Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Second Choice

Sometimes you write, and you reach your intended audience. Sometimes you don't.

Last Friday, the last time I wrote something longer than a tweet, I offered some background on the local zoning fight in the Newport Road area, and the vitriol that faux-environmentalists have launched at incumbent Janelle Rettig.

My key point in that whole discussion:
Is it fair to evaluate a candidate by the behavior of the supporters?  If the candidate accepts the support, repeats the mantra of the key code words, shares and retweets and says nothing when the supporters cross the line, they accept a share of the responsibility for the content.

How big a share? Does this make a vote for the candidate an endorsement of the supporters, the tactics, and the rhetoric?

Mike Carberry is a better person that the attacks his supporters are launching at Rettig. He's a strong enough candidate without those attacks. He's a big-picture enough environmentalist that he shouldn't need to depend on small picture messages from this small segment of his supporters. Sure, he can accept the votes. But it's time to reject the over the top rhetoric.
That section had an intended audience of one: the candidate. And I know he read it because he told me so.

I've noticed that most of the letters in support of Janelle Rettig have been about Janelle Rettig. And most of the letters for Mike Carberry have been about... Janelle Rettig. Carberry had been a little too willing to uncritically pass along some of the nastier attacks.

So my hope was that Mike would distance himself from some of the harsher attacks and focus on his own case. Unlike some of his narrow niche supporters , Mike is the real thing. Yet he's been too eager to embrace the vilification spewing from a tiny handful of self-interested neighbors.

Wednesday. there was another letter attacking Rettig from Laurie Tulchin, the single most adamant member of the narrow-interest Newport Roaders. It also took some cheap shots at former House candidate Dick Schwab and unsuccessful supervisor candidate Terry Dahms. There's a tacked-on conclusion urging a vote for Mike.

Mike had an opportunity to let this letter speak for itself without endorsing it by sharing it further. He didn't take that opportunity.
Friday I asked: "Is the most effective tool to denounce the tactics a vote for a different candidate? I don't want to vote against Mike Carberry. But I'd sure like to find a way to vote against some of his supporters."

Sure, Mike has some good supporters, and many are also supporting Janelle.

But I'm voting against Laurie Tulchin. And Jim Glasgow. And Jutta Rubright. And most of all Tom Carsner.

I'm voting for Lisa Green-Douglass.

I'm voting for Lisa on her own merits, not just to Vote Against. She brings a different perspective to the Board table, a different kind of experience: training, education and outreach. She's smart and deeply involved in the community. The party activists don't know her as well as they know Carberry, an immediate past party chair. Lisa took some time away from the partisan stuff when her children were young, but she's back now.

Lisa Green-Douglass knows all about urban sprawl. She used to live way out in the country, but fast-growing north Liberty - an area not represented on the board in a long time - is rapidly approaching her door. She was also brave enough not to kowtow to the single-interest Newport Road group when she met with them. (They appear set on wasting their second vote on no chance, no clue Diane Dunlap, who parroted a couple of their buzz words at her dismal debate performances.)

There's another thing here and maybe I shouldn't say this but I'll include myself:

Diversity matters. Other factors, skill and experience, can make up for it. But all other things being equal, men of my generation, of Pat Murphy's generation, us 50something straight white guys, need to think long and hard about setting aside our own personal ambition until the gender playing field is more level. That line of thought seems to bother Mike Carberry.

I'm a proud partisan. A "hack" I've been called a lot lately. (Still wondering in what possible universe I'm "the establishment.") It's a badge I wear with pride. Party hacks built FDR's America. I believe that political parties are a valuable institution of democracy. I've found them to be a meritocracy; if you have a skill set and are willing to work hard, you get taken seriously. And increasingly in our polarized age they MEAN something. The Democrats aren't perfect, but they definitely stand for something different than the Republicans and to argue otherwise just shows you aren't paying attention.

I also believe that when you buy into a primary process, as a candidate or as a voter, you buy into the outcome. There was one time I couldn't support the ticket, and the biggest regret of my adult political life is that I didn't resign my party post because of it. (But I didn't write editorials bashing the nominee I didn't support, either.)

If Mike Carberry is nominated, I'll gladly support him. But I expect the same from him and I expect him to get his supporters to do the same, for Lisa or Janelle or, should he lose, both. I expect the same from perennial candidate David Johnson in House 73 should he lose to Dennis Boedeker. The Republicans have the right to expect the same of their candidates.

That will be challenging for Carberry, probably too challenging. His willingness to embrace the worst of the rhetoric makes me wonder how hard he'll try - as long as HE holds those votes. The Newport Road mafia - where have I heard that word lately? -  has directly cost the Democrats two key elections. Dick Schwab and Terry Dahms should be running for re-election right now. I think they're willing to scuttle yet another race, and a divided local party in the most Democratic county in the state has statewide, even national implications.

So I think Lisa and Janelle, together, are the strongest possible ticket to work together to beat the one real anti-environmentalist in the race, the Republican.  And they're the strongest ticket to work together as supervisors the next four years.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Big Picture Environmentalists

What's a "progressive" in local politics anymore? I'm not sure which argument in the Johnson County primary is more insane: calling Janet Lyness a "conservative" or Janelle Rettig "anti-bike."

Increasingly, a small faction in local politics is defining "progressive" narrowly, in terms of single issues or even single votes. The coalition is loose and ever-shifting but there's a few key players at the core.

Their actual numbers are small. Their motivations vary: sincere impracticality, personal grudges over past legal woes or primary losses, rigid old-left ideology, desires for jobs or other personal benefits. They have more in common with the narrow mind of the fundamentalist than the open mind of a "progressive." Far too often they resort to below the belt personal attacks, against the candidates they hate AND their supporters.

Alone, they have the power to achieve nothing. They can only win in alliance with others: conservatives or libertarians, or liberals who are misled by the code words.

The narrow-focus "progressives" apply tests of absolute purity on their pet issues, to the point where it makes it hard for people who partially agree to work with them, and sometimes to the point where they damage their own candidates.

Sadly, some of them seem to have lost their way, lost touch with bigger picture values in their single-minded focus on narrow issues. More than one campaign has been deliberately scuttled by once prominent Democrats offering aid and comfort to Republicans, sometimes just out of sheer spite.

There's a few different single issues in this faction. We've seen this dynamic in the justice center votes and the current county attorney race, where the naysayers demand drug legalization by nullification rather than legislation, and are backing a grossly under-qualified candidate over a single issue.

But nowhere in our local politics is it more visible than in the decade-long fight over development in the Newport Road area.

To hear the neighbors and their handful of single issue urban allies talk, this is a pure and noble effort to "preserve farmland." The immediate neighbors rote repeat a few environmental buzzwords and shaky stats spoon-fed to them by some urban allies.

Eight years ago, when Larry Meyers knocked off Mike Lehman in the supervisor primary, this felt more like a big picture environmental fight. But as the years have passed, the surface, the real agenda has emerged.

If this was about "preserving farmland" they'd be fighting for the pancake plains south of town, towards Hills and Lone Tree, far better farm ground than the hilly and woody and chopped up Newport Road area. That's the overwhelming majority of the farm land, and that's what current plans protect.

The Newport neighbors always a have reason to build somewhere else: other residential zoned lots for which there's no demand, spots closer to town, ag land in other parts of the county... anywhere but here. Their oft-cited hundreds of unbuilt residential zoned lots includes places with one house on two or three lots where the owner simply wants a bigger lot. It includes people who won't sell at any price, at least in this generation. It includes non-buildable out lots and even septic fields.

No, this is about preserving farmland in this one neighborhood. They've found a little paradise that feels like it's in the middle of nowhere yet is minutes from mid-town, and they want to keep it for themselves.

At least for now. Till they change their minds. After everything else is built out, their land values will skyrocket, and then they can really cash in. (Look at the family names of the richest developers in the county. Almost all have one thing in common: an origin in family farms close to the city limits.)

That's how things have played out with the Dooley property, the current ground zero of this fight. The late Mike Dooley was one of the most adamant stop-growth people. Then he died, under sad circumstances, and for whatever reason his wife decided to liquidate the farm.

That's how land use used to work in this county, back in the 90s, back before the first comprehensive plan of 1998. The back 40 was the farmer's 401K, and you got to cash it in based on which supervisors you were friends with. I was taking minutes in those dark ages, and major zoning battles were a nearly monthly event, with development leapfrogging across the county.

Every so often, rural neighbors and urban land use activists raised enough fuss that the supervisors said no. On one occasion the county got sued: the developer met the guidelines but was told no on the grounds of "we don't like it." The county lost and the developer built about twice as many houses as he would have under the rejected plan.

Therefore, the comprehensive plan. You set rules, you follow them, the process is more fair. And the rules say the targeted area for development is the North Corridor, where the demand is high and the Corn Suitability Rating - that's zoning speak for prime farmland - is low. The rules also say development should be clustered, to consolidate services.

That's what Dooley's widow has pursued, under a "conservation subdivision" ordinance. She followed the rules as laid out. The process should be automatic. But it's political.

Could the land use plan use some tweaks? Sure, but you need a big-picture progressive Board majority to do that.  But in recent years, the Newport neighbors have been willing to support any candidate, no matter how brown, who would vote "right" on their narrow interest items.

The Dooley rezoning landed right during the March 2013 special supervisor election. Democrat Terry Dahms, in the middle of the campaign, had to deal with it as zoning commission chair, and also had to deal with disgruntled Democrats aligned with the narrow focus faction who were upset that their candidate hadn't been nominated. Republican John Etheredge, who campaigned on a "property rights" platform elsewhere, made a glaring and opportunistic exception when it came to Mrs. Dooley's rights.

Almost as soon as the Dooley zoning was approved on a 4-1 vote, with newly sworn-in Etheredge the no, the coalition vowed to "knock off" Janelle Rettig.

I've been clear from the beginning of this race, before the field was set, that Janelle had earned my first vote. Leader of the conservation bond in 2008? Service on state environmental boards? 30 years of public life with the environment as her biggest focus? Great credentials.

But to the small picture gang on Newport Road it doesn't matter. She voted "wrong" on ONE zoning.

The Rettig loathing has jumped the shark with R.E. Butler's editorial that called the godmother of the county trails system "an enemy of cyclists." Butler followed up this week with a message to members of Bicyclists of Iowa City that, along with some contemptible attacks on the Dooleys that I won't repeat, claims: 
Rettig and some of her colleagues want to claim all (sic) the farmland along Newport Road for housing development, similar to what has been done between Coralville and North Liberty... The urban sprawl into the Northeast Corridor would mean the loss of the pastoral nature of Newport Road and its loss as a prime bike route; Black Diamond and the Welsh Church Rd will follow without action by the citizenry. We urge you to vote for Carberry and against Rettig and Greenwood (sic). 

I guarantee no one is going to vote for "Greenwood," because there's no one by that name on the ballot. It's telling, though, that this group is sputtering with so much rage that they can't even slow down for a quick look at a sample ballot.

Or perhaps they think Lisa Green-Douglass is Voldemort: She Who Must Not Be Named. Green-Douglass has been a secondary target on some of the attacks, and supposedly "doesn't want to preserve farm land." Which is laughable as her land is directly in the path of North Liberty. To paraphrase Tina Fey paraphrasing Sarah Palin: I can see urban sprawl from my house.

It's not clear what the Newport gang will do with their second vote: skip it entirely, or waste it on Diane Dunlap, the Some Dude candidate in this race, who's parroted a couple of their lines but is clearly in over her head. But their priority is clear: punish Rettig for daring to defy them.

Is it fair to evaluate a candidate by the behavior of the supporters?  Some of Carberry's backers do him more harm than good. If anything, John Zimmerman's supporters have been even worse. One hijacked Janet Lyness' domain name and filled a site with scatological "humor."  When the same person pulled the same stunt in 2012 with an anti-Tom Slockett site, Travis Weipert rightly denounced it. But he still got blamed and still lost votes. Zimmerman? Not a peep of protest from him.

If the candidate accepts the support, repeats the mantra of the key code words, shares and retweets and says nothing when the supporters cross the line, they accept a share of the responsibility for the content.

How big a share? Does this make a vote for the candidate an endorsement of the supporters, the tactics, and the rhetoric? Is the most effective tool to denounce the tactics a vote for a different candidate? I don't want to vote against Mike Carberry. But I'd sure like to find a way to vote against some of his supporters.

This is a primary election. Democrats are choosing which two of the three serious candidates will be the best ticket for the party in the fall. If you buy into a primary process, you buy into the outcome. You don't look for a do-over in November. Carberry has at least talked the talk, pledging to support the primary winners at a March Democratic Party meeting, as did Rettig and Green-Douglass (and Lyness and Zimmerman). But some of Carberry's key supporters have a poor track record on backing the ticket in recent years.

As a former party chair, Mike Carberry knows that whichever two Democrats get through this race, they'll have to find a way to work together, as candidates and as supervisors. The real anti-environmentalist on the ballot is the Republican, Etheredge, who even voted against an Earth Day resolution because it dared to suggest that climate change is real.

I've known Mike Carberry a long time. He is a better person that the attacks his supporters are launching at Rettig. He's a strong enough candidate without those attacks. He's a big-picture enough environmentalist that he shouldn't need to depend on small picture messages from this small segment of his supporters. Sure, he can accept the votes. But it's time to reject the over the top rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the nature of this narrow-interest group is such that the likely outcome of this post will be to put me in their crosshairs. Which is fine. I've been there enough this election, and like "Greenwood", I'm not on the ballot. But that also means I'm irrelevant. Mike and Lisa and Janelle are relevant.

Mike Carberry needs to find a way in the primary's final days to distance himself from the personal and inaccurate attacks. That'll be challenging, as some of the harshest attackers are his biggest donors. He needs to prove that, should he prevail, he can move forward to the fall on a ticket with either Rettig or Green-Douglass. And he needs to show that he can get his supporters on board with either Lisa or Janelle, or both should he lose. Any of the three are far better big-picture environmentalists than Etheredge.

And environmentalism is much more than one vote.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Campaign Finance Reports

It's deadline day for campaign finance reports and a rare opportunity for Pure Objective Journalism: How much raised, how much spent, who gave.

Local Legislative Races

Senate 39, left open by Republican Sandy Greiner's retirement, is the only legislative race in the state with primaries in both parties. Half the district is in Johnson County, and the other half is Keokuk County and most of Washington County.

Democrat Kevin Kinney started from zero and raised a formidable $20,165 by May 15, to top all local candidates in contested races. He spent $9082 leaving $11,083. Primary rival Rich Gilmore started the year with $2,524.07 and raised just $350. Gilmore spent $1,133.86 leaving $1,740.21.

On the Republican side Michael Moore narrowly leads the fundraising. He started the year with $3,785.77 and raised another $5,270.00 for $9,055.77 in all. Moore spent $3,379.18 leaving $5,676.59. Bob Anderson is close behind, starting the period with $3,375.00 and raising another $5,089.00 for a total of $8,464.00. He spent $7,411.58 leaving $1,052.42 on hand.

Without quantifying it all, looks like a friends and neighbors contest, with Moore's donations mainly from Washington County and Anderson drawing support from Johnson.

This leaves the other Johnson County candidate, Royce Phillips, a bit of the odd man out.  Phillips had $516.67 in January and raised another $1,935.00 - more than half that, $1000, from one donor, Marvel Titone of Oxford. Phillips spent $1,571.81 leaving $879.86. But there's also $2,817.38 in outstanding bills and $2,119.73 in in-kind donations.

In the House 73 Democratic primary, late starter Dennis Boedeker kicked in $1100 personally and spent $570.70 leaving $529.30. Four time candidate David Johnson, who has been running almost non-stop since the map came out three years ago, started the year with $4,362. He raised $1,942.55 and spent $3,099.59, leaving $3,204.97.

The winner of the Democratic primary faces freshman Republican Bobby Kaufmann, who hadn't filed as of noon but had $20,001 in the bank in January.

County Attorney

Incumbent Janet Lyness began the year with $1,197.23 and raised $11,890.18, for a total of $13,087.41. She spent $3,647.13 leaving $9,440.28 (but $4,089.45 goes to bills yet to be paid). Donors include a who's who of elected officials and attorneys.

Challenger John Zimmerman raised $4703 including $505 of his own money. $3,674.68 of that is spent, leaving $1,032.55. There's also another $3,648.73 in in-kind donations, $2180 of that from the candidate himself for Facebook ads.

The only elected official who shows up on Zimmerman's list is Jim Throgmorton, who also gave to Lyness. House 73 candidate David Johnson kicked in $50.


It's harder to ferret out who's backing who in a vote for two race with three serious candidates and a Survivor Island, who are you voting AGAINST dynamic. There's a lot of "polite" contributions from elected official types at small dollar events early in the year. Sometimes that even included opponents. I couldn't find anyone who gave to all three, but I won't be surprised if later on I do.

Incumbent Janelle Rettig started the year with $5,550.34 in the bank and raised another $8,101.05 for a total of $13,651.39. Team Teal spent $7,875.56 leaving $5,775.83 on hand.

Mike Carberry started the year with $1,788.89 on hand, raised $7,382 from January to May, and spent $8,057.33, leaving $1,113.56 on hand.

Lisa Green-Douglass started the year with $105 and raised $3,435.00 plus a $350 loan. She spent $2979 leaving $910 on hand.

I said there were three SERIOUS candidates in the Democratic primary. The fourth, Diane Dunlap, raised just 75 bucks in two contributions and spent $290 on her (non-union) yard signs, leaving her $215 in the hole. Technically, she didn't even need to file, and it might have been less embarrassing if she hadn't.

The top two will face John Etheredge, assured of re-nomination as the only Republican on the ballot. (The party could nominate a second candidate at a convention, and independents can file in August.) He has $889 in the bank to start the fall campaign.

Upcoming Events: May 19-26

Simple math: 2 (a Monica Vernon "Special Campaign Announcement" at 10:30 today in Cedar Rapids) + 2 (with special guest Liz Mathis1) = an 11 letter word beginning with E. Mathis, who was begged to run but declines, was expected to stay neutral.

By day's end, campaign finance reports are due. Started writing that already; how soon I get done depends on how soon the last candidate does.

Joni Ernst and the Squeal Mobile - like a Votemobile only with guns and castration - will be at at Caffe Crema, 411 2nd Street, Coralville 10:15 -11:00 AM Tuesday.

The final supervisor forum is Tuesday night at 7 at the Iowa City library. A collection of environmental groups is hosting; is it a Newport Road ambush? 

If you want an old fashioned volunteer evening, Janelle Rettig is stuffing envelopes, also at the Iowa City library.

As noted earlier, law changes late in the legislative session moved the pre-registration deadline up one day to this Friday, and auditor's offices will NOT be open this Saturday. (The next weekend, they will.)

We've got more satellite voting this week: Broadway on Wednesday afternoon and the Farmer's Market Saturday morning. 

And If you're up before dawn Saturday, you might see a monster meteor shower. Hard to predict mega-meteors, but Earth will be passing through a great number of dusty trails left behind in space by a small comet (P/209 LINEAR). "This unusual cosmic interaction might result in an amazing, albeit brief, display of meteors, popularly known as "shooting stars." There could be many dozens, or even hundreds, of meteors per hour, experts say."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

JCDems Hall of Fame Honors Six

Loebsack Endorses Lyness

The story was stepped on a bit by Bernie Sanders' visit to Clinton County, but Johnson County Democrats had their own big event last night as a crowd of 150 inducted six new members into the county party's Hall of Fame.

The biggest actual news came from Dave Loebsack. "I don't usually get involved in primaries," said the congressman, "but we need to keep Janet Lyness as our county attorney." Lyness, who was on hand, is in a noisy primary battle with John Zimmerman, who was not.

Hall of Fame night is about the inductees and the history. The names most non-Johnson County folks would recognize were David Osterberg and Joe Johnston.

Osterberg is the first Hall of Famer who's not actually FROM Johnson County. He lives in Mt. Vernon in Linn County, but the Cornell College town has sort of honorary People's Republic status and Osterberg's district included our northern tier.

After his legislative retirement in 1994, Osterberg took on the tough job of challenging Chuck Grassley in 1998 and founded the Iowa Policy Project, the state's liberal think tank. In a feisty speech Osterberg attacked Republican climate change deniers: "Facts Matter. Research Matters. Knowledge Matters."

Johnston also served in the legislature and challenged Cooper Evans for Congress in 1984. Johnston drew plenty of laughs with his self-deprecating style, and a few tears as Randy Larson described Johnston's near fatal heart attack a couple years ago. Johnston joked away the near-death experience. "I didn't see a bright light, but I saw some flames and got really hot so I thought I better go back."

"I was elected because I was too conservative and voted out because I was too liberal," Johnston said of his Vietnam era legislative service. He also credited past Hall of Famers, now departed, for educating him: "Bob Burns taught me how to be a politician, Minnette Doderer taught me how to be a legislator."

Looking at modern politics, Johnson said, "There was not the passionate partisanship in those days that there is now, I really hate to see it."

Two local labor Democrats were honored. Unfortunately the award to IBEW member Dennis Ryan was posthumous, because the always feisty Ryan would have given a memorable speech.

Iowa City Federation of Labor president Patrick Hughes was also honored. Pat has been in ill health and wasn't feeling well enough to stay to the end of the program, but was honored by Royce Peterson and Jesse Case.

Former county supervisor Carol Thompson, who served 1999-2004 and had a long human services career before that, took her turn to encourage women to run for local office. "With citizen government the group is always greater than the sum of its parts, and I know there are other women who can do it - it's the foundation for higher office."

Honoree Pat Cancilla was former co-chair of the League of Women Voters but, in a twist reminiscent of Julia Sweeney's "It's Pat" sketch, is male. "It takes a real man to join the League of Women Voters," joked Joe Bolkcom.

Two statewide candidates also spoke. There was a little grumbling about the length of the Jack Hatch speech on a night meant for the inductees, but Hatch told tales I hadn't heard before about his childhood struggle with dyslexia, tying it into the importance of funding pre-school.

Sherrie Taha, candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, said all the right things for a liberal Johnson County crowd but was hardly a spellbinder. Democrats have lost this office with "greener" contenders like Denise O'Brien and Francis Thicke, and won with people with farm roots: Dale Cochran and Patty Judge.

Plenty of the current generation of elected officials and candidates were on hand 17 days before the primary. In addition to Lyness we saw the three leading supervisor candidates, incumbent Janelle Rettig and challengers Mike Carberry and Lisa Green-Douglass. (The fourth candidate, Diane Dunlap, was not on hand, not a surprise since she had never once been sighted at a political event.) Also on hand from the courthouse were unopposed recorder Kim Painter and off-cycle officials Travis Weipert, Terrence Neuzil and Rod Sullivan, the evening's emcee and the main organizer of the event.

From the legislature, Bolkcom, Dave Jacoby, Sally Stutsman and Vicki Lensing were in attendance, along with candidates David Johnson and Kevin Kinney.

And in the night's oddest appearance, Davenport Senator Joe Seng showed up; it seems he's an old friend of Johnston's. In case you're wondering, Seng was seated FAR away from Dave Loebsack.

Week In Review: May 11-18

Early voting is running hot in Johnson County. As of Friday afternoon we had 1107 ballots requested (920 D 187 R) and 975 returned (837 D 138 R).  And that's even before today's debut of the Votemobile at 1st Avenue HyVee.

Democrats are running way ahead of the pace set in 2006, the record turnout primary for Dems. (The Republican and overall record is 1994, the famous "Gopher Primary" where Fred Grandy almost beat Terry Branstad.)

The in-person traffic has been overwhelmingly Democratic, but Republican mailed requests ticked up this week thanks to a mailing, reportedly from Senate candidate Mark Jacobs.

But it was Joni Ernst who got the Des Moines Register endorsement last night. Whether that helps or hurts in a Republican primary is hard to say. Lots of endorsing flying around this week. Ernst also picked up the NRA, Jacobs got Ag secretary Bill Northey, and Sam Clovis gets the not from the famIlyleader himself, Bob Vander Plaats. This leaves Matt Whitaker as the odd man out.

It was Bike To Work Week and Joe Bolkcom on the bike was a narrow winner over Jim Throgmorton on the bus. In the car, GOP supervisor John Etheredge was third - an omen for the fall when the top two get elected?

Speaking of the bus, Bruce Braley was touring and touting his work on school bus safety legislation. Which, all us 70s kids remember, was the subject of the original Bill of "I'm Just A Bill" fame. Bill's full text: "School bus must stop at railroad crossing.

Congrats to all the UI's graduates. And good luck to Dave Panther and the crew at the Hamburg Inn. Fire damage last night at the iconic diner, home to countless political events and the famous Pie Shake.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Campaign With A Target Of One

Bernie Sanders is coming to Clinton County this week. That's a rare Iowa appearance by a leading sorta Democrat.

On the other hand, the Register's Jennifer Jacobs notes that Rand Paul has called at least one Republican county chair recently.
Has Hillary Clinton been calling county chairs in Iowa? Anyone? Anyone?

That kind of heavy top-level Republican presence is giving Iowa Republicans an organizational and motivational boost as we move into the 2014 - and 2016 - election cycles.

Oh, sure, we have the omnipresence of Ready For Hillary. But caucus Democrats aren't satisfied with staffers and surrogates. We expect the real thing.

So what is the deal with Ready For Hillary Anyway? Matt Bai has a theory:
So all of this Hillary machinery in Washington — four Washington super PACs and counting — really isn't coming together because Clinton gave the sign. It's happening because Washington insiders are trying to persuade their only towering candidate that the race would not only be winnable, but also relatively painless. That's the only way they can be reasonably sure that Clinton will enter the race — if she thinks the party has already essentially anointed her and that the only thing that could be standing between her and the presidency is Jeb Bush's giant head.

This is why operatives get so agitated when you say the primary field can't actually be cleared (because this is 2014, not 1868), or when you remind people that Clinton isn't actually the most charismatic retail candidate who ever lived. It's not the voters they're worried about; it's Clinton herself. They don't want anything to cloud their message that the White House is hers for the taking, if only she'll say yes.
Add to that Clinton's disdain for unscripted moments, especially with the press, and unwillingness to "swing down" and engage potential opponents, and none of this bodes well for the future of the Iowa caucuses.

But set aside my Iowa parochialism for a moment. I've got some substantive concerns with a Clinton candidacy. These were best summed up by Herself in a recent DC speech:
On Wednesday, she defended — through hawkish language — ongoing international talks with Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, an unpopular position among American foreign policy hawks.

“I personally am skeptical that Iranians will follow through and deliver,” she said. “I’ve seen many false hopes dashed over the years. But nonetheless, [talks are] a promising development. We need to test it to see what can be achieved. This is the time to give diplomacy space to work. If it does not, there will be opportunities in place for additional sanctions in the future, with the important requirement that the international support necessary to ensure enforcement will be forthcoming.”

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” she said, to applause. “From my perspective, we cannot and should not accept any agreement that endangers Israel or our own national security.”

Clinton’s speech also came in the wake of the collapse of the latest round of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

But instead of dwelling much on any missteps the Israelis might have made, she talked about the “hard choices” that will be required to reach a peace deal between the two parties, and talking more generally about the need to help leaders “carve out political space to negotiate with each other.”

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waver,” Clinton said, adding with a smile: “That is not a hard choice.”
Would be nice to ask some follow up questions at an Iowa town hall, wouldn't it? Any way she can route the book tour through Prairie Lights?

Key Lyness Backers Undercut Zimmerman Case

A couple local leaders are undercutting the argument by county attorney challenger John Zimmerman that the ONLY way to fight the drug war is the prosecutorial equivalent of jury nullification: just don't enforce laws you don't like.

Sure, they're both elected officials, which in Zimmerman World makes them part of the "wealthy local establishment." But as someone who's actually campaigned outside the progressive protective bubble of Iowa City, I'll tell you it's easy to forget just how liberal some of our elected officials are.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan endorsed incumbent Janet Lyness some time ago. This week in his newsletter he questions the "logic" of Zimmerman supporters that Lyness and her office should be the point of attack:
If the group that supports Mr. Zimmerman really got focused, they could easily tip the balance in local races. In a typical year, 3,000 votes will get a person a seat on the Iowa City Council. 2,000 votes used to get you a seat on the ICCSD Board; it might require 3,000 now. 800 votes will usually get it done in Coralville. Only 500 votes are necessary in North Liberty.
Let’s say you are concerned about racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Let’s say you want to change the way police deal with small amounts of pot. Does it make more sense to take on the most liberal County Attorney in Iowa, in a Democratic Party primary, or to try to win a couple Council seats?
Last year's city election was a positive step forward with Kingsley Botchway replacing Connie Champion. And 2015 is a big opportunity. Rick Dobyns lost once before he won, Michelle Payne barely won, and Matt Hayek is leaving. It's not too soon to think ahead...
Further undercutting the drug war focus of the Zimemrman campaign, the state's leading legalization advocate came out for Lyness yesterday. Senator Joe Bolkcom spent the end of the session dragging a kicking and screaming legislature over the line to pass a very limited cannabis oil bill that had been declared dead on arrival early in the session. Bolkcom writes:
The county attorney is the county’s top lawyer. This person advises the Board of Supervisors on every contract the county enters into. This includes 28E agreements with other local governments, right of way acquisition for road improvements, capital projects and labor agreements to name a few. The county attorney also advises the supervisors about open government issues, land-use decisions and any dispute a citizen has with Johnson County.

The debate surrounding the campaign thus far has focused on whether marijuana laws should be enforced. The obvious failure of the war on drugs is a central issue in this discussion.

I share people’s frustration with draconian federal and state marijuana laws that have ruined too many families and are costly for taxpayers. These policies have been unfairly applied in the appalling tradition of Jim Crow. Ending this immoral, expensive war and creating sensible marijuana policies will take us all working together. The responsibility for action rests with our congressman, governor, state legislators, mayors, city council members, city managers, police chiefs, county supervisors, sheriff, county attorney and the public.
Unfortunately, crimes are committed by people with real substance abuse and mental health issues. They need our help.

Janet Lyness has been instrumental in establishing a successful drug treatment court and family court that works with families and individuals to help them get back on their feet and succeed. She deserves to be re-elected.
And in another bad omen for Team Zimmerman, weed-themed sub shop Cheba Hut closed this week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Labor's Contested Primary Picks

This isn't writing as much as it's reformatting. Blog For Iowa has a good overview of labor's endorsements for the June 3 primary across the state. It's organized by central labor body and includes courthouse races (like Iowa City Federation of Labor's support for Janelle Rettig and Janet Lyness). I've reshuffled it by district, tossed out the unopposed folks, and focused in on just the contested races.

THE legislative primary this cycle is in open Senate District 17 in the heart of Des Moines. Three big forces are backing three different candidates. Labor is sticking with Tony Bisignano, whose candidacy was challenged by Ned Chiodo over Tony's past legal woes. Tom Harkin has endorsed Chiodo, while Attorney General Tom MIller has endorsed his won staffer, Nathan Blake. The survivor is a sure thing in the safe seat Jack Hatch is leaving. There's not a Republican in the race yet.

Ottumwa-based Senate 41 is one of the best bets for a Democratic gain. Labor endorsed county supervisor Steve Siegel former Ottumwa superintendent Tom Rubel. The primary winner is a favorite over GOP incumbent Mark "Chickenman" Chelgren, a ten vote fluke winner in2010.

In Senate District 7 labor endorsed Jim France over Maria Rundquist in Sioux City. The winner takes on Republican freshman Rick Bertrand in a top tier race.

In Ames-based Senate District 23, labor is staying with incumbent Herman Quirmbach over serious challenger Cynthia Oppedal Paschen. Republicans are making an active effort with ex-city council member Jeremy Davis.

Labor is also sticking with the two other incumbents with primaries: Wally Horn in Cedar Rapids district 35 and Joe Seng in district 45 in Davenport. Both their challengers are nuisance Some Dudes who've run prior races as Republicans.

The only contested Democratic senate primary with no labor endorsement is District 39, where Republican Sandy Greiner is retiring. Kevin Kinney, a Clear Creek Amana school board member and deputy sheriff, is a favorite over Washing County party activist Rich Gilmore. Republicans have a three way primary; this is the only seat in the state with primaries in both parties.

The other primary that covers part of Johnson County is in House 73, where labor made no pick between Dennis Boedeker, an ex-Cedar County supervisor, and four time candidate David Johnson.

Labor also took a pass on open House 99, the Pat Murphy set in Dubuque. Contenders there are Abby Finkenauer and Steve Drahozal (a one-time Libertarian candidate here in Johnson County in 2000).

In another seat opened up by the 1st CD race, labor is supporting Timi Brown-Powers  to replace Anesa Kajtazovic. The other two Dems are Andrew Miller and Brad Condon.

Cedar Rapids school board member Gary Anhalt got the union endorsement over Liz Bennett in House 65, the open Tyler Olson seat.

Jay Saxon got the endorsement in open House 97, a swing seat where Republican Steve Olson is retiring. The other Democrat is Carl Boehl of LeClaire.

And two challenger races: Kim Robinson of Clive is endorsed over Nicholas Dreeszen of West Des Moines (for now; heard rumors he district-shopped and not just in Polk) for the right to face Chris Hagenow. And in Boone-centered House 47, now held by Republican Chip Baltimore, Hans Erickson is endorsed over Mark Trueblood.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Human Error Isn't Voter Fraud

So Matt Schultz sent out a big press release and report on office letterhead yesterday "proving" that he's cracked the case on Iowa's Massive Voter Fraud Crisis, which isn't really what he did at all.

The timing is rather suspicious, coming as it does less than a month before Schultz's six-way congressional primary and shortly after the outgoing - outgoing! ☺secretary of state drew heavy negative publicity for keeping ex-staffers on the payroll in no-show jobs. Call this report what it is: candy for the GOP base that Schultz needs on primary day.

The biggest "problem" Schultz found was people registering, and sometimes voting, when their rights had not been restored after a felony conviction. Technically true. But everyone needs to remember: the policy on rights restoration changed and changed again. Tom Vilsack made it automatic and retroactive. Chet Culver's policy was ask, and then automatic. But Terry Branstad made rights restoration so difficult as to be nearly impossible, and it was literally the first thing he did upon his return to office.

The confusion is part of the point: people were wrongly turned away, as well. And there's no way to tell how many eligible people have been scared away from voting or even trying because of this crusade. In marginalized populations, read: poor and minority, read: heavily Democratic, there's already the fear that The System is out to get you, so why take the chance.

Johnson County got singled out on a couple items, and those are worth a look. The report states that one case was turned over to Johnson County. County attorney Janet Lyness said she had been approached by the investigator about 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.")

The report also indicates that the People's Republic had 148 "Election day registration cases in which the voter’s address could not be confirmed in accordance with state law," by far the most in the state. Obviously, a bunch of Those People From Chicago If You Know What I Mean came over and stuffed the ballot box, just like they must have for Obama in the 2008 caucuses, right?

Well, no. There are also high numbers in the other college counties. Black Hawk and Story. Let me walk you through the typical election day registration and the followup process.

Joe College shows up to vote but isn't registered. He needs to produce proof of address - utility bill, lease, etc. - AND a photo ID. (Also lost in the discussion: Schultz's photo ID cure all would not have prevented ANY of the problems he cites in the report. Especially not election day registrations because they're ALREADY SHOWING ID in almost all cases. There are a few circumstances where someone else living in the precinct can vouch for you but those are rare.)

Polly Pollworker types Joe College's data onto the computer. Polly has a long and very busy day and there's a big line behind Joe College. Some of the data fields are mandatory, like lot and street. Some aren't, like apartment. Joe and Polly are both in a hurry. Joe, like more and more people these days, leaves off his phone number.

Polly prints a sticker with Joe's info, sticks it on a voter form, Joe signs it. He votes, probably for the first time, and is all happy about it.

A few voters down the line, here comes Phil Paranoid. He doesn't want to register ahead of time because he hates getting mail. He doesn't want to give his address and offers a post office box. Polly correctly tells Phil that she needs his street address to make sure he's at the right precinct. Phil reluctantly provides ID and proof of his street address, adjusts his tinfoil hat, and grouchily goes to vote.

Now the election is over. Polly Pollworker brings back her mountain of voter registrations. 56 other Pollys do the same, 98 other counties of Pollys do the same. The registrations get checked out and the voter cards get mailed.

Joe's card comes back to the office, returned as undeliverable. The staff recognizes the address: a high-rise, student oriented apartment complex. There's no apartment number. Either he didn't give that to Polly, or Polly didn't type it in.

Look up the scanned form to see if we call call him? No phone number. Check him out on the UI student directory? He's got Mom and Dad's address listed, and again no phone number. Phil's card comes back too. We have no idea why, not knowing about his post office box. Of COURSE Phil's phone is unlisted.

At this point we're legally obligated to send Joe and Phil letters saying their addresses didn't check out. Yes, we send a letter to the same bad addresses that just got returned to us. Even sending it Special D won't help.

So when you're looking at a statistic on "Election day registration cases in which the voter’s address could not be confirmed in accordance with state law," this is the kind of stuff you're looking at. Simple human error by well-meaning people, not "fraud." In any operation involving thousands of temporary employees and millions of people needing service, many of whom only use the service once every few years or for the very first time, mistakes happen despite everyone's best intentions.

Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate to replace Schultz, says it better than I can:

"Matt Schultz has spent three years and a quarter of a million dollars trying to prove Iowans are cheaters, and as a result found isolated cases in the midst of millions of votes that have been cast since he took office. Throughout this investigation, Secretary Schultz has turned a blind eye to mismanagement in his own office, including ghost employees who spent months on his payroll without doing any real work. Our time and tax dollars would be better spent modernizing Secretary of State's office and working to increase participation in our elections. The results of this investigation show the real fraud in Iowa is being committed by Matt Schultz, not Iowa voters."

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Sanders to Iowa, Local Meeting

Wishful thinking usually comes to nothing in electoral politics. The landscape is littered with the bones of "draft" movements. I mean actual draft movements, not faux "grassroots" efforts that are de facto campaign structures like Ready For Hillary.

The wishful thoughts of the left end of the Democratic Party are turning away from a reluctant Elizabeth Warren to Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The rumpled, cantankerous outsider feels like a perfect fit for a certain niche of Democrat.

And unlike some people, Sanders is actually willing to set foot in Iowa. He'll be headlining an Iowa fundraiser on May 17. (Unfortunately, a schedule conflict with our county Hall of Fame event.)

As the pundits say, no politician ever goes to Iowa by accident. We even got a caucus date this week: Monday, February 1, 2016, still first. Although the reality of cheater states breaking the rules likely means Monday, January 4 instead. I bet the beret.

So far, with No Show Hillary an overwhelming favorite, things look dull. But some locals are holding a Draft Sanders meeting tomorrow night at 7 at the Iowa City Public Library. I'm curious but likely won't show up, more for personal reasons than political.

The ringleader looks to be history professor Jeff Cox, who chaired the Johnson County Dems in the mid 80s. These days his only involvement with the party proper is stuff like this; he's an inevitable fixture in whatever effort is most left at caucus time, such as Dennis Kucinich or the 2012 uncommitted effort. Jeff's the guy who gave me my gangsta rap nickname "the assassin of hope" when we debated the justice center in the fall of 2012.

(The real source of our tension: Cox went down with the ship for former auditor Tom Slockett. We had a strong conversation on the subject just before the cameras rolled in that debate. Poor Yale Cohn raised the subject without knowing. If you rewatch it knowing that, you can just feel the love.)

The left of the left in Johnson County these days doesn't seem able to grasp the concept that people can agree with them on some things and disagree on others. They also have an unfortunate tendency to make their attacks personal. (Which is part of what's had me writer's blocked this week.) At the moment I'm considered an "establishment tool" who's "carrying dirty water" because I'm backing Janet Lyness, so I suspect I'd be hounded out of the room rather than accepted on my own terms.

But worth noting: a drive earlier this week down the major north-south street where Cox and spouse law professor Lois Cox live shows no Zimmerman sign in the yard...

Tangent: I see John Zimmerman trying to score political points on the kid who had magic brownies mailed to Burge. Fact check: It doesn't matter who the county attorney is, that kid gets arrested. The University is working under federal zero tolerance policies. If they don't arrest the guy they're risking federal funding for the whole school. Doesn't matter how loudly a county attorney candidate says "I won't prosecute," the arrest still happens. And with a no-prosecute local policy, it likely goes to FEDERAL court especially with the postal service involved.

This is a bad law that should be changed, cc: Congressman Loebsack, Senator Grassley, Senator Braley, but a county attorney can't change it. Sure, Eric Holder is making pot a low priority. But you can't promise that Jeb Bush's attorney general will let it slide. Hell, you can't promise that Hillary Clinton's attorney general will let it slide.

Which inadvertently gets me back to the point about the caucuses. None of my local critique is in any any way Senator Sanders' fault. A lot of us "establishment tools" (in what possible universe am I "the establishment?!?") are very, VERY interested in an alternative to nomination by coronation. But coalitions need to be broad based and people need to feel welcome.

There's also a slight problem that is Sanders' responsibility: he's not a Democrat. He aligns with the Senate Democrats. Democrats in Vermont support him. Sanders even reluctantly let his name get put on the Democratic primary ballot when he first ran for the Senate in 2006. He won the nomination overwhelmingly, then declined it, and the Democrats didn't replace him. This was just to keep a Some Dude from claiming the nomination and splitting votes.

But he's not a Democrat. He calls himself a socialist, which is fine by me. He runs as an independent, which in the unique situation is OK. He's savvy enough to understand the dynamic of vote-splitting in a winner take all election. But if he's going to seek the Democratic Party nomination for president, he'll need to call himself a Democrat.

That said, this is a really, really interesting development, and I'm willing to overlook a few local disagreements if anyone wants to take it further.

Thursday, May 01, 2014



Capitalist Running Dog Iowa Legislature adjourned at the red dawn rose in the east. Has anyone read the standings bill and figured out what's hiding in that yet?

A must read on Hillary Clinton's relationship with the media. All anonymous quotes, of course; it's a Clintonworld story. The two best:

“Look, she hates you. Period. That’s never going to change.”

“She wants to be president; she doesn’t want to run for president,”

Those are about the press. They could just as easily be about Iowa.

Twitter is dead, I said on my Blogger blog in 2014.

And the three scariest worlds you'll read all day: Post-Antibiotic Era.  tl;dr=We All Gonna Die.