Local Elected Official Attends Netroots Nation

Netroots Nation has been around for more than a decade. It is an annual convention for progressive activists, originally organized by the Daily Kos community. Previously called YearlyKos, it was later re-named Netroots Nation.  The event draws a few thousand attendees. I have always wanted to attend a Netroots conference, so was pleased to learn that our local Johnson County supervisor, Rod Sullivan, attended this year and wrote about his experiences for The Prairie Progressive.

Published with permission from the Summer 2019 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter.

Netroots Nation

by Rod Sullivan

Netroots Nation is very left-wing.  Some of it is inspiring, some of it is frustrating, some of it is funny, and some of it is infuriating. Netroots Nation starts the first General Session with a member of a First Nations Tribe reminding everyone that the land upon which they are sitting was stolen from her people. That is basically it. No request, other than to please
acknowledge it. It was very powerful. Of less interest to me was that every large group session began with a couple of minutes of mindfulness. Not my bag.

The conference used completely gender-neutral restrooms. Remember Ally McBeal? It’s like that. I think I was one of many conference-goers who struggled with the etiquette. For
example, should men still use urinals in what used to be a men’s room? Or do you wait until the next stall is open? Many of us recognized that we often do more than just “go to the bathroom” when we go to the bathroom!

This was the largest Netroots Nation conference ever, drawing over 3,600 attendees. They made a point of emphasizing that this was their most diverse conference ever, and it showed. Only 26% of the presenters were non-disabled straight white males. The conference had a definite feeling of female empowerment throughout. I was particularly impressed by Saturday’s lineup of Congresspeople. The intro was by Rep. Barbara Lee,
who opened with “Wakanda Forever!” She noted that she was used to both being and voting alone in Congress. Lee was viciously attacked for her opposition to the Iraq War (she was the only vote against it); reading her words today, everything she predicted
came true!

Lee introduced a panel of Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar,  and Deb Haaland to a rousing standing ovation (Haaland is not typically included in “the Squad,” but she is a powerful speaker). The timing here was interesting, as President Trump’s tweets attacking the Squad came the next morning. I admit, I teared up as each of these newer members saluted Lee for her mentorship. Talib said Lee quietly meets  individually with every woman of color every single month. She offers them support that
she herself never received.

The makeup of Netroots Nation breaks down roughly into people from nonprofits (ACLU,  Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, etc.), groups like Act Blue and Move On, labor, political consultants, tech specialists, and journalists. Over the last couple of years, they have made a strong effort to include more local activists. There weren’t many elected
officials, though I spoke to a couple of Congressional campaign staffers who said  candidates are beginning to realize that this is great training for campaign staff.

I came across only two Iowans besides myself. One, JD Schloten, sat on a couple of panels and did a GREAT job! Because this conference is full of political nerds, I became a minor celebrity simply being from Iowa. They all wanted to know which presidential candidates have good staff, who I have met personally, etc.

I mentioned the “techie” aspect of Netroots Nation. In reality, they could just as easily be running two separate conferences. Each breakout session had about ten trainings to choose from. Three were very specific to people with tech knowledge; seven were of more general interest. I focused on labor/economics/poverty in the sessions I attended. Much
of the discussion was a perfect fit for the issues that I work on every day as a County Supervisor. I attended sessions on local labor law, creating your own chapter of the Moral Majority, rural poverty, and the economics of the minimum wage, and I had a great  conversation with the head of the universal basic income movement.

There is a certain amount of stargazing at Netroots. In addition to the elected officials that speak, the place is crawling with minor celebrities. I spoke with Joy Reid from MSNBC, who was very kind and funny. Former Attorney General Eric Holder was around, just
chatting people up. It was wild how nonchalant it all was. Of course, the conference ended with a Presidential Forum. Unfortunately for the other candidates, this was Elizabeth Warren’s crowd. Everything she said was greeted with loud applause, and when she was done, the room emptied. Poor Jay Inslee could not even be heard over the rush to get in
Warren’s selfie line.

My overall impression of Netroots Nation was quite positive. I know this was wrong of me, but I went in expecting to find many of the attendees insufferable. In fact, I am happy to admit I was wrong! Most of the people I met were wonderful. I am definitely interested in giving Netroots Nation another try.

Prairie Dog

The Prairie Progressive is  funded entirely by reader subscription,  available only in hard copy for $12/yr.  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.


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Sunday Funnies And A Couple Of Comments



John Fugelsang has an interesting view on the next election. He would like to see Trump win if only to face the consequences of his reckless economic policies.

Much like George W’s policies, Trump has blown a huge hole in the debt in order to turn huge amounts of money over to his rich buddies. So much like George W’s economy you can expect this one to implode in a couple of years, If Democrats win in 2020, they will get the blame much as Jimmy Carter got blame from Nixon and Ford’s mismanagement of the economy.

 Fugelsang thinks it would be karmic if Trump had to bear the consequences of his own policies.

repubs blow a hole in the deficit

“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.”— Donald Trump

Well maybe not so much there, Bucko. Your trade wars have put our farmers involuntarily on the front lines while you made sure your products and those of your family (Ivanka) were not in the line of fire. While our farmers are facing survival situations, you really don’t care. Your only concern is that you can claim some kind of victory. 

trump is lying

bills passed by dem house 2019

Here is what is bothering me about these really gawdawful debates. We have Democrats throwing bombs at each other trying to score points which the opposition will use against our nominee next year. The strategy for Republicans next year is not to increase vote for their candidate. That may be a very hard task to do.

What their strategy will be is to keep the vote down for Democrats. This has been their strategy for many elections. If you can’t get votes for yourself, then stop your opposition from getting votes. Look for Republicans to mash up scenes from the debates so that it will look like even the Dems won’t support our nominee. That is the goal of negative ads – make it so people don’t want to vote.

Here is a feel good video about a doctor who adds a little something to his work:

Posted in #trumpresistance, 2020 election campaign, Blog for Iowa, Budget, Humor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Funday: Background Noise Edition

video 2 minutes:

There will be some background noise during the presidential election next year and most likely also in the House and Senate races also. Behind all the drama of the election will be an underlying problem for the current president – that is, as Robert Mueller stated above – once he is no longer president, his past will catch up to him fast. 

So Dear Leader will not only be running for president, he will be running to stay out of the hoosegow. You think he and his minions won’t break and bend more than a few election laws to keep his rear out of jail? He does that for no real reason everyday now.

BTW – the twitter dreck that Dear Leader pumps out daily is henceforth know as “Donorrhea.”

Another memorable week? Sort of:

  1. What recently dismissed head of the Iowa DHS will bring a lawsuit against Governor Reynolds concerning his termination?
  1. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was hospitalized because of a possible poisoning in what country Sunday?
  1. Who is, according to his own claims, the “least racist person in the world”?
  1. According to the Russian Embassy in Washington, who has offered Russia help with wildfires now happening in Siberia?
  1. Gilroy, California came into national attention last Sunday when what happened?
  1. An ethanol plant in Northwest Iowa is one of ten ethanol plants that have been temporarily shut down for what reason?
  1. 65 years ago today what grisly discovery was made at an earthen dam outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi?
  1. What is the location at the Iowa State Fair where candidates for political office can give speeches that draw crowds and media coverage?
  1. Markets got very jittery this week in the US as Dear Leader announced another round of tariffs on what country?
  1. Dear Leader accused what House leader being a racist last week?
  1. The Republican exodus from the US House continued this week as what lone black Republican member of the House announce he would not run?
  1. An “America First” campaign speech by Dear Leader in May of 2016 was discovered last week to have been allowed to be edited by what foreign country?
  1. During one of the debates last week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gave an inadvertent plug for what household cleaning agent?
  1. Over in Ireland a 15 year old scientist received a prize of $50,000 for discovering a way to remove what from the world’s waters?
  1. A man was caught trying to transport what non-functioning military weapon in his luggage at BWI airport?
  1. The nominee to be the Deputy Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had his nomination slowed last week due to accusations of what?
  1. 12 billion tons of ice melted on what once glacier loaded large island Thursday?
  1. The new US ambassador to the UN is what frequently absent from her post Ambassador to Canada?
  1. Happy 58th birthday to what left-handed president today?
  1. Nancy Pelosi accompanied what the congress member on her return to her ancestor’s country last week?

From Vanity Fair  

Defending Cummings on Thursday, Pelosi told reporters that Trump is projecting his own issues on her Democratic colleague, that, characteristically, he doesn’t know his ass from his elbow when it comes to the situation in Baltimore, and that he should address the matter with Kushner, which of course he won’t. “To see the president demean a great leader like Elijah Cummings shows his own insecurity, and his own lack of understanding about what progress really is,” Pelosi said in the Capitol. She added: “The president…really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But maybe he could ask his son-in-law, who’s a slumlord.”


  1. Jerry Foxhoven
  1. Russia – he leads the opposition against Putin
  1. Dear Leader! His assessment has been questioned.
  1. Dear Leader!
  1. Another mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic festival
  1. There is an oversupply of ethanol on the market
  1. The bodies three missing civil rights leaders were discovered buried in the dam – Cheney, Goodwin and Schwerner
  1. The Des Moines Register Soap Box – it will be getting a workout in the next couple of weeks
  1. China
  1. Elijah Cummings (seriously) 
  1. Will Hurd of Texas
  1. Saudi Arabia
  1. Clorox – when she stated that her first act as president would be to Clorox the Oval Office
  1. Micro-plastics.  
  1. A rocket launcher
  1. Sexual misconduct
  1. Greenland – the temperature was 22 degrees celsius Thursday
  1. Kelly Knight Craft (qualifications: she’s rich)
  1. Barack Obama
  1. Ilhan Omar on her visit to Ghana. The trip commemorated 400 years since Africans were taken into slavery in the Americas.

Look who’s here: It’s Randy Rainbow! (5 minutes)


Posted in #trumpresistance, Blog for Iowa, Humor | Leave a comment

What Is A Conservative, What Is A Liberal?

I found the treatise on being liberal posted below on democraticunderground the other day. Apparently it is making the rounds on facebook and other social media. So maybe you have read it already. As the unknown author notes in his lead in not every liberal believes the same thing, but probably generally could agree with much of his list.

This did make me wonder what passes for ‘conservative’ these days. “Conservative” was once a word for someone who wants slow change, wants to stay with the status quo, looks for ways to save money and environment. Comparing actions of people currently identified as “conservative” would certainly indicate that such definition is way out os date.

The Conservative party has not worked to maintain the status quo since the so called Reagan Revolution. They have been pushing for radical change in all sectors of society. They have pushed for wealth transfer from the poor to the very richest and have enacted laws to do just that. That is easily demonstrable by the huge rise in wealth inequality in this country over the past 40 years. 

Conservatives once put huge stock in maintaining family and in personal integrity. Now we see a party that seems to have sex scandals frequently – we see this in Iowa’s current governance – and has elected a man whose life is an absolute mockery of these values from constantly cheating on his wives to cheating his business partners and customers to lying at almost everything he talks about.

One of the very cornerstones of conservative values is the family and children and their proper rearing. Yet the Conservative party of today throws children less than a year old into cages as their families attempt to escape terror abroad. The Conservative party pushes laws that take away a woman’s ability to control their own body and force birth on those who are often least able to care for a child. Then they take away any societal help that comes in the form of food aid or monetary help. 

Finally for this segment, conservatives were once most easily identified by their very tight monetary policies. Yet they are backing a president whose policies are totally reckless when it comes to tariffs and trade. The once vaunted monetary hawks now blow holes in our budget to the tune of $1.5Trillion a year while handing huge gifts of public money to corporate welfare queens.

So is this what a conservative is today? Or do we need a new word to truly describe what has become of a once Conservative party?

As for liberals this is the article from democraticunderground and not a statement of anyone’s beliefs at BFIA:

Something good to pass along

This is a long read, but if you care about why I (or those that think similarly) feel the way I do, then take a moment to read: 


I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for. 

I’m a liberal, but that doesn’t mean what a lot of you apparently think it does. Let’s break it down, shall we? Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines: 

1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period. 

2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen. 

3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt. 

4. I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist. 

5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare. 

6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live. 

7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is – and should be – illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me or mine. 

8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the *same* rights as you. 

9. I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc). 

10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation. 

11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, but because I’ve spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past. 

12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized. 

13. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun. (Got another opinion? Put it on your page, not mine). 

14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness. If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person? 

15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else. 

16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men including decisions about their own bodies, and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?

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Dent In Citizens United From A Montana Judge

Some good news via the Los Angeles Times Thursday morning.   

Judge overturns IRS rule that shielded political donors’ identities

“A federal judge in Montana overturned an Internal Revenue Service rule that allowed many political nonprofit groups to keep their donor lists private.

The ruling upends a change the IRS made last year that permitted so-called Section 501(c)4 groups, known as “social welfare” organizations, to keep their donor lists private. A federal judge said the IRS didn’t follow proper procedure in writing the rule and needs to let the public weigh in on the change before altering the tax code.

“Then, and only then, may the IRS act on a fully informed basis when making potentially significant changes to federal tax law,” U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said in the opinion Tuesday evening.

<< snip >>

“Not only did the IRS try to make it easier for dark money groups to hide their funding sources, it did so behind closed doors,” Grewal said in a statement.

The ruling is a blow to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who said the rule protected donor privacy because the IRS could enforce tax laws without that information. Democrats had criticized the agency’s move, saying it opened up the possibility for foreign interests to influence elections.”

Up until now, donors have been able to hide their sometimes rather nefarious political action behind an IRS rule that hid their names from the public. This spits in the face of everything that having an open democracy stands for. Everyone  is most certainly allowed to join whatever political group they want, but there should be no secrecy. 

Donations for political purposes, since they affect the public’s business should be made public. The 501(c)4 provisions for “social welfare” groups that are in reality political issue organizations is yet another example of the Republican disdain for real democracy in this country. Hiding the names of donors to these issue groups ranks right in with voter suppression, Russian interference, gerrymandering and possible voting machine hacking.

We really need to know who is donating to these issue organizations. Who donates will help to expose who the people who are pushing the issue and what the real purpose behind the issue group is. Election rules state that foreign money is not supposed to be involved in our elections. With the names of donors to issue oriented groups unavailable, foreign donors could easily be hidden behind the curtain of secrecy.

There was much suspicion that money from Russia was funneled to the NRA over the past 3 years or so, but without access to donor records that would be hard to prove. Corporations and CEOs of major companies use this provision to shield their companies from negative publicity by hiding behind this IRS provision. If a business or company officer is ashamed to be outed as a contributor to an issue oriented group because of possible negative publicity, you would have to wonder why they would contribute to such a group.

“We, the People” as intoned in the preamble to the constitution should be able to see who is pushing what issue, so we can figure out why. Simply stated, secrecy is the enemy of democracies and the friend of tyrants.

As the LA Times stated in an editorial after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin created the rule slightly over a year ago:  

But while this week’s policy change may not affect what the public may learn about political spending by so-called social welfare groups, it could make it more difficult for the government to police laws against spending by foreigners on U.S. elections. Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign reform group Democracy 21, warned that, with the end of the reporting requirement, “there is no way to determine if a 501(c)(4) advocacy group that is spending money to influence federal elections is taking that money from Russia, from Russian agents, from China or from any other foreign interest.”

Once again we see a Republican Party that is bent on winning elections by cheating and hoodwinking the public. Ads have already started running with a pack of lies about Medicare For All. They were running during the Democratic debates last week. According to the Hill:  

Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, which is funded by influential health care groups like PhRMA, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, will air the ads Tuesday and Wednesday nights as part of a six-figure television and digital campaign targeting the proposal and other expansions of Medicare.

I have to wonder as should we all if that is a comprehensive list of donors? Are there any foreigners among the donors? 

Get ready for a long couple years of lies, misleads and omissions as money tries to fool us into not doing what is good for the whole.

Expect the Montana ruling to be appealed. This will be where we see in Moscow Mitch’s strategy of refusing to allow Obama to appoint judges and then changing rules to fill the benches with Trump appointees pays off. My bet is it will and within a short space of time we will once more be denied the ability to find out where the money behind the issue ads comes from.

Thank you, Moscow Mitch for destroying democracy.

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When To Swallow The Red Pill

RAGBRAI riders stopped at the Norwalk Christian Church for pie. Photo Credit – Trish Nelson

Trish Nelson will be returning to the editor’s desk next week.

Among things she did while on hiatus was ride a couple days of RAGBRAI, posting this photograph of pies behind empty church pews. The image says something more although I’m at a loss to put words to it. It can speak for itself.

Time for me to go on hiatus for a while as well.

Tomorrow I return to the apple orchard where I work in the sales barn doing whatever is needed for the season. If I’m lucky, I’ll have great conversations with some of the thousands of guests who show up on a weekend. If I’m extra lucky, those conversations will be about apples, gardening and farming.

We political activists need to do our best work to elect a replacement for Dave Loebsack in the Second Congressional District and a U.S. Senator to make Joni Ernst a one-term senator. We also need to retain the hard-won seats of Cindy Axne in the third district and Abby Finkenauer in the first. If we have a candidate in the fourth district, there’s work to be done there as well. Those campaigns will have to wait until after the presidential preference in February, because a person can land only one plane at a time. I favor Rita Hart in the second district and Theresa Greenfield for U.S. Senate. There are no clinkers among those running in the primary.

As far as the Iowa caucus goes, I’m in the same boat as a lot of readers. I want to pick a candidate for president to work with after Labor Day. If I can’t decide which one by then, I may go to caucus uncommitted and join a group that needs one more person to be viable.

I expect to run our precinct caucus (because of a lack of volunteers) and don’t want to get into the unseemly discussions we had during the vote count in 2008. Being uncommitted would be a positive in that regard.

Democrats can’t afford to have winners and losers this cycle, so the pre-caucus dynamic is different from 2008 when there were 8-10 candidates for president and everyone worked hard for their guy or gal to be the one. The only thing that remains the same this cycle is Mike Gravel is running again (Update: The afternoon of the day this was posted, Gravel suspended his presidential campaign).

Someone asked me who were my top three potential presidential candidates. I had to think, but came up with this answer:

Anyone other than Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris needs a breakthrough by Labor Day (maybe Thanksgiving) to ouster these four poll leaders. Polls and second choices will drive the presidential preference Feb. 3.

If not this week, then soon, the less than one percenters will hopefully have made their point and gracefully exited the race to work on other Democratic priorities. I’m very sorry Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is in this group. She couldn’t get over the Franken blow back among Democrats I know and lost important donors. She is uncompromising on women’s rights.

Look at it this way. Once I figure out what/who I’m supporting I’ll swallow the red pill and follow the rabbit hole where it leads. With the primary in June, there’s plenty of time to work on Rita Hart and Theresa Greenfield after caucus.

Or look at it another way. If Warren had run in 2016, I would have worked hard to make her the nominee. I’m satisfied she’s not too old today. There’s no one else left in the top 4 besides Kamala Harris. I’m less than confident a woman can get elected in 2020. I don’t like most of the men.

So there’s my indecision. If I can’t decide by Labor Day I may not declare and throw my one preference to which ever group could be viable with it, except maybe Sanders.

The most important endgame is coming together once we have a nominee. Keeping the red pill in a waterproof vial for now.

Hope readers enjoy the rest of summer. Thanks for the clicks during the last five weeks.

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State Auditor Rob Sand Speaks… Briefly

State Auditor Rob Sand and State Senator Janet Petersen waiting to go on stage at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Iowa on July 14, 2019

State Auditor Rob Sand spoke at the Zach Wahls birthday fundraiser in rural Johnson County on July 14. He was brief.

Sand’s brevity is becoming a feature of his political tenure. Those of us who hear a lot of political speeches appreciate his willingness to be brief, be brilliant, and then be done.

Blog for Iowa wanted to hear more from Sand so we asked him to participate in a questionnaire via email. He said yes. The questions and Sand’s responses follow, published without significant editing.

BFIA: What do you feel is most important about the first six months of your tenure as auditor? Why?

Sand: In just six months we have accomplished a lot of what we set out to do during the campaign. The office has never promoted efficiency, which I said I would do. Our new PIE initiative (public innovations and efficiencies) will do just that. In addition, very soon we have two individuals with law-enforcement experience starting in the office. I campaigned on the need for professional diversity in the office, and we are making it happen.

BFIA: In my previous article I pointed out the municipality that was dissatisfied with your predecessor’s annual audit of their books. How do you view the role of the state auditor’s office in helping counties and municipalities meet their statutory audit and financial review needs?

Sand: The most significant departure under my time in office will be that we will begin providing real assistance on efficiency and innovation. Historically, the office has not used its ability to do that. That changes now. We should  always be doing everything we can to save taxpayer money.

BFIA: I noticed you are a hunter. How did that become a feature of your public appearances as auditor. What is your view of how Iowa DNR expends resources to support hunting and wildlife in the state?

Sand: I believe that most Iowans are interested in not just policy but also who you are as a person. I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad and still do it today, so it is a way for people to get to know me a little bit. Plus, there are endless puns is to be made about finding bucks.

While I have not done a specific review of DNR in my six months in office, I can tell you that the state needs to do a better job supporting hunting and fishing generally. There were a number of bills last year which were harming the ability to add public land for hunting or any other use.

BFIA: What do you like best about the job? Least?

Sand:  Compared to prosecuting financial crime, which I was doing for seven years prior, it’s great to be able to wake up in the morning and work on making systems work better, and preventing bad before it happens. Prosecuting by its nature is entirely reacting to bad after it happens.

As for my least favorite part, I’m sure if I were a better politician I would tell you that every single moment is an honor. But since I’m honest, the part I like least are the trite and formalistic aspects of being an office executive from a paperwork and sign-off perspective. I prefer to dive in and do real work.

BFIA: What areas in state government seem ready to improve from an auditor’s viewpoint? Explain.

We are always on the lookout to make government more honest, operate with better integrity, and improve accountability. We also want to see improved efficiency. That applies to every part of government, and as soon as we stop looking for it or asking for it in one part, that’s where it will be needed most!

BFIA: What is your hope for the future of the state, from a personal standpoint.

Sand: I think we need a better focus on putting the public first. Partisanship needs to take a backseat.

A brief biography of Rob Sand can be found on his Wikipedia Page here.

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Taking Seeds From The Prairie

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019

Is it wrong to collect seeds from a prairie restoration project for use in a home garden or another prairie restoration project?

I posed the question on social media. While the responses weren’t that many, they were a unanimous yes.

Not so fast!

“Stealing is stealing,” Cindy Crosby, author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction wrote.

A prairie manager I know was out for a stroll on his site when he came across a woman cutting buckets of blooms. Horrified, he said, “Lady, what are you doing?” She replied testily, “Well I tried to cut the flowers up by the visitors center for my party and they wouldn’t let me. So I came out here.”

Wildflowers will replenish themselves, right? Maybe and maybe not.

I asked our local state park ranger for his thoughts about harvesting seeds from prairie restoration areas. His response was speedy and made sense, “You are good to take seeds from the plants but just do not remove the plant itself and you will be ok.”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll be watching the patch of restored prairie for seed formation and try some of the varieties in our home garden.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state. A prairie restoration project, like the ones at Iowa state parks, is a work of human hands and culture.

People like Cindy Crosby have a personal investment in work they have done to restore prairie. Even if such restorations are anything but natural, and a constant struggle to keep invasive plants like garlic mustard at bay, they add cultural value in the form of habitat for plant and animal species and the narratives spun around them. We should tread lightly in their work, take what we need, and leave the rest.

Additional Reading:

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, a blog by Cindy Crosby.

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean.

Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest by Shirley Shirley.

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Organizing The Organizers

The Democratic Party seems on the brink of descent into a primal ooze as we now debate political staffers forming unions in campaigns. What’s there to debate?

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg gets the overarching policy right. “Freedom means the ability to organize in order to hold employers accountable and advocate for fair pay,” according to his website.

To the extent political campaigns employ anyone, those employees have a right to organize. That said, the articles, discussion and posturing about unions and campaign organizers organizing a union are a distraction from the need to defeat Donald Trump, hold the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and gain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I have some questions about organizing the organizers.


Suzan Erem, who has been a consultant to labor unions, recently posted on Facebook, “no self-respecting union organizes workers whose jobs have at best an 18-month shelf life.”

Either an individual campaign provides a living wage and acceptable working conditions for employees or the candidate suffers the consequences in a primary election. If workers organize a union, the candidate should be willing to sign a contract quickly and get on with the campaign. When there are grievances, they should be timely addressed.

It is important to remember pay and benefits are not what leads talented people to work on a political campaign. The question of organizers unionizing should be a self-motivator for Democratic candidates. Employees have the choice to organize and it should mostly be part of the background noise of a campaign. It should be a non-issue.


“An unnamed person has alleged to a federal agency that the union representing some employees of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign did not properly address a grievance,” Sean Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post. A dispute between a labor union (United Food and Commercial Workers in this case) and a represented member is never good. When it escalates to the National Labor Relations Board, lawyers get involved.

As Sanders and his staff spend time and resources on this NLRB case and resolving any other grievances with their union, the clock continues to tick toward the Iowa Caucus and the dozen states with primaries and caucuses on or before Super Tuesday. Managing labor, organized or not, will take bandwidth.

When the union appears to botch the process as suggested in Sullivan’s article, it is a burden on everyone involved. Some other priority will be neglected while time is spent on this grievance. News outlets may pick up on the NLRB case and neglect covering candidate policy.

To What End?

The period of employment for paid campaign workers is relatively brief. Anyone who has worked on a campaign knows a lot of hours are involved. If it’s too much, why wouldn’t an employee go to their supervisor and ask for relief. If they are not satisfied with the way it is addressed, move on to what is next. It’s not like campaign organizing is a permanent career even if one is still working at it after beginning in the 2008 cycle.

Organizing a union is not always a speedy process. In the meanwhile, the election is just around the corner, after which employment ends for the most part and any union becomes moot. If the campaign is successful there may be another job in Washington, D.C. If it is unionized it would be a separate bargaining unit.

Most working people have an opinion about unions. I do too, and mine is multi-faceted. Unions have good intentions yet outcomes for rank and file members vary in efficacy. During a presidential campaign, especially during the primary/caucus portion of it, the main organizing has to be getting enough votes to get the candidate to the next stage whether it’s winning the primary or the general election. Organizing a union has to be done quickly and efficiently or it becomes a distraction.

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Jimmy Carter And Prejudice Against Women

Jimmy Carter at the Iowa State Fair in 1976. Photo credit – Des Moines Register

On Jan. 19, 1976, the day of the Iowa precinct caucuses that started Jimmy Carter on a path from relative obscurity to becoming the Democratic nominee for president, I was in U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

I didn’t really care who became president because anyone would be better than Richard Nixon.

As we now know, “Uncommitted” won the presidential preference that year getting 37 percent of the delegates with Carter coming in second with 28 percent. He became president and served for a single term from 1977 until 1981.

On July 19 Carter announced he was losing his religion. “Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God,” he said.

After six decades in the Southern Baptist Convention, at the point when leadership determined that women must be subservient to men, he decided to leave.

“At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime,” Carter wrote. “But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.”

The view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief, he said.

Read Carter’s entire article in The Age here. What is the context for Carter losing his religion?

Earlier in July and before Carter’s letter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to examine the role of human rights in US foreign policy. It is expected the commission will be a vehicle to roll back protection of human rights in US diplomacy.

“What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right,” Pompeo said at the State Department according to CNN. “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”

“Words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” he said.

What is or isn’t a human right has been debated even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 by the United Nations. One can assume the same impetus that led Pompeo to embrace the Rapture is at work in this commission. I expect a new attack on women’s rights driven by the same prejudices Carter discusses in his letter.

At 94 years, Jimmy Carter continues to serve our nation and a global community. If there is justice God will forgive him for losing his religion to continue his efforts in pursuit of women’s rights.

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