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Civic Skinny

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March 17th, 2011 |



GOP and labor, Judge Bennett (again), Van Gogh and Bin Laden

 

The attack on labor by Gov. Terry Branstad and the Republicans in the Iowa House is starting to backfire. In the first place, even though the bill shackling labor passed easily, it will go nowhere. The Senate Democrats — who are showing remarkable unity to hold their 26-24 edge — will kill it. Second, and more important, it is turning out to be a pretty good recruiting tool for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union is signing up dozens of new members each week, an AFSCME person told Skinny last week.

Third — and most important — is this: The anti-labor sentiments of the GOP have energized labor and other Democrats, who now are gearing up for the 2012 elections. The state is in remarkably good shape (thanks, ironically, to Chet Culver and the Democrats) so the anti-labor speeches and bills look to be based more on ideology than economics. Indeed, the state’s net revenue is up $217 million so far this fiscal year, compared to a year ago, and it is already $75 million ahead of where the Revenue Estimating Conference predicted it would be. Mike Gronstal told some Democrats last week that the state will have $900 million in the sock by mid-year.

Still, rocky times are ahead. If Branstad doesn’t put any money in the salary bill — the legislation that funds raises for state workers — there will be layoffs because agencies and universities will have to pay the negotiated raises but will have no money appropriated for them. But the salary bill funds all state salaries, not just those of labor, so the layoffs will undoubtedly include nonunion people as well. All that will play into the Democrats’ hands. ...

Mark Bennett, the haranguing judge from Sioux City, is at it again. The federal judge is getting ready to hire clerks for the coming year, and he has sent unusual notes to Iowa law schools seeking applicants. “I am looking for a clerk that is willing to work harder than they have ever worked in their life in exchange for learning more than they have ever learned,” the note immodestly says. Then: “If they are one of those life must be balanced folks please don’t waste my time and don’t bother applying. A routine cover letter won’t even get on my radar screen — straight into the trash can. They need to demonstrate in the cover letter that they think outside the box. A 10-word plan to capture Osama Bin Laden without violating international law would be perfect.”

Then: “Must like Vietnamese food and also have a healthy dose of skepticism toward authority. Distrust of government power a huge plus....” And it ends: “A tattoo that says ‘Question authority while it is still lawful’ may get an interview. I am very serious!!!!”

That’s the problem. …

The Des Moines Register and the Business Record last week noted that the Des Moines Art Center had purchased a print by Vincent Van Gogh, but neither gave the price. It was around $125,000, an art guy told Skinny. He also said the Art Center finished last year with a profit of around $250,000, though nonprofits prefer the word “surplus” to the nasty word “profit.” At the end of 2009, the latest year for which public figures are available, the Art Center had investments of nearly $35 million. ...

Your tax dollars at work: Last year, the state spent $53,321,895 defending indigents accused of crimes in the state. That was a drop of 1.6 percent from 2009 and was the first drop in at least 10 years. There were 145,765 cases last year, up sharply from 2009 but still below the record 147,250 of 2007. The dollar figures include the cost of the state public defender office as well as the fees charged by private lawyers assigned to represent the indigents. ...

If you’re making bets on who won’t be confirmed by the Iowa Senate this spring, here are three folks who might be in trouble: Isaiah McGee, the new director of the Department of Human Rights; Brett Rastetter, a nominee for the Environmental Protection Commission; and William Gustoff, the Des Moines lawyer nominated to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The problems: McGee is turning out to be a martinet, muzzling those who work for him. “Our policy is to speak with one voice and a unified message,” he told employees in his weekly report of Feb. 28, and he has said the department employees should be neutral on budget and policy issues that affect the office. That same day, Jill Olsen, chair of the board, told fellow board members they are “morally and ethically bound” to “educate, advocate and resist” proposed changes to the budget. Rastetter runs a company that builds hog-confinement buildings, serving an industry that is not at the top of the list of protectors of the environment. Gustoff is representing a person who is suing the very commission Branstad wants to put Gustoff on, which is bizarre, to say the least. ...

Last week, Skinny said there had never been a woman president of the Board of Regents. There has been, as several readers quickly pointed out. Mary Louise Petersen of Harlan was on the board for 12 years and was president from 1973 to 1981. “She was a very effective president,” says Art Neu, the former lieutenant governor who served under her. Sort of related note: Neu, a Republican, was not reappointed to the Board of Corrections by Branstad, who succeeded him as lieutenant governor during the reign of Bob Ray. Neu presumably is too liberal for the current GOP bosses. ...

A sign flashed on television during the boys’ basketball tournament last week: IA Basketball Coaches Assn. All-Acedemic Team.

Ten words on a plan to capture Osama Bin Laden without violating international law: Catch him off guard, show him your “Question Authority” tattoo. CV