Monday, May 17, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Platforms: Puppy mills, legal drugs, and back to 1913. Culver gets a Y job, with a little help from his friends.


State political platforms mean absolutely nothing, practical politicians agree, but the planks often show where the power lies in the parties. And occasionally a plank is so bizarre it can be used against that party’s candidates.

Such is the latest platform of the Iowa Democrats, where — buried among the 563 planks — the party comes out for “legalizing all drugs.” No qualifiers, no explanation, no rationale. That can never happen, of course, but it will cause problems for Democratic candidates who will be thrown off message every time an opponent, or a reporter, asks if he or she agrees with the plank.

It also shows that some ultra-liberals have gotten their hands on some of the levers at party headquarters.

The Republicans have a far shorter platform this year, and many planks of past years are gone. (“Medical care is a privilege and not a right.”) But the party whose governor has been in office longer than any governor in American history and whose Senator if re-elected could become the fifth-longest-serving Senator in U.S. history has added two planks:

“We support term limits for elected officials, appointed officials, and judges,” it says. Unless the limits they support are, say 50 years long, that’s a direct slap at Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Charles Grassley.

Prep Iowa

“We call for repeal of the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” it says. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, calls for the direct election by the people of United States Senators. Before then, senators were chosen by state legislatures. It’s an especially odd plank for a state that has two Republican Senators.

The Democratic platform also takes a brave stand opposing puppy mills, while the Iowa Republicans would repeal these “abusive and unconstitutional federal agencies: the IRS, the EPA, the ATF, the TSA, the BLM, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education.” …

As Cityview predicted, Chet Culver this week is being named president of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, the number two job behind recently hired CEO Dave Schwartz. Culver had applied for the top job, and some of his friends — who also are big givers to the Y — had lobbied hard for him. Bill Knapp in particular raised hell about Culver not getting the job, so the Y folks scrambled and created the new post for the former governor.

Culver’s job will be to raise money for the Y — particularly for the unbuilt pool in the downtown Y — and to beef up and publicize the Y’s many community programs. His salary isn’t yet public, but “it’s over $100,000,” a person told Cityview. One benefit for Culver: He gets to stay on the board of the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation in Washington, a quasi-public company that in a roundabout way guarantees loans banks make to farmers. He was appointed to the board five years ago by President Barack Obama. Last year, Culver got $110,166 in cash and stock for being on the board, which met eight times.

Former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Lowell Junkins is chairman of the board. He has been on it for 20 years and received about $140,000 in stock and pay for his services last year. …

A question: Who actually favors puppy mills? CV

Sen. David Johnson (Ind., Ocheyedan)

I have known David Johnson for decades. He is a friend. He is a force for good.

He was a force for good when he owned the weekly newspaper in West Branch, where his thorough reporting and thoughtful editorializing made West Branch a better town. And he has been a force for good in his 18 years in the Legislature, where he has increasingly valued policy over party and ideas over ideology in hopes of making Iowa a better state.

He has, all his life, been an active Republican, as was his father before him. (His father, Donald Johnson, ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1968, splitting the conservative vote with Bob Beck and enabling a guy named Bob Ray to get the nomination with just 43 percent of the vote.)

He is unchangeable but never unpleasant on some litmus-test conservative issues — don’t even bother to talk to him about a woman’s right to have an abortion, for instance. But he is equally passionate on environmental issues — believing Iowa has an almost religious obligation to protect its land and its streams. And he is deeply and genuinely concerned about the lives of his 60,000 constituents on the farms and in the towns of far northwestern Iowa, conservative people who have sent him off to the Legislature six times since 1998 — two times to the House, four times to the Senate. The last two times he had no opponent.

For the past 22 years he has lived in the land of Steve King and Bob Vander Plaats and Sam Clovis, which could warp a person’s mind as he tends to his cows and his land. (Did I mention that Johnson gave up newspapering for dairy farming — which further shows his intelligence?) In fact, that wing of the party, and some of its allies in the Legislature, has made him increasingly disenchanted with the way the party and the Legislature work. The Legislature is ever-more a place where party tops policy, where control tops conscience, and where doing nothing is too often the goal, he has come to believe.

The Republicans in the Iowa Legislature “have a poor approach to education, to economic development, to energy, and to the environment,” he told Democratic blogger Pat Rynard the other day. “And you can double-underline environment.”

And that is why, the other week, the 65-year-old lifelong Republican switched his registration to “no-party,” or independent.

The trigger was the nomination of Donald Trump — he said he could no longer support a party that “buckled under the racial bias of a bigot” — but the switch wasn’t just out of spur-of-the-moment disgust.

You could see it coming. Over the past couple of years, he has bucked the Republicans by supporting — and arguing for — implementation of the three-eighths-of-a-penny sales tax to support conservation efforts. He has publicly taken on the Farm Bureau on conservation issues. He has opposed the governor at almost every turn on mental-health issues. He opposed the governor on the plan to privatize Medicaid services in Iowa. And he joined Democrats in voting for more oversight of the private provider.

The other day, at breakfast with a couple of old friends, he was talking about the massacre at the gay bar in Orlando. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “They were murdered because of who they loved?” He was as incredulous as he was sad. You should be able to love whomever you want, he said, sounding not so different than the folks at One Iowa.

In recent years, his Republican colleagues in the Senate haven’t known what to do with him. They stripped him of his leadership duties two years ago — which freed him even more to speak his mind. They have refused his requests for some different committee assignments. They have turned deaf ears to his pleas to save Iowa’s rivers and land.

He announced his change of registration on June 7. A couple of Democratic colleagues called him right away. The chair of the Democratic Party in Iowa called several days later. But it wasn’t until nine days after the announcement that Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix called. He was the first Republican official to call. He wasn’t happy.

In some years, the decision by a state senator to drop his party affiliation could just be written off as an eccentricity, or as a guy who just is following his conscience. But this year it has far more consequences. The Democrats hold a 26-24 majority in the Senate — it’s their only power base left in the state — and if the Republicans pick up a seat this fall, or two, they’d gain partial or total control of the Senate.

So if Johnson remains an independent — and I think he will — he’ll have enormous power. And the first key test of that power will come on electing a Majority Leader. If it’s between Republican Dix and Democrat Mike Gronstal, I’d bet on Gronstal.

And that would make things really interesting. CV

— Michael Gartner



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