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Govt-and-politics
Opponents of Country View sale gaining steam

WATERLOO — An effort to halt the sale of Black Hawk County’s Country View care center is picking up support.

Country View employees Debra Vivians and Melissa Lee have gathered more than 2,000 signatures from county residents asking the Board of Supervisors not to sell the county-run nursing and mental health care center north of Waterloo.

More than 100 signs opposing the sale also have cropped up around the county, some in lawns of residents with family members living at Country View and others in yards of those supporting continued county ownership.

“We’re getting all kinds of good feedback,” Lee said. “The community is pretty upset about it. They don’t understand why (the county) would do this.”

The supervisors voted 4-1 in March to hire a real estate broker and seek proposals from companies interested in buying Country View, which has 168 nursing care beds and about 170 employees.

Board members supporting the idea noted Black Hawk is one of just two counties whose property taxpayers are supporting the operation of a nursing home. Country View’s projected $2 million operating loss this year is hurting the county’s cash reserves and caused a tax hike in next year’s adopted budget.

Board members also said they can reject any proposals — preliminary bids are due Friday — if they didn’t believe the buyer would run Country View in the best interest of the residents or employees.

Supervisor Chris Schwartz, who voted against seeking bids, has suggested the county could take steps to reduce the operating losses without selling the center. He is planning to host a town hall meeting on Country View at 5:30 p.m. June 4 at the Waterloo Public Library.

Vivians and Lee spoke to the supervisors Tuesday about their door-to-door petition drive and said Country View is a vital cog in efforts to expand mental health care access for Iowans.

Lee said Country View staff is well trained to deal with nursing care clients suffering mental illness. She fears a new operator may not be committed to keeping those residents at the center.

“Finding a bed for someone with mental illness inpatient treatment is not easy,” Lee said. “Many are sent hundreds of miles away for treatment.

“They are then separated from all of their supports at home,” she added. “Some people need long-term mental health care services, and without Country View and beds in (mental health institutes) where will these people go?”

Vivians told the supervisors some of the concerns they’ve been hearing, which range from questions about why taxpayers can’t vote on the sale to why the board meetings are held at 9 a.m., making them inaccessible for many workers.


Govt-and-politics
GOP acted boldly, now voters speak

DES MOINES — The opportunity was not wasted.

For the past two years, Iowa Republicans had complete control of the state lawmaking process for the first time in 20 years, and they took complete advantage.

Swept into unfettered power by the 2010 and 2016 elections, Republicans during the 2017 and 2018 sessions of the Legislature passed at least a half-dozen significant laws that never would have seen the light of day under even a split-control state government.

Abortion regulations, tax policy, gun rights, and union negotiating rights received dramatic reforms in the conservative mold.

Now Iowa Republicans will test their brand with voters in this fall’s elections.

“They obviously were extremely aggressive with the fear that any election cycle you could lose any one of the three legs of the stool (of state government control),” said Brent Siegrist, who has the Iowa House Majority Leader in 1997 and 1998, the last time Republicans had full state control. “From their viewpoint, they probably view it as an extremely productive two years. ...

“I think overall they’ll view it was a home run, if not a grand slam.”

There will be competitive congressional races in eastern and central Iowa in November, but with neither U.S. Senate seat open the race for governor is poised to take center stage.

Republican Kim Reynolds became governor in May 2017 when former Gov. Terry Branstad was named U.S. ambassador to China. She does not face a challenge in the June 5 party primary election.

Six Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to face Reynolds in the November 6 general election.

Republicans can tout some accomplishments that received bipartisan support and are popular with voters: They reshaped mental health care access, added measures to curtail opioid addiction and created new funding for water quality programs.

But they also passed at least a half-dozen laws that created partisan firestorms.

Republicans approved what experts say is the most restrictive abortion law in the country: It bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks, often before the woman knows she is pregnant. They also required women to wait three days to receive an abortion. Both laws are being challenged in court.

They stripped most state funding to women’s health care providers like Planned Parenthood that perform abortions.

They approved a so-called stand your ground law, which permits Iowans to use lethal force if they feel threatened, and allowed children under the age of 14 to handle guns under parental supervision. And they created language that would enshrine gun ownership rights into the state Constitution; that must also be approved in a separate legislative session and then by Iowa voters.

They curtailed most elements for which public employee unions can collectively bargain, and limited the amount of compensation payments injured workers can seek.

And their overhaul of the state’s tax code projects to create nearly $3 billion in income tax relief over the course of five years, but also increases some sales taxes and will siphon hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget each year.

“Republicans have very definitely had, from the fiscal side and from the religious side, a very distinct agenda, and they have not wasted any time in trying to take maximum advantage of the unified control they have right now,” said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University.

They earned the opportunity through a series of electoral victories. Now Republicans must return to the campaign trail and convince voters, especially those who do not claim allegiance to a political party, that those conservative reforms were in Iowans’ best interests.

“There were some bold proposals put through, and if we stop right now and rest on our laurels, then it may be all for naught,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa’s chairman and a former state legislator. “There’s one thing the Democrats aren’t hiding: That is they want to undo most of what has been done. So we cannot be complacent ... because we have to now go out and sell this to Iowans.”

Kaufmann acknowledged Republicans will have to defend some of their conservative reforms.

“If you’re actually going to call yourself bold and be bold in your legislating, in your lawmaking, then you’re going to make some people angry. And what (Republicans) have to do is be prepared,” Kaufmann said. “Now they have to explain themselves.”

Kaufmann said Republicans will convey one central message: they followed through on their campaign promises. He said Iowa Republicans spent two years checking off the list of conservative reforms they promised to voters in previous campaigns.

“It’s kind of cliché-ish, but be true to yourself, speak from the heart and have statistics ready,” Kaufmann said. “I believe that we will have a unified message, and I believe that unified message will be based on keeping your campaign promises and making sure that Iowans know that, in the end, this will make the state better.”

In their session-ending speeches, Republicans expressed confidence in the choices they made over the past two years.

“The message the voters sent (in 2016) was clear: they wanted smaller, smarter and conservative government. House Republicans have responded, and the days of the status quo government are over,” Republican House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow said. He said the two-year General Assembly “will long be remembered as one that charted a new course for the state of Iowa.”

Democratic House Minority Leader Mark Smith said the 2018 session was historic but for the wrong reasons: “for special interests, but not for everyday Iowans.”

Democrats will attempt to make the case the new Republican-led laws will make the state worse for the wears, state party chairman Troy Price said. Democrats are poised to emphasize issues with privatized management of the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program — health care for low-income and disabled Iowans — and state budget cuts.

“Democrats are going to be out there talking about how it’s time for change. The reality is what we have seen here are a lot of bills that either didn’t go far enough or went way too far than where Iowans wanted to go,” Price said. “The state is not going in the right direction.”


Govt-and-politics
Poll: Hubbell leading field of Democrats for governor

DES MOINES — A new poll of Iowa Democrats suggests the party will choose a gubernatorial nominee in the June 5 primary, not at the state convention later that month.

Retired Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell has opened a wide lead on the field, backed by nearly half the 2,315 likely Democratic primary voters polled May 5 and 6 for KBUR radio station in Burlington.

Hubbell leads the six-person field with 46 percent of those surveyed. State Sen. Nate Boulton, also of Des Moines, captured 20 percent in the poll.

Union president Cathy Glasson was third with 7 percent, followed by former Obama administration staffer John Norris at 5 percent, physician Andy McGuire with 3 percent and university diversity officer Ross Wilburn at 1 percent.

The remaining 18 percent were undecided.

“From the beginning, Fred has been working hard to earn every vote across the state, visiting all 99 counties and sharing his vision to put people first again,” his communications director, Remi Yamamoto, said. “That’s what we will continue to do, with over 100 campaign events every week, engaging voters where they are for a victory in June and then November.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose approval rating is below 50 percent but leads the Democratic candidates in most polls, expressed no concern.

She’s eager to get out on the campaign trail to “talk about how we listened Iowans and we took action and we put Iowans first … about how we want to continue to build a better Iowa.”

“We have a great story to tell,” she said Tuesday.

Although Hubbell’s support is highest among voters 50 and older, Boulton leads among voters in their 30s. Hubbell maintains strong leads in all four Iowa congressional districts and there is little variation by gender or among progressives and moderates.

“Hubbell’s support is widespread across the board by gender, region, age, philosophical self-identification and congressional district,” said Steve Hexom, KBUR president. “His support is well above the 35 percent threshold for a state convention, which is somewhat of a surprise in this multicandidate field.”

Robin Johnson, host of KBUR’s Heartland Politics show, attributed Hubbell’s lead to his advantage in TV advertising.

“According to an Iowa Starting Line analysis on April 18, Hubbell was the first candidate to start TV advertising and had outspent his next closest rival, Sen. Boulton, on TV by about a five-to-one margin,” Johnson said.

The top issues for Iowa Democrats are education at 24 percent and health care at 21 percent, followed by women’s rights at 13 percent and jobs and the economy with 9 percent. Glasson performed slightly better among voters concerned about the economy.

The poll was conducted for KBUR by Remington Research Group of Kansas City, Mo., a Republican polling company that was among the few pollsters to find a likelihood of Donald Trump winning the 2016 presidential race.

The survey was weighted to match expected turnout demographics and had a margin of error of 2.04 percent.


Brandon Pollock / BRANDON POLLOCK, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER 

Charley Oldenburger tries to beat Kailib Fisher to safety in a game of sharks and minnows during physical education class at Blessed Maria Assunta Pallotta Middle School in Waterloo, Iowa, Monday, May 7, 2018.