Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Gazette Column
From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press. Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget. Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption…
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Regent ‘anger’ raises more questions

Regent ‘anger’ raises more questions

Gazette Column
While standing by the selection of a new University of Iowa president, one member of the Board of Regents has expressed his concern that the process was flawed. Speaking Thursday at the second of a two-day meeting on the University of Iowa campus, and less than 24 hours after demonstrators publicly asked regents to resign their posts, Subhash Sahai admitted he was “pissed” when he learned about previously-undisclosed meetings between a single candidate and five other regents and search committee members. “I want the people at the university to know that we had impassioned, intentioned and rigorous debate,” Sahai said of regent deliberations. But he also admitted that at the time the selection was being debated he was unaware that some members had met privately with only one of the…
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Branstad’s political cronyism experiment failed

Branstad’s political cronyism experiment failed

Gazette Column
Let’s be very clear: This isn’t about J. Bruce Harreld. It also isn’t about the University of Iowa. Once, while describing a public relations transgression by UI officials, I wrote, “What a slice of rancid baloney.” How could I have known that one day Gov. Terry Branstad would serve an entire loaf? Branstad, who continues to keep the Iowa Judicial Branch busy sorting out the legalities of his administration’s unilateral decisions to close state-run facilities, has suddenly decided he does, in fact, have limits. I know. Coulda knocked me over with a feather. And, as much as I’d like to view the admission as the start of some sparkly new bipartisan magical mystery tour, Branstad’s proclaimed limits don’t exist. At the end of September, UI faculty members called for the…
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An order to do what lawmakers will not

An order to do what lawmakers will not

Gazette Column
After three years of battling unwilling lawmakers, Gov. Terry Branstad took another executive order plunge Monday. The order — the 86th issued by Branstad — establishes the Governor’s Office for Bullying Prevention through the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Violence Prevention. Branstad was clear on why he acted alone. “We’re not waiting for the Legislature,” he said. He might as well have singled out House Republicans, who were responsible for stalling the latest proposal. Some lawmakers objected to schools not being required to notify a victim’s parents, if school leaders believed the circumstances also would place the victim at odds with parents, perhaps opening the door to more harm. The exception specifically was carved out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students but would not necessarily be limited to…
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Branstad, GOP hopefuls differ on local control

Branstad, GOP hopefuls differ on local control

Gazette Column
Education shortfalls are a manufactured crisis Spend a little time with the 2016 GOP presidential candidates and you’ll hear their plans to loosen government’s reins and provide local leaders more flexibility. If such goals are successful, however, its doubtful Iowans existing under the Branstad administration will experience relief. Debates about local control are as regular as general elections, and equally effective. But that hasn’t stopped all levels of politicians from sounding an alarm. For instance, in March 1953, then-U.S. House Majority Leader Charlie Halleck, an Indiana Republican who died in 1986, spoke before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on the risk of expansion beyond “the smallest unit of government capable of handling the job.” “With every transfer of responsibility from Des Moines or Indianapolis to Washington, there is…
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Pardon me for not rejoicing

Pardon me for not rejoicing

Gazette Column
Another day, another spitting match between Gov. Terry Branstad and a public employee union. The latest lawsuit was launched by AFSCME in response to Branstad’s shuttering of two of the state’s four mental health institutes. The union was joined in the Polk County filing by 20 state lawmakers. “Iowa law clearly states that the state of Iowa shall operate mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda,” said AFSCME President Danny Homan. “This was the law when the governor announced his decision to close these facilities. This was the law when the legislature passed, with bipartisan support, the funding to keep these facilities open. This was the law when he closed these two facilities. It still is the law today.” The entire situation could nearly be cut-and-pasted from the aftermath…
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The big issue with the other Branstad veto

The big issue with the other Branstad veto

Gazette Column
Perhaps Gov. Terry Branstad doesn’t have a clear understanding of what a cliff effect is or how it hampers economic advancement. Amid the flurry of veto activity before the holiday weekend and subsequent reactions, it’s likely the governor’s refusal to grant a 5 percent increase to the federal poverty level standards associated with child care assistance wasn’t on your radar. After all, what’s more important: limiting the ability of about 200 Iowa households to increase wages or shortchanging thousands of K-12 districts? In reality, they both are clear examples of how this administration’s policies hurt the working class it espouses to protect. Campaigning in 2010, Branstad expressed concern over what’s known as the “ cliff effect ” in child care benefits. This cliff effect occurs when a working parent is offered…
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Even in death, straw poll hype continues

Even in death, straw poll hype continues

Featured, Gazette Column
Candidates, please idle your wallets. Members of the Republican State Central Committee voted Friday morning to officially end the Iowa Straw Poll, a GOP caucus staple since 1979. No doubt built on good intentions, and once worthy of the national attention it received, it’s later years brought unparalleled focus on money instead of organization. And while the autopsies now underway will include a host of details concerning the Iowa Straw Poll’s demise — i.e., Gov. Terry Branstad’s early burial plot purchase or the ongoing refusal of GOP leaders to include participants in planning for a new Boone-doggle — the terminal infection was introduced years ago. The disease was more pronounced each year as supporter excitement and campaign organization took a back seat to purchased victories. Cause of death? Let’s call…
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Bird flu outbreak is a disaster

Bird flu outbreak is a disaster

Gazette Column
More than 10 million Iowa birds, mostly commercial layer hens, have been or soon will be culled in an effort to combat the spread of H5N2, an avian flu virus. And, as I was writing this, an additional 5.6 million layer hens and a yet unknown number of commercial turkeys were tagged by the Iowa Department of Agriculture as probably infected with the bird flu virus. Given Iowa’s role in egg production — one out of every five eggs consumed in the U.S. comes from Iowa — and the wide swathes of the state economy dependent on agriculture, the situation is clearly cause for the state to issue a disaster declaration. Yet. Gov. Terry Branstad has declined. (Update May 1, 3:15 p.m. — With the number of confirmed and probable…
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Lack of openness led to ‘Save Iowa History’

Lack of openness led to ‘Save Iowa History’

Gazette Column
In politics, the truth is too often drowned out by perceptions, and such perceptions are driven by a lack of transparency. Like most of you, I’ve been watching the dust-up over changes at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and especially how those changes will impact the State Historical Society of Iowa in both the Des Moines and Iowa City locations. What I’ve learned can be boiled down to perceptions. Before I began writing this column I went searching for the meeting minutes of the Iowa Arts Council and the Iowa Cultural Trust board of directors. Outside of three limited documents from 2013, the minutes were not available via the Internet. I’ve requested the documents along with their attachments from DCA staff, and fully expect that I’ll receive them. But…
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