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Hillary And The Golden Road

Hillary PrideThe energy and excitement of Hillary Clinton’s Iowa organizers is very high. On a scale of 1-10, it’s a 16.

In May I met with Clinton campaign organizer Janice Rottenberg at the North Dodge Hy-Vee in Iowa City. She was busy on a conference call when I arrived ten minutes early.

Her handshake was firm, her voice confident, her manner enthusiastic. Rottenberg is an experienced political activist who demonstrated ownership in the Clinton campaign. From past campaigns I recognize one or two others like her in Clinton 2016. Between those I know personally and those I know through social media, they are sunlight diamonds who put on their wings to engage in politics. They seem to like the work very much.

If people like Rottenberg are the face of the Clinton campaign, Hillary will be hard to beat in the Iowa caucuses. They represent the polar opposite of what Iowa Democrats had become, bringing a positive, youthful energy to what otherwise have been desultory meetings among aging party operatives. They bring the party with them, and in doing so have the potential to elevate the Iowa Democratic Party.

If one doesn’t know where Hillary Clinton stands on an issue, the problem is likely with that person. For goodness sake, she has been around so long, and everywhere in the media. She has been part of the public conversation on a wide range of issues since the 1996 publication of her book, It Takes a Village.

That may be the flaw in the Clinton campaign: people feel they know her too well. In Iowa we like to survey the whole field before caucusing for someone, and while we know Hillary, we are also curious about the others.

It was with some regret I told Janice that Hillary was my second choice. I’m confident she entered that in a database soon afterward, probably before she left Hy-Vee.

As I returned to my car to drive the nine miles home, I thought about how my views on political campaigns had changed, and about the Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion).

Hey hey, hey, come right away,
Come and join the party every day;
Hey hey, hey, come right away,
Come and join the party every day.

Republicans Fail Iowans In 2015 Session

Senator Joe Bolkcom

Senator Joe Bolkcom

(Editor’s Note: Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa Senate District 43 in the Legislature. The following editorial appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen, and is reprinted with permission of the author).

When considering the accomplishments of the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature, it makes sense to be clear about where we started.

In Iowa, Republicans control the governor’s office and the Iowa House. Democrats control the Iowa Senate. That means bipartisan support is required for any idea to pass the legislature.

  • Republican opposition, for example, prevented the following common sense ideas from reaching the governor’s desk:
    ­ An increase in the minimum wage.
  • A crack down on dishonest employers who refuse to pay employees what they are owed.
  • An anti-bullying law to give all students a safe and supportive place to learn.
  • The elimination of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse so no Iowa abuser can ever be sure they got away with it.
  • Tougher laws against domestic violence and human trafficking.

I again led efforts to bring Iowans responsible, regulated access to medicines made from cannabis. The legislation we wrote is based on the most successful approaches adopted by other states, including Minnesota and Illinois. It was approved with bipartisan support in the Senate, but was blocked from a vote in the House by Republican leaders.

It takes time for even good ideas to become law. The minimum wage hike, the wage theft crackdown, the anti-bullying effort, the tougher laws on domestic abuse and human trafficking, and medical cannabis will all be ready for the House to consider next January.

While I was disappointed those ideas did not become law, I’ve very happy to report that steep, permanent cuts in state support for the University of Iowa were decisively rejected.

I want to thank the many Johnson County residents who spoke up against a misguided proposal from the Iowa Board of Regents.

I’m proud that Democratic state senators and my Johnson County House colleagues, led by Senate Budget Chairman Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, made it clear that so-called “performance based funding” goes nowhere as long as Democrats hold the majority of the Iowa Senate.

Local school funding was the most contentious issue of this session. We need to face the fact that Iowa no longer leads the nation in student achievement.

Other states are investing more and seeing better results. When it comes to per student funding in our K-12 schools, Iowa—the education state—has slipped into the bottom third of the 50 states.

Education is the next generation’s ticket to a better life and is key to building a high-wage, high-skill Iowa economy. That’s why I worked hard this session to get our state’s support for education back on track. Unfortunately, despite hard work from Iowa educators, students and parents, the best that can be said is that a status quo education budget was approved.

It might be enough to prevent Iowa from falling further behind, but it won’t help our young people catch up to students in other states.

The Republican argument that Iowa can’t afford first class schools is ridiculous. Our state’s economy is growing and we have almost $1 billion in savings. And the same House Republicans who voted against education turned around and introduced legislation calling for massive tax giveaways to wealthy Iowans and out-of-state corporations.

What Iowans need to know about this session is that support for public education is now a partisan issue at the Iowa Statehouse. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.

Legislative Democrats support strong local schools and affordable access to community colleges, public universities and private colleges.
Legislative Republicans don’t.

In fact, the Republican majority of the Iowa House was so opposed to responsibly funding Iowa’s local schools that they ignored legal deadlines and caused fiscal uncertainty in hundreds of school districts.

More than 1,100 Iowa teachers were pink-slipped this spring because of Republican intransigence in the Capitol. Republican members of the legislature stubbornly refused to bargain, even to the point of threatening to shut down state government.

Most Iowans, be they Democrats or Republicans, do not share this strange hostility toward public education. That’s why Iowa candidates for office always promise to support local schools.

The 2015 session is when the gap between campaign promises and votes cast in the legislature became a Grand Canyon.

In the coming months, I’ll be working to tell as many Iowans as possible the story of the failure of legislative Republicans to support our local students.

My goal is to help the majority of Iowans who support our schools gain the attention of the Republican members of the Legislature.

If they do, the next session of the Iowa Legislature will be the one that reverses Iowa’s slide with regard to educational leadership.

Contact Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, at

(Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Governor Branstad used his authority to line item veto the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on school funding. Bolkcom, who uses Twitter sparingly, posted twice in reaction to the governor’s veto).



O’Malley Re-enters The Battle

OMalleyOne has to credit former governor Martin O’Malley—he listened.

After a lackluster and downright dull answer to a question about reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a house party in Mount Vernon last month, he now has a clearly defined plan to act on climate.

An audience member in Mount Vernon asked O’Malley what he would do as president about CO2 and methane emissions. The answer should have been easy.

President Obama presented the U.S. plan for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris this December. The plan relies on the Clean Power Plan advanced by the Environmental Protection Agency for most of the proposed reductions. All O’Malley had to say was, “I support the Clean Power Plan” to satisfy climate voters. He didn’t.

Instead of a simple answer, he changed the question to one about “climate change.” He enumerated 15 things he did as governor to address climate change. It was an admirable punch list, but reducing CO2 and methane emissions is not the same thing.

He missed the point of the question and gave an answer that muddied the water on his climate change position.

Since then, he went into his fortress of solitude equivalent and came up with a plan to combat climate change focused on transitioning the U.S. electricity generating capacity to renewable sources by 2050. He is visiting Iowa this weekend to roll out his plan.

If you don’t think bird dogging candidates in the early caucus and primary states makes a difference, O’Malley’s adjustment reminds us of why being first in the nation matters.

Or does it?

O’Malley polled at three percent among likely Iowa Democratic caucus goers in today’s Quinnipiac University poll—less than the margin of error. While he may be doing the right things in Iowa—securing commitment cards, listening and adjusting positions, shaking hands, and answering questions—it doesn’t matter unless he can generate more buzz around his campaign.

He’s fighting a battle to gain recognition and create excitement that may not be winnable given his personality. He’s an excellent story teller, and I heard he sings and plays the guitar. It seems clear people don’t like the O’Malley narrative enough to commit to his campaign, even if they have heard it.

It’s still early, and people could line up behind his policy positions, which are mainstream Democratic. But a big shell from the Clinton-Sanders artillery could easily take him out, leaving him behind to lament:

Kaul: Obama Speech Is Our Century’s Gettysburg Address

donald kaulOtherWords

“Donald Kaul has written columns for half a century, beginning with a long stint at the Des Moines Register that made him a household name (in a good way) throughout Iowa. OtherWords began distributing his columns in 2001 following his retirement from the Register. Kaul, who was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary in 1987 and 1999, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can read more about his career in this column. He regularly writes OtherWords commentaries.”

Obama’s Amazing Grace

by Donald Kaul

If Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech is the 20th century equivalent of Abraham Lincoln’s magnificent Second Inaugural — and I think it is — then what President Barack Obama gave us in Charleston, South Carolina is our century’s Gettysburg Address.

He gave a marvelous eulogy that was powerful and eloquent. He was moving without resorting to sentimentality.

Obama embraced the life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, slain in his historically black church by a white racist only days before. Rather than merely eulogizing the man, Obama traced the black experience in America, all through its history of slavery, war, segregation, discrimination, mass imprisonment, and murder.

And despite the bleakness of that history, Obama found redemption in Pinckney’s life. He talked about the reverend’s gift of grace, and how grace has buoyed African Americans through their darkest times and armed them with a kind of invulnerability.

Was Obama trying to say that black people are truly invulnerable? Of course not. But through the deeds of people like Pinckney and the notion of grace they embody, black Americans have survived.

The message was all the more effective because Obama delivered it in the cadences of the black church. As he wrapped it up, he broke into the hymn “Amazing Grace” and invited the audience to join in.

He went into that funeral at the College of Charleston as a president who happened to be black. He left it as a black man who happened to be president.

I don’t know how much good it will do. Maybe some. It looks like the Confederate battle flag will be taken down from its perch at the South Carolina State House and other public buildings across the South. In terms of symbolism, that’s no small thing.

“Removing the flag from this state’s Capitol would not be an act of political correctness,” Obama said. “It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people, was wrong.”

When have you heard an American president cut through the mythology with which the South has wrapped the Civil War — the “War Between the States,” they call it, or even the “War of Northern Aggression” — with so simple and direct a statement? The cause for which they fought was wrong. Period. End of argument.

The greatness of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address wasn’t universally accepted when it was delivered. Lincoln’s partisan enemies said it was inappropriate to the occasion, and some of them even attacked it as “silly.”

I don’t watch Fox News (doctor’s orders). But I imagine its crew of political harpies and trolls gave the Charleston eulogy a similar welcome.

I feel sorry for them. I forgive them. I’m in that kind of mood. I’m as close to a state of grace as you can get without actually believing in God.

But I believe in something: a power that’s larger than oneself that arises from masses of people struggling for justice and listening to — as Lincoln said in his first inaugural address — “the better angels of their nature.”

Some people will call Obama’s speech political. Of course it was. He is, after all, the president of the United States. Every word out of his mouth is political in some way or another.

How, he asked, can we permit so many of our children to live in poverty, and for tens of thousands of our young people to be caught up in our criminal justice system? How can we make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote?

He indicted our relative indifference to the carnage of gun violence that takes 30 lives every day in our nation.

“Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race,” Obama said. “We don’t need more talk.”

It’s time to do something.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

What An Iowa Progressive Reads

Summer Reading

Most millennials I know don’t subscribe to cable television or read many books. That’s not to say they are uninformed, just that with the explosion of the Internet after the mid-1990s, there is so much to occupy one’s attention and keep current, and not all of it is reading.

That progressives read, and who we read, makes a difference. Here is my list of people to consider. Maybe readers will find something new to add to yours. If I’m missing someone important, please comment below.

Reading local newspapers is a must. I subscribe to the Iowa City Press Citizen (digital version), and the Solon Economist on newsprint. Whatever arguments one may have with the editorial viewpoint of a specific newspaper, understanding what is going on in the community has few better sources. Always of interest are the opinions, obituaries, front page and community calendar sections.

Supplementing local news is a set of RSS feeds (using Feedly) that expands into Iowa. I subscribe to Radio Iowa, John Deeth’s Blog, Art Cullen’s editorials at The Storm Lake Times, Frank D. Myers’ The Lucas Countyan, Mike Owens’s Iowa Policy Project blog, Chris Liebig’s A Blog About School, Cindy Hadish’s Homegrown Iowan, and The Iowa Farm Bureau’s Farm Fresh Blog.

If readers haven’t dozed off, there are some more progressive-sounding things to consider reading.

Des Moines is a cornucopia of political writing. While steering clear of capitol city politics most of the time, it would be a disservice to omit them completely from a progressive reading list.

The Des Moines writer to whom a subscription is essential with reading high on the list is Ed Fallon. Not because we agree with every word that comes out of his mouth, we don’t, but because of the range of his topics. Find him and links to his other publications here.

In the also ran category are the Iowa Daily Democrat, Michael Libbie’s Sunday Morning Coffee (for the gossip), The Iowa Starting Line, and she who must not be named.

There are more in Des Moines, I suppose. John Deeth continues to highly recommend following Craig Robinson’s blog to stay apprised of the competition, but progressive competition is more with Netflix, craft beers, vintage clothing, restaurant food and other distractions from politics, so I take a pass.

Finally, there is Twitter, the source of all things banal and some profound, trending toward the former. Today’s Blog for Iowa faves include:

Locals: @Bmkimz; @suedvorsky1; @LJYanney; @janicero; @JeffRBiggers; @AriBerman; @mistyrebik; @Deborah_Donohoe; @witsenddaily; @johndeeth; @LyndaIowa.

Nationals: @unreasonable; @ThePlumLineGS; @jimcason; @David_Shorr; @DavidCulpDC.

If you want to stay abreast of what POTUS is doing in the real world, @markknoller.

And of course, don’t forget to subscribe, follow or bookmark We’re now on Twitter @blogforiowa and Facebook too,

Progress Iowa Reception In Coralville

progress iowaAttorney Paul McAndrew will host a reception and fund raiser for Progress Iowa at his Coralville office on Wednesday, July 8 from 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Progress Iowa has come a long way during their first three years, growing from a group of less than two dozen to a network of more than 60,000, according to Matt Sinovic, executive director.

They have successfully taken on Terry Branstad, Bob Vander Plaats and other Iowa conservatives, advancing progressive policies in the state.

“I want to thank you for your help in making this come true,” said Sinovic in an email. “I’m looking forward to seeing you, and to many more successful years for Progress Iowa.”

Who: The public is invited to attend.

What: Progress Iowa reception and fund raiser

Where: Paul McAndrew Law Office, 2771 E. Oakdale Blvd., Coralville.

When: July 8, 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Tickets: Freewill donation at the door or click here to donate online and purchase tickets.

Francis Thicke: “We Have Broken The Relationship Between Plants And Soil”

Grass-based, organic dairy farmer Francis Thicke can be followed on Facebook.


A Case Of Bernie

Iowa Row Crops

Iowa Row Crops

Editor’s Note: Trish Nelson is taking time off and will return to regular posting on Blog for Iowa after Labor Day. Here is my first offering in an effort to fill her shoes as we enter high summer in the land of corn, conversation and caucuses).

For those who remember the political environment before Blog for Iowa’s humble beginnings in 2004, politics has changed. Enter Bernie Sanders for president.

David Corn of Mother Jones recently wrote about Sanders’ long-time relationship with Tad Devine of Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, and his strategy to win the Democratic nomination for president. The article is worth a read.

“Sanders has survived and thrived in politics by neutralizing negative ads and resisting the urge to attack,” Corn reported. Resisting negative attack ads has been a hallmark of Sanders’ previous campaigns.

Progressives have the 2016 presidential election to lose if the primary turns into a frenzy of negative publicity. Corn asserts Sanders has a proven way of approaching the electorate in a positive manner. Sanders’ methods seem similar to what Iowa Republicans did to elect Senator Joni Ernst: bypass the television and go directly to voters with a strong narrative.

Some of us recall political consultants James Carville and his rapid response operation, and Joe Trippi and his book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, The Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything. They seemed revolutionary at the time, even if their stars have faded. Rapid response and use of the Internet in campaigns have been assimilated as boilerplate campaign tools, and to a large extent have been eclipsed by the power of unlimited money in politics.

Sanders has disdain for unlimited money in politics and rejects super PACs, successfully focusing fundraising efforts on smaller, individual campaign contributions. Progressives like Sanders because of it.

All five Democratic presidential hopefuls agree there is a problem with Citizens United and the influx of unlimited money from a small number of donors. They differ in approach to solving the problem, and the bottom line is, as Elisabeth MacNamara, president of The League of Women Voters of the United States said recently in Des Moines, there is no political will to amend the constitution regarding Citizens United.

Sanders’ opposition to super PACs has done little to stop them from forming to support his candidacy. In a Burlington Free Press article, author Nicole Gaudiano quoted Sanders:

“I have not sanctioned any super PAC,” Sanders said in an interview. “A major problem of our campaign finance system is that anybody can start a super PAC on behalf of anybody and can say anything. And this is what makes our current campaign finance situation totally absurd.”

His comments notwithstanding, PACs like Progressive Democrats for America and Bet on Bernie 2016 hope to raise millions to support Sanders’ campaign. The former designed a two-fold, web-based donation platform where a donor can contribute directly to Sanders’ campaign and to the PAC with a few easy clicks.

Will the nuanced approach Sanders used previously regarding going negative in campaigns be possible during the Democratic primary/caucus season? How will he parse the tendentious issue of money in politics when his campaign must raise about $50 million for the primary campaign?

Sanders’ supporters I know have not thought much about this. There is social buzz about Sanders where his every word is like a drop of wine. Will Sanders still be standing after his supporters drink a case?

Overnight Dispatches

Idyllic farm scene from IowaFollowing the news has been like drinking from a fire hose. What the corporate media doles out to us is only a small fraction of the story. Here are some events that happened in the last 12 hours.

The Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greelyville, S.C. went up in flames last night. The cause of the fire is unknown as officials investigate. This is the seventh burning of an African American church in the South since the June 17 shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Three of the seven fires have been identified as arson. Read Melissa Boughton’s coverage here.

The White House set the formal announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba this morning at 11 a.m. EDT. The plan is for each country to open an embassy in the other.

The State Department released more than 3,600 pages of Hillary Clinton emails purportedly related to Benghazi, Libya. Already Bloomberg made a cursory pass, pointing out the banalities of life as HRC. Read Jennifer Epstein’s post here. Even though Clinton has explained what happened in her book Hard Choices… well just keep your sanity and view this as an extension of the Whitewater investigation.

Political consultant and campaign manager for Howard Dean’s campaign Joe Trippi apologized for creating the hailstorm of political contribution requests many received yesterday as the second quarter financial reporting period closed at midnight. As John Deeth pointed out, it’s about the bat.

The Associated Press story on slavery in the fishing industry continued as they featured the homecoming of a man who was held captive as a slave for 22 years on an Indonesian fishing boat. These ships produce seafood for U.S. markets. Margie Mason and Robin McDowell’s stories about slavery represent amazing work as journalists. BFIA posted about it here. Here’s last night’s story:

What else, BFIA readers?

How The Gun Lobby’s Top Legislative Priority In Iowa Was Defeated


by John Feinblatt

Every four years, the national media looks to Iowa for stories about where American voters stand on pressing issues.

After what happened this spring here in Des Moines, it’s clear where Iowans stand on guns and public safety — and how Iowans made their voices heard is a story that deserves to be told.

It starts in the Statehouse, where the NRA’s lobbyists pushed Senate File 425. The bill set out to overturn a longstanding background check requirement on private handgun sales. In effect, the gun lobby wanted to get rid of a provision that helps ensure guns sold at places like gun shows and via the Internet are subject to the same rules as guns sold at federally licensed dealers.

In quickly advancing the bill to the floor, gun lobby-aligned lawmakers conveniently avoided talking about what the bill would actually do. They went so far as to say that that the bill was focused on “safety improvements.” They also touted the bill’s other provisions, including those that would streamline the law to ease some restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. The lobbyists never mentioned repealing background checks. That makes sense, since 88 percent of Iowans support the background check policy.

In the run-up to the final vote on the Senate floor, I reached out to Republican strategists in Iowa to see whether the NRA could be stopped.

“Not a chance,” longtime political observers told me. “They’re too powerful and once they’ve gotten something on the floor, there’s no way to beat them.”

We’ve heard that line for years. Too often, we’ve taken it for granted. The truth is, there’s only one way to find out if the conventional wisdom is actually accurate: show up and fight back.

And that’s what we did.

The Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, went to work. Iowa moms made nearly 5,000 phone calls to state senators, explaining what the bill really would do. They held an advocacy day and delivered petitions filled with signatures. They ran informational advertisements in newspapers across the state.

Most important, they talked face to face with their friends and neighbors.

In the end, the so-called experts were wrong. The Legislature never passed the bill, and the “unbeatable” gun lobby saw its top legislative priority in Iowa defeated.

The lesson we should take from Iowa is simple, and bears repeating.

When people know what’s in a bill —when legislators understand the consequences of what they’re voting on — they’ll do the right thing.

Using misleading language to mask a bill’s true purpose may have worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. Once we got away from the horse-trading lobbyists at the Capitol and into cities and towns throughout the state, we saw that the public wanted to keep the background check system in place. Iowans know that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous felons is just common sense. Like the vast majority of Americans, they believe that Second Amendment rights go hand in hand with basic safety measures.

The defeat of SF 425 is more than just a political victory, though. Iowans will be safer as a result of its defeat. We know this because in nearby Missouri, legislators overturned a background check requirement in 2007 and the results were deadly. Research by the scholar Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that after Missouri did the gun lobby’s bidding and gutted its background check system, the state’s gun homicide rate increased by nearly 25 percent. We know, too, that the gun suicide rate in Iowa is 27 percent lower than in states that lack comprehensive background check measures.

Ultimately, the win in Iowa serves as yet another reminder that when you try new approaches and get voters engaged on an issue, powerful interests can be defeated.

When the people go head to head against the gun lobby, the people —and public safety —can prevail.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety. Contact: