Nettlesome, vexing, irritating…

Get in your way-back machine and dredge up your memories of September, 2000.  The political class was chattering away about the upcoming presidential debates, about how then-Vice President Al Gore would have an advantage over then-Texas Governor George W. Bush.  Then came the sighs that were heard around the world.  As a Wall Street Journal editorial put it, Gore’s “theatrical sighs” while Bush was answering questions during the debate showed bad manners.

Fast forward to Saturday, May 1, 2010.  You’re in a hotel ballroom in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, watching the three Republican candidates for governor “debate.”  On two different occasions you see and hear former Governor Terry Branstad jump into the time rival Bob Vander Plaats has been given to answer a question/make his point. 

The first “butting in” moment came when Vander Plaats was accusing Branstad of being something less than a “team player” when he endorsed Democrat Ben Nelson, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, in 2000.  This wasn’t a new charge.  Vander Plaats had made this complaint public in 2009.

“I believe Governor Branstad, you did endorse Ben Nelson who helped give us socialized medicine when you skipped the river into Nebraska when we could have won that…” Vander Plaats said.

Branstad cut in (and if you listen to the exchange, you can hear he is exasperated).  “I never went to Nebraska,” Branstad said. 

“But you did endorse Ben Nelson, is that correct?” Vander Plaats asked.

Branstad took the bait. “He’s a long time friend and I was out of office at the time,” Branstad said, for some reason stressing that “out of office” part.

Vander Plaats continued, using the “we” instead of “you” in reference to Branstad.  “But we still endorsed a Democrat,” Vander Plaats said.

Branstad slapped back. “I know, but this is supposed to be on the subject,” Branstad said. (The question had been whether each would back the party’s nominee if they lose in June.)

“This is the on the subject,” Vander Plaats said.  He was interrupted by moderator Bob Fisher, who advised Vander Plaats that he was running ouf of time so he needed to “finish up your answer.

Vander Plaats concluded: “It’s about it being a team player.”

The second incident happened a few minutes later as Vander Plaats was (mistakenly) talking about Congressman Steve King suing former Governor Tom Vilsack over a 2005 executive order that gave some convicted felons who’d completed their sentences and probation the right to vote.   Branstad knew King’s lawsuit was actually over another executive order Vilsack issued in 1999 that extended civil rights protections to gay, lesbian and transgender state workers.  Branstad couldn’t contain himself to a mere Gore-esque sigh to punctuate the airspace.  He talked out loud.

“You’re wrong in what you’re saying,” Branstad told Vander Plaats when he made the mistaken assertion during Saturday’s debate.

Vander Plaats argued it was his turn to talk:  “I think I’m right with my time.”

Branstad was undeterred and shot back:  “Go ahead and look it up.” 

Immediately after the debate was over, Branstad kept pestering Vander Plaats on stage, telling Vander Plaats loudly to “look it up” to see that he was wrong.  (I double-checked with Congressman King late Saturday and he confirmed Vander Plaats was wrong. I was afraid King had signed onto the first lawsuit in 1999 and the second lawsuit in 2005, but King did not sign onto that second lawsuit about felon voting rights.)

As for the headline of this post, Branstad is clearly nettled by Vander Plaats and it showed on Saturday.  The third and final “debate” among the three candidates will be Thursday, May 20. It will be interesting to see whether Branstad can contain himself within the time he is allotted to speak or if he will be driven to “step on” the time Vander Plaats is given to answer the questions.

The “GOP3” debate in Cedar Rapids

It’s 3:20 and in 10 minutes the three men seeking the Republican Party of Iowa’s 2010 nomination for governor will debate for 90 minutes here in this ballroom at a Cedar Rapids hotel.  The event is sponsored by the Iowa Broadcast News Association and is airing live on Iowa Public Television’s “IPTV World” channel.

Eric Woolson, the campaign manager for Bob Vander Plaats, is sitting two rows in front of media row.  Tim Albrecht, Terry Branstad’s campaign spokesman, is sitting five seats to the right of Woolson.  At 3:26 p.m. folks in the room were asked to put their cell phones/’berries/iPhones on silent.

A panel of journalists will ask the candidates questions.  Todd Dorman, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette; Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio and Paul Yeager, host of The Iowa Journal on IPTV are sitting on the right of the stage.  The three candidates are standing on the left, with moderator Bob Fisher of KLSS/KRIB in Mason City in the middle.

The candidates have done a good bit of traveling today before arriving.  They all attended the district conventions in Dubuque and Iowa Falls.  Riding in a plane on this windy day was an adventure.

It’s 3:30 and the show is on with an introduction of the candidates underway.  First topic:  the state budget.  How do you balance and reduce the size of government?

RR:  across the board not a responsible way to balance the budget.  Critical decisions would have been far better a year ago, with selective cuts — “a more surgical approach.” 

BVP:  “It takes no intellectual fire power” to do an across the board cut, which is what Culver did last October.  “I think we need to be funding the classrooms, not the bureaucracy.” 

TEB:  “Governor Culver’s actions have been both reckless and irresponsible.”  He insisted on “putting the state deeply in debt.”  Branstad said it’s time for “prudent and thoughtful leader.”

All three said they would have reconvened legislature in order to make selective cuts rather than cut budget across the board. 

[Read more…]

Obama in Ottumwa

UPDATE:  Here’s the Radio Iowa story of this event.  What follows is a live blog.

obama-girlsPresident Obama is due to speak later this afternoon in the student center on the Indian Hills Community College campus in Ottumwa. As the jazz of David Sanborn is pumped through the sound system, the crowd (estimated to be about 2100) slowly files into the gymnasium. here  At 2:30, several members of the Indian Hills softball team were in their seats near the back of the gym, waiting for the rest of the squad to arrive  Why the back of the hall?  The women are due to play a softball game tonight at 7:30 against William Penn, in Oskaloosa, and they need to make a hasty exit when Obama’s through speaking.

“Oh, I am stoked that he is coming.  I was so excited when I found out the news. I am a big Obama fan,” said Nicole Steinle of Fort Collins, Colorado, the Warriors’ catcher.

Steinle, who is a freshman, was not old enough to vote in 2008.  “Unfortunately I was not but both of my parents voted for him,” she said.

Jordan Grell of Moville, Iowa — an infielder on the Indian Hills softball squad — was old enough to vote in 2008 and she voted for Obama.   “I’m from a small town so this kind of stuff doesn’t happen very often and for a small college like this, it’s really big,” Grell said.  “It’s very exciting.”

Grell said she is “concerned” about the way Obama is being perceived by the general public.  “I think that it takes a while for change,” she said, “so I think he’s headed for some kind of change in a good way.”

Forty-five-year-old Kevin Pope of Ottumwa has “always been a Democrat” and believes the president’s visit to his town may help Democrats.

“It should bring us closer together and hopefully we can get some stuff done with this unemployment that’s going on,” he said.  “That’s kind of what I was trying to really see, what was going to happen there, you know, you got the extension for the third (time).  What’s going to happen the people that it runs out on?  What are we going to do for them?  People working part-time can’t find a full-time job…I work part-time at Menard’s.  (My) unemployment ran out.”

obama-crowdHe’s among the folks who’ve been invited to sit on a set of bleachers behind the stage where Obama will stand.  It’s the first time he’s seen a president in person.  “First time!  How exciting is that?  Regardless of who the president is, if you have an opportunity to see this, why not take that opportunity?” Pope said before being ushered into his spot.

Duane Fuller of Muscatine is sitting near Pope.  He is among the Iowans who supported Obama early in 2007 and joined Organizing For America after the ’08 campaign ended.  He’s been making telephone calls to the Obama network, “trying to get people on board; just got people on board with health care.”

Like Pope, Fuller is looking for a full-time job that pays well.

“I think it’s a very hard time right now in Iowa because a lot of people are out of work. I myself have been unemployed or underemployed for a year and a half and I know it’s hard to find a job and that’s what the president’s here talking about and it speaks directly to me…It’s just that nobody needs anyone and if they do, they want to pay you $7.25 an hour and when you’ve got a (college loan) to pay off, you can’t make it on minimum wage,” said Fuller, who is 34 years old.

At 3:47 p.m. a minister led the crowd in prayer, a college student sang the national anthem and then there was a lull.  By 4:25 p.m. another student introduced Obama.  A roar goes up from the crowd; after about 15 seconds “Hail to the Chief” is played over the sound system.

“Hello everybody.  Hello Ottumwa.  Good to see you,” Obama said.  “…I miss you guys.”

[Read more…]

Underdogs & ham balls

Two final notes about this Friday, April 9.  First, Governor Chet Culver today declared himself the “underdog” in his bid for reelection. He also likened himself to the 2009/2010 UNI men’s basketball team.

I think Iowans love underdogs,” Culver said.

No word on whether at some point Culver will sing the theme song for the cartoon show.  U.S. Senate candidate Art Small sang the Underdog theme himself on the day he held a news conference at the statehouse to announce his candidacy.  Small, as you may recall, used the slogan: “think big, vote small” in his 2004 race against Chuck Grassley.

Oh, and Tom Vilsack had his son’s quartet sing the “Underdog” theme song on the front porch of the family home in Mount Pleasant in 1998 when Vilsack was running a long-shot campaign for governor.  As you may remember, Vilsack wound up winning that race.

Second note:  I spent much of this evening on the Madison County Fairgrounds in Winterset.  Madison County Democrats held a dinner and the three Democrats who want to face off against Senator Chuck Grassley in 2010 were there to speak.  Here’s the Radio Iowa story.  Grassley’s “pull the plug on grandma” comment — uttered in Winterset this past August — was fodder for the evening.

The cows near the Jackson Community Building on the fairgrounds could be heard mooing.  Cardboard cut-outs of John Wayne and another of Barack Obama were in the hallway of the meeting hall.  People who entered were invited to pose by the cut-outs.  Later, they learned they could get a copy of the snapshot — for $3.  The friendly folks in Madison County also offered me dinner, which I declined.  They served ham balls, cheesy potatoes and green bean casserole.

“This is one of the best meals that we have had on the campaign trail,” Roxanne Conlin, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, told the crowd as she began her speech. “In a situation like this, so often we get fried chicken that was fried several days ago and is kind of congealed. Nothing like a ham ball and cheesy potatoes!  So thank you, very much, to the people who did the hard work of cooking wonderful food for so many people.”

Branstad on “Iowa Press”

Former Governor Terry Branstad, a 2010 Republican candidate who is seeking a fifth term as governor, is the guest on this weekend’s edition of “Iowa Press” on IPTV.  (That’s a link to the general show website; the video from this morning’s taping has not yet been posted.)  UPDATEHere is a link to the Branstad show.

After the program, Branstad expanded on something he said during the taping — that current Governor Chet Culver (a Democrat) is improperly interfering with state regulatory agencies.  Branstad cites three instances.  Read about it here.

The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich tweeted during the show’s taping.  Charlotte Eby of The Lee Enterprises Newspapers tweeted during the show’s taping, too

I was on the set, asking questions.  I asked Branstad why he needed a fifth term as governor; whether it was a good idea in an anti-incumbent year for Iowa Republicans to have Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley at the top of the ticket and whether he thinks gambling is economic development.  I also asked about his health care reform tour of the state with former G0vernor Tom Vilsack and about accusations from former State Auditor Richard Johnson (a Republican) that Branstad was a profligate spender as governor.  Iowa Press moderator Dean Borg and Mike Glover of the Associated Press asked questions as well — listen/watch tonight for their questions and Branstad’s answers.

Also today, Branstad announced he’ll host a statewide “Iowa Vision 2020” Summit on May 15.

Three GOP candidates meet in first “debate”

The three Republicans who are running for governor in Iowa gathered at KTIV studios in Sioux City early this afternoon for the first “debate” of the 2010 primary campaign season.  It will air this evening at 7 p.m. on the three NBC affiliates (KTIV, KTTC & KWWL), but was available “live” online at 1 p.m.  What follows is a live blog of the event.

The three candidates had 90 second opening statements.  Former Governor Terry Branstad trotted out a new line: “Results over rhetoric, that’s what this is all about.”

First question is about the state’s budget problems:  State Representative Rod Roberts says people of Iowa are “taxed plenty,” and it’s important for next governor to “say no to any new increased spending in government.”

Business consultant Bob Vander Plaats, in his answer, suggested the state budget problems started during the Branstad administration, continued through Vilsack’s and into the current Culver Administration, as Vander Plaats talked about a “bad mindset from governor after governor after governor.”  Vander Plaats said government had been “on steroids.”

“Iowans want results, not rhetoric,” Branstad replied, saying he’d made tough decisions and left a budget surplus when he left office in January of 1999.

Vander Plaats added, in response to the next question: “We need to limit government.  It’s not about serving people less. It’s about serving people better.”

Branstad said Culver was “dead wrong” about budgeting; Branstad mentioned I-JOBS and attacked the program.

“We need to create new jobs,” Roberts said, arguing again for his proposal to eliminate the corporate income tax.

For the second time in the debate — not even 15 minutes in — Branstad praised Roberts for his answer.

[Read more…]

Obama in Iowa City, the 2010 edition

Barack Obama in Iowa City, Iowa, on March 25, 2010:  “This is the place where change began.”

“…Yes we can,” the crowd chanted, interrupting Obama’s a few minutes into his speech.

Obama replied:  “Yes we did.”

Read the text of the president’s speech is below.  Watch the live stream on Iowa Public Television.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was at the microphone at exactly 1 p.m. in the Field House in Iowa City.

“My beloved Jayhawks were on their way to St. Louis and ran into Northern Iowa,” the former Kansas governor said, to open, referring to last weekend’s big NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game. “So when the president asked me to come here, I felt just a little bit bitter.”

There’s was a problem with the audio, so Sebelius talked about the Kansas/UNI game while the audio problem was resolved.  “It’s never about the pundits.  It’s never about the polls.  It’s what happens when you play the game,” she said, drawing a comparison with the health care debate.

Obama and his entourage landed at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids at about a quarter ’til one and drove south into Iowa City. Some protesters held signs along the road from the airport to Interstate 380.  One of the signs read simply: “Repeal.”

At 1:08 p.m., Sebelius uttered the “Yes, we can” phrase and she introduced Obama to the crowd.  He ran up a few steps, waved to people in the crowd and walked toward the lectern.

“Hello Iowa,” he yelled at 1:09 p.m.  “Are you fired up?  Ah, it is good to be back in Iowa.  I’ve got to take off my jacket while I’m in Iowa.”

As Obama started rolling up his sleeves, Obama told the crowd: ” I can feel spring coming.”   A few moments later, as Obama acknowledged people in the crowd, he referred to a former Iowa governor, telling the crowd:  “Tom Vilsack’s in the house.”  Obama also introduced the former University of Iowa football player who carries the “big briefcase” that goes wherever the president goes.

At 1:31 p.m., somebody in the crowd yelled out criticism of the plan, but it’s difficult to hear what was said in the cavernous gym.   Obama directly responded, calling the shouter a “young man” twice, then moving back to the text of his speech.   The speech ended at 1:38 p.m.

Here is the text of Obama’s speech:

[Read more…]

Kim Lehman leaves IRTL post

Republican National Committeewoman Kim Lehman is leaving her role as leader of the Iowa Right To Life Committee to work with an Iowa City-based adult stem cell research facility.

Read the announcement below:

Kim Lehman Takes New Position with John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute
Des Moines, IA–Kim Lehman, President of Iowa Right to Life, is leaving to take a new position with the John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute in Iowa City
Lehman is transitioning this week to John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute (JP2SRI) and will be responsible in helping the non-profit fulfill its mission in advancing adult stem cell research while promoting medical ethics in regenerative medicine.  The organization is focused on finding cures to diseases like cancer, diabetes and rare diseases that plague so many people.  
[Read more…]

John Norris confirmed to FERC

The U.S. Senate last week (on Christmas Eve) confirmed Iowa native John Norris as a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Norris resigned as chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board about a year ago to follow his wife, Jackie Norris, to Washington.  Jackie Norris served as Michelle Obama’s chief of staff until this past summer.  (Jackie Norris had been Obama’s Iowa campaign manager for the general election.)

John Norris has a long history in Iowa politics, dating back to Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign in Iowa, as well as Tom Harkin’s 1992 presidential campaign.  John Norris worked for Congressman Leonard Boswell and for Tom Vilsack when Vilsack was Iowa’s governor.  Vilsack is now the nation’s Secretary of Agriculture and Norris has been serving as Vilsack’s chief of staff.  He’ll now leave that post to go to FERC.

Here are the statements FERC issued after the senate vote confirming Norris:

Chairman Wellinghoff:
“We at FERC are pleased and excited to welcome John Norris to the Commission, and we are looking forward to his tenure with us. John brings to FERC a wealth of experience, talent and knowledge that will help us to meet the challenges of providing reliable, efficient and sustainable energy for consumers.”

John Norris:
“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and work toward ensuring open and fair energy markets in which consumers, retailers and wholesalers can have confidence. We face many challenges as we chart the course for America’s energy future. The FERC will play a critical role in meeting those challenges, including minimizing the impact changes will have on consumers, ensuring adequate investment in upgrading and building new infrastructure and meeting our nation’s goals for reducing CO2 emissions. “I am humbled by the trust and support I have received from President Obama, Senator Reid, Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski and the Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I look forward to getting started and making myself accessible to all our citizens in carrying forth my duties and responsibilities to this great country.”

John Norris Biography:
John Norris is currently serving as Chief of Staff to Secretary Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prior to joining the USDA, Norris served as Chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) from 2005 to 2009. As a member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) he worked on the Electricity Committee and was Co-Chair of the 2009 National Electricity Delivery Forum. He served as a Board Member, Secretary and President of the Organization of Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) States as well as Chairman of the MISO Demand Response Working Group. He also was a member of the FERC/NARUC Demand Response Collaborative. Norris was on the Board of Directors of the National Regulatory Research Institute, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Power Fund and served on the Advisory Councils of the Iowa Energy Center, the Financial Research Institute for the University of Missouri College of Business and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. In 1999 and 2000 he was Chairman of the Iowa Electric Restructuring Task Force while serving as Chief of Staff for then Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Norris also worked for U.S. Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-3rd) as Boswell’s Chief of Staff from 1997 to 1998. From 1989 to 2003 he owned and managed a restaurant in Greenfield, Iowa and he was State Director of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition during the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s. Norris graduated with distinction from the College of Law at the University of Iowa in 1995 and received his undergraduate degree in 1981 from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.

And the stationery closet goes to…

The state’s governor and lieutenant governor ran together, as a team, for the first time in 1990 (in the same way the president and vice president do).  Don Avenson, the Iowa Democratic Party’s eventual gubernatorial nominee that year, chose JoAnn Zimmerman as his running mate.  She was the state’s lieutenant governor at the time and abandoned her own campaign for governor late in the primary campaign after Avenson promised he would choose her as his running mate, if he won the primary.  He won; he chose her.

Terry Branstad, a Republican, was serving as governor at the time and he chose state Senator Joy Corning as his lieutenant governor/running mate for the 1990 election.  The Branstad/Corning ticket won in November and, in early 1991, the governor’s physical office in the statehouse had to accommodate the new lieutenant governor.  A first-floor closet that had been used primarily for stationery and other office supplies was converted into an office for the lieutenant governor and her secretary sat at a desk right outside the closet/office.

When Tom Vilsack was elected governor in 1998, he figuratively and literally elevated his lieutenant governor (Sally Pederson) when he took office in January of 1999.  Pederson was given an office on the second floor and it looks bigger than the governor’s formal office, although I’ve never been able to confirm the square footage.   When Chet Culver took office in January of 2007, he gave his lieutenant governor (Patty Judge) the same spacious office.

During the Vilsack and Culver administrations, that old Joy Corning office on the first floor was occupied by a succession of communications directors/press secretaries.  There are too many to mention. 

The last communications director to occupy that space is/will be Erin Seidler, Culver’s communications director.  A statement from Culver press secretary Troy Price this afternoon confirms Seidler will be moving out of the office, in favor of space that’s more “centrally located” in the governor’s space in the statehouse.  The entire Culver communications staff is relocating to the bunker, er, the “central location” in the office.  Here’s how Price put it in an email to the Iowa press corps:

We (the Culver communications staff) are moving into a central location within the office, and administrative staff will move to our current location in room G-9.  This move will better utilize the space within the office, and ensure that constituents who come to room G-9 seeking services from our office will have the proper staff there to answer questions.

The closet/office historically has been characterized by abysmal heating/cooling, poor lighting and — until recently — you could tell how much demand there was for bacon, hamburgers and other grilled food items at the nearby cafeteria by the aromas permeating the air in the office.  The statehouse cafeteria relocated in the past couple of years, so the smell is gone.  Seidler will be, too, by the end of the week.

The new occupant of the Joy Corning Memorial Stationery Closet will be Jon Murphy, Culver’s liaison to the federal government.