Civic Skinny

December 16, 2010

Is Christie Vilsack running? GOP targets Gronstal


Christie Vilsack is calling a few friends these days to talk about things. Some of those friends are coming away with the idea that she is preparing to run for Congress. She told Cityview that she just wants the views on issues and such from people she’s close to, which, of course, is why all of us call our friends on occasion. She says that talk that she’s running is, at the very least, premature.

Well, OK. But premature or not, Leonard Boswell’s folks are worried. It’s not new that she has her eye on Congress — “I’m just really interested” in running for office, she told Jonathan Martin of Politico last July, noting that she has “more of a legislative personality” than, say, a gubernatorial one. And she looked hard at taking on Chuck Grassley this year — before wisely walking away from that.

But she’s back in it now. She’s making calls and meeting with friends, she confirmed to Cityview. (Aside: Sometimes, Civic Skinny actually checks out rumors.) And though she spends a lot of time in Washington, where her husband is Secretary of Agriculture, she is spending a lot of time in Iowa, too, thanks to the presence of a young grandson in Des Moines and to her job with the Iowa Initiative, a private group working to cut down on unintended pregnancies. She manages to get around the state a lot.

Iowa will lose a Congressional seat by the next election — going from five to four. But no matter how the districts are redrawn, there surely will be one with Des Moines and Ames and the suburbs — either a donut hole carved in the middle of the state or part of a broad north-south or east-west band. That means that in all likelihood Republican incumbent Tom Latham — who lives in Ames and represents some suburbs and parts of northern Iowa — will be thrown in against Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell, who has a farm near Davis City in Decatur County (outside the district) but whose official residence is in Des Moines.

Unless, of course, someone takes out Boswell in a primary, someone who is younger, someone who could go at him from the left. Someone like Christie Vilsack. One theory — and with last month’s elections already old stuff the junkies now are deep into theories for 2012 — is that Vilsack’s friends and advisers think she can scare the soon-to-be-77-year-old Boswell out of a run for a ninth term. Another is that by making those calls now they think she can pre-empt the field in case he retires, a field that has long been teeming with Democrats who want to succeed Boswell but don’t want to take him on in a primary.

But Boswell is nothing if not dogged. Lots of folks wanted him to retire and not run in November, but he refused and came out swinging to beat Brad Zaun in a year that wasn’t particularly good for Democratic incumbents. Friday evening, there he was at the Christmas party of AFSCME — a union that is close to the Vilsacks — the first time he has shown up at that event in years, one AFSCME official said. And, volunteers a Boswell guy who is hearing the Vilsack talk, “if she beats Leonard in a primary, he’ll run as a third-party candidate” just to get even. That, of course, is bluster, but it shows the depth of concern among Boswell loyalists.

Still, no one yet has even asked this question: What would President Obama think if the wife of his Secretary of Agriculture tries to take out a loyal Democrat in a primary?

And it isn’t even 2011 yet. ...

Meantime, Republicans are gearing up for 2012 in western Iowa, where they desperately want to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. Gronstal was the most powerful person in government during the Culver administration and could well be during the next two years as well. He can block anything — a vote on gay marriage, for example — and he knows the process better than anyone. He’s also very smart. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see them spend a million dollars to try to get rid of him,” says a person who spends much of his life watching things like that. Democrats, meantime, already are planning their pro-Gronstal campaign. ...

So, says a guy who talked to Skinny last week, Bob Vander Plaats and the folks who took out the three Supreme Court justices last month did it because they oppose judicial activism and believe in states’ rights? Yep, Skinny said. So, said the guy who called, they’ve sued to get a judge to throw out the system Iowa uses to choose judges? Yep. And they sued in federal court? Yep. Are they not asking for judicial activism? he asks. Do states’ rights advocates go to federal court on a state issue? he asks. But the guy who called — a lawyer — knows the answer: Judicial activism is whenever a judge rules against you. ...

Don’t expect any last-second deals to undo that AFSCME agreement that the union made with Chet Culver — a deal that most Republicans and some Democrats (inexplicably, Kevin McCarthy) are bitching about. The union has scheduled ratification votes at 31 sites between Thursday of this week and Wednesday of next week. No one in the world expects it to be turned down. ...

What did it cost to keep in jail for 30 days the confused, 85-year-old man who couldn’t make $100 in bail? If you are sent to Polk County jail, and you eventually are found guilty, you are charged $75 for the first day you spend there and $50 for every succeeding day. That covers some, but not all costs. If you’re a federal prisoner sent to the jail, the county charges the feds $95 a day, which includes both direct and indirect costs — things like depreciation on the building, according to a county finance person. If you aren’t guilty, of course, the county picks up the cost for people it sends there. So if the old man is cleared, the cost to the county will be $1,500 to $1,600.

And in case you were wondering, as of Monday there were 698 persons in the jail. The average length of stay in the jail is 21 days. CV


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