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Civic Skinny

Vilsack Wants Iowa Dems to Shape Up — But Why?

1/14/2015

Tom Vilsack is stepping back into Iowa politics.

He has asked a couple of big hitters — Tim and Toni Urban and Fred and Charlotte Hubbell — to gather some other big contributors at the Urban house this Friday evening to “explore how to position the party for better results in key races in the state and nationally in 2016,” according to Tim Urban.

Vilsack will be at the gathering.

Vilsack left Iowa politics eight years ago after two successful terms as Governor, made a brief but quixotic run for the Presidency, and then signed on with Barack Obama to be Secretary of Agriculture, a job he loves and, by all accounts, excels at. He got back into the fray three years ago, when his wife made a run against Steve King (talk about quixotic campaigns), but was pretty much absent last year during the debacle that ended up with Republicans all but running the table.

So why is the former governor — who seems plenty happy in Washington — getting into the fray?

HIV

He has one reason. Cynics have another.

“I often provide help when asked, and several party leaders and supporters asked,” he says.

He says that in the early 2000s, he, Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and his wife worked hard for the party, and when he left office the Iowa party was “in great shape with a Democratic Governor [Chet Culver], Democratic Legislature, one Democratic U.S. Senator, a majority of Democratic members of our Congressional delegation and a sizable voter registration edge.”

Now, he says, “all of this is gone.” Today, Iowa Democrats have a bare majority in the state senate and just one of four Congressional seats. As of the other day, there were 720,281 independents, 623,465 Republicans and 603,469 Democrats registered to vote in Iowa. When Vilsack left office at the end of 2006, there were 740,665 independents, 609,633 Democrats and 590,187 Republicans.

Political cynics suggest he isn’t being entirely altruistic. He’s trying to get the party in shape for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, they say, and that’s so he can end up with a top job in a Clinton administration, they say. One veteran Iowa Democrat — a Vilsack friend — says it’s all about Vilsack wanting to be Clinton’s running-mate; another says that that’s a long shot but Vilsack “probably wants to slide into a key position.” Another longtime friend simply says: “It’s obvious.”

Whatever the reason, the former governor has put his political hat back on. “I think a candid assessment” of the party in Iowa “is needed,” he says. “I think our party has a difficult time speaking to and about rural folks, and we fail to point out persuasively where government is working and making a difference. We have a story to tell, and in my view we need to do a better job of telling it.” So, he says, “when asked I am happy to provide advice.”

Meantime, people close to Drake University say Vilsack flirted with an offer to become president of the school but ultimately said no. Asked for comment about that, he skirted the issue but said, “I love my job, and the President and White House staff wanted me to continue at USDA. There is much to be proud about and more to do.”

On Monday, Drake named as president Earl “Marty” Martin, former law school dean and current executive vice president of Gonzaga University,

to succeed the retiring David Maxwell. …

How come Kent Sorenson isn’t in prison? a guy asked the other day.

Probably because he’s talking to the Feds.

Sorenson, a one-time state senator and shady political operative, last August pleaded guilty of filing false reports of federal campaign expenditures and “falsifying records in contemplation and relation to a federal investigation, intending to obstruct that investigation.”

He first supported Michele Bachmann in the 2012 presidential run-up but then switched his allegiance to Ron Paul. He allegedly took money — illegally — from both campaigns and tried to hide that with falsified reports.

In October, the government filed its presentence investigation report, and Sorenson’s attorneys have twice filed objections to it — those are all sealed documents — and on Friday the lawyers for Sorenson filed a motion to continue. They said the federal prosecutors have no objection to a continuance.

Because so many documents are sealed, it’s impossible to say why Sorenson hasn’t been sentenced yet. But it’s a pretty good bet — reinforced by the motion for continuance — that federal prosecutors are still talking to him in efforts to snag others, holding out the possibility that he could benefit if he cooperates.

Presumably, the feds are still on the trail of people in the Bachmann and Paul campaigns, and presumably that’s what they’re still talking to Sorenson about. Presumably.

When he is sentenced, the right-wing Republican — or, rather, in the words of Steve Deace, the fighter “for liberty and morality” — can add the sentence to his resume. So far, it includes a bankruptcy, conviction and jailing for delivery of marijuana, conviction of defaulting on a car loan, and failure to pay federal income taxes in three different years. …

Teresa Wahlert’s sudden “retirement” Sunday as head of Iowa Workforce Development came after it became clear to the Governor that she could not win reconfirmation. At a Democratic caucus last week, only one Senator said he’d support her. The Governor picked Beth Townsend, the executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, as acting head of Workforce Development, but in all likelihood she’ll get the job permanently. …

As Terry Branstad prepares for his inauguration, nonfarm employment in the state stands at 1,579,100, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Four years ago, it was 1,498,700, so during the Branstad term employment rose by 80,400 jobs. When he took office, he promised to create 200,000 jobs in five years (apparently assuming upon taking office that he’d be re-elected four years later). One year to go, 120,000 jobs to go. …

Divorce news: Former Iowa State University president Greg Geoffroy and his wife, Kathy, were granted a divorce in Story County last week. According to court papers, Greg Geoffroy, who is 68, and Kathy Geoffroy, 65, were married in 1971. The papers say she now lives in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania., and he in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota.

Under the financial settlement, she gets $2,569,846 of the couple’s marital assets, and he gets $2,358,011. She gets the 2015 Volvo, he gets the 2012 Toyota as well as a $35,000 boat.

Geoffroy was president of Iowa State from 2001 to 2012, reshaping it and guiding it into an era of prosperity. …

More news from the courts: Architect and landlord Kirk Blunck and his former lawyers apparently have settled their differences. Early last year, Blunck’s former lawyers, the Finley law firm, sued for legal fees accumulated between 2006 and 2009, and in September Polk County District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg entered a default judgment against Blunck for $24,454.68. Blunck didn’t pay, so Rosenberg ordered him to appear in court on Dec. 12 with all of his bank records, financial statements and corporate books for a “debtor examination.”

But early on the morning of the hearing, the Finley firm told the court that on Dec. 11 a settlement was reached. But if Blunck doesn’t pay up, the law firm in effect said, it reserves the right to resubmit its request for the debtor examination. …

Finally, there’s this: A  product-liability case was filed the other day in federal court in South Dakota against Featherlite Inc., a trailer manufacturer based in Cresco, Iowa. “Plaintiff lost three fingers on her right hand when a cow shoved open the gate on a trailer manufactured by defendant, crushing her hand and severing her fingers,” the case summary says. “Defendant’s manual for the trailer did not warn that the trailer’s gate was dangerous when used as directed.”

Added a Des Moines lawyer:  “You can’t trust cows to read the manuals. CV

 

Comment: Geeezzzz

Legal Aid is a struggling, nonprofit group that provides legal help to poor folks in non-criminal cases. It handles about 18,000 cases a year and has revenue of close to $8 million a year.

The organization is always hurting for money, and it has proposed that most lawyers in Iowa be required to pay $100 into a Legal Aid fund annually. That would bring in about $900,000 a year. The Iowa Supreme Court, which will decide the issue, has asked for comment.

While many Iowa lawyers support the fee — including 11 former justices of the Supreme Court — a surprising number oppose it. Here are some comments from lawyers:

“A wretchedly bad idea.”

This could lead to  “the slippery slope of other non-profit organizations requesting funding.”

The proposal is “another form of unconstitutional taxation without representation.”

The proposed fee is an “impingement of free speech.”

“Please stop telling me what I must fund and support.”

“If we provide this avenue of funding to this organization, they will end up being fat, dumb and happy.”

“Where will this end?”

“I find it rather insulting.”

“This idea is tyrannical and anti-American.”

Also, the Iowa Bar Association opposes the idea, though (of course) it favors putting a fee on out-of-state lawyers who come to Iowa to try a case.

Geeezzzz. CV

– Michael Gartner

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