Saturday, February 26, 2011

Branstad Says Iowa Caucuses Will Be First

Calendar Countdown: Florida is threatening to move up its primary to January 31, 2012. That screws up the current calendar for the 2012 nominating process. Most importantly for Iowans, it would, at least temporarily, put Florida before the Iowa caucuses, currently scheduled for February 6th. CNN talked with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who is in D.C. for the National Governors' Association meetings. Branstad told CNN he will make sure Iowa comes first in the process. No real surprise there. But it does offer another reason for the out-of-towners coming for the caucuses to make sure their hotel rooms have refundable deposits, so they can move their stays a little earlier next year. Can they please still let us reporters enjoy our Christmas holiday break though with our families and not move everything up too much?!

Newt's Next Move: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is sounding more and more like he's not just flirting with a run for president in 2012 (and trying to sell a bunch of books). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Gingrich will announce in 10 days he is forming a presidential exploratory committee. That allows him to start doing things like raising money for a possible run, etc. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum and Gingrich seem to be among the most serious in Iowa so far. Former candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have run here before, so you can't forget about them. And Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour also just took his first trip here that was solely focused on exploring a run.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gay Republicans

Gay Republicans: Romney, Pawlenty, Santorum, Huckabee, Barbour, there room for a gay Republican in the presidential race, too? Fred Karger, a gay rights activist in California, wants in. The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition has its Spring Kickoff Event coming up March 7th in Waukee. Karger is filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission to try to help get him an invite to the event. In these times of same-sex marriage ballot fights, do Republicans want a prominent gay person in their race? Should they? What do you think?

By the way, I checked with Steve Scheffler, the head of the coalition. He said the guest list for next month includes: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (who headlined the event last year), Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Godfather's Pizza former president Herman Cain and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer. Scheffler expects 500-700 people, up from around 450 last year. He adds 99% of the attendees are likely caucus voters. He said he might be hearing today that another possible presidential candidate could be rsvp-ing for the event. But he declined to say who that is. At this point, though, none of the assumed "big names"...Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Gingrich, are slated to attend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DHS to Cut 230 Positions

Job Cuts: Iowa Governor Terry Branstad warned Iowans there would be layoffs. According to this email from Chuck Palmer, the new director of the Department of Human Services, those layoffs are on the way. Here's an email sent out to employees.

DHS Staff:

I am sharing important budget news with key legislators today and I want to give you the same information.

I’ll start with the most sobering news. Our latest projections show that our budget for fiscal year 2012 will support 4,777 positions. That’s 5 percent fewer than the 5,029 funded positions today. Nearly half of the shortfall will be managed by keeping funded positions vacant, including positions that we expect will be vacated in the coming months. The remaining positions will be laid off, for a total reduction of about 230 funded positions. Our current hiring freeze will continue indefinitely, with only the most critical positions being considered for filling.

We are making a couple of assumptions. One is that policymakers will not appropriate funds to cover the costs of negotiated salary increases. For our agency alone, the salary adjustment portion is about $8.9 million. In order to honor our contractual obligations without a funded salary adjustment, we will need to eliminate about 136 positions, or a little more than half of the expected 230 reduction in positions. The remaining reductions are due to provisions of the governor’s budget recommendations, which we assume will pass, and due to budget-cutting legislation approved by the Legislature last spring.

You may have read that there are efforts in the Iowa Legislature to appropriate amounts lower than the governor recommended for our agency. It will be up to me and our other leaders to explain the consequences of even sharper cuts, and you can be assured that we will do so.

It is quite clear that a budget impact of this size will have unavoidable consequences for the work we do. Of course we will continue to look for ways to be more efficient. And of course our priorities will be to protect the most vulnerable Iowans who depend on our care.

The most significant impact will be in our field operations. Of the total 236 positions that we need to reduce, about half – an estimated 135 – will come from field, including income maintenance workers and social workers. Of these, we estimate that about 56 field positions will remain unfilled and, depending on the vacancy level, another 79 will be laid off. Caseloads for IM workers could exceed 800 per worker, compared to just under 700 today. Caseloads for social work case managers will also rise.

There will also be staff reductions in general administration, the child support recovery unit, the juvenile facilities at Toledo and Eldora, and the resource centers at Glenwood and Woodward.

We are assuming that the governor’s proposed supplemental for this fiscal year will also pass, meaning we will be able to keep our commitment to avoid critical cuts at our mental health institutes that would otherwise occur almost immediately under budget-cutting legislation (SF2088) approved last year.

As we evaluate our core mission, we anticipate going forward into FY12 with two changes at the MHIs that will have an impact on number of employees. At Clarinda, the geropsychiatric unit will be reduced to 20 beds from the current 29, and the substance abuse treatment unit at Mount Pleasant will be reduced to 25 beds from the current 45. Our core mission at the MHIs is to provide acute psychiatric help for adults and children. Those capacities will remain approximately the same, with a slight increase at Clarinda.

Our service area managers, superintendents, and other supervisors have been briefed on the projected impact of this budget, and I’m relying on them to give you the specifics. We assume that the budget picture will be complete by April. Assuming our assumptions are verified, we will begin the layoff notification process in May for implementation in July.

As always, I will do the best I can to keep you up to date regarding budget developments.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ethics Hearing on Clel Baudler, Albert Pujols Contract

Third Time's a Charm: For the third time, we await the state ethics hearing against Greenfield Republican State Rep. Clel Baudler. He admitted that he lied about having physical problems when he applied to get medical marijuana in California. Baudler said he got the prescription but never got it filled. And he only did this, he said, to show how easy it is to get medical pot. A local activist who wants to legalize medical marijuana filed the ethics complaint against Baudler for lying. The hearing takes place Wednesday. Well, we think it will. It's already been delayed two other times. The hearing is set for 12:30pm. We will be there. Unless it gets delayed.

Speaking of Waiting...: Albert Pujols is already one of the greatest players the St. Louis Cardinals have ever had. He is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the upcoming baseball season. He and his agent gave the Cardinals until Wednesday at 11am to either get a new contract or shut down talks until after the season. If it's true Pujols is demanding an unheard of 10-year, $300 million contract and won't budge from that, then, Albert, it was good knowing you. There is NO way the Cards will pay that much, especially since that would make Pujols 41 years old when the contract ends. No sane fan thinks he will still be this good that far from now. Even the Yankees and Red Sox, two teams that seem to print money at will, can't think Pujols should get a 10-year contract, at least I don't think they will.

Having said all of this, the Cardinals sold fans that if they helped finance a new stadium for 2006 with millions of taxpayer dollars, then the Cards could be more financially competitive. Well, gentlemen, taxpayers gave you what you wanted and kept showing up 3-million-a-year strong in the seats. So now, it's your turn to make something happen with Pujols. And, Albert, how about being a little more reasonable? 7 years, $200 plus million? Would that really stop you from keeping food on the dinner table for your family? No, it won't. And, hopefully, your devoted fans, many of whom ARE struggling to keep food on the table, will keep paying too much money to see you play in the only the way you can.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Baudler Hearing Delayed Again

Still Waiting: We thought we would find out this past Thursday if a state ethics committee thought retired state trooper-turned State Rep. Clel Baudler could get into some trouble. Baudler doesn't hide the fact he lied about his health when he applied to try to get a prescription for medical marijuana in California (it's legal there). Baudler said he never actually tried to fill the prescription to help the hemorrhoids (which he says he doesn't really have). Mike Pesce, of Des Moines, a legalize marijuana activist, filed the complaint with the ethics committee saying Baudler should get punished for breaking California law by lying on his application.

Lawmakers ended up delaying the ethics hearing Thursday and rescheduled it for Valentine's Day Monday. Today, House Chief Clerk Charlie Smithson sent out this message letting us know the meeting won't address the Baudler complaint Monday either. Here's his message:

Due to scheduling logistics for some of the House Ethics Committee members:

1. The meeting on February 14 at noon for the House Ethics Committee will be a discussion on the proposed House Rules Governing Lobbyists ONLY.

2. There will be NO discussion on the Pesce v. Baudler Ethics Complaint. This issue will be the focal point of the next Ethics Committee meeting (not yet scheduled).

Thank you all.

Charlie Smithson

Chief Clerk of the House

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Brother Kills Brother

Albia Murder: I'm wondering what could cause one brother to kill another. That is what authorities say happened in southern Iowa around the lunch hour. 73-year-old Richard Davis stands accused of shooting his younger brother, 60-year-old Gary Davis. Neighbors say the victim had just been standing in his driveway in the middle of the day when the older brother started shooting. Gary Davis had been a well-known doctor in Albia, a town of about 3,500 people, which is also the Monroe county seat. Authorities haven't said why they believe the elder Davis did it. But neighbors told us the brothers had been arguing for months. Here's the release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety:

The Albia Police Department and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department are
conducting a homicide investigation. On February 5, 2011, at 12:11 p.m., the Monroe County 911 Center received a 911 call reporting a shooting at 113 Linden Lane in Albia, Monroe County, Iowa. Responding authorities found a white male adult, later identified as Gary Davis, 60, of Albia, suffering from multiple injuries. Gary Davis was transported to the Monroe County Hospital where he was
pronounced dead. At 1:03 p.m., law enforcement arrested Richard J.
Davis, 73, of Albia, on the charge of Murder in the First Degree.
Richard Davis and Gary Davis were brothers. Richard Davis is currently in custody at the Monroe County Jail in Albia.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department is being assisted by the Clarke
County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Transportation, the Iowa State
Patrol and the Division of Criminal Investigation.
A criminal charge is merely a criminal charge and not an indication of guilty.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Iowan Zach Wahls on TV

Iowa on TV: Iowa's debate over changing the state's marriage laws is scheduled to go prime-time. Lawrence O'Donnell's "Last Word" on MSNBC is scheduled to discuss the topic on tonight's show at 7pm central. Zach Wahls, a student at the University of Iowa, offered a passionate speech during the public hearing Monday night in the Iowa house chamber. He has two lesbian mothers as parents. His speech has nearly 500,000 hits on YouTube as I write this. Tonight, he is scheduled to talk on O'Donnell's show.

Speaking about the my story earlier this week, I wrote that Republicans were working to provide a more "narrow definition" of marriage in Iowa. I didn't expect the word "narrow" to be charged. I heard from a pastor who said the choice of the word shows a bias. I didn't see it that way. In my mind, I chose the word because Republicans are trying to limit which people can get married, which they are. So doesn't that narrow the definition of marriage? What do you think?

By the way, I do appreciate the responses to how something is written. There are times we choose words that mean one thing to us and something else to others.