Iowa Politics Roundup: Conlin Reports Strong Fundraising in U.S. Senate Race Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 16 April 2010 13:11

Campaign-finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Democrat Roxanne Conlin keeping up with incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Charles Grassley in fundraising, but she still lags behind in cash-on-hand.

Conlin on Thursday touted that she raised $629,615 between January and March this year -- slightly more than the $613,627 raised by Grassley, a five-term incumbent, during the same time period.

But overall this election cycle, Grassley has raised $4.9 million while Conlin has raised $1.48 million. And at the end of March, Conlin had $1 million left in the bank, while Grassley had nearly $5.4 million.

Conlin, a former U.S. attorney and 1982 Democratic nominee for governor, is not accepting any money from political action committees or Washington lobbyists. She has spent the past few months taking a 99-county tour that wraps up this weekend. She said 91 percent of her donors are Iowans, and 78 percent of contributions were $100 or less.

"I'm humbled by the outpouring of support for our campaign," Conlin said Thursday. "Our grassroots effort has reached 93 counties, and we will reach the remaining six this weekend. Iowans keep telling me Chuck Grassley is not the same man they sent to Washington decades ago."

Bob Renaud, Grassley's campaign manager, portrayed Conlin's campaign as faltering and asserted that Conlin might not even be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate: "We've raised four times more in this campaign than attorney Conlin has, and Senator Grassley's cash-on-hand is more than five times higher. Conlin said at the beginning of her campaign five months ago that she'd raise $10 million. We're now 40 percent of the way to election day, and Conlin is failing to raise what she said she must, even after putting a quarter of a million dollars of her personal fortune in this quarter."

But Conlin campaign manager Mark Daley shot back, saying that Conlin has only been in the race for five months, while Grassley has been in the race for five years.

"Senator Grassley's campaign was clearly caught off-guard by Roxanne's grassroots momentum," Daley said. "While Senator Grassley's campaign has been bought and paid for by Wall Street, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry, hard-working Iowans not PACs and special interests propelled our financial support, which outraised the career politician."

Campaign Insiders Acknowledge Culver Turnover Is Troubling

After having three campaign managers with national experience leave him after only a few months on the job, Democratic Governor Chet Culver has now turned to a lifelong Iowan whom he's worked with for more than two decades to lead his bid for a second term. The change comes as Culver continues to trail in the polls, has been labeled the "most endangered incumbent governor this cycle," and has even called himself an underdog.

Abby Curran announced this week that she is stepping down as Culver's campaign manager and is leaving for the Washington, D.C., area. Donn Stanley of Urbandale, who was born and raised in Des Moines, will take over May 1.

The change comes just six weeks before Culver is also expected to lose Teresa Vilmain of Wisconsin, one of the nation's top political organizers and consultants, as a senior adviser to his campaign at the end of May. Vilmain -- a former aide to Culver's father and to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, a consultant to Governor Tom Vilsack's campaigns in 1998 and 2002, and Iowa state director of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign -- has been paid $15,000 a month by the Culver campaign and had only agreed to stay a year to get the campaign up and running.

Members of Culver's inner circle are trying to do damage control, but one privately called the situation "the chaos that is Culver's world." Even campaign insiders acknowledge that it's hard to put a positive spin on this. But Culver tried anyway, smiling for the TV cameras and reporters this week and saying that he's excited about Stanley taking over.

"That happens," Culver said of the turnover. "That happens in life, it happens in campaigns, it happens in every professional office there is and we're moving on. We're excited and we're ready to win this race. I think Tom Vilsack's a good model. He had three campaign managers his first race; it all worked out perfectly."

In search of a silver lining, Democratic insiders say it's still early in the campaign, with Culver not officially announcing his re-election bid until late May. They also say that Culver and Stanley know each other, and that Stanley knows Iowa.

Stanley has worked and volunteered in various capacities for Democratic candidates in numerous Iowa campaigns, dating back to being a field staffer and debate coach for Tom Harkin in his first Senate campaign, in 1984.

"I'm very enthusiastic about the fact that starting May 1, he will be at the helm and we will take this ship all the way to victory," Culver said. "I'm just very fortunate to have Donn Stanley taking over the campaign. We're moving forward. I can't wait to get out across this state and tell my story instead of having other people tell it for me. And we've got a great story to tell."

Early Retirement for State Workers Exceeds Goals

The number of state employees who have submitted their intent to retire by June as part of a special early-retirement program has exceeded lawmakers' goals and includes at least two department directors: Education Director Judy Jeffrey and Ombudsman Bill Angrick.

"It'll save people from getting laid off and will allow people who are near retirement to take it and not have to be worried about being laid off," said Charlie Wishman, a spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, who said the early-retirement program was popular among union employees.

Lawmakers had set a goal for 1,000 state workers to retire early. A week before the April 15 deadline, early submissions indicated that more than 1,000 employees in the executive branch alone planned to retire, said Robert Bailey, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

Among the retirees:

∙ Judy Jeffrey, 68, the state education director. Her last day is May 3.

∙ State Ombudsman Bill Angrick, 64. He has held the position since 1978. His last day will be June 24. Ron Rowland, legal counsel for the ombudsman's office, also accepted the early-retirement package.

∙ At least 460 employees in the Department of Human Services who had submitted their early-retirement requests, said Roger Munns, spokesperson for the department. Munns said more employees were expected to apply for the program after plans were announced this month to restructure the department, with some positions moving to other counties or being reduced to part-time status.

∙ About 188 Department of Corrections employees who had applied for the program as of early March.

Iowa lawmakers earlier this year put together the early-retirement incentive package aimed at saving the state $60 million in the executive branch and $507,480 in the legislative branch. About 6,600 employees qualified for the program, and 2,300 of those individuals would qualify to receive full benefits from the Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System, according to a release from Culver's office.

The idea was that many of those who retire would be replaced with lower-paid employees or positions would not be filled as a part of government restructuring.

Now that the application process is over, Department of Management officials will analyze the early-retirement submissions and determine the approximate savings, Bailey said. However, he added that the estimate of savings likely won't be available for several weeks.


Politicians Mingle with 1,100 at Tea Party's Statehouse Rally

About 1,100 people rallied Thursday at the Iowa Capitol, calling for less government spending, less government intrusion, and a turnover in political leadership, even as several politicians milled through the crowd and some participants sported signs, shirts, and buttons showing their allegiance to various campaigns.

Charlie Gruschow, chair of the Des Moines Tea Party, said he believes every problem the country faces is the result of liberal, socialist, and progressive policies.

"These guys have got to go. They don't care about us. It's time to get rid of them," Gruschow said.

Doug Burnett, one of the founders of the Des Moines Tea Party, led the crowd in a chant, pointing to the Capitol and saying, "Tell them we've had enough. ... We won't tolerate arrogance and broken promises anymore," Burnett said.

And Sondra Clark of Des Moines said she saw unconstitutional acts happening in Washington, D.C.

"These jerks, clowns, whatever you want to call them, begged for their jobs," Clark said. "They knew when they got that job they were going to swear to uphold the Constitution, they knew that, and the minute they deviate from that I think they ought to be out the door."

Several politicians attended the rally, including gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats; Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale); Senator Larry Noble (R-Ankeny); and Representative Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights).

School-Nutrition Rules Take Effect July 1

Iowa's controversial school-nutrition rules will take effect July 1 in districts across the state, despite complaints from dietitians about the sports drinks, flavored water, and caffeinated beverages that will still be allowed in middle and high schools during the school day.

"The concern that we have is that these do not contribute to the nutritional value of our children's diets and can actually impact their health negatively," Ruth Litchfield, a dietitian who's chair of the Legislature's Nutrition Advisory Panel, told a panel of lawmakers this week. "What the current rules have done is created a double standard. While we have held our flavored milks accountable for the amount of sugar, all of the products that are going to be in our schools because they are going to fall under these nebulous rules of sports drinks or flavored waters or caffeinated beverages have no restrictions for any fat, any sugar, or any calories."

But Carol Greta, an attorney for the Iowa Department of Education, argued that just because dietitians don't think the rules go far enough doesn't mean the process didn't work. She said the majority of people believe the rules go too far and said rules that are too restrictive will push kids to leave campus and go to a convenience store. "Well, heck, most of you are unhappy, too. Representative Heaton thinks the department has a bias against bubbles," Greta told lawmakers. "Nobody likes these rules."

While the rules will take effect this summer, the Administrative Rules Review Committee voted 6-2 to once again refer the issue to the full legislature. Such a referral was also made last June. The Iowa House this year approved an amendment that would have allowed local school districts to determine their own standards for school nutrition, while the Senate took no action on the issue.

The rules implement the 2008 Healthy Kids Act, which in part sets nutritional-content standards for foods and beverages sold or provided on school grounds during the school day. The standards limit calories, fat, sugar, and sodium in à la carte items, "snack food" sales in vending machines, and fundraisers aimed at students. Juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice; soda and other carbonated beverages would be banned.

Craig Schoenfeld of the Iowa Beverage Association argued that the industry has voluntarily made progress to combat child obesity on its own. He pointed to a March report on the progress of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's four-year-old school-beverage guidelines, showing that removal of full-calorie soft drinks and other beverages from schools has resulted in an 88-percent decrease in calories from beverages shipped to schools.

Gubernatorial Candidates Articulate Positions on Abortion

At least two Republican gubernatorial candidates would ax funding to an Iowa City cloning-research facility as well as to Planned Parenthood as part of their anti-abortion stance if elected to the state's highest office.

Vander Plaats and Representative Rod Roberts (R-Carroll) announced plans at a weekend forum at Campus Baptist Church in Ames. They were joined by gubernatorial candidate Jon Narcisse, who is running as an independent.

"No tax dollars should be going toward Planned Parenthood," said Roberts, a five-term state lawmaker. "Time and time again in the legislature, I have stood up for the sanctity of human life. If governor, I will continue that by ceasing funding to Planned Parenthood and to human-cloning research."

Vander Plaats, a former Sioux City high-school principal, echoed Roberts' sentiments, saying he too would stop tax dollars from being used for either entity.

Both Republicans said their stances were drawn from personal experiences, rather than their party's stance on abortion. Vander Plaats, a father of four, has a teenage son with a brain disorder resulting in physical disability. Roberts' wife gave birth to a stillborn child.

Roberts said that if elected governor he will push for legislation legally identifying a fetus as a child. Vander Plaats would take a similar stance.

Vander Plaats said he believes lawmakers have lost ground in prior sessions on the abortion issue.

"There's a time when leaders need to lead," he said. "That time is now. I'll be bold and courageous on marriage, on life, and on the separation of powers" between the courts and the Legislature.

Narcisse has made a very public anti-abortion stance, which he, like the two Republican candidates, said is rooted in a personal experience. A former partner of Narcisse chose to abort a fetus that he had sired, he told attendees.

"I have wondered about my dead child, and what that child would have contributed to this world," Narcisse, an adoptive father of two girls, said.

Narcisse said he wants Iowans to get back to their convictions.

"Americans, I have found, are pro-life. They are pro-family," he said. "But the political class has betrayed us. They are more loyal to the parties, not their beliefs. I think we need to start healing the heart."

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.