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Civic Skinny

Gronstal joins Clarinda suit; 1973 ruling unearthed.


Four more legislators — including powerful Senate leader Mike Gronstal — have joined the suit challenging Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to close the mental health institutes at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. And the Polk County District Court has granted the plaintiffs’ request for an expedited hearing.

The suit, filed July 9, alleges the Governor doesn’t have the authority to close the institutions because an Iowa statute specifically says they “shall” exist.

It’s not the first time the issue has arisen.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs — AFSCME leader Danny Homan and, now, 24 Democratic legislators — have found an Attorney General’s opinion from 1973 determining that the state didn’t have the right to close Clarinda at that time without legislative approval.

The Attorney General then was Richard Turner, and he was asked whether Gov. Bob Ray’s Department of Social Services could administratively close Clarinda. The request, from two Republican senators from near Clarinda, followed the legislature’s request to the department to plan for a consolidation of mental-health facilities. The department then recommended that Clarinda be closed.

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Citing Iowa statutes, Turner wrote:

“The question is whether an administrative agency may destroy an Institute created or designated by the legislature….The Institute may not be administratively destroyed.” He added that if the state wanted to close Clarinda, the legislature must amend the statutes calling for its existence.

“No one else has the right to exercise this exclusive legislative prerogative,” he said.

The statute in question has not been changed since then. Asked whether Turner’s opinion still holds, Geoff Greenwood, the spokesman for the Attorney General, said, “I can’t discuss it because it will likely be litigated as part of the lawsuit that’s been filed and our office is defending.”

What’s more, careful readers of Iowa Supreme Court opinions note that the court obliquely recognized the issue in May when it dismissed Homan’s suit challenging Branstad’s closing of the state Juvenile Home in Toledo. The court unanimously ruled the case as moot — saying a judgment was not needed — “because the legislature is no longer appropriating funds for the operation” of the home.

But a footnote cites the very distinction the plaintiffs are making in the Clarinda case. “As noted,” says the footnote, “the plaintiffs do not allege that any provision of law, other than the now-expired 2014 appropriation, required the continued operation” of the Juvenile Home.

In other words, had there been a law requiring the state to maintain a Juvenile Home in Toledo — as there is in the case of the mental-health facilities — the case would have been different. …

Desmund Adams of Clive announced Monday that he is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Congress against first-term Republican incumbent David Young. Adams is a long-shot — at best — unless Chet Culver and Matt McCoy and Jim Mowrer decide not to run.

Will they?

Culver: “Still working through the process as fast as possible. Told the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington] the same thing on Monday.”

McCoy: “I haven’t made a final decision on running. I expect to know by the end of August what I am going to do.”

Mowrer: “I am looking very hard at it. It will be an expensive race, but I have a record of raising the money to get my message out.”

Rumors abound — this guy for sure isn’t running, that guy for sure is — but nobody knows except the potential candidates. It’s clear, though, that former Governor Culver has the ability to scare off at least some. Indeed, the possibility of a Culver candidacy was one reason U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt decided not to run — though fatherhood was a stronger factor.

On the issue of Culver, Mowrer hedges: “There are some people I respect who are also considering this race, but ultimately my decision on whether to run will come down to what is best for my family.”

Each candidate has pluses and minuses, though Adams carries more baggage than most. He lost his one foray into elective politics, in December 2012 in the special election to fill the Iowa Senate seat of the late Pat Ward. Republican Charles Schneider got 56.5 percent of the vote in the heavily Republican district.

Adams, a graduate of Drake’s law school who lives in the Dallas County part of Clive, says that he is “the first African-American in the history of the state to be a candidate for federal elective office.” But he is also the first candidate ever to be charged with child endangerment, a charge arising from a complaint his ex-wife lodged against him after he took a leather belt to their 11-year-old son. The case went to a jury, which quickly acquitted Adams on Oct. 22, 2008.

Asked last week about that, Adams dismissed the issue, noting the boy — now “19 going on 20” — now lives with him and his second wife. He doesn’t think the incident will affect his campaign. But a race for Congress can be a lot nastier than a race for the state legislature.

McCoy, too, has some baggage. In 2007, when he was in the Iowa House, he was indicted for violating the Hobbs Act, in effect threatening to use his political power against a former business partner. But in 2008, a jury acquitted him after deliberating for just two hours. If McCoy runs, his primary opponents might not bring up the indictment, but if he wins you can bet that some Republican group will.

Mowrer’s baggage is that he lost decisively to Steve King in the race for Congress two years ago, and some Democrats grouse that he didn’t run a very good campaign. Of course, no Democrat can beat Steve King. Christi Vilsack can attest to that. Mowrer moved from Des Moines to Boone to run, and now he has moved his official residence back to Des Moines.

Culver’s baggage is that he lost to Branstad by nearly 10 points in 2010, the first incumbent governor in Iowa to be defeated since Harold Hughes beat Norman Erbe in 1962.

The races — both the primary and the general election — will depend entirely on Polk County, though it is just one of 16 counties in the district. As of June 1, Polk had 100,681 registered Democrats — two-thirds of the 150,887 Democrats in the district. The entire district leans Republican, with 162,898 registered Republicans and 161,331 registered independents joining the 150,887 Democrats. Most vote-counters think a Democrat would have to win Polk County by 25,000 votes or so to beat Young, who will have lots of money.

Young reported last week that he raised $576,163 in the first half of this year — $175,625 from individuals and the rest from political action committees. As of June 30, he had $521,708 cash on hand but owed himself $250,000.

In the First District, where Democrats also see a chance of ousting a first-term Republican, incumbent Rod Blum reported raising $310,827 so far this year, with about half coming from political action committees. At the end of the period, he had $819,328 on hand, but he owed $610,000 — at least $500,000 of which was from a loan he made to himself.

Democrat Ravi Patel reported raising $765,803 in the first half, all but about $10,000 from individuals (and most of the money coming from people named Patel). He had about $600,000 on hand at the end of the half. But he has dropped out and has said he would repay his contributors.

Monica Vernon reported raising $374,874 in the first half and having $423,844 on hand on June 30. But she owes herself $125,800. Gary Kroeger received $40,500 in contributions in the second quarter and had cash on hand of $18,934 at the end of the period, according to the Federal Election Commission website. (Among the contributors to the former Saturday Night Live actor: Former NBC Sports President — and SNL founder — Dick Ebersol and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tina Rosenberg.) Neither Pat Murphy nor Swati Dandekar, both of whom are likely to join the Democratic fray, has a report on file. …

Sheila Tipton, who two years ago left a lucrative post at the Belin McCormick law firm to accept a stub-term appointment and the promise of reappointment to the Iowa Utilities Board and who wasn’t reappointed after the board offended Iowa’s largest utility, has signed on as a partner in the Brown Winick firm.

That’s the firm whose big gun is Doug Gross. Doug Gross is — sometimes — a close ally of Terry Branstad. Terry Branstad is the person who ousted Sheila Tipton. You figure it out. CV

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