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Civic Skinny

Lots of news about Culver — none of it good

The Governor went over to Iowa City the other day to sign a proclamation declaring this month as “Flood Awareness Month” in Iowa. Of course, there’s some question as to whether anyone in the state — especially the eastern part of the state — wasn’t already aware that the area had been devastated by floods, but that’s beside the point. The real point appears to be that the Governor wanted his day of working in the Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus to be “Culver Awareness Day.” It’s not that Skinny is cynical, or even skeptical, about the Governor — it’s just that the press release Skinny received headlined “Governor Culver to Work From the Old Capitol on Wednesday” was sent out not by his office but rather by the Chet Culver Committee. That’s the official campaign committee for Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.

The Governor held a “town-hall meeting” in the Old Capitol, and, according to the Register, he “remarked that he might take to setting up in the Old Capitol on a regular basis.” U of I President Sally Mason then blurted out, “Perhaps we’ll have to start charging you rent,” according to the Register. Well, if the day was a political event — and why else would the announcement come from the campaign committee? — perhaps the cash-strapped university should….

Wait, there’s more! A press release about the day in Iowa City also was issued by the Governor’s office. The press releases were identical. Which means one of three things: 1. The governor’s press secretary is also doing political work; 2. The governor’s political committee is also doing state work; 3. Great minds think alike. Exactly alike.

Meantime, the Gov continues to be a little, shall we say, testy. Skinny received an e-mail the other day from “a friend under the Golden Dome” that detailed a testy exchange Culver had with Sen. Tom Harkin. In an interview, Harkin had questioned why state inspectors had let the Atalissa situation go on for so long, and, according to Golden Dome Guy, “Culver popped a cork” and called and bitched at Harkin. That’s never a good idea, even for a governor, and Harkin didn’t just sit and listen. He told the Governor to “grow up,” according to the talk in the Capitol. Culver later called to apologize, this guy and others tell Skinny.

The e-mail goes on: “Culver’s blow-up with Harkin is one in a series of recent eruptions that have some of us in the Statehouse wondering if he’ll make it through November of 2010, or self-destruct. While his overly defensive shouting at [Register columnist David] Yepsen when he released his budget in January is one public example, what is going on behind closed doors, over the phone and via e-mail is said to be worse. He’s desperately looking for a pound of flesh over Atalissa….Morale in his own office seems to be at an all-time low because…there is no collegiality between him and his staff, just the barking of orders and threats. And while he has some good veterans around him, he all but ignores people who might have advice based on experience for people who simply respond ‘how much?’ when he yells “shit.’”

And the Governor’s approval rating continues to drop. It seems like just last week that Skinny wrote that the approval had dropped to 50 percent in a SurveyUSA poll — in fact, it was just last week — but since then a new SurveyUSA poll has come out, and the approval has dropped to 46 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. That’s what pollsters call a “negative approval rating,” and that’s not a good thing. With independents — who make up nearly a third of the Iowa electorate — he does even worse, with an approval rating of 41 percent and disapproval of 54 percent. Only 59 percent of the people in his own party approve of the job he is doing while fully a third — 34 percent — disapprove. Those are not good numbers for an incumbent. Harkin’s approval rating, meantime, jumped three points to 61 percent, historically quite high for him, with 84 percent of the party faithful favoring him and 55 percent of independents. Grassley’s rating stayed at 71 percent, with an unbelievable 66 percent approval from Democrats. Look at that again: 66 percent of Democrats approve of the job that Republican Grassley is doing; 59 percent of Democrats approve of the job Democrat Culver is doing. That’s awful news for the Democrats, especially since Grassley’s name will be at the top of the ballot next year.

Enough of politics.

Finally, Skinny mourns the passing on Friday of John Hyde. Hyde was a superb reporter for the Register — first in Des Moines and then in Washington — where he produced great stories for the newspaper and wonderful wit for the newsroom. Later, he collaborated with former Senator John Culver to write an acclaimed biography of Henry Wallace, a book that was as thorough in its reporting as it was graceful in its writing. John Hyde was one of the good guys. CV

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