Civic Skinny

August 26, 2010

Bounced checks, a beer truck, an ill-advised video, etc.


Chet Culver could beat Terry Branstad in November, dedicated Democrats insist, but Democrats — dedicated or not — who have seen the internal polls say it will take all but a miracle for him to pull it out. And the most asked question has switched from “Do you think Culver can win?” to “What do you think Culver will do after the election?” The early line: Take a mid-level job in Washington.

Department heads aren’t waiting for the election to determine their own future. The resignation of Richard Leopold as head of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is just the beginning, Capitol Hill folks say. Other department heads and political appointees in the Culver administration are looking — some frantically, some casually — for new jobs, and at least a couple have offers in hand. ...

Brad Zaun is toast. That’s the consensus of pols who watched him impaled by revelations of his past doings last week. First, Cityview documented how he didn’t pay some medical bills, was sued, ignored the judgment against him, then had his bank account garnished — but didn’t settle things until four-and-a-half years later, just before he announced for Congress. Thrown in for good measure was the fact that Wells Fargo twice began foreclosure actions against him. Then, the next day, The Des Moines Register disclosed that a former girlfriend called the West Des Moines police on him when he showed up at her house and started pounding on the window when he was mayor of Urbandale, which was not a good political move.

Just a couple of days before all that, the Cook Report — probably the most closely followed and accurate predictor of election results — had changed the race between Zaun and incumbent Leonard Boswell from “leans Democrat” to “toss-up,” and Boswell insiders were saying it looked very close. But that was then.

Meantime, a guy who read the Skinny report sent along this note:

“When Zaun still was operating his hardware store on Douglas Avenue, he doubled as a public scold. At the cash register, he displayed several checks that were written by store customers and that bounced. They were under clear glass so you could easily make out the names, addresses and amounts of all the unfortunates whose checks bounced at Zaun’s Hardware. Give them credit for this, at least, they took the trouble to write checks — apparently Zaun didn’t even go that far with his medical bills.

“I called Skinny to the attention of a friend and mentioned the display of bounced checks. Yes, my friend recalled, ‘I told him I didn’t think that was such a good idea.”

And Zaun said, ‘Yeah, that’s what people tell me, but I don’t care.’”

The whole thing doesn’t say much for Zaun — but the fact that all these things had gone unnoticed in public documents for years doesn’t say much for the city’s daily newspaper and TV reporters — or bloggers — either. ...

And more about Mark Chelgren, the Republican legislative candidate who spent a good chunk of his campaign funds buying 30 kegs of beer for a fund-raising party in Ottumwa. “Skinny’s crack at Republican State Senate candidate Mark Chelgren no doubt made many veteran RAGBRAI riders chuckle,” says another reader. “For years, Chelgren dispensed semi-free beer from his refrigerated straight truck — modified with taps built into the side — on RAGBRAI.

“Back then, he was known not as Republican State Senate candidate Mark Chelgren but as “Chickenman.

“It worked like this:

“Chickenman — er, Chelgren — collected kegs of beer from a number of teams before RAGBRAI. He would then carry those kegs on his truck, and each day riders would discover Chickenman at a surprise point on the route. Each team had their own tap marked on the side of the truck. Cold beer that’s already been paid for. It was divine. And because teams supplied the beer ahead of time, it was good beer. Three kegs of Raccoon River Brewing Co. on RAGBRAI — the land of Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Coors Light — are better than sex.

“Part of the deal was that Chickenman would take one of your kegs and hook it up to his own special Chickenman tap. That beer would go not to teams that had signed on with him but to random riders who were friendly (or cute) enough. Chickenman — er, Chelgren — was the impresario. Wearing a kilt and wielding a beer-filled super soaker, he greeted random riders who were friendly (or cute) enough with free beer. There was music, shade, chairs.

“Those were good years. The fun ended in the mid-00s. The Iowa State Patrol allegedly gave him a hard time, a precursor to the police state on RAGBRAI today. Maybe he can fix that after he’s elected.”

If. …

Remember Kerry Kavanaugh, a reporter at Channel 13 for two years until the middle of 2007? Here’s an update: She left here to join WFTS-TV in Tampa, and earlier this year she married Jason Solowski, a photographer at the station. (They’re registered at Macy’s, if you still haven’t sent a gift.) Before they got married, the two of them and some others at the station prepared a clever video indicating that fellow newswoman Delisa Walden was, in fact, one of Tiger Woods’ mistresses. At the end, it wished Walden happy birthday. It was never shown on the air, but it did make it to Facebook and You Tube, and everyone thought it was kind of neat.

Well, almost everyone.

When WFTS general manager Rich Pegram found out about it — months later, as is so often the case with bosses — he fired Kavanaugh and her new husband and disciplined some other staffers. “The tone, tenor and context were all inappropriate,” he told last week. “I can’t tell you what rationale was used to justify this.” ...

The word is that Republicans are doing a better job of organizing around the state than the Democrats are — for the first time in several election cycles — but Democrats appear to be working harder in Polk County. As of Friday, 24,581 registered Democrats had asked the county auditor’s office for absentee ballots, according to Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, more than twice the 9,689 requests from Republicans and 2,944 from independents. All this should bode well for the three incumbent supervisors as well as Leonard Boswell. ...

Still more follow-up to last week. After a call from Charlie Smithson, the director of the state Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, the Branstad campaign amended its expense-reporting form to identify how much each staffer is paid rather than just listing a total in one big check sent to the California company that handles the payroll. Campaign manager Jeff Boeyink received three checks from June 10 to July 1 totaling $9,890. In the same period, spokesman Tim Albrecht got checks totaling $8,789. CV


Caption: Mark Chelgren as Chickenman