Haley Barbour making the rounds in Iowa (audio)

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is at the statehouse at this hour, making the rounds as they say.  He’s met with Iowa’s Republican state auditor, secretary of state and governor, as well as several House Republicans.  After a visit with Governor Branstad, Barbour chatted with the media about his timeline for a decision on running for president.

“There’s a lot that enters into it,” Barbour said. “I have been political director of the White House under Ronald Reagan and I understand what I’m getting into.  I’m 63 years old and this is a 10 year commitment if you run and get elected, you’re commiting yourself for reelection and so you’ve got to be prepared for a 10 year commitment and that’s the majority of  the rest of my productive life and you have to decide am I willing to take on the most consuming job in the world, which the presidency is, and I have to see if I have the fire in the belly and the willingness, to the exclusion of all other things, to take that on.”

Barbour said he won’t make a decision until April “once the legislature’s finished and we’ve got my budget is adopted. I don’t believe in running for the next job until I finish the job I’ve got and that’s why my timing is April.”

I asked: What in your resume screams president?

Barbour said: “You know, governor is the job in the United States and in the world that is the closest job to being president.”  Barbour expressed a willingness to deal with reducing “entitlement” spending, and he specifically mentioned farm subsidies and defense spending as part of that.

UPDATE — listen to the 7 and a half minute exchange with reporters  HaleyBarbour

UPDATE:  read the Radio Iowa story with more details of Barbour’s day.

Groups “speak out” on proposed tax cut

Several groups have weighed in via email over the past 24 hours, expressing support and opposition to the tax bill which is scheduled for public debate in the Iowa House this afternoon (whenever the Democrats quit meeting in private to talk about it).  Words used in these missives range from “bold” and “excellent” to “misdirected” and “sucker.”  If you make it all the way through all the statements, you will find the word “quintile” which according to the dictionary means “the portion of a frequency distribution containing one fifth of the total sample.”

I share these email messages with you in this post, in the order they were received.

[Read more…]

Baudler “Rx for pot” complaint dismissed (audio)

Rep. Clel Baudler, a retired state trooper from Greenfield, got a prescription for medical marijuana when he was in Calfornia.  Baulder calls it a “fact finding mission” to illustrate how “asinine” the system of dispensing marijuana for medicinal use is. 

Mike Pesce of Des Moines, a proponent of medical marijuana, filed an ethics complaint against Baudler because it’s against the law in California to lie to a doctor about a medical condition (Baudler told the dispensing doctor he was suffering from hemmorrhoids and depression). 

The House Ethic Committee — made up of an equal number of Democrats and Baudler’s fellow Republicans — opened its review of the complaint at 12:31 p.m. this afternoon and quickly, unanimously dismissed the complaint.  (Read more, listen to the entire meeting here.) The committee said Baudler didn’t break any of the rules orlaws they, as the House Ethics Committee, oversee.

Ethics panel cancels; to meet next week on Baudler complaint

A couple of TV cameras, reporters and a few backers of medical marijuana were sitting in a committee room at the statehouse this morning when someone walked into the room and announced the House Ethics Commtitee would not meet, as scheduled at 11:45 a.m. today.  The meeting’s been rescheduled for noon on Monday.  (UPDATE: The meeting is now scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 16.)

The House Ethics Committee is considering a complaint filed against Rep. Clel Baudler over Baudler’s acquisition of a medical marijuana prescription in California.  Baudler told California authorities  he needed the Rx because he had  hemorrhoids and was depressed.  Baudler calls it a “fact finding” mission. 

Mike Pesce of Des Moines filed the complaint.  “He planned this crime and…lied about certain medical conditions to get a medical marijuana card,” Pesce says. “…If he does have respect for the law, and he has respect for the position he held as a law man, then I think he should get on the next plane to California and turn himself in for prosecution.”   (In case you’re puzzled by the “law man” reference, Baudler is a retired state trooper.)

Branstad picks ice cream over pie

And now, something new from our new/old governor. Governor Terry Branstad emerged from his private statehouse office early this afternoon to chat with grocers visiting the statehouse. The Iowa Grocers Association provided a spread for legislators: pieces of apple pie, cherry pie, cups of vanilla ice cream, and cups of coffee.

Branstad had ice cream and a cup of coffee, greeted a group of very excited schoolchildren, chatted with grocers, and then ran back up the stairs to his first floor office. He beat his press secretary, Tim Albrecht, up the steps.

New Iowa GOP staff

New names & faces at the Iowa GOP headquarters in Des Moines.  Details in news release below.

DES MOINES- Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn today announced the hiring of additional staff and the promotion of two current staff members as the party begins preparation for the straw poll and 2012 caucus. In addition to Executive Director Chad Olsen who was hired in November and formally confirmed late last month, Strawn has hired Communications Director, Casey Mills, Organization Director, Ryan Gough and Data Director, Patrick Stewart.
            “We continue to build upon our successes since the November midterms by assembling a professional, experienced and committed staff in advance of the Ames Straw Poll and First in the Nation Iowa Caucuses. I am confident these additions to our team will make our grassroots activists, elected officials and donors proud,” Strawn said. “Collectively, this group brings a wealth of experience in political organization and communications and most importantly, they understand Iowa politics.”
            Chad Olsen was first hired to serve as Executive Director in November and was formally confirmed by the State Central Committee last month. Olsen, a Harlan native, most recently served as the director of the 2010 Iowa GOP Voter Program which set records for voter contacts and returned Republican absentee ballots. He brings vast caucus experience, working every contested caucus since 1996.
            Casey Mills has assumed the role of Communications Director.  Mills served as the Organization Director for Senator Chuck Grassley’s successful re-elect. Prior to returning to Iowa, he spent four years working for Grassley in Washington, most recently as his Deputy Press Secretary. Mills is originally from Sioux City.
            Ryan Gough and Patrick Stewart come to the Republican Party of Iowa following roles as field director and data director respectively for the 2010 Iowa GOP Voter Program. Both Gough and Stewart worked at the Republican National Committee in the political department before coming to Iowa in 2010.
            In addition to the new personnel at the Iowa GOP, both Kari Putney and Vonna Hall have been promoted to new roles within the organization. Putney, an Elgin native and Iowa State University graduate with extensive event and fundraising experience, was recently named the Iowa GOP’s finance coordinator. Hall, who joined the party during the 2010 cycle, will serve as office manager.

Harkin doubts about Boswell/Vilsack primary

Senator Tom Harkin said this weekend he doubts former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack will challenge Congressman Leonard Boswell in a primary next year.  Harkin was the guest on this weekend’s Iowa Press on IPTV (watch the episode here) and — brace yourself — Harkin and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich agree on ethanol policy.  Subsidies can be phased out/end under certain conditions.  Gingrich said in January that carmakers should be required to make every vehicle that rolls off the line a flexible fuel vehicle.  Harkin adds another caveat: subisides can end when all vehicles are flex-fuel and there’s a pipeline, plus pumps to dispense the stuff. Here’s the transcript:

Hsrkin: Well, I think we have reached the point now in ethanol as a liquid fuel where I don’t know that we need the price support so much anymore but what we need is market access, market access.  I have been trying for some time, again, with Senator Lugar, so we have had a bipartisan approach on this, to expand the market for ethanol.  That means we need more blender pumps, we need more flexible fuel cars and we need dedicated pipelines to carry the ethanol from the Midwest to the east.  Let me expand on that just a second.  We called in some of the auto companies just a few years ago and met with them to ask them why they weren’t building more flexible fuel vehicles because they build them in Brazil, Ford every car they build in Brazil is flexible fuel or GM or Honda or Toyota.  So, we called them and we said, why aren’t you building more flex fuel cars here?  Well, their answer was because there’s no blender pumps.  There’s no pumps out there.  So, we called in the oil companies and we asked them, why aren’t you putting in more blender pumps?  Do you know what their answer was?  Because there aren’t any flexible fuel cars out there.

Henderson: So you would support requiring the auto makers to make flexible fuel vehicles?

Harkin: Absolutely, I have a bill in to do that.

Henderson: And get rid of ethanol subsidies?

Harkin: Well, a gradual reduction in the ethanol subsidies but to get the — and we’re going to have to confront that this year, by the way.  But we have to mandate flexible fuel vehicles and we have to mandate, I believe, blender pumps and I worked a couple of years ago to get some changes in the tax law to make it easier to build a pipeline and I believe that is going to happen in the next few years, a pipeline that will go from Iowa to New York City and so we’re going to be able to deliver ethanol to mass markets. That is what ethanol needs, market access.

Back to Gingrich, The Wall Street Journal wrote an opinion piece responding to the statements Gingrich made in Des Moines about ethanol.

The rules and gay marriage

There’re all in their places, but I’m not so sure about the bright, shining faces.  The Iowa Senate convened shortly after 7 a.m. today.  A rules fight is a brewin’ here and at the center of it is a push to get a senate vote on a resolution calling for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnershipsin Iowa. 

After a silent prayer for the Iowa troops who’re on active duty and recitation of the Pledge, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal spoke, asking for unanimous consent to call up a piece of legislation. 

Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) asked for the floor, saying: “I ask unanimous consent to call up Senate Joint Resolution 8.”

A bunch of senators went to the “well” of the senate, which is at the center of the room.  It’s where Senate President Jack Kibbie (D-Emmetsburg) sits.  He functions as the parliamentarian.

Kibbie said since Senate Resolution 2 had already been called up for debate by Gronstal, Sorenson’s motion was out of order.

Sorenson responded. “I call that into question,” he said, employing Senate Rule 52 to “ssk the body to overrule the ruling from the chair.”

There was a parade of senators to Kibbie’s desk to discuss the matter off mic (so we don’t know what is being said).

“This is going to be a circus,” Senator Jack Hatch said as he sat at his desk near the press bench. 

Kibbie spoke to the senate, via the sound system, a few moments later, saying he ws taking a little time for a reason. “This is the first time I’ve had to call a vote on a ruling of the chair,” Kibbie said, “and that’s what we’re a gonna do.”

Sorenson: “I believe it’s a debatable motion.”

Kibbie: “Yes it is.”

Gronstal, at about 7:14 a.m., was recognized to speak.  “There’s been much misinformation about what is in the rules.  We don’t override rulings of the chair,” Gronstal said to start.  Gronstal gave a little history, saying “for a decade, we couldn’t get the minimum wage dealt with in this chamber, but we never voted to overrule the ruling of the chair.”

Gronstal said if the senate can override Kibbie’s ruling this morning, there is no such thing as a committee chair because at any point this body on any issue, whether it’s the iminimum wage or a constitutional amendment.”

He suggested the power of committee chairs would be diminished by the matter, too.

“I even understand that people may characterize this as a vote on the constitutional amendment.  It is not.  I understand that people can lie and say it is,” Gronstal said.

Senator Merlin Bartz (R-Grafton) yelled from his desk, saying Gronstal had violated Senate Rule 9, which says senators are not to  imply a colleague has improper motives.

Kibbie said Bartz’s “point is well taken” and Gronstal replied. “I did not say anything about the motives of the senator.  I said people can.  There’s a good deal of misinformation,” Gronstal said, mentioning email messages being sent out by The FAMiLY Leader, a group which opposes gay marriage.

“This is not a vote on the constitutional amendment on gay marriage,” Gronstal said.

Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) spoke next, saying he’s “only been here for two and a half weeks.”  He quoted the state constitution, saying there was nothing in there about committees.  Chelgren criticized Gronstal for blocking a vote on the constitutional amendment about gay marriage for the past couple of years: “The very act of denying us that is unconstitutional.”

Senator Bartz spoke next. “Extraordinary times deserve extraordinary measures,” he said. “And the real issue we’re standing up here is not because we wish to somehow change the traditions of the senate.”

Sorenson spoke. “I didn’t come over to try and disrupt the process. I didn’t come over here to try to toss tradition out the window and I understand that some of the people doesn’t realize this is a vote for marriage. but the fact of the matter is the people of Iowa have been denied a vote on marriage…We have the opportunity right now to vote on the marriage amendment right now.”

At 7:34 a.m. the voting began on Sorenson’s motion to override the ruling of the chair (senate president).  At 7:35 a.m. the vote was over, failing on a 26-24 party line vote.

The senate then began debate on the senate rules of operation. Gronstal said this is a “pretty arcane discussion” and he asked Bartz to “yield” which in the senate sort of means the two have a conversation over the senate sound system.  Gronstal read something Bartz was quoted as saying in The Mason City Globe Gazette about changing the traditions of the senate, a quote made before the session started.

Bartz said the quote was accurate.  Gronstal then said that proved Republicans, not Democrats were first to start talking about changing the traditions of the senate. Gronstal spoke a few moments more, then said: “It’s time for us to get on about passing (these rules).”

Senate Republicans decided they wanted to caucuses, which means they went into a closed-door meeting and senate activity is suspended.

Boswell’s buddy for SOTU

Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-Des Moines) has a date for tonight’s State of the Union address.   From Jane Slusak, Boswell’s press secretary:

He has made plans to sit with Congressman Mike Conaway from Texas. He is the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, which the Congressman serves on as Ranking Member.

In case you haven’t been following the saga, some members of congress are literally trying to mix it up tonight, sitting with someone of the opposing party. It means there won’t be Republicans on one side of the room and Democrats on the other when the president gives his speech in less than an hour.  Senator Grassley (R-New Hartford) has a date. Congressman Steve King (R-Kiron) does not.  Here’s a bit more about the whole “prom night without the corsages” atmosphere, with details about Congressman Tom Latham (R-Ames) and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Mt Vernon).  UPDATE:  Loebsack will sit with Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Gingrich speaks to Iowa Renewable Fuels group

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is just now taking the stage to speak to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association gathering in Des Moines, Iowa.  State Representative Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from the small rural town of Garner, delivered the introduction. telling the crowd Gingrich supported ethanol before it was cool.

Gingrich said he’d been talking with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad earlier today about the beginnings of the ethanol iindustry 27 years ago, when “they were talking about it as gasahol.”

Gingrich then mentioned two well-known Iowa politicians — Senator Grassley and former Congressman Jim Nussle — who were on a conference committee in 1998 when he was speaker and congress and the bill which passed “dramatically extended and strengthened the incentives” for ethanol.

“I taught environmental studies…so I had a real interest…in finding renewable fuels….to increase American energy production,” Gingrich said of his interest in gasahol/ethanol 27 years ago,.adding the energy crisis of the 1970s convinced him there’s a national security interest in developing home-grown fuels.

“If we kept $400 billion a year at home that is currently going out of the United States to buy energy, we would be dramatically better off,” Gingrich said. “And, frankly, I would rather have the next building boom in Des Moines than in Dubqi so I think we ought to have a policy that focuses on it.”

Gingrich told the crowd there’s a need to change the “attitude and psychology” of the U.S. govt…in order to “accelerate new ideas.”

Gingrich addressed the charge that ethanol is siphoning corn away from the food chain.  He said that was “just plain flat wrong.  It is factually untrue,” Gingrich said, to applause.

Gingrich said if anybody has created a problem with food on the planet, it is the European’s opposition to GMOs.  He suggested the Europeans “feel superior while poor people suffer.”

Gingrich told the crowd that “every time farmers start to do well (financially), somebody attacks them and it makes no sense…Why are we attacking the farmers for being productive?…We’re going to be able to meet the world’s food and fuel needs” by using modern science and technology.

The crowd applauded.  One man nearby the press riser said, “That’s right.”

Gingrich said he “big city attacks” of the ethanol industry are “nfuriating” because ethanol plans brings high-skill, high-paid jobs to rural communities.

“This matters in Georgia, too,” he said, mentioning the pine trees grown in his state for biofuel.

Gingrich called for new federal rules for automakers “to maximize development of flex-fuel cars. There is zero reason for the auto manufacturers not to produce flex-fuel cars…That ought to be the minimum demand for national security reasons…and consumer choice.”

He said the total extra cost per car is $100 for flex-fuel capability, and he wondered aloud why there was resistance to that modest cost. 

“There are powerful interests on the other side who are afraid of competition,” Gingrich said, answering his pondering.

Next up:  Gingrich said he had a “pretty bold” idea.  He proposed an ” Environmental Solutions Agency” to replace the Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA is “really in many ways hostile to all new technology…hostile to the business community, hostile to the marketplace.”

Gingrich next mentioned the president’s State of the Union address tonight. “I wrote a book called, ‘Winning the Future,'” Gingrich said, mentioning that is to be a theme of Obama’s speech tonight.  “…I was hoping he had read my book.”  Gingrich said his newsletter tomorrow will compare what he said in the book with what Obama says tonight.  Gingrich said he hopes Obama will embrace “some cool things” tonight.

Gingrich, during a brief Q&A session, attacked a recent Wall Street Journal editorial which rapped ethanol as “just flat out wrong.”

“I don’t mind people having an honest argument about ideology, but they ought to at least use facts that are accurate,” Gingrich said. “…This is an interest group fight in which a number of very sophisticated, big interest groups have set up a myth and are busy actively propagating the myth, but the truth is it hurts the farmer.  It hurts rural America and it’s fundamentally unfair to America’s future.” Gingrich facts that are accurate.” 

After Gingrich finished, Upmeyer gave him what sounded like an endorsement for president.

UPDATE: During Q&A with reporters, Gingrich said he’ll announce his decision on a presidential race by March 1.  He also said if congress passes the flex-fuel requirement in all vehicles, there’s no need to maintain the federal tax credit for ethanol.