Monday, January 24, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Schultz advises some disenfranchised: Vote. Who watches games from Sally Mason’s box?


Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, who is turning over every rock and checking every driver’s license and database in his search for persons who are voting illegally, is on his website advising tens of thousands of disenfranchised Iowans that it’s OK if they vote.


Let’s say you are convicted of a second offense of drunken driving, or of stealing property valued at $500 to $1,000, or of domestic assault where there was bodily injury or injury caused by a weapon.

You can’t vote.

The Attorney General of Iowa says so. The Iowa Supreme Court, by extension, says so. The Iowa Civil Liberties Union says so. The governor’s office sort of says so.


But the Secretary of State says, in effect, step right up to the booth.

Under the Iowa Constitution, “no idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”

Putting aside the question of whether you are, by definition, an idiot if you want to vote a certain way, the issue is what is an “infamous crime.” Nearly a century ago — in 1916 — the Iowa Supreme Court twice ruled that an infamous crime is “any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.” Sentences of up to a year — simple misdemeanors, usually — are served in county jails. But a person sentenced to more than a year can be sent to a penitentiary in Iowa.                

Those sentences include punishments for crimes — like second-offense drunken driving — classified in the Iowa Code as aggravated misdemeanors, which carry a fine and a sentence of up to two years in prison. Thus, assistant attorney general Julie Pottorff ruled in 1985, “persons convicted of aggravated misdemeanors would be convicted of ‘infamous crimes.’ ” She questioned whether a modern-day Iowa Supreme Court would “reaffirm the definition of ‘infamous crime’…in light of contemporary statutes and prison conditions,” but “unless and until the Court articulates a new definition of ‘infamous crime’…we are bound by existing case law.” The “unless and until” hasn’t happened.                

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa makes it clear: “A conviction of any crime punishable by more than one year makes a person ineligible to vote in Iowa. That means even if you are convicted of a second offense OWI or aggravated assault stemming from a bar fight in college, you will lose your fundamental right to vote. Getting it restored in Iowa is a complex and lengthy process.”                

The Governor’s office, on a frequently-asked-questions page, hedges. “Under Iowa law, anyone convicted of an ‘infamous’ crime loses the right to vote and hold public office,” it says. “Infamous crimes include felonies and may include aggravated misdemeanors.” The “may” is the hedge. In fact, all aggravated misdemeanors carry a sentence of up to two years.                

But what about the Secretary of State?                

A person cannot vote in Iowa if he or she has been judged mentally incompetent by a court, or claims the right to vote in any other place, or is “a convicted felon (unless your voting rights have been restored),” the website says. Nothing about aggravated misdemeanors. And the official Iowa voter registration form requires a would-be voter to affirm “I have not been convicted of a felony,” but there is no mention of aggravated misdemeanor.                

While the Secretary is finding a handful — if that — of persons he says are voting illegally, he (and election officials in every county) is ignoring tens of thousands. Example: From 2000 through 2009, according to state figures, 118,675 persons were convicted of drunken driving in Iowa. Of those, some 26,000 — about 2,600 a year — were convicted of second-offense drunken driving, and by rule of the Attorney General and the Iowa Supreme Court should have lost their voting rights. But nobody is checking. [Not all those arrested for second-offense drunken driving are convicted of it. For instance, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was twice convicted of drunk driving before she was elected, but the second offense was plea-bargained down to, in effect, a second first offense, which is a simple misdemeanor. Her arrests were unusual in another way. About 80 percent of Iowans arrested for drunken driving are men.] …

This is not news: The University of Iowa didn’t have a very good football season.               

Still, University of Iowa President Sally Mason didn’t have much of a problem filling up the President’s Suite with legislators and favored alums and business and political leaders, along with a few favored university folks to work the crowd.                

The President’s Suite has 71 seats facing the field, another 16 seats at tables and chairs, and standing room for another 20 people — a total of 107. If you’re a legislator, a member of the Board of Regents, or a state official, you have to pay for your ticket and meal and parking — it varies by game, but the total is usually around $100. Other folks are guests of the university.              

Just for the hell of it, Cityview asked for guest lists to the games, which the university promptly supplied.                

Mason sent 86 invitations for folks to join her for the Iowa State game, for example — each invitation is for the invitee and a spouse or companion or friend — and 57 people accepted, meaning there could have been 114 people there. But not everyone brings a pal. Of those who accepted, 11 were legislators, including Vicki Lensing and Mary Mascher and Bob Dvorsky from the Iowa City area.                

Oddly, Gov. Terry Branstad wasn’t on the invite list, but Lt. Gov Kim Reynolds was there, along with Chuck Gipp, the head of the Department of Natural Resources. Regents President Craig Lang and Regents Katie Mulholland, Nicole Carroll, Jack Evans, Bob Downer were there, but their colleagues Ruth Harkin, Greta Johnson, Dave Miles and Bruce Rastetter sent their regrets. (Rastetter has his own 18-seat suite at Nile Kinnick Stadium.)                

University of Iowa Foundation president Lynette Marshall was there for all seven home games — the suite is fertile ground for schmoozing givers and would-be givers — as were lobbyist Keith Saunders (to point out the legislators) and Mark Braun, a former Regents lobbyist who now is Mason’s chief of staff. Downer, an Iowa City lawyer who is in his second six-year term as a Regent and who has a long association with the university — he was student-body president in 1960-61 and is a graduate of the law school — didn’t miss a game in the suite, either. Regent Mulholland of nearby Cedar Rapids missed only the Central Michigan game — who could have guessed it was going to be a cliffhanger loss? — and Regent Evans, also of Cedar Rapids, missed only that game and the Purdue game.                

Folks who have been in the suite for the games say the food and the view are good — though no alcohol is served — even if the football isn’t always so hot. And if they don’t want to watch, they can just wander around the huge room and chat up university officials. Provost Barry Butler is usually there, as are Jean Robillard of the medical campus and finance boss Doug True.                

Both United States Senators are always invited, though neither Chuck Grassley nor Tom Harkin made it to Mason’s suite during the season. Congressman Dave Loebsack made it for the Iowa State game, but Reps. Leonard Boswell, Tom Latham, Bruce Braley and Steve King sent regrets for each of the seven games. …              

Back to Matt Schultz. He appears to be the one Republican holding state-wide office that Democrats think they can beat next year. Brad Anderson, who ran Barack Obama’s campaign in Iowa, already has announced and is lining up support, but one leading Democrat is willing to bet there will be a primary. CV

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