Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year In Review 2013

In best Hunter Thompson style I have delayed the Year In Review post till 6 1/2 hours before deadline. I may have to resort to heavy drugs to meet the mark, although in my case "heavy" is caffeine and the greater hazard may be that midnight New Years Eve is pretty late for an old man like me.

New Years Eve is of course also the anniversary of the Deeth Blog, in this case 11 years. I celebrated by shameless self-promotion, nabbing my 1000th Twitter follower today, the same day Jack Hatch got his 100th and Pat Murphy got halfway there.

Step into the DeLorean and floor it till we hit 88 MPH:


Iowa's political story of the year is no contest, because every other big political story of the year flows out of it.  Tom Harkin's January 26 retirement sets up the first open seat US Senate race in 40 years, moved Bruce Braley into that race from a widely rumored run for governor, opened up the governor field on the Democratic side AND Braley's congressional seat on both sides, and led every major GOP pol in the state to consider - and reject - the Senate race.

The biggest event of my year happened on day one. We got a new auditor and despite the naysayers (and despite HyVee) you could still vote early in Johnson County. Not holding my breath waiting for the mea culpas. We put Travis Weipert to work right away with three big elections in the first four months.

Those votes weren't in January but the stars aligned for two of them. Dems prepped for the second of these with a nominating convention, choosing Terry Dahms to run for the supervisor seat Sally Stutsman vacated to serve in the legislature. The four remaining supervisors, meanwhile, decided to give a minor variation of the narrowly defeated justice center another try. (This is the literary tactic we call foreshadowing.)

Nationally, it looked like something might finally happen on immigration reform. Hillary Clinton left her job yet did not immediately come to Iowa. Joe Biden hosts re-inauguration party and invites entire state.


Pat Murphy jumps into the congressional race and I immediately start making maximum efforts to annoy him. We need a woman, I say, though Swati Dandekar is NOT what I mean. All eyes turn to Liz Mathis...

Local Republicans make noise about supervisor districts. I definitively disprove their case while mocking no-chance candidate John Etheredge. Quote of the year from redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering, trying to equalize population: "I used to work in New Jersey and if you asked for a half a body, well, I knew a guy."

In the spring's first election, the Iowa City school district passes a revenue purpose statement, though the fighting was about the equity plan and whose school gets closed. The No side's "People for All" (huh?) wins the prize for vaguest campaign committee name ever.

Yet ANOTHER special election gets scheduled, this time in the Vatican.

Song of the year competition is over: I've been shopping at Goodwill for decades but Macklemore makes me cool for the last time in my life.

The Olympics threaten to cancel wrestling. Dan Gable threatens to beat the crap out of them with his gold medal.

GOP gets so dysfunctional that they have to have TWO separate State of the Union rebuttals, as Marco Rubio is feeling a little parched. And John McCain gets booed out of his own town hall for saying mass deportation of the undocumented might be a bad thing.



Every star aligned just right for John Etheredge and just wrong for the Democrats, for a Republican win in the People's Republic. The second biggest electoral surprise of the month, trailing that Some Dude from Argentina winning the Special Pope Election. Local election returns need to incorporate that black smoke/white smoke thing.

Contrary to our initial reactions. the Admin Building did NOT collapse when a GOP supervisor walked in the door. Etheredge has been relatively quiet, casting some symbolic lone no votes on stuff like Earth Week and Pride Month and more substantive votes on a few borderline zoning issues.

Endorsement of the year: Zombie Reagan supports Cedar Rapids casino. Must have helped; it passed.

Some other state passes marriage equality.


Election season yet again as both sides of the justice center fight repeat themselves.

State auditor David Vaudt resigns to take a job as head of the government accounting association, a path that looks like a permanent exit from politics. Terry Branstad appoints Mary Mosiman, who immediately looks like a candidate.

Republicans announce a 2014 caucus date of Saturday 1/25 - which comes as a complete surprise to Democrats who at least expected a heads up. I spend the next several months seething and working the back channels on both sides. 

Liz Mathis finally and definitively takes herself out of the running for the 1st CD.

Maggie Thatcher dies.  Elvis Costello and I spit on the grave; Ian Rubbish's take is probably more interesting.

Question for Hawkeye hoops fans: Would you trade the NIT runner-up, with its five extra games including two at home and two at Madison Square Garden, for a #13 seed and a first round loss in the NCAA?


After the same justice center argument, the same result give or take a point. The lefties and libertarian message carried No to another minority-victory, yet Americans For Prosperity (making their first appearance in this review) was remarkably fast to claim it as a "taxpayer victory" on election night. Also remarkable: the vagueness of the No side's campaign finance reports. Coincidence?

It takes the rest of the year for the county to regroup, and no one expresses any interest in my master plan to move the UI Art Museum to the old courthouse.

Petitions float around Iowa City. The city attorney applies some deft maneuvering to keep red light cameras off the ballot, and more importantly to de-motivate their voters. But the bar owners can't resist giving 21 bar repeal just one more try, and even though I know what's gonna go down as soon as I hear about it, I also know exactly what I'm going to say and do.

The floodgates open on the GOP side of the Senate race. After months of tease, Steve King, in a 9:35 Friday night news dump, opts out. Every second tier GOPer in the state opts in. And with session ending, the Democratic governors race gets moving, with the names Tyler Olson and Jack Hatch popping up.

The name Monica Vernon starts to circulate among Democrats seeking a woman other than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick in the 1st CD. Does that complete the field?

Caucus rumblings start as Rand Paul shows up in town, but Hillary Clinton does not.

Some other state passes marriage equality.


Back to back Supreme Court bombshells, with the evisceration of the meat of the Voting Rights Act buried, seemingly on purpose, the day before the demise of DOMA. That cast a little pall over the celebration. Southern states spent the rest of the summer passing vote suppression laws they'd been itching to enact for decades.

The mass deportation now crowd beats up on a 10 year old kid singing his national anthem for his basketball team. The Spurs respond by inviting him back.

Locally, a legislative seat opens up as the GOPs Sandy Greiner steps down in swingish Senate 39. Republicans rapidly announce; Democrats hold off.

THAT was what I was looking for as Kajtazovic explored (across 20 counties) then joined the 1st CD race. My support was so immediate and enthusiastic that it became a bit of a meme. Inexplicably, another straight old white guy also announced.

After I dismiss Jim Mowrer's chances in the race against Steve King, he calls me up and wins me over. Good move by a good guy, More politicians should try that approach.

Terry Branstad got caught traveling too fast, then compounded the problem in a failed damage control effort that stretched a one day story into a three week flop (I tried hard to extend it). Low point: Autobahn jokes.

Of all the things I've ever written, THIS gets the most traffic? The Johnson County Dems accidentally stumble upon Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis at the Oxford 4th of July parade, I snap a couple (really poor quality) photos, and I get a month's worth of traffic in a day.

False alarm of the year: UI announces Cory Booker as welcome week speaker without realizing that the New Jersey special Senate election has changed his availability. National political twittersphere blows up - IOWA! - for two hours till UI retracts. Despite the suddenly open speaking date for August 29, Hillary Clinton does not come to Iowa.

August was also a bumpy month for the university, beginning with Number One Party School and ending with Vodka Samm. Sounds like an opportunity for the 21 Bar repeal campaign, but they continue to lay low.

As bad a month as Sally Mason had, Kent Sorenson had it worse as The Iowa Republican displayed the smoking guns on his payoff for his last-second caucus flip from Team Bachmann to Big Liberty.

House Democratic caucus change as minority leader Kevin McCarthy resigns to start his 2018 attorney general campaign go to work for Tom Miller. Mark Smith wins the leadership in what was reportedly a close race, while Brian Meyer eventually wins McCarthy's safe House seat for the Dems in the October special election.

Republicans, meanwhile, get crosswise with their base with an effort to push the state convention (which could nominate the Senate candidate) back from June 2014 to July. I use the flap to make the case, in exquisite detail, for getting the two parties to caucus on the same date. It draws far less traffic than Ashton Kutcher. But maybe it helps.

Locally, the school board race is like the weather unusually hot, with shifting Survivor-like alliances, conditional "IF you use your third vote" support, and lesbian-bashing. As for the next election, the city council fields are set. Iowa City gets a clear insider vs. outsider choice and manages to avoid an October primary for the first time in two decades.


The school election turns into the Battle of the Boot. A united West High base elects Coralville's Tuyet Dorau and Chris Lynch, while giving few votes to their "IF you use your third vote" candidate, Sara Barron. The east side vote gets split between a Hoover faction and a City High faction, with Brian Kirschling taking the third seat and incumbent Karla Cook losing. Turnout nearly doubles previous records.

Immediately after the election, board member Jeff McGinness gets in got water over his legal practice. Calls for resignation are difficult to separate from school agendas.
The week of his 80th birthday Chuck Grassley announces, three years ahead of time, that he's running for a seventh term in 2016.

To the amazement of everyone, the Republican state central committee not only moves their 2014 convention back to June, but also does the right thing and coordinates their caucus schedule with the Democrats. Both parties are set for January 21. I sigh in great relief that I don't have to lead a lonely and likely to fail effort to get Dems to move to the GOP's original Saturday date. But that doesn't stop me from ranting "18 is adult" about the 21 bar vote at every opportunity.

Some other state passes marriage equality.


The government goes off line and Obamacare goes on line.  Sort of.

Game over for Kent Sorenson, who keeps his defiant attitude yet resigns. The special election never really gets all that hot as GOP Rep. Julian Garrett defeats ex-Dem Rep. Mark Davitt with relative ease.

I take a break from beating up on Pat Murphy and start in on Hillary Clinton instead, just to prove I'm not sexist or something. I like Hillary. Really I do. I like her so much I want to see her in Iowa.

The fate of the 21 bar vote is cast within a couple hours of the start of the first satellite voting site. Turnout is just high enough to scare the Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students vote, but people who know how to count realize that even though the numbers LOOK big, they're half of the total from previous efforts. Meanwhile, the entire off-campus campaign consists of my editorial.

As for the candidates, you can't cross the street without bumping into a forum. Unless you're Terry Dickens, who skipped out if he didn't like the hosts. Coralville suddenly finds itself with the hottest local election as Americans For Prosperity staffs up, targets incumbents, and reportedly offers large sums to get challenger candidates on board.

Johnson County Dems have a barbecue and four candidates for governor show up. Don't know who the winner is, but the loser is clearly Some Dude Paul Dahl. Just for fun, I go the the Republican barbecue the same weekend where they have five Senate candidates.

Aaron Rodgers gets knocked down and doesn't get back up.


Our top story this month: JFK is still dead.

I find myself backing a winner for the first time all year as Kingsley Botchway earns a council seat. Royceann Porter and Rockne Cole fall short, but the biggest loser is Catherine Champion, who fails to grab the baton in the smooth hand off attempt from Mom.

But it's 21 Bar, not the candidates, that drove Iowa City turnout, as a fifth of the voters and not just students skipped the council races. Team 19 took a brutal beating; I had my "you know, the drinking age is still actually a real issue" postmortem written six days before the election. Still waiting for some serious feedback on that one.

Americans For Prosperity read Coralville completely wrong as an incumbent slate, led by John Lundell moving up from council to mayor, won a solid victory. Joe Biden called Lundell; Hillary Clinton didn't.

And if they can get the church torn down and the foundation poured in two years, the Battle of University Heights may finally be over as the Build It Bigger coalition swept all five seats and defeated three Build It Smaller incumbents.

In the Democratic governor's race, it's becoming clear that Tyler Olson is gaining an edge over Jack Hatch.


Deadline is 58 minutes away. The first two hours were wasted on a trip to Hy-Vee and cooking the purchases. Since all these events are more recent, I'm merely skimming now.

Some other state passes marriage equality.

Two more campaign bombshells. Out of nowhere Tyler Olson announces that his wife wants a divorce. He first suspends the campaign then ends it. There is no great rush by Olson supporters to endorse Jack Hatch. Instead, names like Janet Peterson start coming up.

Probably even more important, Tom Latham announces (on the same day as two other senior congressional Republicans) that he's not seeking re-election. The line for the GOP nomination forms on the right. There is no great rush to endorse Democrat Staci Appel. We're not done with the aftershocks of this one, let alone the fallout.

Aaron Rodgers gets back up in the best way possible.

Some other state passes marriage equality.

I mark a major personal anniversary, a birthday with an age ending in zero. I celebrate by permanently retiring "too old to be cool too young not to care," as at 50 I am now to old to care.

As always the Deeth Blog New Year's Resolution is to spell-check before I publish, and looking back over these posts it's clear I broke it again last year.

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