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Civic Skinny

Divorce terms give Tom Miller an incentive to run again.

3/2/2016

Attorney General Tom Miller apparently is about to hire Mari Culver for a top job in the AG’s office. Culver, the wife of former governor Chet Culver, has long been with the Duncan Green firm in Des Moines. Though she has been a trial lawyer, the job she is likely to get in the Miller administration — if it comes through — would not involve courtroom work, people on Capitol Hill say.

The deal is a little odd in that Miller endorsed Mike Blouin over Chet Culver in the Democratic gubernatorial primary of 2006, which didn’t exactly engender warm feelings between the Millers and the Culvers. Blouin was the favorite of the party’s politicians, but Culver beat him, 58,000 votes to about 51,000 votes, with Ed Fallon drawing about 38,000 votes.

Meantime, court records show that Miller and his wife, Holli, were granted a divorce late last year, and the financial terms give the Attorney General an incentive to seek re-election in 2018 — and a disincentive to go into private practice.

Miller, who earns about $125,000 a year as attorney general, was given the couple’s $380,000 house on 28th Street South of Grand in the settlement, but he agreed to pay his ex-wife $400,000 as a property settlement and $4,166.66 a month — that’s $50,000 a year — in alimony until the end of 2021. The arrangement would last through three years of what could be another four-year term for Miller, who, with the exception of the years 1991 through 1994, has held the office since 1979. All told, he has been elected to nine four-year terms.

If Miller retires when his term is up at the end of 2018, he could owe Holli (who now is known as Holli Henderson) additional alimony. If his total income exceeded $200,000, including his pension and Social Security and bonuses, and if his gross income from private sources exceeded $86,000 annually, he would have to pay Henderson half of any private income exceeding that $86,000 in the years 2019, 2020 and 2021.

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The Millers were married on Nov. 20, 2004. Miller is 71; Henderson is 59. …

Three more claims were filed last week against the estate of Kirk Blunck, the architect whose death in a stairwell in the Teachout Building in January was called suspicious by the Polk County medical examiner. West Bank says it is owed $9,554.22, apparently involving a loan for a 960 Porsche. Drake Roofing says it is owed $17,330 for services provided to the Stuart Hotel in Stuart, Iowa, which Blunck apparently owned. And Mid-Iowa Environmental Corp. says it is owed $5,126.44 as part of a default judgment it won 18 months ago following work on Blunck’s Navarre apartments in Sherman Hill. Earlier, the Ahlers law firm filed a claim for $21,650.83. …

John and Jackie Norris are returning to Iowa — and looking for jobs. The politically active Norrises left the state for Washington after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Jackie Norris was chief of staff for Michelle Obama for a while and then was executive director of the Points of Light Corporate Institute in Washington.

The Norrises moved to Italy in September 2014 when John Norris was named Minister Counselor for Agriculture for the United States Mission to the United Nations Agencies. In Rome, Jackie Norris became an adjunct professor of American government at John Cabot University. John Norris ran for Congress in the old Fourth District in 2002 — he lost to Tom Latham by 25,000 votes — and chaired the state Democratic Party in 1998, the year his friend Tom Vilsack was first elected governor. Norris served as chief of staff to Vilsack in Des Moines and, later, at the Agriculture Department in Washington. In Washington, he also served on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Neither Norris has a job lined up in Iowa. People at the YMCA say Jackie Norris is interested in running the place — and so, they say, is Chet Culver — and John Norris is hoping to teach or get involved in public-policy work. Both Norrises are close to the Vilsacks and the Harkins, so it’s not out of the question that one or both of them could get deeply involved in politics again.  CV

‘The American People’

So the 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — including chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa — sent Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a letter last week saying they won’t consider any Supreme Court nominee sent to the Senate this year from President Barack Obama.

They have taken this position, they say, because they believe “the American people” should decide the direction the Court will take over the next generation.

Which raises a question: Wasn’t it “the American people” who twice elected Obama president?

Do the Republican senators not know this?

Does Chuck Grassley think Obama became president in some kind of a coup? CV

Our town: Miss Hall

Iowa State’s new basketball coach has a problem with more than defense and rebounding and a surly player or two.

“Me and him are continuing to communicate,” Coach Steve Prohm told The Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson, who was trying to figure out what exactly Jameel McKay did to incur the coach’s wrath.

Coach Prohm clearly did not go to Callanan Junior High School in the mid-1900s. He never knew the joy — make that fear — of sitting in Miss Dorothy Hall’s ninth-grade English class.  He never had to copy down — in ink — her many rules and lessons on grammar. And, obviously, he never learned about pronouns.

Miss Dorothy Hall was born in Des Moines in 1905 and grew up on Grand Avenue as the only child of a successful lawyer, whom she idolized. She was a tall girl — probably taller than most boys she grew up with — and a smart one (probably smarter than those boys, too).  She was nearly 70 years old when I first met her, and she was as imposing a woman as I’ve ever known. She was still at least 6 feet tall, and while she walked with a cane by then she stood as erect as a statue.

You got the feeling that she’d whack you one with that cane if she caught you chewing gum.

But she also had a twinkle in her eye.

At the time, I was editor of the Register, and I wrote a three-times-a-week nationally syndicated column on words and the language. I grew up in a bungalow on 40th Street, not far from Callanan, and a friend assumed I had had Miss Hall in junior high in the early 1950s. He asked me if I still had my copy of the “ink section” that laid out her rules. I said I had never heard of Miss Hall, so he explained.

(An aside. When I was growing up, Roosevelt had both a junior high school and a high school. When my children were young, I would tell them that I was so dumb it took me six years to get through Roosevelt. They had no trouble believing that.)

At any rate, I called Miss Hall, explained who I was and asked if I could have a copy of her ink section.  By then, she was living in the Calvin Manor Retirement Home on Hickman, and she started negotiating. “I will give you a copy,” she said, “if you’ll make me 10 copies of it.” I agreed to that, and then she raised the number to 20.

We sealed the deal over lunch, and it turned out to be the first in a years-long series of wonderful lunches. We talked about everything and everyone — she loved gossip about her former students, and it seems she taught half the town in her 30 years at Callanan and then another 10 at Merrill Junior High, stretching from the 1930s into the 1970s. She had a real fondness for Gov. Bob Ray — she called him “Robert” — but could recall almost every other student she ever had, too, from Cloris Leachman to Tom Urban.

(Years after he mastered Miss Hall’s rules, the Governor was on a platform getting ready to introduce a speaker. Miss Hall was in the audience, and she handed up a note to him. “Dear Robert, I hope you do well on your oral report. Remember not to use too many ‘ands.’ If you make a mistake in grammar, don’t go back and correct it. Ninety percent of your listeners won’t know the difference….”)

I started quoting from the ink section in the occasional Words column. I would say, “As Miss Hall taught you,  ‘Avoid the expression “I feel badly.” Use “I feel bad.” Bad is a predicate word, not an adverb.’ ” After a few mentions, I started getting letters from around the country from folks who said that they, too, had had a Miss Hall. And often it was the same Miss Hall. So I’d send them her address, and they started corresponding with her, which she loved. Once, I suggested readers send their “Miss Hall,” or my Miss Hall, a Christmas card. She was inundated — and delighted.

Most of these people still had their “ink section” after all those years. Those who didn’t still have a copy asked her for one. So at the next lunch she’d place her order with me: “Honey I need 10 more ink sections. Well, you better make it 15.”

I would, of course, obey. If I didn’t, I feared she would call my parents and report me.

Miss Dorothy Hall — I never had the courage to call her Dorothy — died at age 92 in 1997.

It’s too bad Coach Prohm never knew her.

She could have taught him a thing or two.

About pronouns.

About discipline.

And probably about rebounding. CV

— Michael Gartner

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