Thursday, April 24, 2014

Praise For Pat's Plates

Iowa City Federation of Labor president Patrick Hughes accepted an award from the Johnson County Supervisors this morning for City Fed's license plate recycling program. The project has raised over $30,000 for charities, mostly local ones, over the years.

Pat tells the story better than anyone else so here's one of my first attempts at news video.

Last summer

Hughes worked with the treasurer's office and apprentice carpenters to install an outdoor plate recycling box at the Administration Building.

Hughes is in line for another award soon. He's one of this years inductees for the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame. That event's coming up on May 17.

Hey, Matt, Can I Get A Paycheck And Not Work Too?

Three and a half years into what thankfully is a single term, Secretary of State Matt Schultz looks like a classic case of the Peter Principle, in which people rise to their level of incompetence. His latest screw-up: keeping political crony Jim Gibbons on staff in a no-show job.

Excuse? Schultz "didn't want to fire Gibbons sooner because Gibbons' wife was recovering from a serious illness," said the guy whose first campaign pledge was, you guessed it, repealing Obamacare.

The icing on this irony came: just recently Schultz sent out a press release bragging about how much money he's saved with office re-organization. Some of us were wondering when this mystical $200 K was going to be used to repay the ""Help" America Vote Act money that Schultz misused on a "voter fraud" crusade that gave us a handful of plead-outs from frightened ex-felons, a Not Guilty in 40 minutes, and a dozen wrongly disenfranchised voters.

Not only did state auditor Mary Mosiman say Schultz should pay that back - oh, this keeps getting better - she was the one who got Gibbons' admittedly minimal job duties dumped on her when Gibbons switched to a "work from home" job.

Work from home.

Every so often, someone gets elected who's just in over their head from day one. Sometimes it's a fluke, sometimes it's an ideology over competence thing, sometimes it's just sheer voter ignorance. In Schultz's case it seems to be all three, and he's a classic cautionary tale of the risk.  The only good news here is that Schultz's reach for a congressional seat is exceeding his grasp and the public sector is likely to be done with him soon. And we'll all be better off when Matt stops coming in to work.

I'd write more but now that I'm done expressing my own opinion on my own time, a right guaranteed in my union contract, I actually have to show up to work. When I'm at work I talk more objectively, like this. See the difference?

And I help people vote.  Which you can do today.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hatch: "We have a race"

Has Iowa's once sleepy election for governor, which recently looked like a coronation, suddenly a real contest?

Jack Hatch thinks so. Of course Terry Branstad's challenger would think so, but the Des Moines legislator says new numbers back him up.

A recent PPP poll showed the gap between Branstad and Hatch narrowing, with a top-line number of Branstad 43 Hatch 38.  "We have a race," the challenger said of the numbers.

The poll comes after weeks of news coverage of questionable hirings and firings by the Branstad administration.

"Iowans are paying attention to Branstad's mess," Hatch said of the scandals.  "This goes to the heart of what people think of their governor. When I'm elected they'll have a governor they can trust."

"This is the first time his approval has been negative," Hatch said of the poll's report that more voters disapproved of Branstad's job performance than approved.

Hatch noted than any one poll is just a snapshot, but the important thing to look at is the trend. "It's a slow climb but he is trending down and I'm beginning to trend up." The previous PPP poll, earlier this month had shown Branstad at 48 and Hatch at 32.

The horse race question came at the beginning of the survey. After job approval and discussion of the hiring/firing, the poll reported and end-of-call number of Branstad 41, Hatch 40 - the score Team Hatch put at the top of yesterday's press release.

That may be an exaggeration of the present state of play, but it does show an opportunity for Hatch. He said "I'll be raising money and traveling and meeting as many people as I can" as soon as the legislative session ends, which should be within days.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Kajtazovic a Target - Literally?

An ugly turn in the 1st District Democratic primary over the weekend as a gun group encouraged people to hassle Anesa Kajtazovic at home for her vote against the silencer bill earlier this session.

Iowa Gun Owners posted Kajtazovic's home address and personal cell phone number on their Facebook page, telling readers: "Apparently, she has something to hide when it comes to your gun rights though as she refused to even open IGO's candidate survey! Let her know what you think of this." Several people did let her know, making threats.

"I’m adamantly opposed to Stand Your Ground laws, and I’ve always advocated for universal background checks," Kajtazovic said in a press release. "Publishing my home address was not right, but no measure of intimidation will cause me to change my views on these important issues.”

Because when it comes to intimidation, Anesa has been through a lot worse. Anyone with the least familiarity with the Kajtazovic story knows she survived the civil war in Bosnia and fled with her family to Waterloo when she was ten. So crank callers? You're trying to scare a woman who doesn't scare easy.

“The bottom line is that silencing devices on firearms disguises the fact that a shot has been fired, and in a time where gun violence is so prevalent, I will always take the side of common-sense legislation that aims to protect the people,” Kajtazovic said of being one of just 16 House members, all Democrats natch, who voted against a bill that would have legalized silencers and suppressors for firearms in Iowa. Worth noting: Pat Murphy voted FOR the bill.

"Unlike some of my opponents in this Primary, I’m not afraid to stand up to powerful interest groups, including the gun lobby. When it comes down to it, I’ll show them that I too can stick to my guns.”

Upcoming Events: April 21-28

All candidates and most of my readers know but it can't be said enough: Voting starts Thursday! Johnson County kicks it off at the office 7:45 to 5:30 and at Old Capitol Mall from 11 to 7.

That evening from 5 to 7 Janelle Rettig is having an early voting and early birthday (actual date Saturday) party at Bob's Your Uncle on North Dodge. Checks welcome, teal clothing encouraged.

The Center for Worker Justice knows how to get a regular mention in this feature: give your ongoing event the same name as a Clash song.

"Know Your Rights" is the first track on Combat Rock. Six sessions are planned even though Joe Strummer said you only have three of them. Sessions are at noon and 6 at 940 S. Gilbert Ct. and are planned for the last Friday of the month. Friday's event is "Protecting Your Health and Safety at Work: OSHA Rights."

Or, as Joe said, "you have the right not to be killed." (He put some qualifiers on that, though. Just listen to the song.)  A Workers Memorial Day event is planned for the Ped Mall Sunday at 2:
Each year dozens of Iowa workers are killed and hundreds more suffer work-related injuries or diseases.  Join us to remember those who died on the job last year and hear from workers and safety advocates who are confronting workplace hazards and renew our dedication to creating safer work places.

Both parties have congressional district conventions on Saturday. It could be the first of TWO conventions for 3rd District Republicans and 1st District Democrats, depending on how those primaries turn out. It also means a lot of scrambling for statewide candidates. The Democratic conventions are a bit off the beaten path. My guess is more state contenders will be at the 1st and 2nd CD in Vinton and Newton, a reasonable hour-forty drive apart, then at the 3rd in Council Bluffs or the 4th in Storm Lake. 

Sarah Palin will be in Iowa Sunday for a ShePAC "Heels On Gloves Off" rally in Des Moines, with Joni Ernst the apparent beneficiary(?). At least SOMEone is willing to visit Iowa. A nice round 2300 days today since we've seen Hillary. Dems are asking around about ways to boost caucus participation, and I'm thinking that one through, but top of the list would have to be candidates who show up...

And not quite as cool as a lunar eclipse, but seeing a real live spaceship is still pretty cool. Or at least the boys used to think so when they were younger. Monday and Tuesday the International Space Station makes two very visible passes over Iowa City at viewer-friendly hours - evening as opposed to pre-dawn.

If you know when and where to look and if weather cooperates you can't miss. Monday at 9:17 PM it's almost straight overhead and Tuesday at 8:29 it's also very visible. Looks a lot like an airplane only moving way too fast and way too steady, and it will be brighter than the brightest star or planet (in this case Jupiter and Mars).

Monday 21 April 2014
Time (24-hour clock)Object (Link)Event
 Observer SiteIowa City, Ia, United States
WGS84: Lon:  -91d27m42.12s  Lat: +41d38m30.84s  Alt: 174m
All times in CST or CDT (during summer)
→Ground track →Star chart
Appears      21h12m50s   3.5mag  az:304.7° NW   horizon
Culmination  21h18m19s  -4.1mag  az:215.5° SW   h:89.9°
 distance: 422.8km  height above Earth: 423.0km  elevation of Sun: -15°  angular velocity: 1.08°/s
at Meridian  21h18m19s  -4.1mag  az:180.0° S    h:89.8°
Disappears   21h19m36s  -3.5mag  az:126.0° SE   h:35.3°

Tuesday 22 April 2014
Time (24-hour clock)Object (Link)Event
→Ground track →Star chart
Appears      20h24m23s   3.4mag  az:307.0° NW   horizon
at Meridian  20h29m25s  -3.1mag  az:  0.0° N    h:49.9°
Culmination  20h29m49s  -3.6mag  az: 31.2° NNE  h:54.4°
 distance: 512.7km  height above Earth: 423.4km  elevation of Sun: -7°  angular velocity: 0.89°/s
Disappears   20h33m10s  -1.9mag  az:110.5° ESE  h:9.9°

You can get geeky details like that here at CalSky or sign up for email alerts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Labor Likes Lyness

The Iowa City Federation of Labor Thursday offered a unanimous endorsement of incumbent county attorney Janet Lyness in her primary against challenger John Zimmerman.

In a brief speech before the endorsement voted Lyness noted her support for the Community ID program and her work on the county's first project labor agreement. Zimmerman was not present.

This little thing after the word "treasurer" is called a "union bug."

City Fed also declined to make a second endorsement in the Board of Supervisors primary. While various members said both Mike Carberry and Lisa Green-Douglass had completed "acceptable" surveys, the body decided to stick with the full endorsement of just incumbent Janelle Rettig made last month.

Labor has a busy month ahead but I'll save all those events for the weekly calendars.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Loras Poll Shows 1st CD Dems Wide Open

Counter intuitively, Pat Murphy's lead in a Loras College poll shows him in a weak position seven weeks out from the June 3 primary.

True, Murphy is well ahead, with 30 percent in the poll to 11 percent for his closest competitor, Anesa Kajtazovic. And that's not far off from other polling, showing Murphy close to, but not quite at, the 35 percent needed to win the nomination outright.

Murphy                        30 percent               
Kajtozovic                   11 percent
Dandekar                       9 percent
Vernon                            9 percent
O’Brien   6 percent
Undecided                34 percent

It's safe to say that a former House speaker who not only couldn't clear the field after being first to announce, but drew FOUR challengers, isn't going to be anyone's second choice.

Put another way, that 30 percent Murphy is 70 percent Anyone But Murphy. That 34 percent sitting out there undecided isn't likely to go for Murphy this late.

But, as in other polls, the three women in the race seem to be splitting about evenly.  There's strong sentiment among Democratic activists and primary voters that Iowa is way overdue for a woman in congress, so let's assume a big chunk of that undecided is struggling over which woman to support.

Let's also assume that this race may break late. We're one or two good polls away from one of these three women becoming the Not Murphy candidate, and at that point the other two women lose their soft support.

So who has the most room to grow?

Swati Dandekar's 9 percent may be a ceiling. While she's been good at raising money (mostly out of state), she's toxic to the party base for her less than progressive record and for her sudden resignation from her Senate seat, which risked Senate control, to take a six figure job from Terry Branstad.

So that leaves Vernon and Kajtazovic competing for the Not Murphy slot at end game. Vernon's been better able to raise money (though according to this this latest report she's kicked in $170,000 of her own money). But she shares her Linn County base with Dandekar and Dave O'Brien, the other middle aged Irishman in the race. And some voters are still uneasy with her relatively recent (2009) switch from the GOP to the Democrats. Still, at least she moved in the right direction, unlike Dandekar.

Kajtazovic - no secret I'm supporting her - has had a harder time with the money. But after a slow start had kept pace with the others once self-funding is out of the mix, almost matching Murphy for the quarter. And she has a Black Hawk County base all to herself.

So it's way too early to call this one, but if it comes down to Murphy and Kajtozovic at the end, I like Anesa's chances.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Upcoming Events: April 14-21

It's WAY too late for snow but if the skies clear by tonight, we'll have a good show. A total lunar eclipse is a very noticeable and easy to observe event. 

Lunar eclipses happen at full moon, so the moon rises at sunset. Also rising near sunset is Mars, White tonight makes its closest pass to earth since January 2008 at 57.4 million miles. The moon passed very close to a bright (but not as bright as Mars) star, Spica in the constellation Virgo, at about midnight, just as the less visible partial phase of the eclipse starts.

The earth's shadow moves across the moon till it covers the whole moon at 2:08 a.m. Lunar eclipses vary a lot, like sunsets, because you're looking at the moon and seeing the light from all the sunsets on Earth. If you were on the moon, you'd be seeing a solar eclipse, with a pitch-black Earth surrounded by a sunset ring.

The moon will be at it's darkest at 2:48 and starts to move out of totality at 3:23. Everything is done by 5:36.

It might be a good night for a a "split sleep" pattern, the way people used to sleep in the era before electric light: go to bed around sunset, wake up for a couple hours in the middle of the night, go back to sleep till dawn. I've done it a couple times, usually on weekends, and it's not bad.

Tuesday is Tax Day but I can't find any evidence of any local rallies, either by anti-war left or anti-tax right. Both groups sometimes protest Tax Day, not the only way the left and right are starting to resemble each other around here...

Thursday at 6 the Iowa City Federation of Labor has its monthly meeting at 6 PM at the labor hall at 940 S. Gilbert Ct. Endorsements for the June 3 primary are likely to come up.

Saturday is the seventh annual Record Store Day, an event dedicated to the joy of those great common spaces where we spent our weekend dollars and hours, back when being a music fan in search of new sound was an active ongoing commitment that was more than a mouse click away. If I sound like an old man it's because I am. Major artists participate with special limited edition vinyl only releases. This year's releases run from Hank Williams radio broadcasts to a special edition of the latest Katy Perry. Not everything is available everywhere - kinda like the old days. Iowa City's Record Collector, the last record store in town, is the place.

And 4/20 is not only Easter, it's 420. Maybe in honor of that we'll see a breakthrough this week on the medical marijuana bill?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Week in Review: April 6-13

Johnson County lost a giant on Friday with the passing of Harry Seelman. Harry was a leader of the Johnson County farm community and a Hall Of Fame Democrat along with his wife Lucille, who he's with now.

And with a dozen children, you could almost win an election just on the all important immediate family vote. Harry and Lucille passed public service on to the next generation and three of their children are in public office: Jim Seelman on the Clear Creek Amana school board, Colleen Chipman on the North Liberty city council, and most prominently State Rep. Mary Mascher.

Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. this afternoon at the Cosgrove Institute, next to the church Harry and Lucille cherished. Mass is at  at 10:00 a.m. Monday at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Cosgrove. The National Catholic Society of Foresters will recite a rosary at 9:45 a.m. prior to the Mass. Burial will be at the Church Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Harry Seelman Memorial Fund.

Compared to Harry Seelman's 92 years anything I say is trivia, but you must like my trivia because you're here. Yesterday on my bike ride I saw someone simultaneously riding a bike and reading a book, which is probably the most Iowa City thing ever.

I KNEW there was a reason I liked the Democratic candidate for state auditor:


Say what you will about Paul Ryan and his Friday visit to Cedar Rapids for a Republican Party fundraiser. For the record the ONLY thing I agree with him on is the Green Bay Packers. But at least he's willing to visit the first in the nation caucus state. Unlike someone we all know.

HOW do you say it? Anesa Kajtazovic has people mispronouncing her name in a new video, reprising this classic Ed Mezvinsky pronouncer ad.

Where are they now: Dropped out House 28 candidate Jon Van Wyk had his Jasper County voter registration challenged and canceled for non-residency.  Van Wyk had tried and failed to move in March for a primary challenge to fellow Republican Greg Heartsill.

A challenge to a voter registration is extremely rare. The former auditor told me it had only had happened once in his tenure. I remember the case: A homeowner got really paranoid about identity theft because he got a card for someone who didn't live there. We tried to assure him it was a mistake but he insisted on the challenge. We had no phone number or way to contact the kid getting challenged other than sending a letter to the same wrong address. So we had a hearing, the homeowner testified that the kid didn't live there, and we cancelled the guy.

Months later we founds out what had happened which we'd suspected all along: when the kid who got challenged had gone to get his drivers license and registered to vote, the DOT made a typo in the house number. Of COURSE we found out on presidential election day, I want to say 2000 but maybe 2004, and since this was before election day registration he didn't get to vote.

Speaking of the former auditor, he would never have done this:

Nice to smile and laugh at work once in a while nowadays. We public employees get to do that sometimes.

Since we're not in Wisconsin, and since we still have 26 Democratic state senators, we public employees also get to express our political opinions on our own time. Says so in my union contract. Also important for Democratic candidates to use union printers. They teach you that in campaign 101.

John Zimmerman's signs started going out this week and they're non-union printed.  I pointed this out and was met by some very creative mental gymnastics from old-school "progressives" (?) trying to explain away the cognitive dissonance. Gems: the accusation that only campaigns with "lots of money from rich people" used union printing, and the charge that I was being "like a nasty Republican" for raising the point.

Zimmerman himself said I was trying to "nitpick" his campaign, indicating he considers support of labor a trivial issue. Not surprising, as he was the only announced county Democratic candidate who skipped out on the City Federation of Labor's annual chili supper in February, labor's second biggest event of the year after the Labor Day picnic. He seems to have made the counter-intuitive decision that libertarians are more important than labor in a Democratic primary.

My personal recommendation for union printing needs is Adcraft of Cedar Rapids. Most local progressives go there or Carter in Des Moines. Of course, in the local politics context there's a fierce fighting over the definition of "progressive"; I have a future post planned on that.

And if you're looking at Julia Louis-Dreyfus nude on the cover of Rolling Stone and what you notice is that  the signature is wrong…

Friday, April 11, 2014

Schultz: Nine Additional Voters Disenfranchised

Nine additional voters were disenfranchised because of Matt Schultz's inaccurate list of felons, the Secretary of State admitted in a Friday memo to county auditors.

The additional errors brings the total to 12 Iowa voters wrongly denied the right to vote in the 2012 presidential election. Cerro Gordo County auditor Ken Kline had previously announced that three voters in his county were wrongly excluded.

"Following a review of additional voters who also had rejected provisional ballots for reason of felony conviction in the 2012 general election," Schultz says in the memo, "the (Department of Criminal Investigation) determined an additional 9 voters were affected by similar issues that ultimately resulted in the wrongful rejection of their ballots." The memo also pledges steps to prevent the problem in the future.

Schultz, who's leaving the Secretary of State office for a 3rd CD congressional bid, has used federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) money to dedicate a criminal investigator to research voter fraud. The investigation has let to a handful of plea agreements and just one trial, in which a Lee County jury took just minutes to determine that a woman whose rights had not been restored made an honest mistake and did not willfully break the law.

State auditor Mary Mosiman,a fellow Republican and former Schultz employee, questioned the use of up to $280,000 of HAVA money and recommended that Schultz “develop a plan to repay HAVA funds should the US Election Commission not allow the activity and request payment.”

Yesterday Schultz issued a press release that he had repaid the state $200,000, but it turns out that was money returned to the state general fund for staff cuts, and not the HAVA money.