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.

Group protests outside Governor’s meeting on water quality

Members of ICCI

Members of CCI Action protest Monday.

Around one dozen members of the group “Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund” gathered outside the office of the Association for Business and Industry Monday where the governor was set to hold meetings with what he calls “stakeholders” to talk about clean water issues.

Group member, Deborah Bunka of Ames, says not enough is being done to protect Iowa’s waters.

“In 2002, Iowa had 248 polluted waterways, now we have 630 thanks to the 747 manure spills since 1996 from factory farms in Iowa,” Bunka says.

Bunka says the group wants 4 things. “Number one, every factory farm in Iowa to get a Clean Water Act Permit and a ‘three strikes and you’re out rule; number two, DNR inspections that find problems and fix problems; number three, tough fines and penalties that deter future pollution; number four, adopt the EPA’s waters of the U.S. rule so that more bodies of water are covered under the Clean Water Act,” Bunka says.


Des Moines police officers ask members of CCI Action to move to a public area.

Des Moines police officers ask members of CCI Action to move to a public area.

Brenda Brink, a CCI Action member from Huxley, says they should have been invited to the meeting.

“It’s time for Iowans to be included as stakeholders because we have too many impaired waterways, we have a crisis with our lakes, we have people who depend on lakes and rivers for recreation, and we can’t get into the stakeholder meeting,” Brink says.

Brink says toxic algae blooms have been reported in Lake Geode, Lake Red Rock, Saylorville Lake, and Big Creek Lake and the blooms stem from high levels of organic matter and ammonia in the rivers, often the result of agriculture runoff, especially livestock operations and manure fertilized fields.

“We need meaningful rules, and we want to know, the stakeholders out here want to know, is he going to be cleaning it up, or is he going to be the dirty water governor,” Brink says. A few minutes after Bunka and Brink spoke, Des Moines police arrived and asked them to move away from the front of the building. Officers told them they could make their statement, but had to do so in a public area and not on private property.

The Governor’s spokesman, Jimmy Centers, released this response to the group: “Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds are committed to water quality. In fact, since Branstad and Reynolds took office, water quality funding has increased by 26 percent. The Governor and Lt. Governor will continue working with stakeholders to ensure conservation and water quality efforts are adequately funded.”

$1.9 million in state money for parks to three NE Iowa counties


Governor Branstad announces money for parks.

Three northeast Iowa counties are getting nearly two-million dollars in state funds to enhance parks, trails and other outdoor recreation areas in Dubuque, Jackson and Jones Counties.

Larry “Buck” Koos of Lamont is a Jackson County Supervisor and he says there’s a “regional plan” that involves raising up to $4 million locally in cash, services or land for the effort.

“We have some land that was just donated to the conservation department,” Koos says. “It’s just right close to Maquoketa, so that’ll be in the works.”

Some of the money is likely to be used to build new cabins at the four state parks which are located in those counties, but a new state park may also be developed. Whitewater Canyon is currently a county-managed wildlife area.

“It touches all three counties, so that’s exciting,” Koos says. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s not real well known yet, so there’s just endless opportunities out there.”

The award of $1.9 million in state money for the three counties was announced this morning (Monday) during a news conference on the steps of the statehouse. Joe Gunderson of the Iowa Parks Foundation says the grants aren’t just for state-owned facilities.

“In Iowa, the county conservation system has twice the public land area that the state park system does, so it’s critical to the movement,” Gunderson says.

AUDIO of news conference, 29:00

Republican Governor Terry Branstad formed the Iowa Parks Foundation a few years ago with former Congressman Neil Smith, a Democrat from Des Moines. The public-private partnership was created to plan a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the state park system in 2020. Branstad says it may take a few decades to complete the effort to spruce up the parks.

Sioux City school shows off anti-bullying measures

Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds joined Sioux City Schools Superintendent Paul Gausmann and others Wednesday for a public forum on school bullying. Branstad says the programs at Sioux City West High School are setting the standard in stopping bullying. “I think these listening posts that we’re doing and learning what you’re doing to change the culture here at West High School and in the Sioux City school system, the mentoring program and other things, I think all of that will help us,” the governor says.

Karter Jones was one of the students to participate, and he says learning that bullying is wrong starts at home. “Growing up you always hear ‘it’s not the right thing to do, it’s not the right thing to do,’ so they should just keep relaying that message. Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you wouldn’t want that to be said about you on social media or in the lunchroom, than why are you saying it,?” Jones says.

The Iowa House and Senate each passed their own bullying bills last year and there was not compromise reached before the end of the session. Governor Branstad believes a bill will be passed this session. “What I hope we can do is build on the proposal we had last year, see if we can perfect and improve it. Listen to the critics who had concerns with aspects of it, see if we can answer some of those concerns, and hopefully we can get something that can be approved,” Branstad says.

State Representative Ron Jorgensen of Sioux City heads the House Education Committee. He say’s he’ll push the measure again in the 2015 session. “I think the key is to start early, last year we go through it, but it just kept running into roadblock after roadblock and then we just ran out of time,” Jorgensen says. He says they just didn’t have time to sit down and negotiate a settlement. Sioux City West is one of three schools in the state the governor and lieutenant governor are visiting to learn what schools are doing to deal with bullying.

(Reporting by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)

Chris Christie to appear at another ‘Branstad 2014′ fundraiser

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is coming back to Iowa on October 25 to raise money for Governor Terry Branstad’s 2014 campaign.

Christie did a solo appearance at a Branstad for Governor fundraiser in 2010. At the time, a gushing Terry Branstad said Christie was such a dynamic orator, Christie reminded him of Ronald Reagan.

Christie is now chairman of the Republican Governors Association and is helping raise money for the 36 gubernatorial races around the country, but his visit to Iowa adds to the speculation about Christie’s ambitions for the White House. Christie has already been to Iowa this year to help Branstad raise money. Christie spoke at a fundraiser in the Quad Cities in mid-July after appearing at a campaign-style hand-shake event at a cafe in Marion.

The October 25 event will be held in central Iowa, in Clive, and is Branstad’s annual “Birthday Bash.” Last year’s “Bash” was held in November and another prospective 2016 candidate — Wisconsin Congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan — was the headliner. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, another 2016 prospect, was the keynote speaker at the 2012 Branstad Birthday Bash.

Children’s Policy Coalition releases voter’s guides

A coalition of Iowa groups is releasing a voter guide that shows how the two major party candidates for governor responded to questions about child care, foster care, preschool and other kid-related topics.

“There are major child policy issues which must be addressed for children’s’ and Iowa’s prosperity into the future,” says Jerry Foxhoven, a spokesman for the Children’s Policy Coalition.

In the voter guide, Republican Governor Terry Branstad repeated his desire to limit state assistance for preschool to low-income Iowans, while Democratic challenger Jack Hatch supports state-sponsored preschool for all four-year-olds. Foxhoven says his coalition thinks preschool is “great for kids.”

“As much preschool as can be offered should be offered,” Foxhoven says. “Certainly there are resources that need to be devoted to children’s issues and we need to select which ones they are to be given to, but we would encourage preschool on a universal basis, if possible.”

Over 30 Iowa non-profit organizations are part of the Children’s Policy Coalition and the coalition plans to hold events in each of Iowa’s four congressional districts to call attention to where Iowa candidates for federal office stand on children’s issues as well. Despite efforts over the past two decades, Dr. Jennifer Groos, a Des Moines pediatrician, says about 20,000 Iowa kids still aren’t covered by health insurance and are at risk of developing long-term health problems.

“So it’s going to take all of us working together, reaching outside of what we can do in our realms, but working together find ways to improve the quality of care for children across our state,” Groos says.

No other state has a greater proportion of working parents — either both parents or the single parent who heads the household holding down a full-time job. Deann Cook, the executive director of Iowa’s United Way organizations, says candidates need to tell voters how they’ll work to ensure quality child care is affordable and available in Iowa.

“We regard this as keys to families providing economic security for their children and for nurturing children’s development in ways that contribute to their long-term educational success,” Cook says.

This Iowa coalition is part of a national effort to make children’s issues a greater national priority. According to the group’s news release, children make up 24 percent of Iowa’s population and “100 percent of its future.” Find links to the voter’s guides here.