Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Civic Skinny

New downtown YMCA has a $6 million problem. Selzer stars again. Senate race cost $85 million.


The gleaming new downtown Wellmark YMCA suddenly has a $6 million construction shortfall. It didn’t get some special federal tax credits that it was planning on and that its construction financing was based on. As a result, the planned Prairie Meadows Pool — the casino is paying $1,000,001 for naming rights to the 50-meter pool — will be delayed while Y officials and business leaders figure out how to make up the gap.

When the pool will open isn’t known.

The pool is to be in the addition on the west of the new Y, which is the reconverted old convention complex on Grand Avenue and Fifth. The new Y itself will open in a few weeks, and the building housing the pool will be finished. But the pool itself won’t go in until the money is raised, Cityview is told.

The tax credits are called new-market tax credits, and they allow investors to receive tax credits over seven years. If they are given to a nonprofit — such as the Y — the nonprofit can sell them and the buyer can use them to reduce its federal tax liability over several years. They are available to projects in areas where 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is the case in the census tract that includes the Y. When they’re given, they can be used for 20 percent or more of the project’s costs.

But they’re highly competitive, and the Y lost out. It will apply again, according to Vernon Delpesce, the Y president, who says the Y will also look at more bonding, other grants, and more contributions. “We are optimistic” that not much time will be lost, he said. …

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Pollster Ann Selzer should double her rates.

Her Iowa Poll, already considered in the top three for accuracy of the nearly 350 polls in the nation, was all but alone in predicting Joni Ernst’s victory, as her fans and friends and clients have noted. But she called every other race remarkably close, too.

The final Iowa Poll, printed in The Register two days before the election, had Ernst beating Bruce Braley by 7 points; the actual: 8 points. It had Governor Terry Branstad beating Jack Hatch by 24 points; the actual: 22 points. It had Attorney General Tom Miller beating Adam Gregg by 11 points; the actual: 12 points. And it had Paul Pate beating Brad Anderson for the open Secretary of State job by three points; the actual: two points.

Her Selzer & Co. does polling for the Bloomberg news operation as well as The Des Moines Register.

The other Iowa-based poll, run by Loras College in Dubuque, had Braley beating Ernst by a point, had Anderson and Pate tied, and had Branstad beating Hatch by about 21 points. It didn’t poll the Miller-Gregg race. …

Jim Nahas, longtime Iowa Cubs employee, was hired Monday as head of human resources for Polk County. That’s the job Tony Bisignano had. …

Nonfarm employment in Iowa in September was 1,560,100, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. If you’re keeping track — and the Governor probably isn’t — that means more than 70,000 jobs have been created since Branstad was elected four years ago. At the time, he pledged to create 200,000 jobs in five years. He might not make it. …

All told, $85,364,286 was spent on the Iowa Senate race between Ernst and Braley. Of that, about $62 million came from outside groups and more than $23 million from the campaigns themselves. In that election, 1,119,914 Iowans voted. That works out to $76.22 a vote. That $85.3 million would have bought 32,212,938 full-price school lunches for Iowa students eligible for school lunch aid, free lunches for an entire school year for 178,960 needy Iowa students. CV

Comment: Bruce Braley

From the beginning, state and national Democrats thought Bruce Braley was a shoo-in to win the Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin.

He wasn’t.

He wasn’t because he isn’t Tom Harkin — and smart as he is, he apparently never really studied how Harkin stayed in Congress for 40 years, 10 years in the House of Representatives and then 30 years in the U.S. Senate.

In the 168-year history of this state, there have been only 10 Democratic Senators, and two of those were George Jones and Augustus Dodge, the two men Iowa’s new legislature sent to the United States Senate when Iowa entered the Union. (There have been 24 Republicans.)

Harkin is the only Democratic Senator from Iowa ever to be elected by the people to serve two full terms, and he was elected five times. He was elected and re-elected for these reasons: He is an old-fashioned Upper Midwest Populist who is passionate in his beliefs. He cares about the ordinary Iowans and is comfortable with the farmer and the druggist and the teacher and the body-and-fender man (as well as with Bill Knapp). He listens. He fights. And he throws body-and-soul into his campaigns. It helps, too, that he sleeps with his strategist.

Even with that passion, that drive, that wife-enforced discipline and a vast knowledge of the state, he never was known as Landslide Tom. He went to the Senate in 1985, beating incumbent Republican Roger Jepsen, a flawed candidate who had served one term. Harkin got 55 percent of the vote.

In the next three elections, the Republicans threw everything they had at him. In 1990, Harkin beat Congressman Tom Tauke, with 54 percent of the vote. In 1996, he beat Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot, with 52 percent. In 2002, he beat Congressman Greg Ganske, with 54 percent. Finally, the Republicans more or less gave up, nominating Christopher Reed, someone few people had heard of, in 2008, when Harkin got his biggest margin, getting 63 percent of the vote. (In his career, he beat more sitting members of Congress than anyone else in history.)

He never got the big margins that Iowans have given Republican Chuck Grassley, whose winning percentages were 53 (in 1980, when he beat incumbent John Culver), 66 (over John Roehrick), 70 (over Jean Lloyd-Jones), 68 (over David Osterberg), 72 (over Art Small) and 66 (over Roxanne Conlin). Iowans have always felt more comfortable with Grassley than with Harkin. Grassley makes us feel comfortable about the world; Harkin makes us think about the world.

Braley is a different sort, not Harkin and not Grassley. He’s a smart man, and he’s a nice man. He grew up on a farm and became a trial lawyer. In the end, the trial lawyer won out. In the campaign he sometimes seemed arrogant — that fatal crack about farmer Grassley not being a lawyer was as snooty as it was snotty.

“Braley listens for a minute then sort of just continues back on his merry way,” a senior Democratic official told the Washington Post. “He comes across as arrogant, and I think it’s because he is.” (Of course, if he had won, senior Democratic officials would say he was forceful and determined, not arrogant.)

In public, he sometimes seemed dispassionate about issues and almost impatient with the process. His campaign had little discipline, and it ran against a candidate who might be the most disciplined and programmed (and telegenic) candidate in the history of the state. He sometimes seemed at sea.

Yet he was anointed for the race by Harkin himself; it was understood that Braley was Harkin’s choice, and that scared off any would-be primary opponents. So Braley never even got to take the test drive of a primary, which is too bad. Primaries are great practice and testing grounds for candidates, as Senator-elect Joni Ernst can attest.

Instead, Braley entered as the full-blown candidate, and having been anointed by Harkin he almost seemed to expect to be anointed by the rest of the state. And while the candidate himself lacked spark — he’s “a poor fit for the state [who] looks like he is more comfortable in an office building than on plowed ground,” a Republican strategist wrote in a memo quoted by the Washington Post — the organization lacked cohesion and strategy. Who was in charge? The Des Moines consultants? The folks from the Senate Democratic Campaign committee? Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer? The candidate himself? People close to the campaign say it was never clear.

In the end, it wasn’t even that close: Ernst 52, Braley 44.

It was, of course, a huge Republican year, and Braley faced a candidate who caught on like wildfire. Still, he had money, a name and experience, and he was Tom Harkin’s man. But he wasn’t Tom Harkin. While Harkin listened and fought, Braley seemed to have a sense of entitlement. While the Harkins carefully managed campaigns, Braley let others fight over control. And while Harkin was disciplined, Braley went off on his “merry way.”

And unfortunately for Democrats, that “merry way” led back to Waterloo. CV

— Michael Gartner

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