Monthly Archives: April 2009
State lawmakers who stumbled, bleary-eyed, out of the Statehouse early Sunday morning once again left open government legislation on the scrap heap.Surprise, surprise.
It’s been two years since a panel of experts appointed by lawmakers made a series of thoughtful recommendations on how best to tighten and toughen Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws. But during the last two legislative sessions, our leaders decided it would be better to let those ideas gather dust.
Transparency isn’t a priority in a place where major legislation is crafted in closed-door working groups, massive bills are voted on before most members have a chance to read them and legislators put the finishing touches on their 2009 work product in the middle of the night. Go figure.
It was another triumph for the Iowa League of Cities and allied groups representing local government officials, who want the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, slap-onthe-wrist status quo to continue unchanged. Tougher laws would be inconvenient.
And actually, it’s a good thing lawmakers jettisoned this year’s final version of sunshine “reform.” A bill that passed the House was little more than watereddown window dressing.
Real enforcement would be too expensive, say the folks who just crafted a $6.3 billion state budget.
Passage of that House bill probably would have set back openness efforts. So, thanks for nothing, Legislature.
The excuse for all this watering and shelving is that no real Iowans, other than pesky journalists, care about this stuff.
No one in the Marion Community or Benton Community school districts really wants a direct, public explanation from their school board members on why superintendents are out the door or under fire. And I bet nobody in Iowa City would appreciate a full public explanation of why the city manager got the ax.
Nope, we’re all content to be told it’s a private “personnel” issue and leave it at that. Same goes for when they set out to hire a replacement. After all, these are only the well-paid, top executives running important taxpayer-funded institutions in our communities.
But you see, the struggle for more openness has no effect on real Iowans whatsoever.
Whether it’s a hometown superintendent search or CIA memos on torture techniques, we’re told there are plenty of good reasons why we should be uninformed and uninvolved. The right to know is so much less important than comfort and safety.
And yet, I hear politicians lament that everything has become so politicized, that the extremes are dominating the debate on so many important issues.
But when government institutions become less responsive and less open, when they’re perceived as shady clubs for career politicos and their cronies, what do you expect?
Average folks shrug and walk away. Ideologues take their place in the public square.
I’m certainly not saying a legislative bill can solve everything, but it could send an important signal to Iowans that public servants still serve the public. Call it a civic stimulus package.
Over at The Iowa Republican, news for Republicans by Republicans, blogicon Krusty Konservative discusses a meeting of GOP“establishment” types in Des Moines today called by Doug Gross. Gross, a former candidate for governor and longtime Republican player, is sharing some polling data on the party’s future direction.
Krusty is skeptical of what these squishy “moderates” are up to. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s a good read on what’s happening inside the Republican ranks these days.
So, how about that outbreak/epidemic/imminent pandemic?
Well, it’s become an Iowa story now, and about people, not just pigs. Gov. Chet Culver and our state’s top health experts gathered before cameras yesterday to trouble us while urging us not to be too troubled just yet.
And unless you’ve already sealed yourself up in a hilltop hideaway, you’ve probably heard some of what they had to say.
The Register: Iowa has 2 probable swine flu cases.
Probable is also the key word over at The Gazette. Radio Iowa has potential and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier focuses on the fact that a local is among 159 cases being tested for H1N1 or Swine Flu or New Pandemic or whatever.
Now that it’s here, health offiicials say it will spread. But officials say plans are in place, supplies are rolling in and neither of the “probable” cases required hospitalization.
Still, once the cases are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, state officials will declare what they call a “Public Health Disaster.” That sounds sort of alarmy. The Register explains:
Gov. Chet Culver said more exact tests should be completed on the two cases by today. If either case is confirmed, he said, he would declare a public health disaster. That would allow for aggressive action to slow the spread of the disease, he said.
Such measures could include mandatory quarantines for infected patients, although state leaders said they hoped people would isolate themselves voluntarily. The measures also could include cancellation of group events, and the closing of schools where the disease appears.
Lots of coulds hanging around, making people jumpy.
So far, this looks a lot like the start of a normal flu season, and by “normal” I mean the annual outbreak that usually kills about 30,000 Americans and 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide. That’s a baseline to keep in perspective while lots of hype swirls around us.
Still, some people aren’t taking any chances. Radio Iowa reports on a Davenport firm, Kelly’s Medical Supply Company, that’s seen a run on surgical masks. I’ve been told I look very handsome in a surgical mask, so good news.
To the west, the Omaha World-Herald says local businesses have plans on place to deal with a possible health emergency.
So this could be something, or it could be less than something, or it could be nothing to worry about. Could be that we’ll be hearing a lot about this for quite a while.
Here’s what our governor has to say this hour about H1N1:
TWO PROBABLE CASES OF H1N1 INFLUENZA REPORTED IN IOWA
DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) today reported two probable cases of H1N1 influenza in the state. The initial testing, performed by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory, is expected to be confirmed tomorrow by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The first case, an adult California resident, came to Iowa late last week. The individual traveled through Scott and Clinton counties. The second case, a southeast Iowa adult female, became ill last week after returning from Mexico. She traveled through Johnson, Des Moines and Muscatine counties.
“I have instructed Director Tom Newton to take the necessary steps to declare a public health disaster in Iowa if these cases are in fact confirmed,” said Governor Culver. “I want to be clear: this is a reasonable, precautionary measure with one goal in mind -keeping Iowans safe.”
A public health disaster declaration gives the state additional flexibility that may be needed to carry out the work of protecting the health of Iowans by allowing for several provisions, including:
• The purchase, storage and distribution of additional antivirals and other medical supplies.
• The deployment of public health response teams to supplement and support overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals and resources.
• The adoption of reasonable measures, as necessary, to prevent the transmission of infectious disease and to ensure that all identified cases are properly controlled and treated.
• Possible isolation of individuals or groups of individuals if necessary.
In addition to preparing a public health disaster declaration, Governor Culver and the Iowa Department of Public Health have taken a number of actions in response to these latest developments:
• The department’s emergency coordination center in the Lucas Building has been activated. If necessary, Governor Culver has given clearance to activating the State Emergency Operations Center.
• IDPH is sharing information regularly with local public health officials, health care providers, other state agencies, and private partners.
• IDPH has received a shipment of federal assets, which included anti-viral medications and personal protective equipment.
“The Iowa Department of Public Health has been working round the clock since last Friday, when the potential for the spread of influenza began to become apparent,” said Tom Newton, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Now that we have two probable cases of swine flu in Iowa, it’s especially important to remind Iowans of those prevention messages to help contain the spread of the illness.”
“It’s important to note that both of these cases had recently visited areas where outbreaks of swine flu are occurring,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “However, now that the virus has been introduced in the state, it’s even more important for Iowans to help prevent the spread of the disease.” There are important actions Iowans can take to protect the health of themselves and their family:
• Wash your hands frequently, and always wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
• Cough or sneeze into a tissue, or your sleeve or elbow.
• If you feel ill, even if you think you could ‘tough it out’ at work, stay home! Don’t send your children to school if they feel ill.
• If you have an illness in which your temperature rises above 100 F, along with other symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, and extreme tiredness, contact your health care provider to be seen and tested in a way that will not endanger the health of others.
Gov. Chet Culver has pulled the old switcheroo.
Today, he’s appointed Shearon Elderkin to the Iowa Power Fund Board and Carrie La Seur to the Environmental Protection Commission. or EPC. Just days ago, Senate Republicans scuttled Elderkin’s nomination to the EPC and La Seur’s nomination to the Power Fund Board.
So now he switches the appointments after lawmakers go home for the year. Tricky. Here’s the guv’s release:
GOVERNOR CULVER MAKES 4 KEY APPOINTMENTS
DES MOINES – Today, Governor Chet Culver named four individuals to serve in key positions throughout state government. The Governor appointed Shearon Elderkin to the Iowa Power Fund Board, Carrie La Seur to the Environmental Protection Commission, John Mathes as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home, and Tomas Rodriguez as Iowa’s State Public Defender.
“As Governor, I am committed to appointing qualified, dedicated individuals to positions throughout state government,” said Governor Culver. “These four individuals have shown throughout their careers their commitment to Iowans and moving this state forward. I look forward to working with Shearon, Carrie, John and Tomas as together we build a stronger, safer Iowa.”
Shearon Elderkin, of Cedar Rapids, is a former elementary school teacher and graduate of the University of Iowa who serves on the Friends of the Linn County Conservation Board and served on the Environmental Protection Commission. As one of the 18-members of the Iowa Power Fund Board, she will consider and approve incentives from the state’s fund to help grow and support Iowa’s energy independence and alternative energy efforts. Her term begins on May 1st, and she will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.
Carrie La Seur, of Mt. Vernon, is president and founder of Plains Justice, a public interest environmental law center. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. She also served on the Iowa Power Fund Board. As a member of the 9-person Environmental Protection Commission, she will provide policy oversight over the state’s environmental protection efforts. Her term begins on May 1st, and she will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.
John Mathes will serve for a second time as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. Mathes is stepping down as Superintendent of the Mt. Pleasant Treatment Facility, where he has served since 2007. He previously served as Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in 2004. Mathes will serve for one year, in which time Governor Culver will conduct a search and name a permanent Commandant.
Tomas Rodriguez, as the State Public Defender, will be responsible for coordinating the provision of legal representation to indigent persons under arrest or charged with a crime, in juvenile cases, and on appeal in criminal and post-conviction relief cases. Rodriguez is the current Chief Public Defender in Marshalltown, where he has served since 2006. Rodriguez received his bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose College in Davenport before earning his Juris Doctorate in 1981 from the University of Iowa’s College of Law. Rodriguez taught for 14 years in the Department of Management at the University of Northern Iowa and has over 24 years of experience of general law practice. Rodriguez begins his new position on May 15, and will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.
The former Republican congressman, White House budget director and the candidate who couldn’t stop the Big Lug juggernaut is now a high-powered Virginia-based consultant, says The Register.
Radio Iowa also has coverage of “The Nussle Group,” which is, according to its innaugural press release, “a multi-disciplined government relations and strategic consulting firm serving a wide range of clients across multiple sectors.”
I don’t know exactly what that means. But I know one thing for sure. They will never be mistaken for The Spencer Davis Group.
The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reports a possible Iowa swine flu case:
A suspected case of swine influenza in Iowa has appeared in Black Hawk County.
An adult showed up in a local hospital late Tuesday with flu symptoms and a fever more than 100 degrees after traveling to a U.S. state with a confirmed case of swine flu.
A sample of the virus was sent to University of Iowa Hygienic Labs for confirmation. Results won’t be known for at least a day, county health officials said.
Stay calm. Keep eating pork. And heed the calming words of our leaders, in between their uncontrollable coughing fits.
UPDATE — Culver has called a media briefing.
GOVERNOR CULVER, PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE ON H1N1 FLU
DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver will be joined by Iowa Department of Public Health Director Tom Newton and State Epidemiologist Dr. Patricia Quinlisk at a press conference this afternoon to brief the media and public on the H1N1 flu in Iowa:
The press conference will be held at:
Wednesday, April 29
Kennedy Conference Room
Would Swine Flu, by any other name, be less damaging to the nation’s agricultural economy?
US Secretary of Agriculture TomVilsack thinks so, according to Radio Iowa. Pork prices are falling. Russia and China have slapped import restrictions on some US pork and some skittish nibblers are losing their taste for the other white meat.
In Cedar Rapids, they’ve even cancelled live pig kissing. Madness:
Kissing a pig has been a great fundraiser for years, but the American Diabetes Association decided now is not the best timing.
The group decided, in the wake of the swine flu outbreak, to tweak Tuesday night’s event during the Corridor Classic at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
“It’s still ‘kiss a pig’ but they’re not kissing a live pig,’” said Jenn Petsche, area manager for the Eastern Iowa chapter of the American Diabetes Association.
Instead, executives from AEGON USA and other area businesses and hospitals – 12 in all – kissed someone dressed as a pig during the baseball game to raise money for the group.
The only problem with all of this, as The Des Moines Register points out, is that no “swine” flu cases have been found in pigs in the US or in Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.
“To their knowledge thus far, they have no pigs with this virus,” said John Clifford, deputy administrator for veterinary services at the Agriculture Department.
He told a Senate appropriations subcommittee that the flu’s name was causing “undue alarm” among countries that import U.S. pork.
I hate undue alarm. So if we’re going to save our bacon, folks, we’ve got to come up with a new name. Pronto.
Some have suggested the Mexican Flu, although that’s very unpopular in, uh, Mexico. Another suggestion is the North American Flu, or NAF, which sounds more like a trade agreement.
Pork producers have suggested calling it the Vegan Flu. Yeah, I made that last one up.
Republicans might like it if we called this surprising, potentially lethal strain the Specter Flu. Liberals might vote for the Glenn Beck Crazy Flu. Cable news producers might pick the Fear for Your Lives Flu, judging by the tone of coverage so far.
It’s not just cable. Last night, KGAN here in CR ran with some sort of CDC pandemic simulation maps that show red dots of flu-inflicted death swiftly overtaking half the country. Sweet dreams, gentle viewers.
So the message here, folks, is, please, put on your thinking caps, keep grilling up those delicious Iowa chops, and try to avoid becoming a red dot. Good luck.
Yeah, I know it’s been at least three full sleep cycles since the Iowa Legislature adjourned early Sunday morning, ending an around-the-clock vigil commemorating the death of good, open daytime government.
Zombies, not Democrats, actually controlled the Legislature in the final hours, according to my sources. Which explains that huge tax break for the undead tucked into the standings bill.
For the first time in 11 years, I did not cover any of the legislative session in person. Like most Iowans, I watched from afar. Unlike most Iowans, I paid attention.
So I feel obligated to offer my late, long-distance analysis.
Top 5 Winners:
1. Gov. Chet Culver — He got the signature agenda item, a giant bonds sale in the neighborhood of $800 million to pay for disaster recovery, infrastructure, state and local projects etc. I’m not saying his plan is popular, that it will actually stimulate the economy or that he’s a shoe-in for re-election next year. But any governor who manages to get his big wish through the General Assembly can claim victory, and put an extra patch on his bomber jacket.
2. Flooded Towns — Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson, whose reporting I trust, says flood-related appropriationsapproved by lawmakers this year add up to nearly $500 million. That includes nearly $245 million in Culver’s bonding plan and $56 million from the state’s reserves approved in the opening weeks of the session. Sure, even those big piles of state money pale in comparison to ongoing muti-billion dollar recovery costs, but that’s a sizable take during a year marked by budget difficulties. But if they had just had a special session…OK, I’ll stop. We’ll all be waiting now to see exactly how they’ll spend the money.
3. House Republicans — They didn’t have the votes to get much passed, but they stuck together and did a much better job articulating a focused and forceful public message than disorganized majority Democrats. At one point, House Majority Leader Kraig Paulson, R-Hiawatha, even raised his voice.
4. Senate Democrats — Having smart leadership and a big majority are always helpful. I bet, during his contemplative moments, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal wishes Iowa had followed Nebraska’s unicameral lead all those years ago. May be high time to reconsider.
5. The Middle — The center, especially a handful of moderate Democrats, held all the cards in the House when it came to labor legislation, federal deductibility, health care reform and other big issues. They also succeeded in making vanilla the official state ice cream. Sprinkles? Let’s study that.
1. The Middle — Moderate Republicans, already a shrinking tribe, can’t feel good as they watch religious conservatives lead the GOP parade into the 2010 elections. On the minus side, the culture war overshadows tax and budget issues most Iowans care about. On the plus side, a primary campaign can really help take off those unwanted pounds.
2. House Democrats — Seriously, at what point do House Democrats look at this train wreck and wonder whether new leadership might be in order. Perhaps that’s harsh, but from out here in the hustings, this does not look like a well-oiled machine. Instead, the House has become the place where Democratic priorities go to die, squandering the party’s rare and potentially fleeting lock on power.
The night that House Speaker Pat Murphy ordered state troopers to clear a raucous public hearing on tax reform – turning a sleepy issue into an ugly, high-profile battle and a rallying point for his rivals - was just one exhibit in a gallery of missteps.
3. Labor – Organized labor was 0-4 on its top priorities. I’m not even sure a resolution honoring Union County could have passed in the House. This is not what labor leaders envisioned while they were working for years to help Democrats win control.
4. The Left - Health reform was watered down, tax reform was shelved and an attempt to make Iowa’s presidential electoral votes follow the national popular vote went down the tubes. Medical marijuana? Up in smoke. The biggest progressive victory of the year was delivered in an Iowa Supreme Court opinion penned by a Branstad appointee. Go figure.
5. Drunks — The House goes all Carry Nation at the last minute and shoots down legislation that would have allowed the sale of hard booze in convenience stores. So much for being able to buy your scotch and scratch tickets in one easy stop. And forget that BV and burrito night promotion.