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Civic Skinny

41 apply to Grassley for Iowa federal judgeships.


A screening committee set up by Sen. Charles Grassley has received 41 applications from Iowans hoping for one of the two federal judgeships that soon will open in Iowa.

It’s an odd situation: A Republican Senator seemingly taking charge of sending names to a Democratic president for judicial openings in the Senator’s state. But these days Grassley isn’t just any Republican Senator; he’s the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve any judicial nomination from the White House before it can reach the Senate floor for confirmation. And Iowa now has no Democratic Senator.

Still, it’s unusual — and clearly there’s no reason President Barack Obama has to send up a name Grassley ultimately suggests, particularly if the nominee leans toward the views of Grassley rather than the views of Obama. And that, in all likelihood, describes the ultimate nominees.

At any rate, the screening committee comprises five Iowa lawyers led by longtime Grassley pal Bud Hockenberg. Others on it are Jeff Goodman, Richard Sapp, former Grassley staffer Adam Freed and Cindy Mosier.

According to an email sent to a few lawyers from another lawyer, the interviews last about an hour and “the questions asked generally relate to candidates’ experience, qualifications and judicial temperament.” But one person interviewed told a friend that some questioners asked pointed questions about societal and philosophical issues, making it clear what the answers should be.

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The panel apparently will start weeding through the list this week, ask some of the prospects back for a second interview, and eventually send some names on to Grassley. He then will send some names to the White House, which can throw them away, accept them, cut a deal where it accepts one if he will get his committee to take the White House nominee for the second job. Or just do nothing.

The new judges will succeed James Gritzner, who is taking senior status in the Southern District in Des Moines, and Mark Bennett, who is retiring from the northern district in Sioux City. Last session, Sen. Tom Harkin proposed to the White House that it name Cedar Rapids lawyer David O’Brien to the northern seat and either U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt or Iowa district judge Karen Romano to the Gritzner seat. The openings occurred late, and the White House never sent back names for those posts — or scores of others around the country. …

Updates: Steve Luebke, car salesman and drunken driver, pleaded guilty last week to third offense drunken driving and was sentenced to five years in prison by Jasper County District Associate Judge Steven Holwerda. He also had his driving privileges revoked for six years and was fined $3,125.

He has departed the Polk County jail, his home since Sept. 14, and as of this weekend was at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale, Iowa.

Meantime, former Bauder’s pharmacist Mark Graziano has a date with Judge Gritzner for Friday of next week, when Gritzner is scheduled to sentence the druggist who pleaded guilty Nov. 6 to drug and tax-evasion charges. Graziano and his lawyer, Guy Cook, reached a plea agreement with the government that calls for prison of 24 to 37 months, but Gritzner isn’t bound by that. Cook will ask Gritzner to send Graziano to the minimum security prison in Yankton, South Dakota. If he is sentenced, as expected, on Feb. 20 he’ll have about two weeks to keep manning the Bauder’s soda fountain before reporting to the federal prison.

Graziano was indicted a year ago on 16 counts of conspiracy to distribute hydrocodone, 11 counts of mail fraud and four counts of tax evasion after the feds said 700,000 hydrocodone pills slipped out the back door of the pharmacy. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and one of conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. CV


A modest proposal

That deal for the University of Iowa to take over AIB has seemed loopy from the beginning.

It seemed like a Hail Mary from AIB’s Nancy Williams in an effort to save the faltering Des Moines college her grandfather founded in 1921. And it looked like a cynical ploy by Iowa’s Sally Mason in an effort to grab more in-state students so she could get more state funds under the proposed — and complex and divisive and kind of nutty — formula for distributing state aid among the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

Members of the Iowa Board of Regents, who apparently knew nothing of the proposed deal until the other day, clearly are skeptical.

They should be. Mason and Williams should have known there’s no way the Regents — or any sane person — would agree to the “possible integration of AIB faculty, staff and students into the university.” The reason is simple: AIB is, well, AIB. It’s in a different league.

Mason, with her secrecy, handled it poorly. Williams, with her meanderings, handled it deceitfully.

The deal shouldn’t happen, and probably won’t.

Anyway, there’s a better solution.

Though it has been run by the same family since 1921 — just one of those coincidences, of course — AIB is set up as a non-profit organization under the federal tax laws. (Williams earned around $180,000 in the latest year.) It runs at a loss — around $400,000 in the year ended Aug. 31, 2013, the latest year for which public figures are available — but it has securities and land and buildings worth up to $30 million. The campus is on a prime site on Fleur Drive.

Under the deal with Iowa, AIB apparently was going to give the assets to the university in return for that “integration” of faculty, staff and students.

Instead, why not sell off everything to a developer — like, say, former AIB student Bill Knapp — and put the money in a foundation to provide scholarships to needy Iowans? Give the money to the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation to invest. Set up a simple application process based on the same standards used for federal Pell grants. Name a selection board of five or six people — put George Drake or David Maxwell or Ben Allen in charge — and then dole out the money.

At 5 percent, $25 million would produce $1,250,000 annually. Each year, the committee could hand out 125 $10,000 scholarships, including renewals. The recipients could use them at any Iowa public or private university they could get into — provided the institutions themselves agreed to match the amount. In the current scramble for students, most schools would jump at that.

AIB has been educating Iowans for nearly 100 years. Why not use its assets to help provide a college education for needy Iowans for another 100 years? CV

— Michael Gartner



Whatever happened to the compassion part of compassionate conservative?

Steve Deace, a one-time sports reporter who is making a nice living out of being a quick-thinking Christian and extreme right-wing columnist and talk-show guy, the other day wrote that a person was “a thug, pure and simple.”

The person was not his convicted friend Kent Sorenson.

The person was Donna Red Wing.

Donna Red Wing is many things, but she is not a thug. She is a married lesbian who is head of One Iowa, the gay-rights organization. “I am a grandmother. I work for human and civil rights. I am a person of faith. I have a great work ethic. I believe in possibilities and in forgiveness and in reconciliation. I bake bread and wear an old-lady apron when I do. There is nothing about me or my life that is thuggish,” Red Wing says.

Unless you are Steve Deace.

To Steve Deace, Donna Red Wing is a thug because she thinks Betty and Richard Odgaard should have to open their event facility for gay weddings if they allow any weddings at all. That’s the direction the Iowa Civil Rights Commission was heading when the Odgaards filed a premature suit against the agency before it actually ruled. The Odgaards — who for their own religious reasons refused service to gays — ultimately settled, saying they would not discriminate. In other words, they could open their facility for all weddings, or for none.

Red Wing told The Des Moines Register that she was “really sad that their beautiful facility is no longer going to have any weddings at all, but if they’re not going to allow same-gender weddings, they really can’t allow any.”

“Right,” Deace wrote.“ Fredo Corleone just called and said don’t fall for it. If you read that and found yourself thinking it’s the kind of thing a mob boss says after having just put a horse’s head in our bed, your gay pride parade translator is working fine.”


For good measure, he then went on to label as thugs the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were voted out of office in 2010 for participating in the unanimous decision saying gays had equal rights in this state — including the right to marry one another. Deace and others of his ilk never seemed to notice that that Varnum decision was an eloquent defense of freedom of religion.

But Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit and David Baker thugs?

Wow, again.

Steve Deace is a smart guy, and he’s kind of a pleasant guy. And he’s a glib guy.

But it’s one thing to be glib, another to be venomous.

For a man who makes his living as a professional Christian, he’s not very Christian.

Red Wing, meanwhile, took the quotes from Deace about her, the “Rainbow Jihad” and the “homosexual temper tantrum” and turned them into a fundraising email for One Iowa. The email brought in around $800. CV

— Michael Gartner

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