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Civic Skinny

Feb 16, 2012
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GOP Ignores Guv (again). Buyouts — and Web fees? — at the Register.

Who’s in charge here?

A couple of months ago, in that special legislative election in Linn County, Terry Branstad’s candidate of choice was Mary Rathje. The party ignored him. It nominated Cindy Golding. She lost big-time to Democrat Liz Mathis, allowing the Democrats to keep control of the Iowa Senate. This month, on Iowa Press, Branstad indicated his favored candidate for chair of the state Republican party was Bill Schickel, a former legislator and former mayor of Mason City. “He’s a good guy....I think Bill Schickel would be a good choice and certainly keep continuity.”

Last weekend, the central committee ignored the governor. It chose young real-estate agent and Ron Paul-backer A. J. Spiker of Ames. ...

Roger Simon is a columnist for Politico. Here’s an excerpt from his column of last Thursday:

“Santorum was the guy who back in January came in second in Iowa to Mitt Romney by eight votes. A few weeks later after a recount, however, GOP officials announced that Santorum had actually won Iowa by 34 votes, with the proviso that they didn’t actually know who the hell had won Iowa.

“The votes of eight precincts had gone permanently ‘missing.’ Maybe a hog ate them, maybe they were converted into ethanol, maybe they were deep-fat fried and put on a stick for the next Iowa State Fair. Nobody knows.” ...

Who’s in charge here?

Branstad sent what most moderates view as a reasonable budget to the Legislature — but his fellow Republicans who run the House ignored him and savaged it. They’ve cut so deep and so haphazardly that they’ve lost credibility with Branstad aides and supporters in and out of government. The strategy seems to be to ignore the House and work with the Democrats who control the Senate. “Everything will be put back in the Senate,” says a person who watches things closely. “Money for the universities, money for public television, money for schools — Mike Gronstal and Branstad will work it out.” The House Republicans, this person said, won’t be at the table when the deals are made. ...

Don’t invite the Polk County Board of Supervisors and the Prairie Meadows folks to the same Valentine’s Day party. There’s not a lot of love there. County folks think they got snookered out of a million dollars or so in the last round of negotiations with the casino people. They say the casino folks talked poor — and, after the deal, disclosed that business was booming. So much so, in fact, that they gave boss Gary Palmer a bonus of nearly $150,000 — on top of his salary of almost $300,000. That didn’t go down very well with some of the supervisors. ...

The county people — at least some of them — also are irritated at the big outlay for legal services. Prairie Meadows’ tax form for 2009 — the 2010 report isn’t on public file yet — shows the organization paid $536,425 to the Belin law firm. In 2008, it was $587,059. That does not include lobbying costs. Troy Skinner, who has long family ties to Prairie Meadows, is paid $75,000 a year to lobby. ...

Troy Price, the executive director of One Iowa, is leaving any day now to join the Obama campaign in Iowa as political director. Calla Rongerude will be the interim director of One Iowa, the seven-year-old organization that advocates for gay rights. The board has already started looking for a permanent replacement for Price. After working for both Gov. Tom Vilsack and Gov. Chet Culver, Price joined One Iowa in mid-2010. ...

Look for some familiar names to be leaving The Des Moines Register in coming weeks. Gannett Co., the Register’s parent, is offering buyouts to 665 employees across the country. The employees must be at least 56 years old and have 20 years of service with the company as of March 31. It isn’t a buyout, of course — it’s an “Early Retirement Opportunity Program.” Those taking the “opportunity” will get two weeks’ pay for every year of service, up to a maximum of 52 weeks’ pay. They’ll get health coverage for that period, as well. It means, among other things, that a 56-year-old who takes it might have to buy her own health insurance for eight years — until she’s eligible for Medicare.

The buyout has been offered to at least 25 people in all departments at The Register, one guys tells Skinny. The sports, editorial-page and business-writing staffs all have more than one eligible writer. Employees have 45 days to accept. ...

Meantime, Register readers soon will have the opportunity to pay for online news, according to Bryce Miller, sports editor of The Register. Miller spoke to journalism students at a community college in Michigan earlier this month, and over the weekend a Michigan blog quoted him as saying Gannett papers are going to start charging for Web news. According to the blog — — “Miller said it’s not clear yet how much the company will charge readers to view online content, but he said some kind of pay structure will be in place before the end of 2012, possibly ‘very soon.’” According to the blog, Miller said “the industry’s transition to web-based news has been stressful and chaotic for him due to continual layoffs and ongoing change….”

Word is that Brent Segrist is going to run for mayor of Council Bluffs and that long-time mayor Tom Hanafan is retiring after 22 years in the job. He was re-elected in 2008 with 80 percent of the vote. It’s a full-time, nonpartisan post that pays about $90,000 a year. Segrist, who turns 60 this year, is a long-time Republican operative. A former teacher, he is the executive director of the Iowa Area Education Agencies. He spent 18 years in the Iowa House, including seven as Majority Leader and three as Speaker. He retired from the legislature in 2002. ...

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected former Iowa Law Dean Carolyn Jones’ petition for a rehearing of the decision by its three-judge panel overturning a lower court and ordering a trial on the issue of whether Jones discriminated against Teresa Wagner in turning her down for a post on the University of Iowa law faculty. The issue: Was she rejected because she’s a Republican, and an active pro-life Republican at that? At the time of her application, there was only one Republican among the 51 faculty members at the school. Jones’ defense: I was just a powerless dean; the faculty forced me to turn her down. Judge Michael Melloy, a graduate of the law school, and Judge Steve Colloton, once an adjunct professor there, did not take part in the latest ruling...

“The House I Live In” won top honors for documentary films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s a look at America’s war on drugs, concluding that the war on drugs has done more damage to America and American lives than the drugs themselves have done. Though it won big, not everyone liked it. One critic called it “blowsy, unfocused, self-indulgent, unsubstantive, and preposterous.” But he says: “There’s a lot any good liberal will agree with in it. There’s a federal judge who doesn’t like mandatory sentencing laws....”

And that judge is....Iowa’s own Mark Bennett, who sits on the federal bench in Sioux City.

It’s unlikely his lines are as intemperate and provocative as some of the stuff he says to lawyers in his courtroom. CV

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