Monday, April 24, 2006

Landed


I'm struggling with a round of goofy introspection and need a break. I'll post later this week, if inspired. To explain: we went to St Louis this weekend, no big deal, but it's a city a little like the one I grew up around and by Sunday I was feeling homesick for my old hometown.

It'll take a couple days to self-correct and get back on a track.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Pollsters Day

I don’t exactly know what possessed me to dive into the polling blogs. They’re filled with dense, complex number crunching, analysis & very little humor. Dry is an understatement. That said, polling data drives the political and visa versa, yeah, a few smarties will tell us they don’t use ‘em, but they’re lying.

Political parties and their candidates need a certain level of reliable and valid data coming into the decision making process to help shape agendas, strategies and message. There’s no doubt that the primary guys over in Iowa’s first district GOP primary are aware of the generic polling numbers on Republicans’ attitudes towards immigration. They all know it moves primary voters, particularly the less educated Republican primary voter.

The polling blogs cover a wide range of issues from poll construction, to statistical methodology (snore), to baseline analysis on the tabs; these blogs take a comprehensive approach to political poll dissection. My favorite polling topic of the moment is the emerging dialogue on changes in party identification.

The Mystery Pollster & Political Arithmetik have recent posts up on the shift in voter identification. Mystery Pollster Mark Blumenthal takes the Gallup longitudinal numbers on party id and makes a case that Republicans are in a real slide. Sure, some folks have suggested that the Gallup organization didn’t cull enough of the less likely voters out of their samples for their tastes. But I think the magnitude of the change, almost four percentage points in less than two years, suggests there’s probably some truth in the Gallup numbers. In addition, the Gallup numbers are not unique. Professor Franklin's Political Arithmetik finds a similar result weighting and aggregating questions on party id from multiple polls and a variety of pollsters.

Between January 1, 2005 and March 12, 2006, Republican partisan identification declined by an estimated 3.6%. The percentage of the adult population calling themselves Independent rose by 4.6%, and the percentage of Democrats declined by a statistically insignificant 0.4%. These changes are important for polling methodology and also present a politically important shift in the partisan balance.

I’m thinking that the statistical evidence of voters moving away from the Republican Party and into no party land is not a fluke, but indicates a problematic trend for the Republicans, particularly since the Democrats have not realized the same level of party identification decline.

Anytime you see a statistically significant change in a set of variables, you should think real change. This is not some sort of quirk in the numbers that can be explained away by attacking the methodology, although political spinners might find it useful to just chew up the methods and hope the GOP can turn this party id problem around…quickly. The real question is why a shift out of the GOP and not the Democrats and are these potential voters going to come back to the party at some time down the road, preferably in the next six months.



Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Heartland 527 game.

Todd Dorman’s official blog asks for inspired words to help Vilsack in his quest for a Democratic message. How about…Government only works when we spend all the money.

Gov. Tom Vilsack has been asking fellow Democrats who visit his Heartland PAC Web site to sum up their party’s message in 10 words or less. The goal is to craft a coherent, concise slogan that sticks with voters in November and beyond. Vilsack formed Heartland PAC to raise money and help lay the groundwork for a possible presidential run. (If 10 words don’t work the PAC, which actually is a 527 group, has raised $1.3 million in the past year)

I’m sure some aspiring political strategists out in blogland can think of 10 words that sum up the Democratic Party. Here’s your chance to contribute. Democrats, Republicans and independents are welcome.

I’m taking Mr. Dorman up on his suggestion that we all contribute to Vilsack’s ten words or less project. To make it more fun, at least for me, and to avoid massive vowel mistakes, I’ve made missing letter puzzles out of phrases and their pseudo-authors. Good luck. If you need help, look at the links first and then write for hints, and not to my glitched IE email, but into the comments section.

D4m6cr2ts: w4’r4 n6t a9l g85lt-r5dd4n r5ch wh5t4 p46pl4.

(J6n C6rz5n4 & R6b4rt R8b5n)

S8pp6rt g6v4rnm4nt, 5t’s b85lt f6r gr2ft.

(R2m6n2 C8nn5ngh2m)

F6rg4t 5sl2m5c t4rr6r5sts, pr6t4ct 2m4r5c2ns fr6m 2m4r5c2.

(N2nc9 P4l6s5)

If y’all are nice and it's required, I’ll post the translated versions tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Education Reform: file it for future reading

This is filed under the “Yeah, and?” category. An exclusive AP report, WHO TV.

…Iowa Schools in Iowa with small minority populations are escaping penalties under the federal No Child Left Behind law, even though some student test scores may be too low. …

… An investigation by The Associated Press found that Iowa schools are exempt from penalties in five racial categories -- white, black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian -- if the number of students in any of those groups in a school is under 30. …

It’s widely known that the NCLB law makes every effort to control for statistical anomalies and secure test takers’ privacy. A small Iowa school district with three minority kids in a class will never be able to produce an accurate statistical picture of “achievement” for that minority subgroup; statistics requires certain sample sizes for reliability as well as testing privacy.

I'm not suggesting that small schools actively hide their minority scores to avoid the NCLB sticks, but running complicated stats to provide some level of reporting data probably doesn’t seem worth the time and costs, particularly if the feds aren’t that interested, and, as important, I don’t think school districts want to go to court over privacy issues related to NCLB.

--------------------------------------------------------

In another education news story, the president of the Chicago Fed Michael Moskow was in town for a speech to Iowa business council leaders where he stated the obvious. Reported by Radio Iowa:

…"In my opinion, we must be careful about simply raising teacher salaries across-the-board. This would attract and keep better teachers, but it would also encourage many poorly-performing teachers to remain on the job even longer," Moskow said. "So I believe that merit-based pay incentives deserve full consideration." …

… "So what can we do to improve our teacher corps? Well, one approach is to identify those teachers who are ineffective and replace them with more effective teachers," Moskow said. "Now, we know that it's possible to identify ineffective teachers however, in our current system, it's not so easy to make them better or to replace them." …

Governor Vilsack likes to quote economists connected to the Federal Reserve System. He spent all last year quoting at length from a Minneapolis Fed paper documenting external rates of return for state subsidized early childhood education (the Minneapolis fed paper actually supports the concept of targeted early education subsidies and not universal pre-school). Do you think president Moskow’s comments and data (great title under the data link) about the importance of pay for performance is going to enjoy the same level of consideration from our Governor?

It’s always great when our pols pick & choose what economic data they push. In Vilsack’s intellectual world, if good economic data doesn’t conveniently tie into a favorite agenda item, it goes in some file…circular, I bet.


Monday, April 17, 2006

The train has left the station…

It was announced today that the jury in the George Ryan federal corruption case found him guilty on all charges. Ouch. From the NYT

… George Ryan, the former governor of Illinois who drew international notice by emptying his state's death row, was convicted today of all charges brought against him in a sweeping federal corruption case.

After more than five months of sometimes complicated testimony in his federal case, and after five weeks of still more tangled deliberations, a jury convicted Mr. Ryan, a Republican, of granting state business to associates in exchange for cash and presents for himself, his family and for his friends. …

Corruption is always a part of the political culture; elected officials, particularly powerful elected officials, function in a world where everyone is solicitous and deferential to their sensibilities. Not healthy & not normal, but it’s the way the world works.

I don’t believe that politicians are bad people; rather it’s a mix of expectations and environments that leads some, like George Ryan, to become poor judges of character and situations. I am not sure how you avoid this sort of problem, although I’d start by putting Bill Swanson’s rule number 32 into practice on a daily basis.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lundby clips a single into left field

The new Republican leader in the Iowa Senate, Mary Lundby of Marion, made her inaugural appearance on Iowa Press this weekend. Overall, a good first IP: outside of looking a little nervous at the beginning, she answered questions with honesty and humor while deftly sparing with the deans/dons of Iowa’s political reporting scene – David Yepsen and Mike Glover.

The best moment had to be when Glover, I think it was Glover, asked her about the minimum wage. Senator Lundby went right into, and I’m paraphrasing, “nobody’s asked me, not Gronstal, not Murphy, no Democrats have asked me to consider an increase in the minimum wage”.

Every aspiring political strategist should watch that exchange; with one sentence, she took a major Democratic campaign issue, raising the minimum wage, and put the Democrats on the defense by suggesting they’re not serious about bringing the issue to the table. The comment is relevant given the fact that Senator Lundby is known to be supportive of labor and workin’ stiffs and likely supportive of at least discussing an increase in the minimum wage.

It’s another week of negotiations, and who knows; perhaps Gronstal & Company will start talking to the new Republican leader about some of their important issues, like increasing the minimum wage.

Nah, that would require the Democrats to come up with a new set of class warfare issues to take into November.



Saturday, April 15, 2006

National Journal Blogometer calls Iowa Ennui...a lefty!

I have no control over how readers interpret these posts. To wit: the National Journal Blogometer linked to my “Is Mitt a Fox?” post and in doing so branded me a LEFTY – that should push a few spa’ghettos out of Drew’s nose.

MA Gov. Mitt Romney (R) continues to receive press -- both good and bad -- on his new health-care plan. Right-leaning American Geek: "It sounds intriguing, to say the least." Lefty Things Going Round & Round, on Romney's veto of certain parts of the legislation: "I get that it's tough to be a conservative in charge in Massachusetts; it's not a conservative state. But this maneuvering looks a little practiced and perhaps consultant advised with Iowa in mind." News Hounds takes issue with Romney's claim that he wrote the bill. A DailyKos diarist examines what Romney said on yesterday's "Hardball" regarding marriage. Righty Once More Into The Breach, a "Blogger for Allen": "Socialism is an odd path to take to the Republican nomination." Romney finished tied for second in the SC College GOPers' straw poll.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m not a lefty, a fiscal conservative contrarian with a mean streak, okay. But on the left? It’s obvious that the blog skimmers at National Journal don’t have a clue about Iowa’s Chuck Larson and skipped right over the Hoover Digest link.

My backpedal on the Mitt post: I’ll say upfront that I believe we already have universal health care, we’re just fighting about what’s quality and who pays.

Mitt’s line item veto backpedal is a convenient node to the big business money folks that look at health care costs as a horrific drag on their bottom lines. The irony about Mitt’s health care plan tap dance is that you can see the same sort of tap dancing from the D.C. conservative elites in their pro-immigration columns. Both of these points of view pander to big business interests that often think nothing of disregarding local policy needs or political dynamics. It’s a tricky rift in the Republican Party that adds another piece of philo dough on the 06-election year baklava (had to work in one obscure food reference).


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Kevin!

I know so many of us miss the irreverent, and on occasion tasteless, State 29. Reading S-29, surely some sort of ethanol-blended bunch of guys, required a little tolerance for off-color comments, but you put up with the stuff that didn’t work because when it worked you were laughing, blushing and debating whether to be outraged or figure out your own way to snark back.

State is off somewhere in the KC area, probably getting his kicks by verbally torturing his cubical mates. But no need to be in a funk, we have Kevin.

Line the Cage is a pastiche of irreverent comments & fisk from the mind of Kevin Schmidt, formerly of dwarves & Juice.

Kevin’s been hounding the editorial blogs of the Des Moines Register for months. I first noticed Kevin when he made this beaut’ of a comment to some long-winded, lame-ass blogatorial on government funding for early childhood education – link. Nice, yeah?

A second mention: check out Lying Around Iowa, he's blogging the Iowa Senate intrigue. I hope that we'll see a few insider observations on the Iowans for Tax Relief and their golden lists.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is Mitt a Fox ? (aside)

A few days ago, I posted a few thoughts on Massachusetts’ new, revolutionary health care program. Today I’m posting the Romney backpedal. Out of today’s Boston Globe:

Governor likely to veto health fee

Stance angers top Democrats; override seen

Governor Mitt Romney is expected to veto a fee of $295 per employee on some firms that is a key part of the new healthcare bill, angering Democrats he invited to appear with him this morning for a highly choreographed signing ceremony at Faneuil Hall.

In an op-ed column published in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Romney blamed ''my Democratic counterparts" for including what he called an ''unnecessary and probably counterproductive" fee in the healthcare bill. He warned that he would take ''corrective action" to reject the fee and raised a subtle objection to the legislation's expansion of Medicaid.

The column surprised and angered top Democrats around the state, who said publicly and privately yesterday that Romney had sprung his objections on them after inviting them to today's signing ceremony. Beacon Hill officials said Romney is likely to issue his veto after the ceremony, probably in a letter to lawmakers.

A veto would be easily overridden by the Legislature, because of the large majority of Democrats. But Democratic leaders were nonetheless upset that Romney and his staff would not detail his objections fully, leaving them in the position of joining the celebration without knowing what was coming next. …

…The Republican governor, relishing a major legislative accomplishment as he prepares for a possible 2008 presidential campaign, has enjoyed more than a week of national publicity after passage of the healthcare bill, the first in the nation to offer near-universal coverage to the uninsured.

But Romney has also come under fire from national conservative leaders, who are sharply critical of the $295 fee that would be imposed on companies that do not provide health coverage to their employees. It would apply to firms with 11 or more employees.

Jeffrey M. Berry, professor of political science at Tufts University, said Romney has scored a major victory and now holds the political advantage over Democrats in the state because he no longer needs them.

''Romney has gotten what he wants from the Democratic legislative leaders," Berry said. ''Now he can address another constituency, which is now more important to his future, the conservative wing of his party. "

The op-ed piece raising Romney's objection to the $295 fee set off a flurry of speculation on Beacon Hill that he would veto other portions of the bill, including its expansion of Medicaid services and a reduction in current funding for the Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Hospital, which serve a large populations of poor residents. Romney's staff refused to provide details yesterday.

The $295-per-employee assessment is widely considered a centerpiece of the legislation, because it would raise about $45 million a year and encourage some businesses to provide coverage. The bill was written in such a way that Romney can veto specific provisions while approving the rest of the legislation.

Though lawmakers expressed frustration with Romney's apparent veto threat, the governor raised objections to proposals to impose fees or taxes throughout the months-long negotiations.

The lawmakers crafted the bill to allow him to veto a part of the legislation, knowing that the Legislature would override his objection.

But taxes are a politically volatile subject for Romney as he readies a potential run for the White House.

He pledged to veto tax increases when he ran for governor. When the healthcare compromise was unveiled last week, Romney was asked whether the assessment really amounted to a tax. ''It's not a tax hike," Romney said. ''It is a fee; it's an assessment." …

… Montigny, former Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Healthcare, said the op-ed piece shows that now that he has a health bill, Romney is joining the conservative forces in this country to run against the state's Democratic liberal establishment.

''Now he wants to join them against us," the New Bedford Democrat said. ''He is running away from Massachusetts, and he is now representing the rest of the nation against Massachusetts."

Another legislative leader who was a key player in the legislation added: ''He is making the Democrats the scapegoats for his national ambitions. And not to let us know what he is going to veto in advance of the event is egregious. His staff is going to issue a press release afterwards, but we can't respond at the signing event."

The legislation's goal is to increase coverage in phases over three years to include 90 to 95 percent of the currently uninsured. That will be accomplished by the individual mandates, using the assessment to push employers to provide health coverage, and by creation of private, subsidized health plans for people who cannot afford them on their own.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a policy research and fiscal watchdog agency, said that despite Romney's objections, business leaders are sticking by the assessment that was created as part of a bargain to break the deadlocked negotiations over the bill.

''There is a broad understanding in the business community that the assessment is tied to equalizing the burden of state's providing free healthcare to workers not covered by insurance, and that it was critical to achieving this major reform," Widmer said. …

I get that it’s tough to be a conservative in charge in Massachusetts; it’s not a conservative state. But this maneuvering looks a little practiced and perhaps consultant advised with Iowa in mind. This is not altogether a new habit, last summer he spent a week or two maneuvering to move Iowa right on "emergency contraception" access, much to the consternation of Kathleen Healey his lieutenant governor and current gubernatorial candidate.

I’m sure Mitt’s great -- bright, charming, one of those guys that never seems to collect dust on their shoes, but regardless of how attractive a candidate you can’t be of two minds, it betrays the heart of a fox.

Frankly, I’m a hedgehog fan; Chuck Larson looks smarter by the day.

Aside: Ronald Regan's One Big Thing, Hoover Disgest, Fall 2002


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dueling Politics

The Iowa Democratic Party comments on Vaudt:

What did Dave Vaudt Know and When Did He Know It?

DES MOINES – This week, it was reported that an employee for State Auditor Dave Vaudt is the wife of one of the top paid executives at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium. Deb Dessert is a director at the State Auditor’s office and is married to former CIETC chief operating officer John Bargman.

“The question that must be asked in this investigation is, ‘What did Dave Vaudt Know and When Did He Know It?’” said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Milligan. “What other connections does Dave Vaudt’s staff have to the CIETC scandal and has he told us everything?”

The Nussle campaign plan for improved government oversight:

Jim Nussle will create an Office of Inspector General to enforce accountability, measurable standards and transparency. The Inspector General would have the authority to root out waste, fraud and abuse; issue subpoenas and initiate investigations.

The Nussle Plan for an Office of Inspector General

Independent Entity. This authority would act as an independent entity instead of a political tool. The Office of Inspector General would be a position appointed by the Governor of Iowa, and must be confirmed by the Iowa Senate. The Inspector General would serve a six year term.

Enforcing Accountability. The major function of this new agency will be to investigate allegations of fraud, mismanagement, errors or omissions in any branch of state government.

Guaranteeing Transparency. In order to restore Iowan’s confidence in our abilities to spend their tax dollars wisely and provide critical services to those most in need, we must create a safe way for state employees and concerned citizens to be able to voice their complaints. They must be confident that someone in state government will objectively listen and take action.


Changes

Shake up in the Iowa Senate: Mary Lundby is the new Republican leader. There will be some tricky days helping the guys adjust to the new dynamic, but you can’t beat fearless, smart and tenacious, that’s a hand that wins every time.

Gronstal, along with his self-comforting “we will take the Senate” mantra, ought to be readjusting a few things.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Health Care for All: Massachusetts style

Yepsen’s recent columns are all over the place, from state budget deals to government cronies gone bad to the national players floating in and out of Iowa.

Sunday's column highlighted the current popular guy -- we'll call it Mitt-fest 2006, -- and the revolutionary effort in Massachusetts to provide health care access for all its citizens. The extremists on both sides of this issue don't like it; radical liberals think it doesn’t give enough to the conveniently-defined poor and the bootstrap conservatives are annoyed that we have to do anything for anyone outside of securing a free market.

Shrill debate aside, the bipartisan effort in Massachusetts to provide access to health insurance is a policy victory for everyone, particularly Massachusetts’ uninsured. There are a number of people taking credit for the work and that's okay, but sometimes it's nice to point out the unsung heroes.

John McDonough, former Massachusetts state representative turned storytellin' policy wonk turned professor turned health care reform crusader, has been in this fight for years. He was one of the original innovators of the CHIP program, known in Iowa as HAWK-I, and is the current Executive Director of Health Care For All. John also blogs and is posting informative critiques of the Romney et al health care plan.

A little cut & paste from John’s A Healthy Blog:

April 5, 2006

MA Health Reform In Context -- Early Thoughts

Time to begin putting this reform effort in context. Some early thoughts.

It's been going on for a while. Gov. Romney began his deliberations in 5/03; HCFA started our reform deliberations leading to the 12/04 creation of the ACT Coalition in 9/03; Sen. Pres. Travaglini announced his interest in 11/04; House Speaker DiMasi showed his hand 10/05 -- and what a hand! We predicted in '03 that '06 would be the year of opportunity in this decade for major reform. Back in '03 we labelled this our "'o6" project. Here we are.

Give Gov. Romney His Due. We've had more than our share of disagreements. Still, Gov. Romney's commitment to reform was unwavering. And his key insight -- using safety net dollars to expand coverage -- is the cornerstone of this reform.

Give Speaker DiMasi his Due. Without the Speaker's leadership, there would be no employer responsibility in the new law. He stuck with the goal of expanding coverage and never wavered. He and his team produced the stunning policy innovation -- combining employer and individual responsibility. Never underestimate this guy again!

And thanks to Rep. Pat Walrath and the incredible staffers in the House. You guys rock!

Give Pres. Travaglini His Due. The Senate Pres. made certain that the existing safety net institutions would be adequately protected in reform - - and they have been. The Senate was also the source of many new policy innovations in the law.

And thanks to Sen. Moore and the great staffers in the Senate.

And Give Advocacy Our Due. The ACT! Coalition pushed the boundaries of possibility beyond where most thought we could go, forced employer responsibility as an issue, and provided a genuine voice for the public in this dense and complex policy environment.

Respect the Power of the Ballot Initiative. Once again, the Ballot Initiative has been proven a useful and powerful tool in pushing the legislative process beyond where it would otherwise go. A rough and blunt tool, but respect its power.

Business Still Holds the Key. In modern history, no major health reform law has passed with unanimous business opposition. Still true today. Special thanks to all those business leaders, especially Phil Edmundson, who spoke the truth and held firm and faithful to their conviction. Bless them!

Providers Get Their Due, and No More. By our count, about 15% of the resources in the new law will go to improve provider rates. This is an access law with new funds for providers -- it's not a provider bill.

A Cost Sharing Line in the Sand. Gov. Romney's vision of low premium plans is revealed to include sky-high deductibles and cost sharing. Thanks to the Legislature for rejecting this. We've drawn a line in the sand on cost sharing, and this battle has only begun.

Will History Repeat? Twice before, MA reforms triggered national repercussions. The 1988 universal health care law triggered reform activities in at least two dozen states in the early 1990s. The 1996 law inspired Sen. Kennedy to start the process leading to the creation of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program which has provided coverage to more than 5 million uninsured kids. Both times, MA led the way and turned the tide.

Let's do it again!

This is the best political round up I’ve seen on the Massachusetts health care plan.

One more thing: McDonough wrote Experiencing Politics, it’s a great read and educational, too. He manages to interrelate meat & potato politics with policy theory (unbelievably, we do have theory for all of the stuff that happens under the 51 domes) using stories about the ins & outs of Massachusetts state politics.



Sunday, April 09, 2006

April Odds & Ends

A press release issued by Statehouse Republicans on the Government Oversight Committee’s gracious invitation to CIETC and Iowa Workforce Development persons of interest to come before the committee for questioning.

4/8/2006

Rep. Alons, Sens. Lundby, Courtney: Legislators to begin new round of questioning in CIETC scandal

(DES MOINES) – House and Senate chairs on the Government Oversight Committee today released the letter they are sending to individuals they plan to question at Tuesday’s committee meeting regarding the CIETC scandal.

CIETC Director Ramona Cunningham, secretary Lauri Rieck, CIETC executive John Bargman, former board chair Archie Brooks, and DHS officials Jan Clausen and Ann Wiebers.

Legislators will hold their hearing on Tuesday, April 11 at noon in the old Supreme Court chamber.

Legislators want to make it clear: the meeting is open to the public.

The letter to each of the individuals reads as follows:

April 6, 2006

Ms. Ramona Cunningham
513 W. Vine Street
Saint Charles, Iowa 50240

Dear Ms. Cunningham:

In light of the recent situation involving Iowa Workforce Development and the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, the Joint Government Oversight Committee is requesting your presence and testimony on Tuesday, April 11 at 12:00 pm in the Supreme Court Chambers at the Iowa State Capitol.

The Joint Government Oversight Committee would welcome any testimony or prepared comments you wish to share. We would like the opportunity to have you respond to our questions regarding CIETC budgeting and reporting practices, communications with state agencies such as IWD and its employees, and CIETC board practices

If you fail to comply with this formal request, the General Assembly may issue subpoenas to compel testimony and production of documents in connection with this matter as referenced in Iowa Code 2.23. Whenever a committee of either house, or a joint committee of both, is conducting an investigation requiring the personal attendance of witnesses, any person may be compelled to appear before such committee as a witness by serving an order upon the person, which service shall be made in the manner required in case of a subpoena in a civil action in the district court. Such order shall state the time and place a person is required to appear, be signed by the presiding officer of the body by which the committee was appointed, and attested by its acting secretary or clerk; or, in case of a joint committee, signed and attested by such officers of that body.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Regards (all signatures present on actual letters),

Representative Dwayne Alons
Senator Mary Lundby
Senator Thomas G. Courtney

Government Oversight Committee

Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering about this Karen Tesdall, the mysterious CIETC accountant on the executive payroll. Try Googling Karen, nothing. There are a few K. Tesdalls in the state, but no Karen Tesdall. I am assuming she is a real person and we just can’t find her…yet.

---------------------------------------------

Tom Schmitt, in a Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier letter to the editor, punches the wall on TouchPlay.

EVANSDALE --- The TouchPlay ban has absolutely nothing to do with morality. You'd have to be ignorant to buy that. The issue is centered upon cash --- cold, hard cash. Morality is merely a slick excuse.

The claim by lawmakers and Gov. Tom Vilsack that constituents are crying up a storm to end TouchPlay is simply a fabrication of false reality. Granted there is always the blue-law crowd who squeak for grease, but the regular voters really don't care. Players and nonplayers are certainly not in an uproar over these nasty little machines.

What is actually the hub of the debate is casino heavyweights. Pull strings and watch the legislators perform, we all know that.

Casinos generate more revenue than TouchPlay and within lies the real problem. It's dollars versus votes and I certainly hope the lawmakers don't think we are all stupid enough to believe it's all about kids and morality.

I appreciate his deeply held cynicism; however, on the TouchPlay issue the passion to remove these machines came from a variety of political factions. The Senator noted for leading the charge to ban the TouchPlay machines is not a pawn of special interests…okay, perhaps Senator Lundby bows to the well-financed organic food lobby, but she’s not often associated with campaign gambling largesse. On the House side, Rep Danny Carroll got lucky and worked the anti-gambling faction and the pro-casino types into a winnable anti-TouchPlay coalition.

I think most legislators see TouchPlay for what it is -- a clever lottery product patented by Dr. Ed Stanek and picked up by out of state gambling interests as a new technology to extend the industry.



Thursday, April 06, 2006

As my tweener might say...RPI to Vilsack: I'm Dr. Philin' yo' asx

I figure everybody else is doing it; either for a Party, or with a party, or whatever, but it’s really none of my business.

Anyway, my turn.

Today I’m acting as an official spokes-shill for the Republican Party of Iowa. It’s just for today and it’s only because this is a great press release -- mean enough to make it into blogland unedited…

VILSACK RETURNS TO A STATE RIFE WITH SCANDAL

Welcome back Governor, while you were out giving speeches about incompetence…

DES MOINES – During the recent uncovering of bloated salaries and misappropriated money at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC), one key element in Iowa was missing; leadership by Governor Tom Vilsack.

“Where was Governor Vilsack during one of the largest Iowa scandals in recent history? He was traveling the country,” said Republican Party of Iowa Executive Director Cullen Sheehan. “The Governor finally weighed in yesterday, a few days late. This is a sorry lack of leadership in which Tom Vilsack has placed his personal political ambitions above his public responsibilities to Iowans. To top it off, he was pointing fingers at the President in Pittsburgh while several of his appointees were hiding the truth from taxpayers.”

Yesterday while in Pittsburgh Governor Vilsack falsely charged "the President and his team were incompetent and untrustworthy." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

"It's puzzling that Vilsack would call the President incompetent while his own appointees are busy trying to cover up a massive scandal. Firing two people does not even begin to solve this problem,” continued Sheehan. “This is just the tip of the iceberg, and Governor Vilsack needs to stay in Iowa to resolve this. This type of corruption is not acceptable in Iowa.”

Sheehan concluded, “There has been a lot of examples of mismanagement or no management at all in several state departments during the past year. If Governor Vilsack cannot manage state departments effectively, then who is ever going to trust him running our country? This lack of oversight and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable and the Governor should be here to clean this mess up.”

The RPI press release gets a little preachy-political in the last two paragraphs, but overall a good bit of much deserved snark. My suggestion, stick with the sarcasm ‘til the bitter end, it’ll either kill ya’ or make y’all oh so strong.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kyle can spot a trend: or why voters will care about fiscal mismanagement and fraud on June 6th & November 7th.

A quick update on the Iowa Workforce Development scandal – Ramona and Archie skipped the Legislative Oversight Committee meeting, Vilsack fired Running & Barto, whistleblowers are Republican politicians’ new best friends, and the blogoshpere is posting some great stuff on the topic.

Krusty pulls a grizzly, literally, on this one; Chris at political forecast provided a public service by publishing the Fallon press release; Bacon slapped up the RPI press release before workin' a TouchPlay meltdown; and Kyle, that Political Madman, hit the sweet spot with his recent post.

Kyle's wistful post speaks to the essential reason why the CIETC/Iowa Workforce Development scandal is so disturbing on so many levels. I do quibble with Kyle's mean ol' Republican talk. But it's a stereotype that rings true; Republicans, given the choice between spending lots of money or just saying no, often opt for the no.

His post flies, particularly the second half. Kyle captures the disconnect between Vilsack's political agenda and the reality of failing and failed implementation.

...I attended Gov. Vilsack’s Condition of the State in January as a curious observer. Being someone who grew up far away from their state capitol, a lot of the access people in Des Moines take for granted is entirely new to me. I lived in Wisconsin for 18 years and went to the Capitol one time. For the last 4 months I’ve been to the Capitol in Des Moines at least once weekly. But I digress.

I took pages of notes during the Condition of the State, but it’s my last line that I think bears repeating. As it turns out, I wrote it largely and boldly enough that the person behind me read it over my shoulder and laughed too loudly for the room we were in:

Condition of the State Diagnosed: Spendicitis, with Chronic Fiscal Irresponsibility.

Take the current CIETC scandal, for example. Federal, state and local money get pooled together to create a program that’s supposed to get people back to work who would otherwise be forced to remain on welfare and other government assistance. Iowa Workforce Development, another bureaucratic government entity, does a shoddy, if not entirely negligent, job of watching over it, and the results are almost entirely predictable. With no oversight, those involved get as much as possible for themselves, and allow others to twist in the wind.

Now, consider the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Here we’ve got a $50 million dollar annual program, giving grants to corporations who promise to provide the desired behavior, creating jobs. Governor Vilsack and former IDED Director Mike Blouin claim over 25,000 jobs have been created already. Blouin’s even got it on the front page of his gubernatorial campaign’s website. The problem: No proof whatsoever.

An open records request sent to IDED was returned with a tracking spreadsheet over 9 months old. It showed that many companies had refused to report their job creation, and from the companies that did, 1282 actual jobs were created. Wells Fargo built cubicles to hold 846 of them, and 91 other companies combined to create 436 jobs.

There is no evidence to show that any action was taken against companies that refused to report or failed to create jobs.

In short, a massive government program was create to instill a desired result with no oversight and it appears much of that money ended up getting pissed away.

Sensing a trend?

I think Kyle’s right on the money (bad pun intended); it is a trend. It began in D.C. with the Abramoff scandal and is trickling down to state and local governments; voters are tired of fraud dressed up for political show & tell. People want to know that their hard-earned tax dollars are not going to pad the pockets of bureaucrats, lobbyists or 'friends'. It's that simple.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Non-profit fraud gives me a mental pretzel.

"When I found out about it, I was shocked, dumbfounded. I could not believe this would happen with a non-profit entity in the state of Iowa," said Richard Running, of Iowa Workforce Development. (KCCI link)
I'm on a board of directors for a regional non-profit, well sort of. They want me to resign. And why do they want me to resign?

I wouldn't rubber stamp a $20,000 pay increase for an executive director on the job less than a year (the ED started at $45,000 nine months prior to this 20 grand pay raise). I wouldn't rubber stamp a $95,000 check dispersed to a secondary organization without a contract. I wouldn’t approve paying a local advertising firm $25,000 for ‘donated’ services. I wouldn't sign off on a $5,000 performance bonus doled out to this ED. No, I thought we should be spending the money on services, well at least more than the $25,000 budgeted for services. I kept talking about philanthropic stewardship and they all kept looking at me as if I needed to be committed. That point's arguable, but on this occasion, I was completely lucid and spot on.

That's what makes this workforce development scandal oddly satisfying; a spiteful thought, yes, but I can't help it. If we have to put up with self-serving non-profit types, then we should be allowed to celebrate their cliff dives into the mouth of public outrage when they get caught.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's Legislative Oversight Committee meeting featuring Mr. Brooks and Ms. Cunningham. I can't wait to hear Archie Brooks utter his "I had a stroke eight months ago" -- political speak translation: "don't hold me accountable, I'm incompetent". And listening to Ramona juking around the questions about Archie’s varied handwriting samples on those pay stubs and bonuses. Then wrapping up with Senator Mary Lundby and a version of her deadpan analysis: “Ramona, dear, you ripped off everybody sitting in this room, and we’re all going to have to pay for your greed.”

It should make for some great public theater.

The real theater, however, is taking place outside of public view. I can't help but wonder how this scandal is affecting the budget negotiations. Vilsack is asking for a boatload of new money to hand out to local government entities, quasi-governmental groups and non-profits all over Iowa, and yet the state doesn't have a tracking system to ensure taxpayer financed program accountability -- yeah, we have Auditor David Vaudt, but he's not a real caped crusader...or is he.

The CIETC/workforce development case is not unique. Last summer, Auditor Vaudt passed along to local law enforcement his audit of a non-profit group providing child-care services in the Spirit Lake and Okoboji school districts. Margaret Waltz was charged with first-degree theft and on going criminal conduct for ripping off early childhood funds administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services, just one of the many funds Vilsack and the Senate Democrats want to put millions more into.

Obviously, I get completely bent about this sort of fraud, but it gets worse. I have a mental pretzel every time I think about all the additional tax dollars Vilsack wants to send out the door without any mechanism for transparent program accountability.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Budget Offal at its Finest

Like I said on Friday, needed to soak my toes for a few days, but my god, after reading this in Saturday’s DMR I either had to soak my head or just pull it together and get back in the fight. Okay, if I was “in the fight” I would have posted on Saturday and be hammering away at this in some umpteenth seperate post, but I do have a life outside of typing random thoughts on a blog. Anyway, read this:

…A report issued Friday by Iowa Auditor David Vaudt indicates that the publicly funded Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium 's top executives are each collecting more than $350,000 in pay this year. By comparison, Gov. Tom Vilsack was paid $107,482 last year.

Auditors said that the three executives' salaries were excessive and that the bonuses they received were not a proper use of public money.

The three consortium executives and their total pay from June 2003 through December 2005 are:

• Chief Executive Officer Ramona Cunningham — $795,384. Cunningham's contract allows her to take three months of paid time off each year.

• Chief Operating Officer John Bargman — $767,575. Bargman's contract allows him to take 21/2 months of paid time off each year.

• Chief Accountant Karen Tesdell — $292,226. The report didn't specify the amount of annual paid time off Tesdell received.

The consortium has 72 employees and is a governmental agency run by a board made up of publicly elected officials from the city of Des Moines and eight central Iowa counties. One of its primary functions is to provide services for the unemployed and the under-employed. …

It goes on with the obligatory quotes of shock and dismay from a careless board member, Polk County Supervisor John Mauro, and the indifferent brush off from the guilty, in this case Cunningham and Board CEO & Des Moines City Council member Archie Brooks. The only saving grace is our clear thinking State Auditor David Vaudt and his matter of fact reaction to this scandal – figure out the scam and pass on the goods to the appropriate authorities, in this case, the AGs office and the Polk County Attorney. Today's DMR pulls out a few more details on the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium's spending habits.

Please don’t even begin to question your gut reaction; this is white-collar crime at its worst. These public service hacks -- god love ya’ if you can find a conservative among this crowd -- have been ripping off federal, state and local governments for years. No apologies needed they say, we’re just pulling down fair compensation for the work product we produce. A peculiar irony, as part of their charge, so to speak, is to promote employment opportunities for the under-employed.

Just for fun, ‘cause I’m out of practice, I checked out Vaudt’s report on line (PDF). Good stuff: Ramona Cunningham takes 60 paid days off a year; the consortium bills staff cell phones to the tune of over $10,000 a month; the state department of Health and Human Services FY05 budget doled out approximately $1, 838,573 + $300,000 in contract amendments, some of which went to cost of living increases for staff…and it goes on & on. Just skim the report, it’ll make you wonder what the #$%& we’re spending taxpayer dollars on and how the &#*% can Vilsack remotely justify an extra 120 million in budget expenditures in the FY07 budget.

Aside -- the big time national bloggers are doggedly working to out all the offal stuffed into the federal budget. It’d be great if we could do a little of that with Iowa's budget; perhaps a little tougher to pull off, but no one said reading an appropriations bill is a walk in the park. The Porkbusters crowd is also following the lobby reform efforts, Tapscott’s Copy Desk has a great update on the Coburn/Obama pork tracking amendment, and its subsequent demise via a Trent Lott procedural move (gotta love those procedural moves).

We could take a shot at outing Iowa pork (this has absolutely nothing to do with factory farms and wigged out enviro-terrorists), and if we’re lucky our own legislators will offer up an Iowa version of a pork tracking amendment. It might be something a guy like Pat Toomey will notice…wink, wink…Bill. Besides, when considering all the money legislators have been spending over the years, they're going to have to figure out an acceptable mea culpa strategy when discussing the past few budget fights – and I don’t think the “government employees are Republicans, too” argument is a sell.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Apropos

Your Quirk Factor: 71%

You're so quirky, it's hard for you to tell the difference between quirky and normal.
No doubt about it, there's little about you that's "normal" or "average."
How Quirky Are You?


Thanks to Side Notes for this one.

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