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Civic Skinny

Culver eyes Congress in 2016, or maybe in 2018

5/13/2015

Chet Culver is testing the waters.

The former governor is checking with former aides and former donors with the idea of relaunching his political career, which came to an abrupt end when he was unseated by Terry Branstad in 2010.

“I’m giving serious thought to getting back in the ring,” he told Cityview, saying he’s looking at elections in 2016 and 2018. That’s the strongest statement he’s made to date.

The 2016 election is the Third District Congressional race, where he’d seek the Democratic nomination to take on first-term Republican David Young. The 2018 election would also be a Congressional election — the former Governor might wait till then to seek the seat — though the governorship would be up for grabs then, too, and few people think Branstad will run again. If Culver ran for Congress and won he’d be in a good position to get the Democratic nod to run for the U.S. Senate — against first-termer Joni Ernst in 2020 or for Chuck Grassley’s seat in 2022. Most people figure Grassley will hang it up after the next term, which realists concede is his for the asking, and there would be a kind of symmetry if Culver ran for that seat: Culver’s father, John, was the Senator from Iowa from 1975 to 1981 — when he was unseated by Grassley.

Chet Culver, who turned 49 in January, served 12 years in office — eight as Iowa secretary of state and four as governor — but he has been pretty much absent from politics since his defeat. The Obama administration gave him a plum in 2012 — a $100,000-a-year seat on the board of the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corp. — but he hasn’t been out on the campaign trail for fellow Democrats in the recent election cycles. The most he had said about his own plans was a “we’ll see what the future holds” to Channel 13 last November, and a hint to The Des Moines Register in January that he was looking at both the First District and Third District Congressional races.

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Other Democrats also are looking at taking on Young, but an early announcement by Culver could pre-empt the field — scaring off potential candidates Matt McCoy, Staci Appel, Nick Klinefeldt and Desmond Adams. The district leans Republican, but Culver has strong name recognition, knows how to campaign hard, and probably could raise a lot of money. If he runs, it will be a big-money race on both sides. Republicans think that if Young can win a second term he’ll be there for life; Democrats agree that their best shot against Young will be in 2016.

Other political stuff:

Republican Ron Corbett is thinking of running for Governor in 2018. Corbett is mayor of Cedar Rapids and a former Speaker of the Iowa House. Earlier this month, he told O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa that he was going to travel the state to “talk about issues.” As mayor of Cedar Rapids for nearly six years, he said, he has developed “a different set of eyes as far as getting involved in statewide public policy.”

The way it looks now, Corbett wouldn’t have a clear field toward the nomination. Branstad clearly favors Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds — indeed, there are always unfounded and unsourced rumors that the Governor might resign before his term is up to give her a leg up — and a whole lot of Republicans are in love with Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who doesn’t seem to have any enemies anywhere in the state.

There’s still talk that former House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque will get into the First District Congressional race. Murphy, a Democrat, lost to Rod Blum last time around, but the district favors Democrats. So far, Democrats Monica Vernon, Ravi Patel and Gary Kroeger have announced. …

Payback time? In 2012, redistricting pitted incumbent Republican legislators Annette Sweeney and Pat Grassley against each other in Grundy and Hardin and Butler counties. Neither opted out, and by and large their views were similar on issues. Bruce Rastetter, the really rich guy who heads the Board of Regents, was vocal in his support of Sweeney, whom he had known since childhood. Sen. Charles Grassley and some friends stepped in to help the senator’s grandson. There were some hard feelings. Grassley won.Pat Grassley isn’t known for introducing legislation, but this session he submitted an amendment to the general education-funding bill calling for a freeze on tuition for in-state undergraduate students at the three Regents universities — something the Regents themselves voted for — but adding that the lost revenue from the tuition freeze had to be made up internally by the universities from the “transparent, inclusive, efficiency review” the universities have been undertaking at the behest of Rastetter. That was kind of sticking it to the Regents — savings from such reviews usually end up being illusory — and some can argue the review is neither transparent nor inclusive. At any rate, the universities would have picked up about $3.2 million for each one percentage point increase in tuition for the 40,000 or so in-state students. One way or another, they now have to eat that.

The amendment passed, 95 to 3.

Meantime, the Legislature is ignoring the complex and divisive formula the Regents proposed to allocate appropriations among the three universities, and the House — where Rastetter poured money into Republican coffers — is sticking its thumb in the board president’s eye. This fiscal year, appropriations for the general fund for the Board of Regents schools and programs are estimated at $583,238,311. For the coming year, the governor recommended a slight increase, to $592,239,492. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, is at a bit more, $599,880,933. But the House, controlled by Rastetter’s fellow Republicans, is at $582,452,918 — a slight decline from the current year.

Folks on the Hill say Rastetter has had harsh words with Speaker Kraig Paulsen, who got $50,000 of Rastetter money last year. All told, he contributed $104,846.19 to state and local candidates in 2014, more than any other Iowan gave. All the money went to Republicans. So far, the return on the businessman’s investment is zero. …

Former legislator Kent Sorenson still hasn’t been sentenced for the crimes he committed during the 2012 presidential run-up in Iowa, which is unusual. He backed Michele Bachmann and then switched to Ron Paul, and allegedly took money — illegally — from both campaigns. He then tried to hide that with false reports. Last August, he 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.”

Although a pre-sentence report has been filed with federal court, his lawyers keep asking for a continuation. Prosecutors don’t object, which strongly indicates they’re still leaning on him to implicate others — presumably people in the Bachmann or Paul campaigns. Presumably, too, the more cooperation, the lighter sentence to be recommended. …

Update: Iowa’s nonfarm employment totaled 1,550,000 in March, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. That’s up 51,300 since Terry Branstad took office as governor in January of 2011. The problem: He promised he’d create 200,000 jobs in five years. With nine months to go, he’s 148,700 short. …

Cityview joins those who were happy to have known John Keck — businessman, athlete, good citizen and truly nice man. He died last week at 83. CV

Lawsuit

Summary paragraphs of a lawsuit filed the other day in circuit court in South Dakota:

“Caleb Larson v. Watertown Pizza Ranch Inc.; Ross Olson.

“Defamation. When plaintiff forgot his name tag at home, his boss, defendant Olson, made him wear a name tag that said ‘brain dead’ while he worked the cash register at defendant Pizza Ranch.” CV

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