August 31, 2015

Branstad will meet with ‘old friend’ Xi Jinping in Seattle in September

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Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds at the news conference this morning.

Iowa’s governor says he disagrees with Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker’s call for canceling the state dinner at the White House for China’s president that’s planned for late September. Governor Terry Branstad says he doesn’t get involved in foreign policy.

“I understand there are some issues right now with China with what’s happened with the devaluation of the currency, some of the issues with cyber security and whatever,” Branstad says. “But as you know the state of Iowa has had a long-standing friendship with our sister state Hebei and with Xi Jinping and I’m proud that he calls me an old friend.”

China’s president first visited Iowa in 1985 when he was a low-level agricultural official in a Chinese province. Branstad threw a state dinner for Xi at the state capitol in Des Moines in February of 2012, just before Xi became China’s president. Branstad has met face-to-face with Xi five times. That includes a trade trip to China in 2013 that included Walker, who is Wisconsin’s governor. Walker has said President Obama should not honor China’s president with a state dinner when he visits the U.S. this fall because the Chinese government was behind a cyber attack on the U.S. government. Branstad, meanwhile, plans to fly to Seattle to see Xi during his trip to the U.S.

“Would have preferred to have that in Iowa,” Branstad told reporters this morning, with a laugh, “but we got that last time and so I guess we can’t have it every time.”

Branstad said he “respects” the fact Walker is now looking at foreign policy issues with China now that Walker’s running for president. Branstad says when he meets with China’s president he’ll encourage China to import more Iowa-grown soybeans and Iowa-raised pork.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Branstad says a ‘fair process’ was used to pick firms to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program

Terry Branstad at his weekly news conference.

Terry Branstad at his weekly news conference.

Governor Terry Branstad is defending the way officials in his administration chose four companies to manage the state-run Medicaid program. Four other companies that submitted bids but were not chosen have sued, calling the selection process haphazard and raising questions about the past performance of the winning bidders.

“Obviously when there’s this much money at stake and you’re not one of the four successful ones, you’re going to be disappointed…but I think the process is fair,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference. “I feel confident that the Department of Human Services is approaching this in the correct way.”

Branstad told reporters he hopes the lawsuit doesn’t delay the shift to a “managed care” system for Medicaid patients in Iowa. Critics are also raising concerns about the four companies that won the bids to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program. Branstad acknowledges the companies have had problems “in the past” but Branstad said those problems “have been corrected.”

“If you look at the four companies, they’re all four very substantial companies that have had significant experience and I guess I’d challenge you to find any Medicaid provider of any magnitude that hasn’t had some issues in the past,” Branstad said. “That’s just kind of the nature of it.”

The companies selected have been accused of mismanagement of Medicaid programs in the past. Winning Iowa contractor UnitedHealthCare was fined $173 million for its work in California’s Medicaid program and the company has sued California over the dispute. Amerigroup, another contractor selected to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program, paid $225 million dollars after it was accused of fraud in the Illinois Medicaid program.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Branstad defends state tax incentives for new Kum & Go headquarters (AUDIO)

Terry Branstad speaking at his weekly news conference.

Terry Branstad speaking at his weekly news conference.

Governor Terry Branstad today called the “Kum & Go” convenience store chain a “great…family-owned”, Iowa-based business and he has no objection to the nearly $19 million in state tax incentives it will get for moving the company headquarters to downtown Des Moines.

“These decision are made by the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board and they have certain criteria in terms of job creation that they evaluate to determine who’s going to receive assistance,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference.

AUDIO of governor’s weekly news conference

Kum & Go executives have promised to create at least 90 new jobs in the new $151 million headquarters. The company’s existing headquarters is in West Des Moines. The company’s first store opened in 1959, in Hampton. Kum N Go is now the country’s fifth-largest privately-owned convenience store chain, with 432 outlets in 11 states.

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Walker says climate change concerns ‘trump’ cyber security in Obama White House

Scott Walker answers questions from reporters in Greenfield, IA.

Scott Walker answers questions from reporters in Greenfield.

Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker today said the murders of two journalists in Virginia are tragic, but this is not the time for a “political reaction.”

“It’s sad when you think about those families, when you think about their loved ones, when you think about their coworkers, certainly my heart goes out to them,” Walker said this morning. “…But it’s unfortunate that all too often we see from people like Hillary Clinton a political reaction to something that’s much more sophisticated and challenging than that.”

During a campaign event in Ankeny yesterday, Clinton called for “preventive measures and control measures” like universal background checks for gun purchases. Authorities say yesterday’s shooter was a former reporter at the Virginia TV station who had been fired two years ago and he bought his gun two days after the mass shooting at a South Carolina church in June.

“Obviously until I know more details I’m not going to comment on that individual specifically,” Walker said, “but what has been a common thread throughout many of these tragic situations are people who’ve been falling through the cracks when it comes to the warning signs of chronic mental illness issues and we’ve just got to make sure in the country just as we’ve tried to do in my state we get them the resources to make sure that they don’t get to that point.”

Walker, who is the governor of Wisconsin, spoke to about 40 people at a coffee shop in Greenfield this morning, then held a brief news conference. Walker has recently called on President Obama to cancel “the pomp and circumstance” of a State Dinner for China’s president.

“We’re giving them one of our highest honors at a time we probably should be taking China to the woodshed,” Walker said. “for the fact that just recently, not years ago when I was there, but just recently they’ve been involved in cyber attacks against the federal government of the United States.”

Walker, along with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, visited China two years ago on a trade mission. Walker said he didn’t confront Chinese leaders over concerns about China’s alleged theft of intellectual property because he was visiting the country as the governor of a state.

“Governors are not there to do foreign policy,” Walker said. “…I believe there’s a long-standing tradition that you don’t…undermine the president when you’re overseas.”

But Walker said as a presidential candidate on American soil, he’ll speak his mind on this issue.

“The amazing thing is not only did they ignore our statement yesterday, but the White House press secretary said it was really important from their point of view to have relations at the highest levels so that they can move China forward on climate change,” Walker said. “Apparently climate change trumps concerns over cyber attacks, over human rights abuses, over manipulation of the economy.”

Walker said if he’s elected president, he’ll decide on a case-by-case basis which foreign leaders deserve a State Dinner at the White House.

AUDIO of Walker’s news conference, 8:30

(Photo by Asya Akca)

Governor goes to Denison to discuss keeping Tyson workers in town

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in Sioux City.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Governor Terry Branstad visited Denison this morning to talk with local officials about the closure of a major employer in Denison. Earlier this month, Tyson Foods announced it would close of its beef slaughter plant in Denison, eliminating 400 jobs.

“It’s a set back, but we also want to look at it as an opportunity to diversify the economy and to get more job opportunities for the people who are losing their jobs at Tyson,” Branstad said.

Branstad said he’s optimistic many of those who’re losing their job can land a new one in Denison.

“We have Quality Foods announce that they’re going to be adding about 200 jobs here in Denison,” Branstad said. “There’s a job fair and there’s about 80 different businesses that are looking at hiring people, so the community’s doing all it can and the state is partnering with them to make people aware of the job opportunities that are available here and the retraining and other opportunities to keep people here.”

Tyson is offering its Denison workforce jobs at Tyson plants in the Nebraska cities of Lexington, which is a four hour drive away from Denison, and Dakota City, which is about 90 minutes away.

“Many of these people don’t want to leave Denison,” Branstad said, “and we want to show the fact that there are good jobs available and there’s also state programs for retraining and those sorts of things that can help keep them in the area.”

For example, Branstad expects “significant growth” to continue in the ethanol industry and he points to the ethanol plant in Denison run by The Andersons Ethanol Group.

“Last year I proposed a bio industrial tax credit. It passed the House twice, but didn’t pass the Senate,” Branstad said. “We’re very hopeful that’ll pass next year. We’d be the first state in the country (to have it). I talked about that at the World Bio Conference in Montreal. There’s a lot of interest and excitement, companies from all over the world to looking at that as an incentive to locate here in the state of Iowa.”

Branstad said it’s “critically important” that the state provide incentives to capital-intensive businesses like the biofuels industry.

(Reporting by Michael Earl, KDSN, Denison)

Governor talks about Denison plant closing, Iowa State Fair attendance

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in Sioux City.

Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds in Sioux City.

Governor Terry Branstad will be in Denison today to meet with local officials over the closing of that city’s Tyson Foods plant. Tyson announced August 14th it would shut the plant down.

“And obviously this is 400 jobs being lost and we’re concerned about that,” Branstad says. “But there’s also a possibility of another plant — a vacant plant I understand — that is considering Denison that could bring a couple hundred jobs. We are going to talk about that.” Branstad says there will also be discussions about how to help the workers displaced by the plant closing:

He says Workforce Development people will go along on the visit and they will meet with local officials on a strategy for helping those who lost their jobs and replacing the jobs as quickly as possible.

he plant has a long history in Denison, opening back in 1961. Branstad made his comments during a news conference Monday in Sioux City.

Branstad also touted a compromise he and state lawmakers reached earlier this year on the school start date following word that this year’s Iowa State Fair set an attendance record. Back in April, Branstad signed a bill into law which mandates schools start classes no earlier than August 23. Branstad says he saw a lot more families and children at this year’s fair because of the change.

“We had more FFA and 4-H students showing at the fair than ever before, at least in recent history, because of that,” Branstad said. “It’s been an issue that’s been around and debated for 30 years and now I think we’ve got a reasonable compromise.” The Iowa State Fair estimated attendance was 1,117,398 for 11 days, which broke the previous record from 2008 1,109,150.

The later school start date is helping other tourist attractions around Iowa, according to Branstad.”I had some people from Okoboji at the fair telling me that their numbers are up in August from what they’ve been recently,” Branstad said.

(Story and photo by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)

Project will work to get high schools involved in programs for veterans

Araceli Lopez explains the program as Lt. Governor Reynolds listens.

Araceli Lopez explains the program as Lt. Governor Reynolds listens.

A Sioux City North High School senior is spearheading a statewide project to support Iowa military veterans.

Araceli Lopez is the president of the Iowa Association of Student Councils. She says the program hopes to get schools in the state involved in “supporting those who serve us.”

“We want to make where it’s not just Veterans Day that we can do things, we can do things throughout the whole year to raise awareness and fundraise for them,” Lopez says.

Lopez spoke Monday in Sioux City at a news conference with Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor, Kim Reynolds. Reynolds outlined some of the goals of the program.

“Twenty-thousand service hours, 15,000 donated to help veterans currently serving military men and women and their families throughout the state, and 40 schools in Iowa participating in this year’s state project,” Reynolds says. Lopez says the schools may choose whatever type of project they wish to use to help their local veterans.

“They know their community, they know their school, they know what will help, they know what they can do,” Lopez explains. “If they know of a military family that needs help of assistance, they can outreach that. They can just do any simply fundraiser to fundraise for an honor flight, they can do therapy dogs, any other project they want to do to honor them, if they just want to do a parade, an assembly.”

Lopez says North High is already planning several projects to help Sioux City area veterans.

(Reporting and photo by Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)