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Civic Skinny

Godfrey bills now near $770,000. Van Orsdel home sold.

5/6/2015

Your tax dollars at work: The cost to the state in defending the lawsuit filed by former Workers’ Compensation Director Chris Godfrey now tops $750,000. The state Executive Council this week will consider — and surely approve — an invoice from the LaMarca law firm for $120,135.43 for defending Gov. Terry Branstad and five other current or former state officials in the suit alleging harassment, discrimination, retaliation, extortion and defamation.

That brings the total — so far — to $768,276.36.

Godfrey, a Democrat with a fixed term — and then the only openly gay member of the Branstad administration in Iowa — was asked to resign by Branstad after the 2010 election. Godfrey refused, so the governor cut the commissioner’s salary by about $40,000 a year. Three years ago, he sued, and a trial now is likely later this year. Godfrey resigned last fall and now is the chief judge and chairman of the Employees Compensation Appeals Board of the United States Department of Labor in Washington. …

Iowa’s Democrats are scouring the land looking for someone with a chance — anyone — to run against Sen. Chuck Grassley next year. So far, no one with a chance has signed on. Perhaps because there’s no one in the state with a chance. Or perhaps because the person would have to spend about every waking hour between now and November of 2016 trying to raise money from reluctant givers. And, then, he or she would lose and slip into political obscurity.

It’s not exactly enticing for a politically ambitious Democrat.

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Grassley got 53.5 percent of the vote in 1980 when he defeated one-term incumbent Democrat John Culver in the Reagan sweep of 1980. (Grassley outpolled Reagan in Iowa; Reagan got 51.3 percent in the state.) Since then, the New Hartford farmer has sailed through five elections. In 1986, he beat John Roehrick with 66 percent of the vote. In 1992, he beat Jean Lloyd-Jones with about 70 percent. In 1998, he beat David Osterberg with more than 68 percent. In 2004, he beat Art Small with more than 70 percent. And last time around, in 2010, he beat Roxanne Conlin with 64 percent of the vote.

Except for lawyer Conlin — a party activist who stays in the public eye with high-profile lawsuits (she is representing Godfrey) — those folks have faded into the political past while Grassley has risen to fourth in seniority among the nation’s 100 senators.

If anyone is thinking of running, here’s another fact: Grassley already has $2.4 million in the political bank.

In the first quarter this year, he raised $682,472 — $315,247 from individuals and $362,663 from political action committees — without breaking into a sweat. Now more powerful than ever as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the 81-year-old Grassley hardly even has to ask folks for money. They line up to give.

And if the Democrats try to sweet-talk some young party member into running by saying Grassley is vulnerable now because he’s getting old — “he might be losing it,” some say — that young person should watch the Senator’s performance on Iowa Press a few weeks ago. His mastery of the issues and his handling of the questions were flawless. Quirkiness — tweeting scores from UNI basketball games, aw-shucks stuff like “thought my followers might like this pork recipe from Mrs. Grassley,” and bitching about the lack of history on the History Channel — isn’t the same as senility.

So far, Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen —honestly, have you heard of either? — have said they’ll run. But, they’re — well, they’re Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen.  Legislator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids has made some noises, but so far they’re just noises.

Top Democrats admit there is no viable candidate on the horizon. Some party elders say it would be great if young Ravi Patel would run. He could raise money and build his reputation, they say, though no one says he could win. But Patel has other ideas: The 29-year-old from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids is seeking the Congressional nomination in the First District, where first-term Republican Rod Blum is seen as beatable.

Patel is off to a quick start.

He raised $539,658 in the first quarter, according to the Federal Election Commission, and he has $498,141 stuffed under the mattress. His family — like many people named Patel in America — is in the hotel business, and Patels around the country made 186 contributions to him in the first quarter. The contributions came from Waco and Plano and Irving in Texas, and Winchester in Virginia, and Battle Creek and Paw Paw in Michigan, and Fredericksburg and Greenbelt in Maryland and points north, south, east and west. Almost all said they were in the hotel or hospitality businesses.

He had only one contributor from Des Moines — Craig Ibsen, who gave $1,000.

Monica Vernon, who ran for lieutenant governor last year, also is seeking the Democratic nomination in the First District, and she raised $300,513 in the quarter — though $110,000 of that is money she lent the campaign. The money is a home-equity line of credit, the FEC report says. Her campaign has $289,976 in the bank. Several of the usual suspects from Des Moines have given her the maximum of $2,700, or near the maximum.  They include Fred Weitz, Emily Weitz, Fred Hubbell, Charlotte Hubbell, Tim Urban, Jack Hatch and Mike Simonson.

Gary Kroeger also has announced he is running, but he has not filed a financial report. There’s talk that others will get in — especially Swati Dandekar — but no one else has filed yet.

Meantime, Blum raised just $46,611 from individuals in the first quarter and another $70,499 from political action committees. At the end of the quarter, he had $644,373 cash on hand, but $500,000 of that was a loan he made to himself on the final day of reporting for the quarter, the FEC report says, and $113,050 represents another loan. Four people from Des Moines contributed to his campaign in the quarter, with Fred Nesbit putting in the most at $1,000.

David Young, the other first-term Republican that Democrats want to oust, raised $359,363 in the first quarter — including $106,890 from individuals and more than $225,000 from political action committees. The usual Des Moines Republican givers already have stepped up, plus a few who don’t usually give. Dick and Jeanne Levitt each have maxed out at $5,400. They’re not usually on lists of contributors, but Young’s dad, Dennis, was a longtime close associate of Dick Levitt in the finance business.

Jim Cownie and Steve Sandquist and Jill Oman and Mark Oman each has given Young $2,700, and Bruce Kelley, the insurance executive, is in for $2,600. Musco Lighting boss Joe Crookham of Oskaloosa also has contributed $2,700 so far. Thousand-dollar givers so far include Republican operative Doug Gross, former Congressman Greg Ganske, John Ruan, Bob Shreck, Bob Burnett, David Oman, and dairy-owner Jim Erickson. …

In complicated transactions, the majestic home at 3407 Lincoln Place Drive once owned by Bill Van Orsdel now is owned by a limited-liability company called We Can Build It. The $1.1 million sale occurred April 20, according to the Polk County Assessor. The property and land are assessed at $1,401,200 — a steep drop from the $2.2 million of 2010. The five-bedroom, six-bathroom, four-fireplace home has nearly 9,000 square feet of living area and sits on just shy of an acre of land. The deal also includes a large garage with full living quarters above it.

Van Orsdel’s former business partner, Gary Kirke, once owned the house next door. The two and some others had a falling out over a development deal, and after lawsuits and disputes and negotiations the house in 2013 ended up being owned by the families of Kirke, Bob Horner, Bob Pulver and Terry Moss. They were the sellers last month. The buyer, We Can Build It, is owned by Jeff Young and owns 25 properties in Polk County. Two years ago, he bought another Van Orsdel property across the street, paying $683,900 for the 3,268-square-foot place that the Van Orsdels called the Sugar Shack. …

Bob Donley, the executive director of the Board of Regents and one of three finalists to be chancellor of the North Dakota University system, didn’t get the job. On Thursday, North Dakota chose Mark Hagerott, a professor at the Naval Academy. Word is that Donley has his name out in some other searches. CV

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