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Civic Skinny

Swati for Congress? Pat Murphy, too!

2/20/2013

Democrats say former legislator Swati Dandekar is looking at running for Congress in the First District. She didn’t respond to Cityview’s query, but if she is running she’ll be a formidable candidate next year to fill the seat being vacated by Senate-hopeful Bruce Braley.

But she’ll have to win a primary first.

Former House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque announced last week that he’s running, and there’s talk that others — including Cedar Rapids legislator Liz Mathis — will get in, too.

Dandekar, who turns 62 next month, is smart, ambitious and well-off. She’s conservative on business issues, which has irritated some fellow Democrats, but she really pissed them off two years ago when she gave up her Senate seat in mid-term to take a $115,000-a-year post on the Iowa Utilities Board — an appointment that was a political masterstroke by Republican Governor Terry Branstad. At the time, the Democrats held a 26-24 lead in the Senate, and a loss of the seat would have been disastrous for the party. But the Republicans got in an intramural fight, and Mathis, a farm girl who became a TV reporter and anchorwoman, defeated Republican Cindy Golding in a special election in November 2011. Mathis was re-elected last fall.

Dandekar is the first India-born woman ever elected to a legislature in the United States. She has degrees in chemistry and biology and dietetics, and her introduction to politics came through her service on the Iowa Association of School Boards. She was elected to the Iowa House in 2002 and was twice re-elected before winning the senate seat vacated by Mary Lundby in 2009.

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The loquacious Murphy — he can out-talk anyone — has been in the Iowa House since 1989 and was the party’s leader in that chamber for years. He’s an advocate for labor, and — as expected of a Dubuque Catholic politician — he gets high marks from the Iowa Right to Life Committee. But he has come to accept gay marriage, and his ratings from the Civil Liberties Union have increased regularly during his years in office. Now 53, he’s well-known among Democrats, and he’ll run particularly strong in the Dubuque area. But he’s not as dogged a fundraiser as Dandekar — few people are — which could prove fatal. …

Wow. State Sen. Jeff Danielson, the chair of the Senate State Government Committee, tossed a little-noted firecracker into the hopper the other day that would dramatically change the Board of Regents, which oversees the three state universities, the School for the Deaf and what’s left of the School for the Blind.

He would require that one regent be a faculty member — how loud would the howls be if a bill required that a Regent be added to the University of Iowa faculty senate? — and he’d bar anyone from serving on the Board or on the staff from making any political contributions while in office, partaking in any political activities or being “identified as an advocate or opponent of issues subject to debate by the general assembly, except as otherwise provided by law.” That would affect virtually every Regent who has served for the past 20 years, some (big donors and political activists Bruce Rastetter, Marvin Pomerantz) more than others.

He’d also change some board procedures to bring more openness and to allow more public comment at meetings.

Democrat Danielson told Cityview he introduced the bill “because I believe the decision-making process used by current board leadership” — that would be Republicans Rastetter and Craig Lang — “is not as transparent and open as it could be,” which might be an understatement. He also says that for the past year or so he has seen “a consistent theme” in Regents decisions, “decisions where the legitimacy has been questioned.” And, he says, “one of the tools to help with this is [to] reform the governance and decision-making process….”

Republican Jack Whitver of Des Moines and Democrat Tom Courtney of Burlington co-sponsored the study bill. Rastetter and Lang — both of whom are registered as lobbyists because they advocate for the Regents on Capitol Hill — are listed as “undecided” on the bill, as are the Board’s full-time lobbyists. But you can bet that will change. The only lobbyists who have taken a position so far are the two with the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. They’re for it, of course.

A study bill is a vehicle to determine if a committee likes the idea. If it does, the committee then is the sponsor of the resulting bill that could be debated by the full chamber. …

Des Moines Register editor Rick Green wants us to clarify something. While it’s true that he said reporters weren’t allowed to attend the Obama/Bruce Springsteen rally last fall, “of course we had Jennifer Jacobs and I believe a couple others who were covering the event.” Of course. Meantime, the Facebook page of reporter Todd Erzen continues to refer to President Obama as “officially the leader of a cult” and to contain what a Cityview reader calls “ultra conservative political rants,” which Green has said he will look into.

 “I’ll let you know more about Erzen if anything unfolds,” Green added in his latest note. Apparently, nothing has unfolded. …  While we’re clarifying things, lobbyist and lawyer Jim Carney politely tells us that that annual lawyer-legislator dinner that we had listed as among the “free food” opportunities for legislators was not free at all. The 38th annual dinner “was a paid event and always has been,” he says.

“By the way,” Carney says, “we have a total of 13 lawyer-legislators in the House as a result of Todd Prichard winning the recent special election. There are two lawyers in the Senate and one law student who is now eligible to take the bar exam. Fifteen or 16 lawyers is about the max we ever have any more serving in the legislature.

“I can be at breakfast and overhear some very, very intelligent business people complaining about the number of lawyers we have in the legislature. I usually ask them how many they think we have out of 150, and they say something like 50 or 60. In the 38 years I have been representing the Iowa State Bar Association at the Capitol, the most we ever had was about 19 or 20. For the past two years in the Senate we had a non-lawyer chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time in the history of the state. That was Senator Gene Fraise, and he actually did a tremendous job. Gene has retired and we once again have a lawyer-legislator chairing Senate Judiciary: Rob Hogg — the only lawyer in the Senate Democrat caucus.” …

Now, the important stuff. Who was the high-school referee who kicked Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard out of a game earlier this month as he was watching his son’s Gilbert team play at Colfax-Mingo? Pollard apparently said “That was a horrible call,” a mild version of what fans say a hundred times a game. But none of the stories has named the official, so Cityview’s not-so-crack sports department set out to find out.

Does this guy have a beef with Pollard? Is he a Hawkeye fan? Cityview contacted Marty Lucas, the superintendent of Colfax-Mingo School District, and requested the name of the referee, which is public record due to payments made by the district to him. Lucas consulted with the school district attorney and then said they would release the names of the three referees hired for the game. They were Lynn Schroeder of Ames, Dan Hoyka of Norwalk and Andrew Burg of Adel. Lucas said the attorney stated that the district was not required by law to identify which referee was in question.

So Cityview called each one of them. Schroeder said it wasn’t him. Burg said he had no comment. And Hoyka didn’t return calls. They directed Cityview to the Iowa High School Athletic Association office, where Roger (Smokey) Barr said “that information is not for publication” for “safety and security reasons, because the official has that right.” Skinny went to Pollard himself, who said he had no idea. He said he didn’t even know who worked the game.

Once again, Civic Skinny has let you down. CV

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