- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

Sioux City Journal. March 27, 2014.

Braley’s got some more explaining to do

On Sept. 17, 2012, just seven weeks before the election, Mother Jones released video of a private fundraiser for Mitt Romney in which the Republican presidential candidate said 47 percent of Americans are “dependent upon government” and would vote for Barack Obama “no matter what.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats grabbed ahold of the comment and didn’t let go for the remainder of a campaign Romney ultimately lost.

This week, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa might be feeling a little like Romney did back then.

On Tuesday, the America Rising Political Action Committee released a video of a private fundraiser for Braley in which the candidate for U.S. Senate made a comment for which he apologized later the same day.

In talking about the 2014 midterm elections to lawyers at a fundraiser in Texas in January, Braley - himself a lawyer - appeared to take a dig at both farmers and Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.

“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone’s who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Braley said in the video. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Hmmm. What should Iowans infer from this remark?

Some of our questions:

Should farmers be insulted? Should Grassley?

Why shouldn’t Grassley’s service of more than 30 years on the Judiciary Committee qualify him for its chairmanship? Does Braley believe all members of the Judiciary Committee must have a law degree? By this logic, shouldn’t the president, the commander in chief, have served in the military? Finally, what exactly was the larger message Braley sought to convey with the comment?

As we said, Braley apologized “to Sen. Grassley and anyone I may have offended.” In the same statement, he spoke of his “tremendous respect for Iowa farmers.”

He might hope the statement puts an end to this discussion, but the nature of politics tells us he’s wrong.

How much traction does this story have? Time will tell, but like Romney’s “47 percent” comment, we suspect Braley’s remark won’t go away anytime soon and the congressman will spend much more time on the campaign trail responding to accusations and questions about it than he wants.

In short, he’s got some more explaining to do.

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The Des Moines Register. March 28, 2014.

Branstad’s ‘investigation’ was disappointing

On March 19, Sen. William Dotzler, D-Waterloo, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor. He asked the agency to begin “an immediate investigation into improper actions by Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert.” Among his allegations: Wahlert is pressuring administrative law judges to rule in favor of employers and against workers in unemployment benefit cases. He claimed that she has created a “hostile work environment” for those “who do not abide by her pro-employer, anti-employee philosophy.”

Wahlert denied Dotzler’s allegations. We don’t know whether Dotzler is telling the truth, nor do we know whether Wahlert’s version is the most accurate. But we do know that Gov. Terry Branstad’s supposed investigation of the matter leaves much to be desired and suggests that putting out a political fire is more important to him than getting to the bottom of the serious allegations against a Branstad appointee.

If an Iowan is denied unemployment benefits by Iowa Workforce Development, the person can appeal the case to an administrative law judge. That Iowan expects to have a fair hearing before the judge, based only on evidence and testimony. But a state senator is saying the judges have been pressured to issue decisions that side with businesses.

Wouldn’t Iowans expect Gov. Branstad to be at least remotely curious about what is going on at Iowa Workforce Development? He surely recognizes the importance of judges being impartial in any legal dispute.

Last week, while the governor was vacationing in Arizona, his spokesman, Jimmy Centers, immediately dismissed the allegations as “Washington, D.C.-style partisan attacks.” When the governor returned to work on Monday, he issued a similar dismissal during a news conference, calling the assertions “unfair personal attacks” against his political appointee.

The editorial board asked Centers who the governor spoke to or what investigation was conducted to allow Branstad to so quickly determine that nothing was amiss. His office “had been in contact” with Wahlert, but it is not clear the governor had spoken with her directly, talked to a single administrative law judge or called Dotzler.

Should Iowans simply accept there is no reason to be concerned because the governor says Wahlert is an outstanding administrator? Considering that he has expressed similar confidence in everyone from a speeding state trooper to individuals overseeing the Iowa Juvenile Home, the people of this state are entitled to expect a more in-depth investigation before the governor puts to rest such serious allegations.

That is especially true given the fact that the federal government recently said there were “legitimate concerns” about similar allegations against state officials in Maine. A February report from the U.S. Department of Labor determined that state workforce administrators questioning judges about their decisions on individual cases “could be perceived as an attempt to influence the appeals decision-making process in favor of employers.”

Federal law requires appeal hearings to be “fair and impartial both in fact and appearance,” the report said. “The governor and his political appointees must ensure the (unemployment) appeals process is insulated from outside pressures that might compromise even the appearance of fairness and impartiality.”

The response from Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican: “This issue has been politically motivated from the start, starting with Democratic activists in Maine and reaching all the way to the White House.”

Dismissing every allegation of wrongdoing as “political” is certainly a convenient response for any administration. It means nothing ever has to be investigated.

But what if the allegations are true?

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Iowa City Press-Citizen. March 28, 2014.

Time for UI to allow ‘Girls’ to film on campus

If/when Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) - the main character of the HBO show “Girls” - ever gets to fulfill her dream of attending the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, it’s unlikely to be in the Workshop’s real life classrooms at the Dey House or in any other iconic places on the University of Iowa campus.

After the Workshop received such a high-profile plug in the final episode of the show’s third season - which ended with Hannah hugging her acceptance letter into the program - social media was filled with speculation that the normally New York-bound show would be traveling to Iowa for its fourth season.

Within a few days, however, UI officials dampened down any local excitement by confirming that they had denied HBO’s request to film on campus. At first, the official word was that such a filming would be a disruption to the university’s main mission. Eventually, the official word was expanded to explain that the story line in the script submitted to the university would have “placed the city and university in an unfavorable light.”

The two strands of the official explanation are complementary. The university has allowed filming for television programs in the past, but largely when it deemed those projects to be of some benefit. And given the subject matter of the typical “Girls” episode, it’s not hard to imagine that the proposed story line shows Hannah to have a host of problems adapting to her new Iowa City environment.

It’s also understandable - given the “we’re all adults here” nature of both the network and the show - that UI officials would be less than thrilled about the prospect of having HBO broadcast the Iowa City-filmed episodes in the middle of . say . state legislative budget negotiations. It, again, is not hard to imagine the political hay that would be made by many state lawmakers who already question what value the “University of Iowa City” has for their largely rural districts.

Despite the risks of bad publicity, we join those calling on UI to reconsider this decision. Although the show might not be to everyone’s taste, bringing an HBO crew to the Iowa City area would provide a host of opportunities for students and other local creatives. Not only would it provide practice experience for future filmmakers, but it also could be the spark of a broader symposium about women in television or other topics. It likewise could be an excuse to invite Sarah Heyward - the Workshop graduate who writes for the show and is largely credited with providing the Iowa-specific details - to speak about what it’s like to move from writing fiction, to writing screenplays, to writing screenplays about writing fiction.

If UI does decide to stick to its guns, however, there are plenty of other Iowa City sites and community leaders who would be much more open to hosting an HBO crew.

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The Hawk Eye. March 28, 2014.

Legislative meddling: Iowa lawmakers should push forward a bill to permit the state’s remaining greyhound tracks to close.

One has to wonder why the Iowa Legislature is even involved.

Iowa’s foray into gambling began in the 1980s when the first greyhound race track opened in Dubuque.

Then and current Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was on hand for the grand opening, which included a parade around the track by the local drum and bugle corps.

It heralded a new industry in Iowa. Other tracks would follow.

Then came riverboat casinos and now, land-based casinos.

Dog racing today pretty much is a thing of the past. Only two tracks remain - the one in Dubuque and another in Council Bluffs. But the operators want to close them. Dog racing doesn’t trip the trigger of gamblers the way slot machines and craps tables do.

But that’s not possible without first getting the permission of lawmakers - and making a multi-million dollar payout to the greyhound industry.

A bill to allow the track owners to close has moved through a House subcommittee, but whether it makes it through the full House, then the Senate, before going to the governor’s blessing is no sure bet.

The bill that passed on a 2-1 vote would allow the track operators to close if they would pay the greyhound industry $70 million.

The greyhound industry is balking. It’s looking for $95 million.

The track owners subsidize their operations to the tune of $13.5 million each year. What other independent and private business is losing that much money but is at the mercy of state lawmakers?

The businesses want to shutter money-losing operations so they can focus on the portion of their operations - casinos - that make money. Lawmakers should remember much of that profit is funneled to the state through fees and taxes. The Legislature should stop meddling.

Businesses should be free to shutter money-losing ventures without a legislative blessing and a $70 million bill to an industry that doesn’t deserve it and hasn’t earned it.

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