Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Anonymous fellow Democrats pile on Matt McCoy.


Some of his fellow Democrats are anonymously stabbing Matt McCoy in the back. Or maybe in the front.

McCoy, the 49-year-old state senator who represents sections of Des Moines and West Des Moines, is considering running for Congress against Republican incumbent David Young. McCoy would be a strong candidate — he’s reasonably well-known, has a strong progressive record and probably could raise a lot of money — but someone wants him to stay out of the race.

“Democrats in both Washington, D.C., and Iowa are concerned about the Des Moines Democrat’s congressional ambitions in the Third District, a must-win seat for Democrats…,” the Washington political publication Roll Call wrote this month. “I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in him running,” one “Iowa Democratic operative” said.

Reporters don’t come up with stories like that on their own.

The publication then itemizes why the anonymous Democrats don’t want him to run. It cites the fine he paid for funneling in 2005 to Mike Blouin a $2,500 check John Ruan made out to McCoy — with the words “Mike Blouen” on the check. It cites his 2007 indictment for threatening to use his political power against a former business partner — a politically inspired indictment that led to acquittal. It cites a lousy attendance record — from 2003. And it notes in passing that “he’s openly gay.”


McCoy says he’s trying to figure out who planted the story. He has a theory, but he can’t yet prove it. He also notes that he has been regularly re-elected since the check story and the indictment surfaced. Indeed, the south-sider was elected twice to the Iowa House, starting in 1992, and has been elected six times to the Iowa Senate, starting in 1996.

He could run for Congress next year without having to give up his Senate seat, which is not up until 2018.

McCoy says he’ll wait till the legislative session is over before deciding whether to run. “I need to find a path” to victory, he says. He notes, accurately, that he’d have to win big in Polk County — by at least 28,000 votes — and appeal to independent and Republican women voters. He agrees it would take $3 million to $4 million to run. The district leans Republican; As of April 1, it had 480,282 active voters. Of those, 164,020 were registered Republicans, 152,447 were registered Democrats, and 161,883 were registered as independents. But 55 percent of the voters live in Polk County, where Democrats have a 20,000 edge over Republicans.

If McCoy decides to run, he could well face a primary. Stacy Appel, who lost to Young two years ago, has not ruled herself out of the race. U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt has been encouraged to run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, though he hasn’t yet said yes or no. Waukee’s Desmond Adams has indicated he might run. And some people still think former Gov. Chet Culver could get in the race.

A possible primary doesn’t bother McCoy. “The more the merrier,” he says. …

Meantime, the Omaha World Herald reported last week that Young was late paying the real-estate taxes on his $1.4 million townhouse in Washington, D.C. He missed the March 31 payment deadline for the $5,980 he owed in taxes for the first half of 2015, the newspaper reported, and had to pay $688 in penalties and interest.

The Democrats jumped on that with glee, saying this was “awkward for someone who prides himself on being a ‘taxpayer watchdog.’ ” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added: “Even more ironically, Young voted last week to punish federal employees (which he’s been since 1999) who have delinquent taxes.” …

Senate Democrats could have refused to confirm Charles Palmer for another term as head of the state’s Department of Human Services, but one well-connected guy says they decided to back him after learning who Gov. Terry Branstad planned to put in the job if Palmer lost.

That supposed choice: former legislator Nancy Boettger of Harlan. So the Democrats came up with 11 “no” votes — not enough to stop Palmer but enough to show their displeasure. CV


Comment: democracy

The State of Iowa wants Teresa Wagner to turn over all her notes, her outlines and her drafts of a manuscript she has written — but not yet published — about her lawsuit against the former dean of the University of Iowa law school alleging political discrimination.

And a federal magistrate has said that’s OK.


That’s not just tip-toeing on democracy and the First Amendment; it’s trampling all over freedom.

Wagner is the woman who was part-time associate director of the law school’s writing center and who was repeatedly turned down for a full-time adjunct position on the faculty. In 2009, she sued then-dean Carolyn Jones, alleging her First Amendment rights were violated in that she was turned down because she’s an active, anti-abortion Republican. There’s at least some evidence she’s right. The lawsuit noted that, at the time there was but one registered Republican among the 50 law-school faculty members.

The suit won’t go away. At first, Federal Judge Charles Wolle granted summary judgment for Jones, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled and said the case should be tried. That trial, in 2012 in Judge Robert Pratt’s courtroom, ended in a mistrial when Magistrate Thomas Shields erred in polling the jury — a “mistake beyond correction,” the Circuit Court ruled. (In fact, the jury had ruled for Jones on the key count, but the magistrate had neglected to ask jurors about each of the two counts.) The 8th Circuit then ordered a new trial and also hinted strongly to the trial court that its instructions to the jury were, in effect, not fair to Wagner. Jones asked the United States Supreme Court to overrule the Circuit Court’s granting of a new trial, but the High Court turned down her request.

The trial now is set for June 22 in Judge James Gritzner’s court in Davenport.

Last month, Wagner gave a speech to the Family Research Council, a conservative group based in Washington, and in passing she noted that she had written a book about the case. The manuscript has been turned in, but the book has not yet been published, she noted. That’s when the Iowa Attorney General’s office went back into action. The state didn’t know about the book, Assistant Attorney General George Carroll told the court, and it has the “right to explore” what the manuscript says.

Yes, magistrate Helen Adams said. “To the extent any new facts may be found in the documents and presentation materials which contradict statements plaintiff has previously made, defendants are entitled to discover them. Good cause has been shown to reopen discovery.” So last week the state filed its wide-ranging — and to some overreaching — demand for notes and manuscripts and the like.

Wow, again.

Wagner’s lawyer, Steven Fieweger of Davenport, on Friday filed an objection to some of the requests. The court now will have to decide.

But it’s a pretty sacred rule of the First Amendment that the government can’t go scrounging and exploring through a reporter’s unpublished notes or an author’s unpublished manuscripts. That’s everything from intimidation to censorship, neither of which is a pillar of democracy. Even when would-be authors — CIA agents, for instance — have signed documents agreeing to let the government review manuscripts, the courts have been skeptical.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that public employees have a First Amendment interest in speaking freely on matters that are of public concern,” one federal court has noted. But, of course, if you think the state is ready to pounce and go through your notes or manuscripts, you might be a bit leery of speaking freely — as Wagner did at that meeting in Washington.

An Iowa lawyer puts it another way: “What kind of government demands to see the papers of dissidents before they are published?”

* * * * *

During one of the trials, Jones said it wasn’t her decision not to hire Wagner. The faculty controls such things, she said. “The faculty chooses the academic personnel through faculty governance,” she testified. She said she merely negotiates the salary and benefits.

Lawyer: “So what you are saying essentially is that you are a rubber stamp that’s paid $300,000 a year?”

Jones: “No, not at all,” noting her role in salaries and benefits. “I’m not purely a rubber stamp.”

Because of this type of leadership, a guy tells Cityview, Jones will soon receive one of the school’s most prestigious awards — the Hancher-Finkbine Medal, which is given annually to a faculty member “to recognize leadership, learning, and loyalty.” CV

— Michael Gartner

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