November 24, 2014

Congressman-elect Young: securing border first step in immigration reform

David Young

David Young

Congressman-elect David Young says President Obama’s plans for immigration reform do not address what he says is the most important issue. “For me, I’ve always said first of all in any immigration package, we have to secure the border first, first and foremost the border. And that comes in conjunction with securing the homeland and then enforcing the rule of law, whatever it is, and right now we’re not enforcing the rule of law,” Young says.

The Republican who is preparing to represent the third district, was asked his definition of securing the border. “It means nobody is flowing through the border, whether it’s the northern border or southern border,” Young replies. “The president I believe on his own could be working to secure that border on his own with the border patrol agents and the funds.”

Some Republicans say they may have to shut down the government to stop the president’s actions on immigration, Young is not ready to do that. “I want to make sure the government is open, I don’t think that helps in any real manner, I think it costs money in the end. I think there are some tools that we can possibly use. There are some defunding mechanisms that we can probably use,” Young says. “But what we have to understand with what the president is doing, it is going ot be hard to use funds — or lack thereof and the power of the purse — to do that because what is happening now is those application fees are funding what’s going to be happening with the president’s action.”

Young says he has talked with the Latino community in his district about the issue. “For the most part they want the rule of law enforced,” Young explains. “This really gets at those folks who came over here legally, man of them in the Latino population, the African population, the Asian population. They are a little bit disappointed that some folks are getting this favoritism, while those folks came through the right way.”

On other issues, Young says he wants to see spending and tax bills come forward, and he wants to see the Keystone pipeline approved. “I think that we’re going to have the votes in the 114th Congress to pass that and possibly override any veto, I am hopeful of that. But that’s something that I want to make sure that we get passed as well,” Young says.

He also expects with the House and Senate both now controlled by Republicans, that they will try to repeal Obamacare. “I’m assuming that there is going to be an up or down vote on repeal, and I would vote for repeal,” Young says, “because I thought it was a bad law and a bad policy. And if that doesn’t succeed, there are ways to dismantle this law and make it better.” Young says there are some things he would like to keep in the federal health care law, such as making sure that people with preexisting conditions can stay on insurance, and allowing kids to stay on their parent’s health care plan up to the age of 26.

Young made his comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight (Friday) on Iowa Public Television.

Branstad: no ‘big changes’ in his staff in 2015

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Don’t expect the top brass in the Branstad Administration to look all that different in 2015. Republican Terry Branstad does not plan to use the start of a new term to make wholesale changes in top administrative positions in state government, but a “few” people will exit and be replaced.

“We’ll be making a few staff changes in the governor’s office,” Branstad said this week. “We may have some changes in terms of department heads.”

Some key state senators have said a few of Branstad’s agency chiefs might not win confirmation from two-thirds of the senate to serve another four years. Iowa Workforce Development director Teresa Wahlert has been heavily criticized by Senate Democrats for her management style and the changes she’s made in the agency. Branstad won’t be asking for any resignations, but he hinted some top state agency managers may “retire” rather than stay on for his sixth term.

“We’re not ready to make any announcements at this time, but I don’t expect there’ll be big changes, but I expect there will be a few,” Branstad told Radio Iowa during a Wednesday afternoon interview shortly before his departure to the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida.

Branstad served 16 years as governor, from January of 1983 to January of 1999. After 12 years out of office, Branstad was reelected as Iowa’s governor in 2010. His victory in 2014 sets the stage for Branstad to claim the record as the nation’s longest-serving governor. He’ll cross that mark midway through his sixth term.

Congressman King suggests ‘censure’ for Obama over immigration order

Representative Steve King.

Representative Steve King.

The reaction from Iowa’s congressional delegation to Predident Obama’s immigration order includes one suggestion that congress vote to publicly and formally reprimand Obama for his actions.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin says Obama has taken “common sense steps” and “is doing the right thing.” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says Obama has taken “the wrong way forward” and is “poisoning the well for future action” om immigration reform. Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa City says he has “concerns about the president acting without congressional approval,” but Loebsack says he hopes the president’s executive order now spurs House Republicans to vote on an immigration reform bill.

Republican Congressman Steve King of Kiron is a leading critic of “amnesty” for any illegal immigrant. King says no one in congress wants to throw the country in turmoil and impeach the president, but King suggested during an appearance last night on CNN that congress might vote to censure Obama instead.

Congressman-elect Blum listed in bankruptcy filing, loaned hockey star’s family $2 million

A Dubuque businessman who just won a seat in congress earlier this month is listed in a professional hockey player’s bankruptcy filing.

The Columbus Dispatch reports hockey star Jack Johnson, who plays for the Columbus Blue Jackets, has filed for bankruptcy after his parents — who managed his finances — apparently ran up huge debts in his name. The bankruptcy filing documents mention a $2 million loan that Rodney L. Blum made the family in March of 2011. Blum, who won Iowa’s first district congressional race this month, is a successful software developer.

The newspaper reports Blum’s office “did not respond to interview requests” and “it’s unclear” how Johnson’s family knew Blum or why Blum made a personal loan to the family, at a 12 percent interest rate. The newspaper reports that about a month after extending the loan, Blum sued. About $42,000 from the hockey star’s salary was garnished every two weeks during most of the past two seasons to repay the debt to Blum.

Blum’s spokesman, Keegan Conway, issued a written statement to Radio Iowa.

“Obviously this is a difficult time for the Johnson family,” Conway said, “and out of respect for their privacy Mr. Blum will not be discussing their private financial situation as the legal process takes its course.”

Hockey star Jack Johnson is 27 years old. The Columbus Dispatch reports his mother took out at least $15 million worth of high-interest loans in his name, using her son’s future earnings as collateral. The newspaper reports by this spring, the professional hockey player had little, if any, of his paycheck left after debt payments were made. He lists assets of just $50,000 and debts of at least $10 million in his bankruptcy filing.

(This story was updated at 11:57 a.m. with additional information.)

Branstad says it’s time to consider ‘options & ideas’ for new road revenue

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad. (file photo)

Governor Terry Branstad says he’s open to considering all options that might boost the amount of money available to fix Iowa’s roads and bridges.

“I’m interested in coming up with additional funding for the Road Use Tax Fund,” Branstad told Radio Iowa Wednesday afternoon, “and I want to look at a whole series of options and ideas.”

The state gas taxes paid when motorists fill up at Iowa pumps are deposited in the state’s Road Use Tax Fund, but transportation officials have said for the past several years there’s not enough money being generated from the gas tax to finance needed road and bridge repairs and new construction. It’s partly because modern vehicles get far better gas mileage — so fewer gallons of fuel are purchased — and partly because the state gas tax of 22 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised since 1989. Branstad said he isn’t calling on legislators to pass an increase in the state gas tax. Branstad suggested a wide-ranging combination of actions should be considered.

“I want to look at fees for heavier loads being transported across the state,” Branstad said. “I want to look at different options for diesel than gas and maybe different mechanisms in terms of the way it’s done.”

One idea floated last year would be to charge the state sales tax on fuel purchases. One of the complications lawmakers are considering is that drivers of new hybrid vehicles which primarily run on electricity pay little, if anything, for using the roads compared to those who pay the gas tax when they fill up.

“I really believe that we need a more modern and efficient system,” Branstad said, “and I also want to do something that will maybe give some option opportunities to local governments as well.”

Branstad wants to explore giving cities and counties that receive a combination of state and federal dollars to finance road projects a way to opt out of Davis-Bacon restrictions. Those federal rules require federally financed projects to pay construction workers the prevailing wage in the county. Republicans say that unnecessarily inflates the cost of projects and benefits construction firms that employ union labor, while Democrats have traditionally opposed efforts to do away with prevailing wage rules.

Iowa cities and counties already get a share of state gas tax revenue, but local officials have complained it’s not a large enough share based on the number of miles of city streets and county roads when compared to the number of miles of state-maintained highways. Some areas of the state with pressing needs have resorted to asking voters to raise their property taxes to finance local road and bridge projects. Branstad said he’s talked with leaders from both parties to see if there’s some way to come up with a “bipartisan consensus” among legislators this year, compared to previous years when no agreement emerged.

The 2015 Iowa Legislature convenes Monday, January, 12th.


Senator Grassley gives emotional tribute to retiring colleague Tom Harkin (Video)

Senator Chuck Grassley giving tribute speech to Senator Tom Harkin.

Senator Chuck Grassley giving tribute speech to Senator Tom Harkin.

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley gave a glowing tribute speech to the state’s junior and retiring Senator Wednesday. Republican Chuck Grassley spoke in honor of Democrat Tom Harkin on what was Harkin’s 75th birthday. Grassley has served with Harkin in the U.S. Senate for 30 years after both had served together in the U.S. House.

“Although some of our silver-tongued critics over the years may have ascribed Tom’s views as those of a bleeding heart liberal or mischaracterized mine as that of a cold-hearted conservative, we both know that our hearts have always been in the right place,” Grassley says. Grassley said neither one of them was born with a silver spoon in their mouths and they have worked to keep alive the dream of prosperity and the pursuit of happiness for hardworking Iowa families.

“It’s true that we have vastly different views on the government’s influence on America’s ladder of opportunity,” Grassley said, “However, we whole-heartedly agree that it is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of our state. For some reason, our respective reelections every six years have confounded political observers.”

Grassley says outsiders couldn’t understand how the state could elect two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum. “To explain, I think I don’t have to, because it is widely understood that Iowans aren’t casual political observers. Our electorate takes pride in retail politicking and its first-in-the-nation political caucuses. We certainly have given Iowa voters a night-and-day choice between these two U.S. Senators,” according to Grassley.

He said the two managed to put politics aside when it came to things like recovering from natural disasters, farmers and agriculture, renewable energy and rural infrastructure. “While we may not see eye-to-eye on politics and ideology, we do see eye-to-eye when it came to working for Iowa’s best interests,” Grassley said.

Grassley said Harkin will leave behind a legacy of fiery floor speeches, passionately delivered on behalf of individuals with disabilities, for Iowa farmers, for the elderly and child laborers. “To his credit, my colleague’s legacy reflects the priorities that he set out to achieve decades ago — to make a difference for those on the down side of advantage,” Grassley said.

Grassley became emotional near the end of his speech as he looked up and saw Harkin and spoke directly to him. “As you start life’s next chapter, may you enjoy the blessings of hearth and home, health and happiness,” Grassley said. “Although Tom is retiring from public office, I’m confident he is not retiring from serving the public interest. From one constituent to another, I thank you for a lifetime of public service. And I wish you good luck and Godspeed.”

Harkin is a Navy veteran who served 10 years in the U.S. House before being elected to the U.S. Senate. Grassley is 81 and was asked about retirement last year when Harkin announced he would not run again. Grassley said he plans to seek another term in 2016.

Iowa businessman urges GOP to ‘fix’ immigration system

Jon Troen

Jon Troen

A Republican businessman from Iowa is joining today’s nationwide push to encourage Republicans to pass some sort of immigration reform.

“Republicans now have the opportunity to lead and to solve this problem,” says Jon Troen, president of Mittera Group, which includes companies like Rock Communications that publishes newspaper inserts and catchfire media which develops websites and mobile apps as well as the Colorfx printing plants.

He says that’s because Republicans not only will control the U.S. House in 2015, but Republicans will have a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate and will be able to control the debate agenda there.

“One of the things that’s been frustrating is for a long time Republicans have let Democrats define this issue,” Troen says. “Now that we’re running both houses on congress we can actually solve this problem and improve America’s economy, improve border security and do it in a way that’s compassionate and is consistent with conservative beliefs.”

In the fall of 2013, Troen flew to Washington, D.C. to join a U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbying effort to encourage the Republican-led House to pass the comprehensive immigration reform bill that had cleared the Democratically-controlled Senate. This year, Republicans like Congressman Steve King say Republicans won victories in the 2014 election because Americans do not want amnesty for illegal immigrants. Troen says “no one” is supporting amnesty.

“I don’t think anybody believes there should be a blanket provision that just says, ‘Hey, never mind. Everybody’s fine,’ but what we did elect leaders of congress to do is to lead and to govern and to solve these problems,” Troen says. “And I don’t think anybody including Representative King or anybody on either side of this issue would look at our immigration system and say, ‘Hey, that’s a system that really works.'”

Troen says his company is like many others — it needs highly-skilled foreign workers and that’s one reason reform of the immigration system is necessary. Troen has helped one employee with a visa navigate what Troen calls the “non-sensical” immigration system.

“The system is completely outdated,” Troen says. “It’s completely broken and, frankly, it’s easy to complain about problems. It’s hard to fix them and it is time for both sides of the aisle and our leaders in both houses of congress to fix this problem.”

Troen argues the U.S. economy would have recovered more quickly had congress addressed immigration reform sooner. Troen appeared today at the state capitol, at a news conference organized by business groups pushing for immigration reform. Over 100 top GOP donors today co-signed an ad published in the Washington Times that calls on Republican congressional leaders to act on immigration reform in 2015.