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Civic Skinny

McCoy vs Mauro? Hatch vs. Bisignano? Who’s giving what in gubernatorial race.


Matt McCoy isn’t talking, but friends say he almost certainly will leave the Iowa Senate and run against John Mauro for Mauro’s seat on the Polk County Board of Supervisors. Both are popular Democrats with deep followings, especially on the south side of town. A McCoy-Mauro race could complicate South Side politics for years to come, pitting family members and neighbors against one another.

[Update: McCoy announced on Jan. 31 that he will, indeed, challenge Mauro.]

And if that’s not enough stirring of the pot, there’s talk that former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch is thinking of taking on Tony Bisignano, who holds the south-side state senate seat Hatch gave up to run for governor four years ago. Hatch didn’t respond to an email. Both are Democrats.

Each of those races could get personal.

If McCoy runs, he has to go public soon, but he’s been pretty coy about it so far. He has held fund-raisers, leaving the impression they were for a re-election run, but he has ducked CITYVIEW’s questions about which race he was raising funds for. But Mauro, who has been a supervisor for 24 years, has been quietly raising money in case McCoy challenges him.

The district includes most of the south side as well as the Sherman Hill, downtown and South of Grand areas. 

Mauro, 76, goes into the race with $91,760 in his campaign account, and he could raise a lot more. Though he’s seen as an old-fashioned, south-side politician who makes sure his constituents have jobs and food and shelter, he is well-thought-of by some wealthy businessmen as well. He is particularly close to Bill Knapp and Jim Cownie, both of whom can write big checks.

McCoy, 51, who has been in the Legislature since 1993, also is well-liked in his district. He listed himself as a senate candidate in the most-recent campaign-disclosure statement, but that’s apparently of little significance. He has $34,000 in cash on hand, but he probably could raise a lot more between now and the June 5 primary. His supporters praise his work on mental-health issues, in particular, and, like Mauro, he listens to his constituents. 

Neither Mauro nor McCoy had primary or general-election opponents four years ago. 

These days, it’s more lucrative, more fun and more powerful being a Democratic supervisor than a Democrat in the State Senate. Supervisors earn $115,000 a year; senators $25,000. Democrats control the five-member county board but, at the moment at least, are in the minority in the 50-member Iowa Senate. The county is nimble in dealing with issues while the state is plodding, and the county is flush while the state is strapped. 

Two years ago, McCoy said he planned to run for supervisor this year, assuming Mauro wouldn’t run again. But as CITYVIEW noted at the time, “Mauro always runs again.” At the time, McCoy said he admired Mauro — “an excellent supervisor, a mentor and, more importantly, a friend.” Look for that quote in Mauro ads this year.

If McCoy leaves the Senate, there’s talk that State Representative Jo Oldson will run for his seat. Others probably will, too. She ducked a question from Cityview asking about her plans.

“I really wish none of this was happening,” a long-time south-side politician says. “This is not good.” …

Bill Knapp last year gave $347,000 to politicians and political causes in Iowa. Harry Bookey gave $126,450. Fred Weitz gave $60,300. Art Coppola gave $151,247. John Ruan gave $49,800.

But the biggest contributor to a politician in the past 13 months has been the Service Employees International Union, whose affiliates wrote checks for close to $1.2 million — and all of them to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson of Iowa City, the favorite of Iowans who supported Bernie Sanders in the last presidential election. (And since the filing deadline, the union reportedly has thrown in another $500,000.)

Indeed, it was a record non-election year for money-raising in Iowa politics, and this year will probably set a record for a state-election year. Wealthy Iowans are pouring money into the gubernatorial race, mainly for Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democrat Fred Hubbell, who now appears to be in a three-way race for the nomination with Glasson and Nate Boulton.          

Former Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire seems to be running primarily a self-funded campaign, and that can take her only so far. John Norris’ campaign hasn’t gotten off the ground, raising only about a tenth of what Hubbell has raised.

If no Democrat gets 35 percent in the June 5 primary, the nomination will be decided by the state at a convention on June 16. So the candidates are running two campaigns: one aimed at the general primary voter, another aimed at the folks who attend party caucuses March 24 and could end up with a vote at the state convention. It’s an expensive way to do business.

Hubbell, 66, a successful businessman from a storied Iowa family, has never run for office, but he has turned out to be a straight-talking candidate whose straight talk is appealing enough to put him ahead in private polls. And his relentlessness in raising money — from wealthy old friends and not-so-wealthy new followers — has put him in the lead in the money race, too. What he lacks in emotion on the stump he more than makes up for in energy and, his followers say, vision.

As of the Jan. 19 fund-reporting deadline, he had raised $3,053,257.53 and spent a bit more than $1.8 million. He enters the second lap with $1.2 million on hand. The payroll for his staff has been climbing, and now is about $80,000 a month, state records indicate.

Hubbell is his own biggest contributor, putting in $190,000 so far. Bill Knapp has added $160,000, and Art Coppola — a Des Moines native who is chairman of the Santa Monica-based Macerich Cos. — has contributed a bit more than $150,000. Coppola rarely contributes to Iowa politicians, but Hubbell has been the lead director of Macerich. Two of Coppola’s brothers have added $57,500 to Hubbell’s campaign.

Hubbell’s three siblings, Jim and Rusty and Michael, each have put in $40,000, and more than a score of relatives — children, cousins, in-laws, former in-laws, relatives of former in-laws — also have chipped in. Other big givers to Hubbell: Harry Bookey, $112,500, Fred Weitz, $41,600; Bob Riley, $39,500, brothers Tim Urban and Tom Urban, $25,000 each. Republican Jim Cownie gave Hubbell $25,000.

John Ruan gave Hubbell $10,000, but he also gave $10,000 to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, Republican gubernatorial challenger Ron Corbett, and Republican Senate leader Bill Dix

Boulton, a state senator from Des Moines, led the Democrats’ efforts in the last legislature to stop the Republicans from castrating unions representing public employees — labor was crushed in that fight — and now the unions are thanking him. He has huge support from labor — other than the Service Employees — and received $145,000 from the Great Plains Laborers PAC and a $100,000 check from AFSCME, whose head, Danny Homan, is a vocal Boulton supporter. At year-end, Boulton had $481,375 cash on hand.

Knapp’s granddaughter, Sable Knapp, made a dozen contributions to Glasson, giving $106,250 in all. Sable Knapp, the daughter of Knapp’s late son, Roger, lives in Portland, Maine. Her only previous political contribution to an Iowa candidate was $100 given to a school-board candidate in 2015. On the federal level, she supported Bernie Sanders with gifts of less than $1,000. (Her younger sister, Montana, who lives in Colorado, has given $5,400 to Abby Finkenhauer’s campaign for Congress in Iowa’s first district.) Glasson has about $730,000 in the bank.

Reynolds, who inherited the governorship when Terry Branstad went off to be ambassador to China, has received five very big checks: The Republican Governors’ Association gave her $1,250,000 in December, Debra Hansen of West Des Moines gave her $175,000 and Michael Hansen gave $100,000.  She also got $100,000 checks from Sheri Horner of West Des Moines and David and Penny North of Bellevue.

The Governor started the year with $1,084,979 on hand, raised another $3,744,046, spent $688,845 and ended the period with $4,140,180 in the bank.  But so far, no contributions from Terry or Chris Branstad. Perhaps the mails are slow from China.

Reynolds’ Republican challenger, Cedar Rapids Mayor and former House Speaker Ron Corbett, raised $844,637 during the year, ending up with cash on hand of $578,897. Corbett received one $100,000 check — from Dyan Smith of Cedar Rapids — but Ruan’s check for $10,000 was the only check of that size from anyone in the Des Moines area. …

The decision about where to put the new Federal courthouse in Des Moines is inching along, at best. The federal building-builders, the judges, the city fathers and mothers and the business leaders can’t seem to agree on a site, though the money has been set aside by Congress. 

The General Services Administration now is said to be investigating five or six sites. City officials prefer a site on the east bank of the Des Moines River, near the current courthouse, but the feds like the site of the old YMCA on the west side of the river. Both those are still under consideration, CITYVIEW is told, though neither likes the other’s site. Another four or so sites are being seriously considered, mainly along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and there now is talk about yet another site somewhere not far from Principal Park. 

Judges and city officials met again on the issue in mid-January, but no progress was made. …

Business note: The Des Moines Register, which is consumed by news of store openings at the new Altoona outlet mall, has ignored the news that a major Des Moines insurance company just doubled in size.

American Enterprise Group, which grew out of Watson Powell’s old American Republic companies, has just signed a deal to purchase Great Western Insurance Co., a family-owned, Utah-based company that sells funeral-expense insurance to those folks who like to plan ahead. 

The acquisition will lift AEG’s assets to more than $2 billion from about $1 billion now. At the end of 2016, Great Western had assets of about $1.2 billion, AEG of slightly more than $1 billion. American Enterprise had net income of about $36 million in 2016; Great Western had a surplus of about $75 million. 

Great Western’s business is similar to that of West Des Moines-based Homesteaders Life, which is about twice the size of Great Western. American Enterprise and Homesteaders announced in 2009 that they were merging, but that deal eventually fell through. ♦


The young people of this state have no better friend than Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Cady gave his annual State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature last month, and he noted the work of Iowa’s 47 special courts — for the mentally ill, for veterans, for drug users — and about how they keep people out of jail, saving lives and saving money. He noted, too, that it’s a struggle — for the court system. 

Compared with just a year ago, he told Legislators, “there are fewer judges, fewer court reporters, fewer case schedulers and fewer juvenile court officers.”

The facts are clear, and he didn’t belabor the issue. 

Instead, he devoted much of his speech to Iowa courts’ special efforts to help troubled youngsters, to hold them accountable — but to keep them out of the formal court system. 

“While some children need to face the full force of the court system, we have learned most do not,” he said. “Most children only need a process of justice that best assures their potential will be discovered and achieved. This is what the process of justice must be for all of Iowa’s children.”

He noted that last year Iowa diverted more than 10,000 children from the formal court system, and he described a Polk County program “exclusively devoted to the unique challenge teenage girls face” — girls “in need of a process that sees them as too good to lose.” 

All of the girls “committed criminal acts. All have turned to drugs. Some are mothers. Yet, they are all still children who, too many times, looked back for support that was not there.” The program is working. In the past year, 17 girls enrolled in the program. Six have graduated.

Facing a future that no longer is bleak, the graduates sent notes to Cady.

“You rock,” one said.

Indeed. ♦

— Michael Gartner

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