.

(This post was updated at 3:58 p.m. with additional information.)

Senator Harkin says Senator Grassley is ‘wrong’ on undocumented children issue

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley blasts the Obama administration for not telling state officials about dozens of Central American children being placed in Iowa after entering the U.S. illegally. Grassley, a Republican, says the feds were wrong to put the 139 children in Iowa homes without giving the state a heads-up to provide health care, mental health care and other state services.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, disagrees. “My colleague is just wrong in saying that somehow we ought to let everyone know where these kids are, who they are,” Harkin says. “That is wrong.” Harkin says the operation was kept secret for a reason as there have been angry protests in other U.S. cities along the Mexican border which likely traumatized the already-frightened children. “These kids need to be protected, housed and kept safe,” Harkin says. “They don’t need to be made public objects where perhaps people can go out and picket a house. Maybe some family has taken in two or three of these kids to feed them and keep them safe. This is a humanitarian gesture.”

Reports say as many as 57,000 children from Central American nations have entered the U.S., undocumented and unaccompanied, since last fall. Earlier this week, Governor Branstad said he didn’t want the children brought to Iowa, calling them “lawbreakers.” Again, Harkin disagrees: “There’s a reason for the privacy, there’s a reason to protect these kids,” Harkin says. “Keep in mind, these kids are not criminals, they’re refugees. They’re kids that are escaping murder and violence and rape and all kinds of bad things.”

The children deserve due process, Harkin says, and it needs to be determined if they qualify for asylum. “I just met yesterday with the ambassadors of all three countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” Harkin says. “Things are now being put in place to help stem the exodus of these kids from those three countries.” Grassley is quoted as saying the cost to taxpayers to care for the children could be as much as one-thousand dollars per day.


Advocates press for another extension of unemployment benefits

A key labor group and two liberal advocacy groups organized a news conference today featuring an Iowan who lost his job three years ago. The groups hope by highlighting the plight of Bob Shultis, they’ll be able to increase public pressure on congress to again extend the number of weeks laid off workers can receive unemployment benefits.

Shultis was laid off in June 2011 from Clipper Wind Power in Cedar Rapids and he finally found a full-time job for roughly the same kind of salary this April.

“I applied for more than 200 jobs during that period,” he said. “No satisfactory offers. I did have jobs during those times. I did not turn down work, but the jobs were not good fits for my skill sets and also didn’t compensate me sufficiently to be able to support my family.”

Shultis said it was “degrading” to have to make a claim for unemployment benefits, but he disputes those who say extending the number of weeks out-of-work Americans can get unemployment checks will encourage those Americans to stay out of the workforce.

“The unemployment wasn’t even enough to make our house payment, let along provide food, clothing, medical care,” Shultis said. “That all came from my savings and thank God I invested well or we wouldn’t have made it. We would have been out on the street and homeless, there’s no doubt.”

Shultis was among those who were cut off from unemployment at the beginning of the year when congress failed to keep extended unemployment benefits in place. In 2008, Congress voted to make checks available for up to 99 weeks. Last year, lawmakers cut that to 73 weeks and then on January 1st unemployed workers became eligible for 26 weeks of benefits. Advocates for extending unemployment benefits are holding events across the country every Wednesday to call attention to the issue.

Iowa GOP had just $11,219 cash in the bank on June 30

The Iowa Republican Party’s finances took a nose-dive during the last quarter, nearly reaching red ink.

The Iowa GOP was already significantly trailing Iowa Democrats in fundraising when Danny Carroll was elected chairman of the party in late March. By the end of June, the party had just $11,219 left in the bank.

On June 28, the newly elected members of the State Central Committee voted Carroll out and chose Jeff Kaufmann as the Iowa GOP’s new chairman. Carroll told Radio Iowa today that he doesn’t want to make excuses, but he said the “continuing air of uncertainty” created by the battle for party leadership “made it impossible” for him to find someone willing to be the party’s fundraising chairman.

The party under Carroll’s leadership collected $11,500 dollars in donations from individuals in June and was able to end the month in the black due to a $17,500 check from the Republican National Committee. Carroll said he was “preoccupied” in May and June with organizing the party’s state convention as well as the special nominating convention for over 500 delegates who selected the Republican candidate for Iowa’s third district congressional seat.

Carroll agreed to give the party’s only paid staff member — former executive director Steve Bierfeldt — an exit package that included severance pay so Bierfeldt would not file for unemployment benefits. Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission indicate Bierfeldt was paid up to $38,000 in his final month with the party.

Jeff Kaufmann, the party’s new chairman, said in a written statement that he is “disappointed in the mismanagement of party affairs by previous staffers and leaders,” but Kaufmann said his job is to “look forward” not backward. Kaufmann’s goal is to raise $300,000 for the party by the end of September. Since Kaufmann became chairman, he has hired new staff for the party, including an executive director, a communications director and a consultant.

On June 30, the Iowa Democratic Party had $366,474 cash on hand.