Friday, December 19, 2014


Civic Skinny

Rastetter tries to block U of I honor. And lessons from the council election.

11/13/2013

Life’s backstage dramas: In a lovely little ceremony, The REACH program at the University of Iowa on Thursday named a suite of offices after former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson, who was instrumental in getting the university to launch the program for students with autism, Down’s Syndrome and other intellectual challenges.

It wasn’t as simple as it looked.

The REACH program was Pederson’s idea. She did the spadework, helped persuade the then-Board of Regents about its merits, helped raise money for scholarships and has worked tirelessly on its behalf since it was unanimously approved by the Regents in November of 2006. Initially, some university people were less than enthusiastic, but the current administration embraces it and has expanded it from a two-year to a three-year program. Indeed, REACH has been so successful in helping young men and women become productive citizens that the university last month formally changed the program’s name to UI REACH, wanting to make sure people know it is part of the University of Iowa.

So it was only natural that the now-grateful people at the university name the new offices after her. The REACH people proposed it, the university ran it through the usual traps — President Sally Mason and her office, the provost’s office, the Board of Regents office and the like — and planned to surprise Pederson at the meeting Thursday. Bureaucratic, but simple. Everyone liked the idea.

Almost everyone. Regents President Bruce Rastetter heard about it, and on Wednesday he called the university and made it abundantly clear that the university would not be naming any suite of offices after a Democrat, especially a former Democratic office-holder. No way, he said. Absolutely not, he said. Won’t do it, he said. Nope, he said.

DM Art Center

So the university, pissed but shackled, sheepishly called it off.

But then, for one reason or another, calmer heads prevailed. Rastetter — he of the Bruce Rastetter chair and Bruce Rastetter scholarships at Iowa State — backed off, the distraught REACH people were told they could go ahead, Pederson — who knew nothing about the controversy — was surprised as the plaque and sign were unveiled, and everyone lived happily ever after. Or something like that.

Asked to confirm that Rastetter had called the university, Bob Donley, the executive director of the board, sidestepped the question and blamed the incident on a misunderstanding of guidelines by university provost Barry Butler. Asked in a second email if Rastetter made the call — a yes or no question — he sidestepped again. “Regarding your follow-up question: So Rastetter did not call over there to stop it at one point? That is my understanding,” he said. In fact, Rastetter did make the call.

Footnote: A guy who found himself in the middle of all of this told Cityview that he wouldn’t sit Mason and Rastetter next to one another at a dinner party. The relationship is not exactly warm, he said. “They haven’t had much to say to each other for a year and a half.” …

Lessons from last week’s elections:

It’s hard to beat an incumbent in a local election. The seasoned Cal Woods and the young Chris Diebel found that out when they got drubbed by Chris Hensley and Skip Moore in the Des Moines city council elections. It’s even harder to beat an incumbent when you run a terrible campaign. Diebel found that out, too. Negative ads don’t work in local campaigns — especially when they’re deceptive. More especially when they are deceptive and on a complex issue. Diebel found that out, too.

Further lessons: Voters are wary when outside money comes into a local campaign. Diebel’s support from Realtors and the Koch Brothers’ support for losing candidates in Coralville showed that. It helps when labor supports you. Skip Moore proved that, once again.

Further lessons: It’s nuts to antagonize a built-in constituency. Diebel, who is gay, somehow irritated many in the gay community, perhaps with that flyer that, at first glance, let you infer that he was sitting around the kitchen table with his pretty wife and handsome little kids. Writing in Facebook about the complex issue of the utility franchise tax, Rich Echyaner, sort of the godfather of openly gay political activists, said, in all capital letters, “Chris Diebel must think Des Moines voters are ignorant!” (“Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you blindly support gay candidates,” noted another older gay guy who voted for Moore. “I’m pro-labor,” he said.)

Final lesson: It’s not a good thing to throw your advisers under the bus, especially when you work with and for them. Telling Rekha Basu of The Des Moines Register that Bonnie Campbell and Jeff Link supported his strategy wasn’t the wisest thing to say, particularly since Diebel works for Link.

Diebel is friendly, hard-working and a very nice guy. But one shrewd politician said Diebel never had a chance — and he was saying that long before the election. Maybe so, maybe not. But if he did have a chance, he blew it with one of the worst campaigns in recent memory. Newspaper endorsements matter little in national elections, but they are important in local ones — and the Register’s withdrawal of support for Diebel was, as those things go, momentous. Similarly, Basu’s column was devastating, particularly since he’s the kind of candidate she would normally be drawn to.

Diebel, who initially was going to run for the Legislature, probably ended up running for the wrong office against the wrong guy in the wrong year. He was battered and bruised by the voters and the media. But young people heal fast. …

Shooting down a rumor: Jack Hatch is not going to resign his Iowa senate seat early as he seeks the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, a top aide says. If he resigns, the party central committee picks its nominee for the seat. If he stays, the nominee is chosen in a primary. That makes a huge difference. At convention, Ned Chiodo would have little support; that’s not the political arena he works. In a primary, he could end up beating Tony Bisignano and Nathan Blake. But it’s anybody’s election at the moment. …

Last week’s lawsuits:

Forey N. Jacobson of Des Moines, known to some as the barefoot runner, has sued Johnny’s Hall of Fame, a customer named Benjamin M. Vogl, and B Bumpn Party Lines, a party-bus company, as a result of a fight at Johnny’s. The suit, in Polk County district court, alleges that in November of 2011 Vogl arrived at Johnny’s on the B Bumpn bus after drinking at several bars, was served more alcohol at Johnny’s, and then beat up Jacobson. It says B Bumpn and Johnny’s had a duty to protect Jacobson. The suit asks for unspecified damages for Jacobson and his wife, who also is a plaintiff.

Jacobson, a school custodian who is in his early 60s, was badly injured and spent several weeks in the hospital.

At first, police charged another man with the assault, but videos cleared him, and Vogl was charged. In May of 2012, Vogl was sentenced to up to five years in prison. Iowa Department of Corrections records indicate he was released on Oct. 17 and now is on parole. …

The family of motorcyclist Nicholas Neal has filed a wrongful-death suit against the Des Moines Independent School District and school-bus driver Marilyn A. Pottorff in Polk County District Court.

Neal died Sept. 26 after colliding with the school bus at the intersection of East 29th Avenue and Douglas. According to the lawsuit, Pottorff drove the bus into the intersection right in front of Neal, who had no time to avoid a collision. The motorcycle hit the side of the bus, and, according to the suit, the bus kept going and ran over the body of Neal.

The suit seeks unspecified damages on behalf of his estate, his wife and his three minor children. Neal, an IT analyst, was 34 when he was killed. …

A film-production company called Ghost Player and one of its investors, Changing Horses Investors, has sued the state, saying the Iowa Department of Economic Development is refusing to issue tax credits to the film company and the investor, credits that they say were due them for producing a film called “Field of Dreams Ghost Players.”

The suit, also in Polk County District Court, says many of the film company’s costs were “qualified expenditures” under a contract it entered into with IDED in January of 2009. The suit alleges breach of contract. …

And this breaking news — if you consider something that was filed on Oct. 8 as breaking news: Roxanne Conlin has signed a quitclaim deed turning over to her husband, James, full ownership of a rental property in Sherman Hills. It’s the house where the Conlins — and lawyer Doug Gross — are fighting the city over whether replacement windows should be vinyl or wood. It’s a $6,000 issue.

Fortunately, the column is out of space, so if you want the goofy details — yet again — go to a bunch of past columns. …

Huh? “What can I say,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “we live in the greatest country in America.” CV

Iowa Wild