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Iowa Lawmaker Gets A Laugh Not In A Good Way

iowa lawmaker reading book

Ross Paustian Republican Party State House District 92 Scott County 389 West Parkview Drive Walcott, IA 52773 563-284-6783

Friday, March 20, 2015:

Another testy week in Des Moines.

We all certainly could use a laugh to lighten the mood in the Capitol building, but, once again, an attempt at such got very lost in translation. A silly book title (with blank pages inside, I am told), an inappropriate caption for a picture of a representative holding said book, and social media converged to send an inaccurate picture of Iowans nationwide.

No laughs, and less motivation to dialogue and work together.

Today we have the third example in little over a week of how far we are from substantive debate. Republicans brought forth HR 8, encouraging a constitutional amendment to restrict the authority of the federal government. Yesterday, we had the discussion on changing the collective bargaining procedures for teachers. Last week we had discussion about prerequisites for performing abortions.

Hopefully, all three of these are dead, dead, dead in the Senate chamber. Republicans were likely aware of this fate, and although referring to the proposed changes as minor in scope, and knowing that there would be principled opposition to each, they engaged all of our legislators in a certain waste of time and money.

I would feel better about the floor time spent on these, if anyone had brought up sincere points that had a chance of educating and changing minds on these issues. But there were none. There was no attempt to present a thorough picture of all the tangents in each issue. No one started these floor “debates” with even the slightest intention of listening for new information, and that is where the disrespect of bringing these issues up at all, solidifies into rancor and distrust.

We get it, that you disapprove of abortion. But making it illegal, or harder to access, doesn’t end it. Doesn’t even lower the numbers substantially. Punitive laws that make no difference to reducing those numbers are not Christ-oriented, just vengeful.

We get it that you hate taxes. Change the debate to focusing on our current and future common needs, not finding arbitrary levels of “low taxes.”

We get it that you want to root out inefficiencies in education. Show us that this is not a backhanded attempt to dismantle public education, by being as vigorous about finding inefficiencies in other areas.

We get it that you don’t like “government.” But there will always be “governing” by some process, and a representative democratic republic is always a better choice than the oligarchy/theocracy that republicans are pushing for, no matter what size it is. Smaller does not equal efficient, period.

School Funding, Payroll Debit Cards, Texting: The Courtney Report


Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of the weekly newsletter from Senator Courtney. For the full newsletter, please go to his website


If the future of Iowa children, job creation and economic growth matter to you, please make your voice heard on funding for our students and schools.

The House and Senate are in gridlock. The Senate has approved a 4 percent increase in funding for our K-12 schools. However, House Republicans have voted to scale back educational opportunity with a meager 1.25 percent increase. That is not enough to keep up with rising costs, let alone compete with other states.

When asked about the impact on their students, Iowa school superintendents said they would have to increase class sizes, fire teachers, delay buying new classroom materials and reduce course offerings. Iowa is already more than $1,600 below the national average in annual per-pupil investment. The result is that other states are increasing student achievement faster than Iowa and out-performing us.

Iowa is competing with the world for high-skill, high-wage jobs. We must increase our commitment to great schools, student achievement and teacher quality.

Contact Governor Branstad and tell him to break the gridlock on school funding. Call his office at 515-281-5211 or send him a message at

Over the last year, the Senate Government Oversight Committee has investigated numerous allegations of hush money, slush funds, black lists and lack of transparency throughout Governor Branstad’s administration.

This week, the Senate approved SF 321 to ensure state agencies that save money by purchasing through the state’s master contracts get those dollars back. The Department of Administrative Services would no longer be able to retain rebates and use them for its own purposes. Rebates would be returned to the rightful agency, rewarding them for their fiscal responsibility while adding accountability and transparency to state spending.

In addition, we hope to restructure the state’s infamous “black list.” In the past, Iowans had no idea they were on this black list — also known as a “do-not-hire” list — unless they applied for a state position and were denied.

Senate File 332 would establish procedures for putting somebody on the state’s do-not-hire list, which would make them ineligible for state agency employment. Under the bill, the Department of Administrative Services may only designate an individual as ineligible for state employment under specific circumstances. The individual must be notified of their status at the time of termination and has a right to appeal.

The bill also requires the Department of Administrative Services to post all vacant positions, with a public announcement of vacancies at least 10 days in advance of the application deadline. This will allow all qualified individuals the chance to find out about job openings.


This week, the Senate approved legislation aimed at clarifying the law regarding payroll cards. A payroll card — which is similar to a debit card — is an increasingly popular way to pay employees.

Legislators recently heard from Iowans who came to the Statehouse to tell their stories. We learned that many Iowans don’t have a choice in how they are paid and may incur high fees when paid by payroll card. Nobody should have to pay a fee to collect their wages.

Senate File 460 is a simple, common sense bill that aims to protect the pay and rights of employees.

SF 460 requires an employee to agree voluntarily to payment via a payroll card. The agreement must be in writing, and the employee must have the option to withdraw all the wages due in a pay period without incurring a fee. The bill also requires the employer to keep the records of consent and to provide another payment method if an employee requests it at a later time.

Texting while driving is dangerous. Between 2001 and 2013, more than 8,600 Iowa crashes were caused by drivers distracted by a phone or other device. These crashes resulted in more than 4,200 injuries and dozens of deaths.

In 2010, Iowa made it a crime to write, read or send a text message while driving, but the law is a secondary offense. That means officers can only write a ticket for texting if they pull you over for speeding or another violation.

Polls show more than 80 percent of Iowans want tougher laws for texting while driving. Texting behind the wheel is a primary offense in 39 other states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. That gives officers the authority to pull over a driver specifically for texting.

Iowa will join those states if Senate File 391, approved this week by the Senate, becomes law. The bill makes texting while driving a primary offense and clarifies that the texting ban is applicable to any electronic communication done by hand.

Texting makes the chance of an accident 23 times greater because it involves three types of distraction– it takes our mind off driving, our eyes off the road and at least one hand off the steering wheel. Drivers who text have slower reaction times, are 70 percent less likely to stay in their lane and often fail to notice traffic signs.

Teens have been the primary focus of Iowa’s texting and driving laws and education efforts. Texting results in car crashes that kill an average of 11 teens each day nationwide.

However, many parents don’t set a good example for their kids. When educators from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau talk with Iowa teens, half the students say their parents text while driving.

Learn more about the dangers of texting while driving at

Simply Stated: A Party Is Its Budget

republican budget

Surely this is not the first time you have heard this: budgets are moral documents. They also are the means by which political parties translate all their rhetoric and advertisements into actual policy. When you hear Republicans claim that they support Social Security, check their budget. Do they support the lowly grunts in the military? Check the budget. Access to health care for all? Check the budget. What about education?

In simple terms, the Republican budget lays bare the plans of Republicans to take health care from large swaths of people, take food from families, take away unemployment compensation and in short totally shred what is left of the social safety net. In return they give more huge tax breaks to the wealthy. Trickle down is still their mantra. Trickle down didn’t work then and it doesn’t now. The idea that some rich person’s cup will overflow spilling some money on us peons is insane. The cups grow forever.

Beyond the cruelty to the mass of Americans, the biggest fallacy of a Republican budget is that it spurs the economy. An economy runs on money moving in the system, not on it being stagnant in a few hands.

Once more the Congressional Progressive Caucus has released their budget. This is a budget that puts the people first. Getting money into the hands of those who will spend it is also the best way to make the economy grow. Why you ask? Because demand creates economic activity. The poor and middle class have a huge amount of pent up demand that will drive the economy just as it drove the economy in the years before Ronald Reagan.

Meteor Blades over at dalykos has a good quick analysis of the budget being offered by the CPC. You had better read it there because you know our major media will totally ignore it.

Sunday Funday: The High Holy Days Of Basketball Edition

These guys now have time to take the quiz

These guys now have time to take the quiz

It only comes but once a year, so let’s all try to wring every ounce of joy out of this holiday season. May the gods and goddesses of the scoring table smile kindly on your team.

Were you paying attention last week or were you in front of the TV?

1) Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is using a vote on Human Trafficking to delay a vote for what Obama nominee?

2) Twenty years ago on March 20th, Tokyo subways were attacked by terrorists who used what for their attack?

3) Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel. He needs a coalition of a majority of the Knessit. How many seats are there in the Knessit?

4) Tom Cotton, junior senator from Arkansas, has picked up quite a nickname due to his authorship of the letter to Iran. What is that nickname?

5) One of the most powerful cyclones ever, Pam, devastated what tiny island nation?

6) What state has implemented some extraordinary measures in response to water shortages?

7) In the Muncie, Indiana Walmart restroom, a local man was running what business?

8) The Secret Service has asked congress for $8 million in order to build an exact replica of what building?

9) The state of Iowa placed how many teams in the NCAA tournaments?

10) Mortal sin, Iowa style. What candidate’s campaign advisor tweeted offensive things about the Iowa caucuses?

11) A letter sent to the White House was laced with what substance?

12) There was a resignation from the US House last week. Who resigned and why?

13) John Rowland, former governor of what state, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for violating clean election laws?

14) What former presidential candidate and former heavyweight boxing champion have arranged to have a charity boxing event?

15) Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa senate agree, doing what while driving is not a good idea?

What happened to ISU? I had them going all the way!

1) Loretta Lynch

2) Sarin gas

3) 120. Netanyahu needs to control 61

4) Tehran Tom

5) Vanuatu

6) California

7) a meth lab

8) the White House

9) 5 – 3 in the men’s tournament and 2 in the women’s.

10) Scott Walker

11) cyanide

12) Aaron Shock of Peoria. He resigned due to investigations of his spending.

13) Connecticut

14) Mitt Romney and Evander Holyfield

15) texting

Iowa’s Problem Of Priorities

Iowa Fiscal Partnership
Once again the folks at Iowa Fiscal Partnership provide solid analysis on why Iowa is having trouble funding even its most basic services at a time when politicians of all stripes claim the economic outlook in this state is good. The answer lies in the priorities that Iowa’s legislators set. Like so many states these days, priorities are skewed to the immediate gratification of business owners at the expense of their customers, the citizens of Iowa.

Peter Fisher, Research Director at Iowa Policy Project, offers a concise analysis in this backgrounder at the Iowa Policy Project. Fisher’s conclusion is also very concise:

We have a problem of priorities. We keep underfunding services for average Iowa families — education, health, work supports, natural resources — in order to finance massive tax reductions to businesses that don’t need it. And we spend in excess of $350 million each year on business tax credits that continue on autopilot, with no sunset, despite the state’s own analyses that fail to find evidence of appreciable benefit to the state from some of the largest of these subsidies.[7]

It is time to admit that the tax cuts enacted in 2013 were excessive, and are causing long term damage to the state. At the very least, the $50 million increase in the business property tax credit portion of those tax cuts scheduled for next year should be delayed or eliminated.

But that is not enough. There should be a moratorium on any further tax cuts or tax credits. All business tax credits should be subject to effective caps and sunsets to force a serious evaluation.

Without such measures, we will continue down the road of tax-cutting our way to mediocrity and shortchanging our children’s future.

Handing out favors to businesses will not meet what should be Iowa’s real priorities. It is not working in other states either. The booming state economies – California and Minnesota – have budgets that put people first and have raised taxes.

Ed Fallon On The Iowa Bakken Oil Pipeline

Bakken Pipeline Proposed RouteBlog for Iowa caught up with Ed Fallon in Iowa City at a March 11 fundraiser for his Iowa Pipeline Walk along the proposed route of the Dakota Access oil pipeline from the Bakken shale formation through Iowa to Illinois.

Fallon presented a slide show of his experiences on last year’s Great March for Climate Action across the U.S., and answered questions during an event attended by about 35 supporters.

Discussions ranged over a variety of related topics. Two seemed most important: eminent domain and an environmental study of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) is leading a bipartisan effort to restrict use of eminent domain by private companies like Dakota Access in Iowa.

“I intend to introduce legislation in the Government Oversight Committee,” Kaufmann said in an email to constituents. “My committee is funnel proof and next week I will introduce an Eminent Domain Omnibus bill that will attempt to address the numerous eminent domain abuses going on throughout the state.”

When asked about the legislation, Fallon acknowledged the several bills filed regarding eminent domain had not yet been finalized into one.

“My biggest hope is it defines public use so clearly that you can’t come in and build a pipeline across Iowa and use eminent domain to build that,” Fallon said. “Because it’s not oil that’s being used here, it’s not being produced here, it’s being refined in Texas and shipped for the most part overseas.”

A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board asking the regulatory body commission an environmental impact study of the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the letter raised eight concerns:

1. Safety risks and hazards associated with the product(s) to be transported through the pipeline;

2. Potential damage to water, land, soil, water, air and wildlife/wildlife habitat during construction;

3. Threats to the environment, farmland, wildlife and public health as a result of spills or explosions;

4. Spill prevention and clean up provisions;

5. Liability for damages to both public and private property and sufficiency of resources to cover such liability;

6. Adequacy of inspection/monitoring/enforcement mechanisms and resources;

7. Responsibility for planning, training, and equipping for emergency response;

8. Indirect impacts of the oil extraction process facilitated by the pipeline that may affect public health and safety as well as environmental security.

“If studying the environmental impact is something we do before we decide to move forward on this, then that has value,” Fallon said. “But if it’s something we do after the fact, after the damage is done, after the decision is made, then it’s kind of a moot point.”

During the question and answer session, Jack Knight of the Allamakee County Protectors indicated that delaying the IUB approval process through an environmental study was a valuable tactic in preventing the oil pipeline from being built.

Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline have a bigger issue and Fallon touched upon that during our interview.

“Based on what the entire scientific community is telling us, that oil needs to remain in the ground,” he said. “Really this conversation about the pipeline is a sidebar, but a really important one.”

For more information about Fallon’s work, Blog for Iowa recommends, “Hitting the Pavement,” in the March 16 issue of the Newton Daily News, or follow him on

Water Summit March 21st

Water quality is one of the most important environmental issues facing Iowa today. But understanding the many different issues and aspects involved in it can be difficult.

Quad Citians have a rare opportunity to learn more and have their questions answered at the March 21st Water Summit: An Environmental Event Focusing on Iowa’s Water Quality. Hosted by Davenport SCENE, the event will be held in the Davenport West High School Auditorium, 1 – 3 p.m., and is free to the public.

A panel of five experts from the agricultural community, local and state government, and private business has been selected to lead the discussion and answer questions. All five are intimately involved in issues dealing with water quality across the state of Iowa.

Attendees to the event will increase their understanding of water issues, and learn how Iowans can respond to improve and protect our water quality.

The panelists include:

Sean McMahon, Executive Director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA). The IAWA is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing the success of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy by increasing farmer awareness of the initiative and their adoption of science-based practices proven to have quantifiable environmental benefits. It was created and is funded by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association.

As executive director, McMahon works to champion farmer adoption and engagement in conservation and production practices for continuous improvement of nutrient management and water quality.

Randy Moore, President, Iowa American Water Company and Member of the EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC). Iowa American Water is the largest investor-owned water utility in the state, providing water services to approximately 195,000 people. In his role, Moore works to strengthen customer, regulatory and local government relationships, drives operational and financial results and is the principal external contact for American Water in Iowa.

NDWAC provides practical and independent advice to the U.S. EPA on matters and policies related to drinking water, including regulations and guidance required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The council may also propose actions to encourage cooperation and communication on drinking water quality among the EPA and other governmental agencies, interested groups, the public and technical associations and organizations.

Dr. Mary Skopec, Senior Research Scientist for the Water Monitoring and Assessment Section (WMAS) at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources/Geological Survey Bureau (GSB) and Coordinator of the IOWATER Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program. At the GSB, she has worked on a variety of water quality projects including the development of a statewide database to track pesticide occurrences in Iowa’s water resources. Dr. Skopec currently coordinates the WMAS analyses of data from the statewide Ambient Water Monitoring Program.

IOWATER is a project of Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources. It trains volunteers to conduct basic water chemical, physical and biological measurements. Its mission is to protect and improve Iowa’s water quality by raising citizen awareness about Iowa’s watersheds, supporting and encouraging the growth and networking of Iowa’s volunteer water monitoring communities, and promoting water monitoring activities as a means of assessing and understanding Iowa’s aquatic resources.

Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of Des Moines Water Works (DMWW). Stowe has served in his current position since 2012. His previous positions include Assistant Manager-Public Works/Engineering for the City of Des Moines, Human Resources Director for the City of Des Moines, Operations Manager for MidAmerican Energy, as well as an analyst for Shell Oil, labor relations representative for Inland Steel Industries and a field examiner for the National Labor Relations Board.

Dr. Franics Thicke, Owner/Operator of Radiance Dairy and member of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). An organic farmer for more than 30 years, Dr. Thicke currently operates an 80-cow, certified organic dairy in Fairfield, producing milk, cream, yogurt and cheese for sale at local grocery stores and restaurants. He has been active in many organic and environmental organizations including the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Leopold Group Sierra Club in Southeast Iowa, Food Democracy Now, the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.

NOSB is a Federal Advisory Committee whose members are appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The NOSB advises USDA on which substances should be allowed or prohibited in organic farming and processing, based on criteria under the Organic Foods Production Act. As a member of NOSB, Dr. Thicke also serves on its Environmentalist/Resource Conservationists Subcommittee.

Davenport SCENE (Sustainable City Empowered Network for Education) is supported by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Davenport SCENE is a unique partnership of several local agencies including Eastern Iowa Community Colleges/Scott Community College Library and the college’s Advanced Technology Environmental and Energy Center, Figge Art Museum, Davenport Public Library, Nahant Marsh Educational Center, Quad Cities Food Hub, Junior Achievement, Living Lands and Waters, and River Music Experience.

The goal of the partnership is to advance the science and information literacy of Davenport residents of all ages regarding environmental sustainability and energy efficiency in order to move Davenport toward becoming a sustainable city.

For more information call 563-441-4150.

Davenport Community Draws Line In Sand For Its Schools

The Davenport superintendent is showing courage and leadership through civil disobedience, taking a stand against those who are attempting to dismantle public education, namely Republicans and the Branstad administration.  The real crime is what the Republicans are doing.

“As you know my local superintendent has announced that he will disobey the law rather than make more than $3 million dollars in cuts to our local schools… I talked with three school board members who could go to jail if they approve that recommendation and they’re hanging tough. They told me that if they have to make a choice between doing the dirty work of lowering quality education, cutting opportunities, lowering the expectations of our students, or going to jail, they will choose jail..”

Watch Senator Chris Brase stand up for kids and schools.. “We need to send a message to our kids that they are not worth-less.”


St. Patrick And Mother Jones

Irish signHappy St. Patrick’s Day!  This article reminds us of the history of Irish immigrants and their important role in the labor movement.

Often overlooked, one of Ireland’s most important contributions to the United States and Canada is the labor movement. Millions of Irish immigrants settled in the growing industrial areas of North America following the great famine in the 1840s.

Predominantly unskilled blue collar workers, the earliest Irish settlers faced dangerous working conditions, low pay and on-the-job discrimination.

As journalist Harold Meyerson wrote in 2009:

When the Irish began arriving en masse in the 1840s, they were met with savage hostility by America’s largely Protestant native-born population and shunted into ghettos … In their occupational ghettos, laying railroad track and working on construction crews, they became America’s first distinct paid ethnic working class.

Some of those immigrant workers starting organizing, helping to form the first labor unions.

mother jonesMother Jones

For nearly a half-of-a-century one name was nearly synonymous with unions in the public’s mind: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland in 1837, she emigrated to the U.S. at the age of five. Losing her entire family to yellow fever in 1867, she devoted her life to the labor movement, helping to organize coal miners for more than 30 years.

Known for the saying, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” she continued to fight for working people and for the end to child labor up until her death in 1930 at the age of 93.  more


“As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this week, let us not forget all the hate, violence and discrimination Irish immigrants faced. The progress we made as an American people and a Labor Movement, we owe to the sacrifices and struggles of all immigrants. So this St. Patrick’s Day, let us toast all those who immigrate to our great country, be mindful of the hate and violence they currently face, and lend them our moral support – so that they too can work hard to achieve their American Dream – just as the Irish did.” 


Iowa Dems Should Blow Up So-Called Coordinated Campaign

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Hoovering in Iowa

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2015 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

by Paul Deaton

The Iowa Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign has been a blessing and a curse, and it’s time to blow it up and start over.

As much as one believes progressive elected officials would provide better policy and governance for the vast majority of Iowans, the message is not getting out. Republicans are suppressing the wackiness in extreme elements of their party enough to garner substantial and winning support in the electorate.

Here’s a reminder: 2014 brought us Joni Ernst, Terry Branstad and Steve King. 2016 will be more of the same unless we change our politics.

Based on discussions with my neighbors and local progressive activists, there are four reasons the coordinated campaign should be blown up:

There is limited buy-in from local activists to the coordinated campaign. Campaign choices-locating resources like paid staff, offices, house parties and mailers-are made by others and some decisions don’t make sense. There has been a clear disconnect from precinct politics that used to be a Democratic strength. Without increased buy-in from local activists, progressive election wins are unlikely.

Republicans were surprised by the Democratic organization of the 2006 and 2008 campaigns-they caught up. I used to laugh at Team Nussle’s efforts to organize phone banks and canvasses in 2006, but no more. The 2014 general election stands as evidence that Republicans do more than take money from billionaires. They improved their ground game.

Democrats failed to articulate a coherent message. Where Republicans made significant inroads is their effectiveness of identifying stakeholders in government and offering solutions. They framed solutions as bipartisan, but the core message that won elections is the sense of belonging their campaigns helped create. The coordinated campaign’s focus on canvasses and get out the vote efforts on targeted voters, left messaging to others, and a broad sector of the electorate on the table. Republicans have been Hoovering these voters up.

Democrats don’t get the role of third party resources. As annoying as it is that Senator Ernst wears an Americans for Prosperity pin at public events, Republicans have become masters of campaign finance laws, giving them an advantage the coordinated campaign couldn’t match. Because of its structure, the coordinated campaign made poor use of third party resources. Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate took a drubbing from liberal bloggers in 2014, and some of the criticisms were rightly placed. In a time of the Citizens United ruling, Democratic leaders must figure out how to better balance outside resources to advance Democratic issues, while walking the legal tightrope of campaigns not coordinating with third parties.

The key to winning future elections lies outside application of strategies and tactics developed in the 2000s. It is in winning the hearts and minds of our friends and neighbors, and articulating a progressive message that makes sense in the context of real lives. It has always been that way, but the coordinated campaign seems to have forgotten.