Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Civic Skinny

The suddenly open Congressional seat. More woe for Tirrell. Tom Miller and gays.


Here’s an astounding fact: The last time there was a Congressional race in Polk County without an incumbent seeking re-election was in 1940.

GOP Rep. Cassius Dowell, a Des Moines lawyer first elected to Congress in 1915, died on Feb. 4, 1940, and Republican Robert K. Goodwin — of the brick-and-tile Goodwin family — was elected to succeed him in a special election in March. Goodwin did not seek re-election in November, leaving the seat open. Five Republicans sought the nomination. The fight went to convention, where Paul Cunningham, also a Des Moines lawyer, was chosen. The Democrats nominated E. Frank Fox of Slater.

Cunningham beat Fox and served until 1958, when Democrat Neal Smith beat him. Smith served until 1994, when he was upset by Republican Greg Ganske. The districts were redrawn after the 2000 census, and Ganske then decided — unwisely — to challenge Tom Harkin for the Senate in 2002. At that time, Democrat Leonard Boswell, who had represented a neighboring district that got carved up, moved and ran in the new district that included Polk County. He won and served five terms in the new district, but after Iowa lost a seat following the 2010 census fellow incumbent Tom Latham moved into the district to take on Boswell last year. Republican Latham won.

But now Latham is retiring, creating the open seat and what surely will be a free-for-all in both parties.

Anyone could win. As of Dec. 2, there were 164,311 registered Republicans in the third Congressional district. There were 157,456 registered Democrats. There were 160,205 voters who list “no party.”

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At week’s end, the list of potential candidates — those being mentioned, those mentioning themselves, those hoping to be mentioned — was long and growing. Democratic names being tossed about: Chet Culver, Matt McCoy, and lots of others. Republican names: Matt Schultz, Matt Whitaker, Joni Ernst, Mark Jacobs, Brad Zaun, Bob Brownell, and almost anyone who ever has or ever hoped to run for office. Some are saying they will run, some they won’t. But don’t pay much attention to today’s statements; wait till the fog disappears.

Ironically, the person who has the most to lose is the one person who had announced: Democrat Staci Appel. It would have been an uphill fight to take on Latham, who could raise almost limitless money and who had the support of Washington powers, but Appel stepped up. The former state legislator mounted a real campaign, was showing up in all the right places, and was working the phones and the mails in a successful search for money. The one sure thing she had going for her was that with just token opposition she had the Democratic nomination sewed up.                 

Now, almost surely, she will face a tough primary, particularly if Culver or McCoy steps in. The former governor has great name recognition, could raise big money (Bill Knapp would have to give handsomely to salve his conscience — or his wife’s pique — for supporting Republican Terry Branstad in the governor’s race), and could put together an organization quickly. Legislator McCoy is also proven as a money-raiser, has a strong following, and campaigns tirelessly. The race for the Democratic nomination just got hugely harder; the cost of attaining it just got hugely higher. But, also, the spigots of national money just opened wider as both parties see a newly competitive race.

And once-youngish Republicans — long stymied for higher office by governors-for-life Bob Ray and Terry Branstad and Congressional incumbents Latham and Steve King — suddenly see an opportunity to move up. More than a half-dozen were preparing for a dogfight to get the GOP nomination to oppose Bruce Braley in the contest for Tom Harkin’s open Senate seat, but some of those live in the Third District and might see that as a clearer road to Washington. Branstad’s favorite candidate, Joni Ernst, lives in Red Oak. Matt Whitaker lives in the Des Moines suburbs. Returned Iowan Mark Jacobs lives in the metro area. Each would be a formidable candidate.

The strongest candidate of all, though, could be Secretary of State Matt Schultz. He may have made up his mind by the time you read this — Cityview went to press over the weekend — but he has ties in both ends of the district. He’s from Council Bluffs but now lives in the Des Moines area. And he’s a proven vote-getter, ousting the popular and smart Michael Mauro in 2010. If Schultz decides to run for Congress, that greatly helps the election prospects of Brad Anderson, the young Democrat seeking to oust Schultz as Secretary of State.

Unless Mauro decides he wants his old job back. He has played his cards close to the vest, refusing to rule himself out to give Anderson a clear shot. It was assumed Mauro would officially take his name out of the conversation in January. Now, that’s not so certain. …

Question: Are the Tea Party folks trying to pressure Gov. Branstad into jettisoning Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in the coming election because she doesn’t bend far enough to the right? Just asking. …

Marty Tirrell’s woes continue to mount. A couple of weeks ago, Cityview reported that the sports broadcaster had signed a “judgment of confession” in Polk County District Court conceding he owed $96,656 to Cumulus Media, owner of a station that formerly housed Tirrell’s show. (Tirrell buys time on a station, and then sells advertising. He pays the station for the time, and he keeps the ad money. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.) The judgment was labeled “unsatisfied.”

Now comes a “notice of sheriff’s levy and sale” saying that the Dallas County district court has ordered the sheriff’s sale of Tirrell’s house on 75th Street in West Des Moines on Feb. 11. W West Investments LLC and Thomas Baldwin a year ago won a judgment of $28,162 against Tirrell, and he hasn’t paid. A notion of garnishment of wages also was served on Tirrell, and, according to court papers, “no motion, answer, affidavit of exemption or other pleading has been filed to contest the garnishment.” …

Meantime, Tirrell’s old pal Steve Luebke has been released from prison and is on probation until June 30, 2015, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. Luebke, the former general manager of Toyota of Des Moines, in April was sentenced to serve five years in prison after pleading guilty to a third offense of drunken driving. He was paroled last month after serving seven months in the Newton Correctional Institute. He’s at the very least an interested party in suits that Tirrell and Toyota have brought against one another as a result of Tirrell’s days of broadcasting from the Toyota showroom. …

Attorney General Tom Miller issued a press release the other day noting that he and 12 colleagues around the nation “today urged U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to send to send to the floor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“This is the right thing to do, as the bill provides needed equal protection and opportunity for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens,” Miller said.

This is the same Tom Miller who was noticeably silent when the Iowa Supreme Court said persons of the same sex had the right to marry one another. This is the same Tom Miller who sued to stop a married lesbian from having her name on her daughter’s birth certificate.

“Try searching the words ‘gay marriage’ or ‘same sex marriage’ on Miller’s Iowa Attorney General website,” a lawyer says. “Aptly, it responds ‘no results.’ ” CV



Senior federal district judge Richard Kopf the other day ruled in favor of Stephanie Rose and the government in the case that fired assistant U.S. attorney Martha Fagg brought against the Justice Department. Fagg had alleged harassment and discrimination while the U.S. attorney’s office in Cedar Rapids was run by Rose, who now is a federal judge in Des Moines.

It was kind of a nasty case, and it was particularly interesting because it involved a federal judge relying in part on the testimony of two other federal judges as he wrote about a fight between a fourth federal judge and the daughter of a fifth federal judge. It involved “the careers and reputations of several lawyers and a judge,” Kopf noted, and he called the three principals — Rose, Fagg and assistant U.S. Attorney Teresa Baumann, “fine people and very good lawyers.”

He went on to say that “nothing worthwhile would be served by reciting a litany of facts, with ‘blow-by-blow’ details, except to needlessly sully reputations or feed the voracious appetites of voyeurs.”

Then he sullied reputations and fed the voracious appetites of voyeurs.

“In my opinion, there is absolutely no question that Fagg was openly disrespectful of Rose and Baumann,” he wrote, without citing any facts to back that up.

“At times, and in my opinion, [the efforts of Rose and Baumann] to bring oversight and discipline to the Civil Division, and Fagg in particular, were overly zealous and harsh,” he wrote, without citing any facts to back that up.

“Rose and Fagg are unrepentant ‘hard heads,’” he wrote, without citing any facts to back that up.

“Were it not for the lawyers representing the parties, I would be utterly depressed,” he wrote, without citing any facts to back that up.

Parties in a lawsuit deserve to know why they won or lost. What the judge thinks of them — be they hard-heads or zealous or disrespectful — is irrelevant. How he came to his ruling — how those blow-by-blow details figured in — is relevant.

As for those voyeurs with voracious appetites — well, one judge’s voyeur is another’s citizen trying to explore, or perhaps explain, democracy in action. CV

— Michael Gartner

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