Saturday, April 23, 2011

No budging on the budget

Gov. Terry Branstad has made it very clear that he will only accept two-year budgets from the Legislature. The Democratic-controlled Senate, though, felt obligated to test his resolve in the matter. It's common for teenagers to push the limit --- especially when Dad proclaims that something will only be done his way. The Senate passed a one-year transportation budget and sent it to the governor. Branstad vetoed that bill and reminded the state's lawmakers that he was not interested in their small-minded attempts at budgeting. He wanted something grander. Two years! It would bring Stability and Prosperity! Branstad claimed the Legislature and the former administration had been quite irresponsible --- paying ongoing expenses with one-time money, approving expenditures but not funding them and swiping money from one part of the budget to pay for costs in other areas. Democrats are now defending themselves by leveling their own accusations --- that Branstad's two-year budget is essentially a power grab. Lawmakers would have limited ability to make any changes to the budget next year under a two-year spending plan. Branstad would basically be able to veto anything he didn't like. Frankly, this seems like a reasonable concern. Any time the executive branch tries to expand its power (no matter who's in the office) it's worth resisting that effort. Still, Branstad has since vetoed a portion of another spending bill forged through a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. He voiced concerns with the approach to tax relief in one measure, which he vetoed. Another tax relief measure in the bill, though, was also contrary to the approach Branstad has said he wanted to take. In the end, the governor decided he could live with that measure and signed it into law. Turns out, the measure he vetoed was pushed by the Democrats while the measure left in the bill was pushed by the Republicans. Surprise, surprise, it looks like Dad has a favorite son.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who will be left standing?

Behind their carefully-worded statements, Iowa's five congressmen still want to hold onto their seats. But --- as I've imagined current 4th Congressional District Rep. Tom Latham thinking --- "in which district?" Well, Iowa is in the midst of its once-a-decade redistricting plan and it's losing one of districts, so someone's got to go. It's a political equivalent of musical chairs. The number of seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives is based on population and Iowa's growth has been slower than other growing states. The Legislative Services Agency plan throws Republicans Steve King, currently representing the 5th District, and Latham into a new 4th District. It also throws Democrats Dave Loebsack, currently representing the 2nd District, and Bruce Braley, representing the 1st District, into a new 1st District. No incumbent lives in the new 2nd District, but much of it is the same chunk of southeastern Iowa that Loebsack now represents. Democrat Leonard Boswell --- the only incumbent not paired up --- remains in a reconstituted 3rd District that swallows the southwestern corner of Iowa that King now represents. King's supporters in that area are not happy about this. The official statements released by each congressman except Latham seem to stake out one of the new districts. Latham lives at the edge of his new district and is very close to the three others, all of which include some territory he now represents. King has stated he will be on the ballot, but also suggested he'd like to avoid a matchup with Latham. Might he challenge one of his three Democratic colleagues? Of course, more than one of the current representatives may not survive after the new congressional districts are put in place. For example, there's been a lot of speculation the Christie Vilsack, wife of the former governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, may want one of the seats. Since the Vilsacks lived in the new 2nd District and there's no incumbent there now, that may be a good guess. Another guess is that she may based herself out of the Des Moines area and run in the new 3rd District. Or she may not run. And redrawing the districts may even open up opportunities for new challengers or past electoral opponents. When challenged, incumbents don't always win (but it's a good bet). The Iowa Legislature --- which is also affected by the plan --- can choose to accept or reject the plan. The earliest either house will vote is April 13. Many have speculated that the Legislature will approve the plan. If not, the LSA draws up a new plan.