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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Inconsistent Message In Social Host Bill

I'm not a fan of the social host bill just passed by the Legislature and certain to be signed by the governor. But in the fine print of the legislative process, there's a hint to the point I've been arguing all along.

The bill would hold "social hosts" (parents, homeowners, names on the lease, etc.) criminally liable for underage drinking on the premises, with a $200 misdemeanor fine.

But here's where it gets interesting. The bill as originally drafted fined hosts for drinkers under 21. But House Republicans - and I recognize the irony that I'm taking the House Republicans side here - changed that to 18, and the Democratic-run Senate was willing to accept that on a unanimous vote.

This is a rare open acknowledgement that there's a difference between college aged adults drinking and high school students drinking. It's an admission that the 21 year old drinking age isn't really about 19 and 20 year olds. It's about 16 and 17 year olds. Three years worth of adults have fewer rights than other adults in order to create a cultural barrier until their younger friends age out of high school.

It's a confession that 21 is unenforceable. It's a pretty open statement about our societal double standard that it's OK, or at least less bad and more culturally acceptable, to drink when you're old enough to vote, as long as you're low key about it.

Low key about it? Ames, you're doing it wrong.

So we're going to punish social hosts for some illegal drinking but not all illegal drinking? And my logical solution of one consistent age doesn't look like it was discussed.

We're left again with our bizarre, bifurcated, uniquely American dual age of adulthood, with 18 constitutionally locked in for voting but alcohol counter-productively singled out for 21, as the ultimate symbol of adulthood. 

I'm close on giving up on ever expecting that contradiction to change, but I'll point it out when I see it. And this example is especially glaring.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Which Was The Wrong Statement?

Sam Clovis, shock jock and would be Senator, says some interesting things. That's part of his appeal in the conservative counties of western Iowa that make up his base.

But those statements don't play as well to the national press. and Sam said a couple interesting things yesterday in an interview with Douglas Burns of the Carroll Daily Times Herald, for my money the most under-rated journalist in the state (and a former colleague from my Iowa Independent glory days of 2007-08).

The national folks like Talking Points Memo are zooming in on this exchange:
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Clovis, a firebrand northwest Iowa conservative, says he believes many congressional Republicans want to impeach President Obama. The only thing standing in their way, Clovis said in an interview, is the color of the president's skin.

"I would say there are people in the House of Representatives right now that would very much like to take the opportunity to start the process," Clovis said of impeaching the nation's first African-American president. "And I think the reason that they're not is because they're concerned about the media."
TPM also calls Clovis "a long shot GOP Senate candidate," which understates his significance to the race. I can still see a vote-splintering scenario in the five way race. Well, four way plus Scott Schaben, but he soaks up 4 percent just for being better than Paul Lunde at qualifying for the ballot, which makes it a little harder for anyone to get the required 35 percent. I can see Clovis being very appealing to a convention.

No, a REAL long shot candidate would be independent Bob Quast, such a Some Dude that even I never heard of him. Quote of the day: "If you come to my front door to do harm to my girls, I'm going to use my Glock. To blow your balls off."  He was going to take this message into the Democratic primary, but apparently attended the Jonathan Narcisse School of Ballot Access Law.

But my point before this tangent was that the national folks are focusing on the "Obama won't get impeached because he's black" aspect of the Clovis-Burns interview.

But there's another story from the interview, which Doug headlines Clovis: Criminalizing abortion 'a bridge too far'.
Clovis told the Daily Times Herald in an interview Monday he wants to see a "cultural decision" that makes abortion something no longer done "because it's the taking of a life."

"If we're going to put a penalty or a punishment on that and criminalize that, I think that's a bridge too far," Clovis said.

But Clovis believes life begins at conception. So wouldn't abortion be the same as a convenience-store stick-up gone bad, with a dead clerk?

"I honestly don't know about the criminalization of this," Clovis said.

Isn't that the end game of the pro-life movement, criminalizing abortion? If it's not illegal, then isn't abortion what it is right now - a fierce fight for the hearts and minds of women and their physicians?

"I don't know," Clovis said. "I don't think so. That's not my endgame."
As an Iowa City liberal I'm not an expert on internal Republican primary politics in western Iowa. But I know enough about the party's direction to think that "Criminalizing abortion a bridge too far" probably costs you more votes in the context of a Republican primary than "Obama won't get impeached because he's black."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Anderson offering new tone to Secretary of State race

“This race is about one of the most important civil rights issues of our generation, the right to vote,” Brad Anderson told a Democratic group at an Iowa City fund raiser yesterday.

The secretary of state candidate was in town raising both dollars and his profile. Neither party has a primary so Anderson faces Republican Paul Pate, who held the job for one term in the 1990s, in November. (Libertarian Jake Porter, who ran in 2010, is also running again.)

The race has changed radically since December, when GOP incumbent Matt Schultz shifted to the open 3rd CD race after Tom Latham retired. But much of Anderson's speech, at least in front of a partisan crowd, focused on how he would differ from Schultz.

“Voter suppression is un-American, it is un-Iowan and it is ending the day I take office,” Anderson said.

A particular concern, for Anderson and the attendees, was Schultz's use of federal money to hire a criminal investigator to seek out voter fraud cases.

“Millions of votes have been cast in Iowa these last three years, and just six people have plead guilty.  In Lee county for the first time a case actually went to a jury. A mother of three young kids was facing 15 years in jail for what the lead juror called an honest mistake," he said, adding that the jury took just 40 minutes to find her not guilty.

The sentiment was echoed by county attorney Janet Lyness, who said she had been approached by the investigator about one case, a non-citizen who had inadvertently registered when getting a driver's license because of a language barrier.

“Instead of spending time on a murder or a sexual abuse case," Lyness said, "we had an agent spending hours and hours on a case where I said we’re not going to prosecute because there’s not enough evidence he willfully violated a law.” (This is what experienced attorneys call "prosecutorial discretion.")

Worse, Anderson said, was an incident in Mason City where, “For the first time in Iowa history three eligible voters got their votes thrown out because they were on a bad list (of felons). And that was only one county. We don’t know how many other people wrongly got their votes thrown out because they were on a bad list.”

Anderson said fixing these list problems and making better use of electronic poll books, rather than investigations and voter ID laws, would be a better way to improve election integrity. , increased use of electronic poll books would be a better way to insure election integrity. “Electronic poll books immediately lets (workers) know if you’re on the felon registry, if you’re eligible, and if you’re in the right place. That would do way more to insure integrity than voter ID would.”

 As for ID itself, Anderson said “The face of voter ID is not students. It’s the disabled community.”

Anderson has set a goal of making Iowa number one in voter turnout. "I’m tired of getting beat by Minnesota.” To do this, he recommends making voter registration available on line ("They do it in over a dozen other states”) and allowing permanent absentee voting.

“If you could check a box when you register that said send me a ballot for every election period, you want to talk about increasing turnout, that would be amazing,” Anderson said. Under current Iowa law, voters must request mailed ballots separately for each election.

Still, Anderson, Iowa has one of the best early voting laws, letting voters cast early votes up to 40 days before primary and general elections with no reasons required. He also noted that Terry Branstad had signed the law.

“This idea of suppressing votes is new to Iowa. These are not Democrat vs Republican ideas. These are Iowa ideas. These are Bob Ray ideas and Tom Harkin ideas.”

The race is low profile so far, but Anderson said national superPACs plan to throw tens of millions into secretary of state races in Iowa and a handful of other states.

In addition to Lyness, other elected officials and candidates on hand included the three leading Democratic supervisor candidates, incumbent Janelle Rettig and candidates Mike Carberry and Lisa Green-Douglass, along with Rod Sullivan whose seat is on the presidential cycle. Auditor Travis Weipert and Kingsley Botchway from the city council were also there.

Pure Trivia: Two Specials In One Congress?

I may have hit a new low in political trivia.

That's not as low as Vance McAllister has gone, though. The newly minted congressman, winner of a November special election with a big boost from a Duck Dynasty endorsement - you can't make this stuff up - has just been caught smoochin' a staff member not his wife.

McAllister took over from Rod Alexander, most famous for a filing deadline switch from Democrat to Republican. (He may have stole the idea from Doug Struyck.) Alexander quit to take a better paying job from the governor (he definitely stole the idea from Swati Dandekar).

This may break the land speed record, though, breaking the old record set seemingly yesterday by Trey Radel (Congressman Busted For Coke his likely obit headline) In the social media age, these scandals move fast, from revelation to resignation within days.

Which begs the question: had a congressional district ever gone through a SECOND special election cycle in the same term?

Greg Giroux keeps a comprehensive list of House specials, dating back to 1961, and it hasn't happened in that time frame. The most recent case I can find is in a hard copy of Congressional Quarterly's Guide to US Elections - why yes, I own one - that lists House races back to the 1820s.

Luckily I only had to go back to 1930-31. Congressman John Quayle of New York's 7th District died three weeks after being re-elected in 1930. Matthew O'Malley won a Feb. 17, 1931 special election. But the hapless O'Malley expired himself on May 26, without ever attending a session (before the 20th Amendment, the new congress convened in December of the year after the election. Which was screwy. Which was why the amendment.)

This meant a second special election in November 1931, won by John Delaney. He died in office, too, but not till 1948. All three winners were Democrats, all were by similar 2 to 1 margins and the Republicans nominated three different losers.