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2015 Agenda For Iowa Legislature

2015 Agenda For Iowa Legislature

iowa state capitolA friend of mine that is working in the Iowa Senate as a clerk this year asked me what one thing I would like to see done by the Iowa Legislature this year.

My answer to him was simple.  Current Iowa gun laws have several issues that would be helpful to address, but the most glaring issue is actually something that is missing: the right to keep a gun in an employee’s vehicle while parked at their employer’s parking lot while there for work.  Without specifically speaking to this issue, an employer in Iowa currently can prevent an employee with a legitimate permit to carry from protecting themselves while commuting to work.  A growing number of states have been adding protections so that employees can keep their weapons locked in their vehicles despite an employer’s ban of weapons on company property.  Iowa should do likewise.

Of course, a session with one agenda item is not much of a session.  Here is a brief list of key items that I think the 2015 Assembly should tackle:

Gun rights for employees.  Grant employees the right to keep firearms locked in their vehicles while parked in employer-provided parking, or while going about company business (discussion above).

Address road and bridge repairs.  This has been a painful issue across the state as roads and bridges have gone into disrepair as the Road Fund has dwindled.  A lot of hand-wringing over the Gas Tax has failed to bring a solution to the issue.  I don’t think raising the Gas Tax is the way to solve this.  The Gas Tax is in no way an equitable approach to sharing the cost based on usage in an age when consumption is less and less tied to miles driven and weight, especially with the growth of more fuel efficient vehicles and the use of alternative fuels (electricity and hydrogen in particular, although I’ll grant hydrogen has not yet made a significant entry in Iowa).  The most equitable solution would be to establish mileage monitoring of resident vehicles and toll roads on the major interstates and highways.  Equitable, but not practical.  I think the most practical and reasonable solution is to finance repairs out of the General Fund with revenue from Sales Taxes and commercial transport fees (trucks).  While some may consider this inequitable, the fact is that in general Iowan’s benefit from the availability of roads, for personal driving, access to emergency services, shipping of products consumed by Iowans, etc.  Frankly, roads are a critical part of a thriving economy and without taking proper care of them, we stand to suffer significant loss over time.

Provide access to “approved” medication.  I was pleased to see the Cannabis Oil legislation passed last session until those that this was provided for (including some close friends) discovered there is no legal or practical way to deliver the medication to them in Iowa.  I don’t know if those who supported the legislation in the Assembly already realized that there efforts were a practical smoke screen or not, but providing a “get out of jail free” card to patients, which is all the law effectively does, is clearly not the way to solve this.  All forms of Medical Marijuana, at least as far as approved, should be made available as needed.  I do not support recreational availability of this drug, but I do think it should be removed from the class 1 list, and frankly it should be treated exactly like opioids.  We have much more dangerous and addictive drugs than marijuana available to patients today.  With the known benefits of cannabis, our current situation is shameful.  I realize there are Federal issues involved, but it is time work on this seriously and with vigor.

Eliminate the State Income Tax.  As with many grassroots movements, we will struggle to eliminate the Federal Income Tax (which also needs to be eliminated) without broader consensus among the States.  Currently, seven states have no income tax.  There is no reason that Iowa can’t proceed with shifting from an income-based system to a more fully sales-based system.  I’m not in favor of replacing the current tiered income tax with a flat-tax.  Frankly, I believe that dropping the income tax will actually improve our economy as people will have more of their own resources to work with, and that any increase in the Sales Tax will need to be adjusted to account for the fact that there will be a larger base of sales to tax than exists today.  The biggest risk of taking this path is that legislators may increase the Sales Tax further than needed, and then won’t have the gumption to return the additional revenue to the people of Iowa (been there before).  Eliminating the Income Tax will also make Iowa a more attractive state to live and do business in.

Definition of Life Amendment to the Iowa Constitution.  It’s time that we get this issue out on the table.  Life begins at conception, period.  Unfortunately, while many on the Right have pushed for this, those on the Left will oppose any discussion whatsoever in order to provide cover for their party members (in the Iowa Senate, of course).  I doubt this will happen, but with some new Democrat blood in the Senate, perhaps it may be possible?  Lacking success in this arena, we also need to make sure that efforts to expand abortions are blocked, and opportunities to limit them further are taken.  I want abortions copletely abolished everywhere, but I will support any effort to abolish as many as possible.

I’m sure that you, the reader, have other items you think belong on this list.  If you shared those with me, I might be reminded or convinced, but right now these are the things are that front-of-mind for me and seem the most pressing to improving the lives of Iowans.  There are a few other items that I think merit some discussion and action if possible, but are not as critical to be addressed as these in my opinion.  I hope to speak to some of these other issues in coming days.

After All This, Medical Marijuana May Die Anyway

After All This, Medical Marijuana May Die Anyway

Cannibis Oil, Medical MarijuanaI started off today thinking things were looking good. I have a good job, my wife loves me, had a great Easter service at church, and my friends Steve and Sally Gaer appeared to finally be done with their fight to be able to get cannibis oil treatments for their daughter Margaret who has seizures regularly due to epilepsy.

I could have done without the “Pot” reference in the headline, but I could let that go.

Seeing the article in the Register, after several conversations with Sally in the past few months, was incredibly encouraging. The bill that has been in the works, which was brought about after the funnel with help from both sides of the aisle, is very restrictive but is an important step in meeting the needs of some at this time… allowing Medical Marijuana in Oil form only (or at least decriminalizing it). One of the biggest opponents is helping write the bill. And even after sticking his foot in his mouth on this issue, the Governor has indicated he could sign this bill.

Everything appears set to go!

But…

This evening I was informed that there appears to be some kind of stalemate between Republican Party leaders in the House and Senate. I don’t have any real details about this except that something is holding this up. Republican legislators have truly set themselves up as heroes, by showing they are there for the people on this issue by taking real action, but are hung up suddenly because the leaders can’t close the deal.

It’s like watching the end of an action movie where Good triumphs over Evil, only at the last minute Good steps back and lets Evil win.  For no apparent reason.

I’m not in any way in favor of recreational use of marijuana. Nor am I in favor of recreational use of opiates, but I’m glad that I or anyone in my family can get Morphine and Codeine-based products after surgery or when afflicted with extreme pain.  From a medical standpoint, I don’t see any difference between marijuana and opiates, so I fail to understand why we continue to treat them differently except for the hammering down on marijuana as evil and deadly over the past 50 years.

It’s time we evaluate our assumptions on this topic and speak truthfully instead of running a line that is meaningless. There is no intelligent reason to prohibit the use of marijuana and its derivatives as tools to heal. None. I’ve had conversations with numerous opponents on this and the only argument they can produce is that “it’s a gateway drug”.

So is alcohol.

The law should NOT be in place to prevent parents from providing their children with proven tools to alleviate their pain, seizures, or discomfort. Parents, husbands, wives, and children of those that suffer from any number of illnesses and side-effects from the drugs used for those illnesses should not be considered criminals for helping their loved ones.

There is something fundamentally wrong when society treats those in physical need as insignificant because they don’t have their own lobbyists. It’s bad enough that drug companies consider some diseases unworthy of cures because of the small number of sufferers, but we have the means to provide aid and comfort to those who suffer… why would we not?

If you agree, please contact your legislator.

Julian Garrett Wins Iowa Senate Special Election

Julian Garrett Wins Iowa Senate Special Election

Julian Garrett, Iowa State House, Iowa Senate, Iowa PoliticsJulian Garrett, Republican member of the Iowa House from the 25th District (all of Madison and parts of Warren County) has won the special election for Senate District 13, previously held by Kent Sorensen who resigned in early October.  Garrett was opposed by Democrat and former Iowa House Member Mark Davitt.

In a release from Iowa Republican Party Headquarters, Chairman A. J. Spiker said: “Julian Garrett worked hard to win this election and I’m pleased to hear of the results, ” said Spiker. “We were excited to work with him over the past month’s campaign and look forward to having him in the State Senate.”

Garrett’s win was important for Republicans who already need to win 3 seats in 2014 to regain control of the Iowa Senate.  A loss today would have increased the number of seats needed to 4.  That said, Garrett’s new Senate seat will be on the 2014 ballot as well.

Two other special elections were held in 2013 for Iowa House seats that were vacated by Democrats.  Democrats maintained control of both of those seats.  A special election to fill the seat now vacated by Julian Garrett in the Iowa House has yet to be scheduled.

We’ve Lost Helm Control!

We’ve Lost Helm Control!

Justin 2013Change is inevitable.  A few years ago, I met Justin Arnold while I was working at Polk County Republicans.  Justin was looking for any opportunity to help the Republican Party being led by John Bloom at the time, and impressed both John and me with his ideas and his writing.  Among other things, Justin began writing for The Conservative Reader.  We became fast friends, and several months later I asked Justin if he would consider taking on responsibility for editing The Conservative Reader: Iowa, and he said “yes”.

Justin recently took a position on Matt Whitaker’s senatorial campaign.  He shut down his business in order to work for Whitaker, and is bringing his various skills to bear in this work.  Being that this is a full-time position and that it would be impossible not to cover the biggest political story in Iowa over the next year, which this Senate race will certainly be, he has chosen to step down as Editor of The Conservative Reader: Iowa in order to ensure that there is no perceived or actual conflict of interest.

We cherish our integrity at The Conservative Reader.   While Justin has worked for several campaigns in the past, we have always made it a point to not write on the races we are personally involved in.  We have raised questions about conflicts of interest on the part of various leaders in the past and would not do so without placing the same expectations on ourselves.

I am currently seeking someone to replace Justin in this important role at The Conservative Reader: Iowa.  We hope to bring a totally new and unique perspective on Iowa Politics from another Iowan to The Conservative Reader very soon!

I do hope that Justin finds great success while working on this campaign!  I’m sure that we will hear from him in the future, and hopefully benefit from his writings again!

Art Smith, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
The Conservative Reader

David Stockman is Right, and We Should Probably Be Afraid

David Stockman is Right, and We Should Probably Be Afraid

Iowa Politics Money Chess TaxesFormer Michigan Congressman and Reagan Budget Director David Stockman’s new book “The Great Deformation” provoked a flurry of insult and ridicule when it first came out back in April. I’m late to the party because as a law school graduate I spend all of my spare cash on liquor; in fact, I have not yet read the book. Fortunately for me, book tour promotional speeches are readily available on Youtube, and Stockman has no instinct for holding back.

Here is the gist; the Bretton Woods Conference made the dollar the reserve currency of the world, it was gold-based until 1971 when Nixon decided to let it float free, allowing the US to run endless trade deficits with mercantilist, export-led industrializing countries in East Asia. Along the way, the US ran up an enormous government debt – selling bonds to the East Asian economies that were gradually undermining American industry – to expand the welfare state, fight a half-dozen wars, fund some peanut farmer’s idea of Synfuels, wind power, weapons systems that weren’t even used in the half-dozen wars, and what Stockman refers to as the HES – Healthcare, Education, and Social Services employment sectors – government jobs funding the consumers of Chinese goods.

Calling the Federal Reserve a “Bubble Machine,” Stockman digs into their low-interest rate policies and attempts to fine-tune capital allocation through the Tech Bubble, the Housing Bubble, and the Government Bubble that is, according to Stockman, about to pop.

I see no reason to doubt Stockman’s basic assertions; the stock market is playing with new highs even as the labor participation rate slips – only about 47 percent of adult Americans have full time jobs – and a full 100 million Americans receive some kind of food aid from the federal government.

What remains of American prosperity is Crony Capitalism in Stockman’s terms, where politically-connected operators get all the benefits of cheap money from the Fed, tax breaks only they can claim, and bailouts when things go bad; and the bulk of the people get nothing, not even jobs.

There is no escape, either. Stockman doesn’t hold back regarding Social Security, Medicare, the massive debt already on the books, and the massive tax hikes that will be required to keep the grist mill turning, assuming the next generation of tax oxen can even earn income – and Stockman doesn’t seem to think that they will.

The stunning loss of what he calls “Breadwinner Jobs,” which are jobs that actually pay the bills, has gone hand-in-hand with the loss of sound money and the growth of the welfare state.

The middle classes have been the main patrons of sectors ranging from real estate, insurance, retail, and even my field, the law. The nobility of Europe could commission artists for grand portraits and sculptures, but it took a growing bourgeois class with the money to buy houses worth decorating to spur the great easel painters of the Dutch Golden Age or the salons of 19th Century Paris. From art to coffee, the principle is inescapable; the indulgences might exist in some form regardless, but their proliferation takes middle class aspiration.

I think that our middle class is in trouble; Stockman believes this, too. With bills that we cannot pay, debts we cannot service, interest rates that cannot stay low forever, a large population of labor rendered unemployable by circumstances, and no indications of growth beyond the rather disturbing rise in the number of coffee shops around the Des Moines Metro area – patronized by students and a handful of investors who “feel wealthier” because the Dow is up – then the next meltdown will be far worse.

Do you deny that the middle class is shrinking? I have an exercise for you – right now, get in your car and take a drive through the nearest urban area. Count the number of times you see the following scene:

A super-discount retailer (Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, etc…) sharing a parking lot with a payday loan outlet, and a bucket-shop tax preparation shop (they specialize in helping low-income people claim the Earned Income Tax Credit) and some sort of no-frills dining. Depending on where you are, you might even see a blood plasma collection company and in the near vicinity there will be a “buy here pay here” auto lot, where used cars are sold on credit to people who cannot get formal bank loans.

Hardly the commercial trappings of a wealthy economy.

Obamacare: Welcome to Neo-Feudalism

Obamacare: Welcome to Neo-Feudalism

obamacareIt is axiomatic in history that the new worlds of the revolutionaries tend to resemble the social systems of the past. Tsar Alexander II freed 60 million serfs with the stroke of a pen, and seventy years later Joseph Stalin would re-impose serfdom under the guise of collective farms. He used bullets instead of ink. Similar stories can be told of the French Revolution, the Chinese Civil War, Oliver Cromwell, and probably all revolutions in some respect.

Alexander Hamilton wanted America to copy the British system, complete with political elites, state-supported monopoly corporations like the British East India Company, and all-powerful central government. It took two hundred years to overcome Jeffersonian resistance, but Hamilton finally won when TARP was implemented.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Barack Obama’s career-building commitment to the rhetoric of egalitarianism would lead to a stratified-by-force society resembling the old feudal model.

Get Fewer Hours, for Less Pay, and No Benefits

A friend of mine is facing the situation that has been making headlines lately; employers are cutting hours and eliminating their existing health care programs. Her employer (a farm-and-country retail chain) currently provides their employees with monthly cash payments earmarked for employee healthcare needs.

The company has been considering eliminating the cash payment, because paying the Obamacare penalty will be cheaper. Now, let’s examine this with the incredulous and caustic clarity that is my trademark – the company will stop giving money to employees for their healthcare needs, and give it to the government instead.

The employees lose their health program and are now individually liable for the Obamacare penalty if they fail to obtain health insurance on their own – fewer resources and greater obligations, a pincer strike on their standard of living.

FTE’s

Obamacare minstrels have been pointing out that the law goes into effect for companies with over 50 full-time equivalents – or “FTE’s,” so a company with 10 full-time employees and 100 part-time employees would have 60 FTE’s and would have to provide insurance but only for employees that work over 30 hours a week – in this case, 10 employees.

Fewer benefits, fewer hours, less income, and more obligations; employees lose at every bloody turn. To make up the difference, employees will scrounge for second and third jobs, as well as government support.

It used to be that you found a job and worked hard, so you would not have to rely on public support. Now, you will be dependent on the government whether you have a job or not.

We’re All Day Laborers Now

Corporate America is in a process of firing all of their employees and replacing them with temps. Much like some serfs were Villeins and some were Cottagers (the difference was that some retained land and others were landless laborers providing service to the lords for subsistence), there are several types of temp employee.

Some are just like standard employees, except that they have to reapply for their job every 3 to 6 months, while others are full-fledged employees of a temp agency, and are sent out on contracts to whatever employer has engaged them.

Check the job boards for your home town; temp agency jobs might be the bulk of what is available.

Revolutionary Destruction

Causing strain on social and economic relationships has been a tactic of ideological struggle between countries, factions, movements, religions, and all radicals since the beginning of time.

Causing stress within families can justify enormous social work bureaucracies; causing stress within the workplace can break down the economy and make employers and employees view each other as enemies and potential litigants; and so on with teachers and students, citizens and police, and any thing else you can think of to insert more arbitrators, sensitivity counselors, HR consultants, labor activists, and social workers into the workings of the nation.

I haven’t even included the doctors opting for early retirement. So, what will the part-time employee with no health coverage whose tax refund was eaten up by the Obamacare penalty and has no spare cash because scheduled hours were reduced do for healthcare? There will be Medicaid, and emergency rooms – but hospitals will be understaffed.

Perhaps you should become good friends with your local veterinarian; it helped on “The Walking Dead,” and it might come in handy as we slide into post-industrial feudalism.

Senate Candidate David Young’s Speech To The Polk GOP Conservative Breakfast

Senate Candidate David Young’s Speech To The Polk GOP Conservative Breakfast

david youngYesterday morning U.S. Senate hopeful David Young spoke to a large turnout at the monthly Polk GOP Conservative Breakfast held at the Iowa Motor Truck Association.  Below is a re-cap of his speech, the issues he touched on, and some brief analysis.

Background

Still in the early stages of introducing himself to Iowa Republicans, he started from the beginning.  He was born and raised in Van Meter where he grew up and participated in little league, Cub Scouts, and 4-H before finishing high school in Johnston and then going to Drake University.

Soon after graduating from Drake he headed to Washington D.C. where he eventually became Senator Chuck Grassley’s Chief of Staff.  He described his time there by saying, “we battled the incompetence and arrogance of the Federal bureaucracy” and in general made the argument that through his interactions with Grassley’s staff and in dealing with constituent concerns he kept in touch with his Iowa roots.

3 Deficits

The bulk of the speech was framed around “three deficits” that Young sees as getting in the way of the American dream—our budget deficit, a ‘jobs deficit”, and a “deficit of accountability”.

The Budget Deficit

On the budget deficit he noted it was embarrassing our national debt is approaching $17 trillion, that neither party was without fault, and that he wished President Bush (43) would have used his veto power on more of the bills that passed Congress during his Presidency.  He vowed to be an “equal opportunity watchdog Conservative” in terms of spending and went on record supporting a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution.  He pointed out that should Republicans take control of the Senate Mr.Grassley is in line to Chair the Judiciary Committee—which would have jurisdiction over this amendment—and pledged he would sponsor a bill to move this process forward.  He then finished on the topic with one of the speech’s strongest lines—“it’s time for a Balanced Budget Amendment…it’s the greatest legacy we can leave our next generation”.

The “Jobs Deficit”

Young tied the “jobs deficit” to three separate current issues.  The first of which was taxes, where he favors a “fairer, flatter, and simpler tax code for individuals and corporations.”  He repeatedly stressed the importance of making these reforms permanent in order to allow entrepreneurs and job creators the confidence to invest their current capital into the economy.

The second issue he views as a hindrance to job growth is the “Affordable Care Act”, saying, “We need to do all we can to repeal, de-fund, and slow down the biggest headache to our economy—Obamacare”.  He made the case this legislation has forced companies, for their own survival, to turn full-time employees into part-timers against both the best interests and will of each.

Lastly, Young is in favor of passing the Keystone XL Pipeline as soon as possible under the guise that it will create jobs, help with our energy independence, and bolster our national security.

The “Accountability Deficit”

Given the current climate this argument wasn’t a tough one to make.  He listed several in the long litany of Obama administration scandals and referenced the fact that Congress is suffering from its lowest approval ratings ever—which given its history is quite embarrassing.  Of particular note here was that he received a large round of applause for saying that Attorney General Eric Holder needs to go.

Young concluded by saying he knows how the Senate works and would be able to “hit the ground running”, that Bruce Braley is very beatable, and that he will be campaigning full-time and statewide over the next year.

Analysis

On substance Young’s speech was fine and hit all the right notes—particularly I believe Conservatives will be thrilled with his Balanced Budget Amendment stance—but to say his delivery lacks electricity would be an understatement.  If this goes unaddressed, whether it’s true or not, a majority of voters will take this blandness as a lack of passion.

Also worth noting, as mentioned above, is the awkwardness in making the case that somehow he stayed connected to Iowans through Grassley’s other staff and by talking to constituents from Iowa on the phone.  I know he feels the issue of him living in D.C. for almost two decades needs to be dealt with—but I can’t help but think this is not a successful way to do so.

All things considered, this event wasn’t overly positive or negative for Young.  From his perspective it was certainly beneficial to get some speech giving experience in a small and supportive setting.  Having never run for office before he has some kinks to work out and this was a good place to start that process.  His growth as a candidate, or the lack thereof, will largely determine the level of success he enjoys over the next year.

 

 

Iowa Republican Party District Executive Committees Complete Re-Activation

Iowa Republican Party District Executive Committees Complete Re-Activation

DEC leadershipBy Guest Writer Chad Brown–Polk County GOP Co-Chair and 3rd District Executive Committee Secretary

County leadership completed the re-activation of the District Executive Committees this weekend. District Executive Committees began to reactivate four months ago when the 4th Congressional District on February 12, 2013 at the Fort Dodge Public Library. This weekend, the 1st District Executive Committee met at Kaplan University in Cedar Falls and became the final Iowa Congressional District to re-activate. This meeting convened on Saturday, June 15, at 10:45 AM. Blackhawk County Chairman Scott Adkins served as Acting Chair and Blackhawk County District Executive Committee Member Chelle Adkins served as Acting Secretary. Much of the organization for this meeting was led by Chelle Adkins, who selected the meeting location because it was free of charge and suitable due to size.  The meeting lasted 1 hour 55 minutes and included the election of officers, approval of the proposed rules, as well as discussing consistent statewide rules and working with other districts in the state.

“Our greatest benefit and ultimate goal in putting together our District Executive Committee is to help Republicans get elected,” said Marshall County Chair Pete Rogers. “We took the first step by fulfilling the State Party requirements. It’s a State Party requirement to exist.” Rogers, a native of Marshalltown, was unanimously elected permanent Chair of the 1st District Executive Committee. He led the meeting with much poise as he has been active in politics for decades. “At a minimum, this will help county organizations fulfill their needs and be more effective. We want to define best standards and practices and help each other meet our potential. At a maximum, there really is no maximum. As we get going, there is no limit as to what can be accomplished. This organizational step is a great step overall.”

The race for Co-Chair was more competitive as three candidates were nominated. Dubuque County District Executive Committee member Will Johnson was nominated by Dubuque Chair Rick Holman. Benton Chair Tim Busch was nominated by Linn County Chair Cindy Golding. Linn County District Executive Committee member Jim Conklin was nominated by fellow Linn County District Executive Committee member Joni Scotter. This election was won by Busch, a native of Atkins.

“The 1st District Executive Committee set up the organization for future accomplishments today, and we met each other,” spoke Busch. “We want to establish common ground with each other and minimize our differences. We want to maximize our commonalities. Working together is the basis for our success.” Mr. Busch currently hosts the Benton County Facebook page as well as the Iowa 1st District Republicans Facebook page and has developed a Benton County Republican Central Committee Yahoo Group.

I am personally pleased the 1st District organized and completed the four month grassroots process of organization and re-activation that has occurred across the state. As Co-Chair of the most populated county in the state of Iowa, I understand the challenges that go along with my specific county organization. I also look forward to communicating more with surrounding counties to learn what works in other counties and to better glean institutional knowledge from other county leaders. Indeed, the re-activation of all four District Executive Committees is very important to me as this will help us reach our common goal. Also, as an active officer of the recently re-activated 3rd District Executive Committee, I have learned much about the challenges faced by those in my neighboring counties. This is due, in part, to meeting and speaking with leaders of other counties more often and getting to know them more closely than I had in the past. Several from the already formed District Executive Committees also came as visitors to help give their support to the members of the 1st District. I believe these other individuals also feel honored to be involved because they recognize the significance of the resource that our own newly organized D.E.C.’s provide to our various counties.

District Executive Committees have traditionally provided a vital ingredient to the success of the Republican Party in Iowa. Their important role is detailed in the RPI Constitution. Traditionally, the Republican Party is built as a grass roots Party that was always strong because it had a firm foundation and was built from the ground up. Unfortunately, the District Executive Committees were deactivated within recent years, and that vacuum was filled by powerful groups that dominated the leadership selection process by preventing Republican County leaders from talking to each other and promoting leadership from the grassroots. We want to protect the grassroots and include more people to the Republican Party.

“We elected some great leadership this morning,” said Jim Conklin. “This organization will provide better communication and better support for county central committees. We are in place to serve all twenty counties in 1st District.” Conklin narrowly defeated Benton County Co-Chair Bethany Gates in the race for Secretary.

The leadership of all four D.E.C.’s intend to be in close communication with each other throughout the summer. Republicans in Iowa have gained a powerful resource to build in terms of organization. All the continued efforts of county activists should provide candidates and county organizations with another tool to utilize in accomplishing significant victories in the 2014 election cycle.

How A Libertarian Would Rock The Primary…And Why I Think One Will

How A Libertarian Would Rock The Primary…And Why I Think One Will

ballot boxI have heard from three separate sources in recent days that former SCC member Drew Ivers is leaning toward a Senate primary run.  Many have speculated that an Iowa libertarian would enter the race at some point—and as the Iowa Chair of Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign Ivers certainly would fit this bill.

Whether this is true or not is unclear at the moment, but what is clear in my mind is the impact Ivers or any other legitimate Libertarian candidate would have on the race.

Besides the obvious—that the other candidate’s ability to pitch to and draw in Libertarians would be greatly diminished—there are many other ways this would shape the contest.  Setting these aside for now, specifically from the Libertarian movement’s perspective there are 3 possible outcomes…and even the least desirable one would be a heck of a consolation prize.  Here’s a brief look at the three things that could result should an Iowa Libertarian enter the contest:

 

Winning Outright

Though extremely improbable, in a large field of slightly lesser known candidates and with a solid pre-built network of passionate supporters that actually go vote…anything is conceivably possible.  Iowa witnessed first-hand last cycle that Libertarian candidates can do well—this showed locally in Statehouse races and in the fact that Ron Paul finished a very close 3rd in the caucuses.

The hurdle in imagining a Liberty candidate winning outright—and why no one, including me, will ever predict it—is one of them would have to garner 35% of the statewide vote.  You hate to say anything is impossible, but envisioning this is bordering on it.  I will tell you this though, if someone was to make the argument, a semi-plausible case could be made with the numbers and by evoking the “Christopher Reed path” to victory—that is to say just nudging past your opponents while also rising above the 35% needed to avoid convention.

I’m prefacing this with the fact these situations aren’t analogous to 2014, but the case on the numbers could be made as follows:  Two of the last major statewide Republican events in Iowa were the Iowa Caucuses and the U.S Senate primary that took place in 2008 for this same Senate seat.  In the 2008 Republican Senate Primary a 3-way race yielded a total of 70,672 votes.  Christopher Reed won with 24,964 votes and barley escaped a nominating convention by .32%–getting 35.32%.  The 2012 Caucus set a record with 121,501 Republicans voting—Ron Paul got 26,036 of them.  This means that Ron Paul received more votes in Iowa last year than the Republican Senate nominee in 2008 won by.  So hypothetically if turnout is low and hovers in this 70-75,000 range and everyone who voted for Ron Paul votes for the Liberty candidate—they would win.

Of course turnout is expected to be much higher since the seat is now an open seat—gee where have we heard that before?—but even still, as an exercise let’s say the eventual turnout splits the difference between the 2012 Caucuses and 2008 primary and is 90,000.  35% of 90,000 is 31,500 votes to win, and again, if all the Ron Paul 2012 voters vote for one candidate in 2014, they would already have 26,036 of them…only 5,464 votes away from a small lead and a shade over 35%–meanwhile the others candidates split the vote (see 2008 Iowa Senate Primary).

Though most will reject this out of hand, you have to at least admit it’s interesting and mathematically a case can be made for it.

Nominating Convention

The far more probable path to victory would be via a convention—let’s not forget that Steve King won his initial primary via this route.  If the field expands to 5 or 6 and both the Republican establishment and the “Conservative outsider” vote are split between multiple candidates, the chances of anyone reaching the 35% threshold are significantly reduced.  Geography plays in here as well as this scenario becomes even more possible if the candidates hail from different population centers in separate parts of the state.  If the race is trending this direction I’d bet that the non-Libertarian candidates would meet and attempt to consolidate the field by trying to convince one another to drop out and throw their support to whoever is further ahead in the polls, but maybe not.  If this fails to happen and several candidates stay in splitting the vote, a convention is a real possibility—in which case the Libertarian candidate would have to think they have a shot.

The Consolation Prize 

Even if a Libertarian candidate fails to make an impact directly in the polls or in the vote count their presence in the race would accomplish two significant things—they could work to move the field slightly to the libertarian right as the year goes on and, more importantly, they would have a large platform to spread their message while drawing more people into the network and keeping them active.  The growth of their network not only means a larger impact in future Iowa legislative races— but they also know it will be needed for Rand Paul’s inevitable 2016 presidential run.

 

Prediction Time

Of these three, winning outright is frankly pretty hard to fathom and a convention is unlikely but technically possible—there’s no question however that this last reason creates an opportunity that would be foolish to turn down.  This open Senate primary provides Iowa Libertarians something that all political movements need—publicity and relevance.

Given that expectations wouldn’t be extremely high and thus underperforming them is unlikely—strategically there is simply no downside to competing and there is plenty to be gained even in defeat.  For this reason I would be shocked if we don’t see Ivers or another Liberty candidate in the fray before it’s all said and done.

Though maybe not sending earth-shattering shockwaves through the race…this would certainly have an impact on the other candidate’s strategy and math.  I suspect in this climate of intense government distrust, and with the Republican base significantly fractured—the Libertarian movement in Iowa will hear opportunity knocking.

What I Learned as a Foreclosure Attorney

What I Learned as a Foreclosure Attorney

forclosed houseA sizeable chunk of my legal career has been spent neck-deep in the morass of the foreclosure wave that has wreaked havoc across the land several years ago. If you wonder what has made me cynical about both the economy and the competency of government, it was my year doing foreclosures.

First of all, I am not the big expert, and this is in no way legal advice; I worked long enough to learn how the process works and how it ties in to real estate market and the economy as a whole. I think I have put the picture together reasonably well, and I have learned a few things about our national obsession with real estate.

Banks Do Not Hold Mortgages

The fact that mortgages are syndicated and securitized – a high-end way of saying that they are sold off and bundled into bonds, because I have the diplomas and still harbor an urge to use them – has reached public knowledge for the most part.

The bank might sell the note and mortgage to a mortgage servicing company or hold them in their own servicing division, but either way the “beneficial ownership” is sold off, often to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or into an Asset-Backed Pass Through assembled by an investment bank – the mortgage-backed securities which made headlines in 2008 and are now being bought up by the Federal Reserve at $45 billion per month. The banks stay involved only as servicing agents.

This is why a foreclosure case’s name is so long; things like “XYZ Bank NA, as Trustee under agreement dated May 1, 2004 for Asset Backed Certificates Series C-2004 v. Joe and Jill Serfdomfaller,” are common.

Because the banks have no real stake in the mortgages any more, it is financially beneficial to them to cut costs in their servicing departments. This has driven massive outsourcing in the sector, and there is no real incentive to actually deal with anybody. Like chess pieces protecting the king, the bank’s employees are there to prevent you from getting to someone who can actually help you.

There is No Free Market in Home Mortgages

The government has busied itself with housing programs since the 1930’s, and if you attended public school you are probably inclined to believe that these efforts were all for the benefit of the populace themselves. I briefly believed that back in college, but working as a foreclosure attorney snapped me back to reality.

Congress chartered the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), commonly called Fannie Mae, to purchase mortgages from banks. The idea being that by buying the mortgages, the banks would be re-capitalized immediately and could write more mortgages.

Originally, Fannie Mae was a government-owned enterprise, but was privatized to pay for the Vietnam War. Of course, a privatized, government-sponsored mortgage buying company would look a bit monopolistic, so Congress chartered Freddie Mac as a companion company, to buy conforming loans as well as mortgage-backed securities.

Alongside the two Congressionally-chartered government-sponsored enterprises (GSE’s), were other programs like the Federal Housing Administration, or the FHA, and it provides insurance to both home builders and home buyers.

Most importantly, FHA provides mortgage insurance at a cheaper rate and with easier terms than private mortgage insurance, requiring less than 4 percent down payments, and thus skewing towards higher-risk borrowers.

If a mortgage goes into default during the mortgage insurance period, then the bank will foreclose, and then deed the house to HUD (FHA’s parent department) in exchange for the entire balance of the bad loan. That is how HUD gets so much real estate.

The Federal Reserve Pushes Debt

Not only do we have two government-sponsored companies buying mortgages, along with a government agency designed to encourage higher risk lending, we also have the Federal Reserve pumping the system full of cash, both with a very low Funds rate, but also now by directly purchasing both US Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities at a combined level of $85 billion per month.

The structure of the mortgage industry – mostly assembled by government action – was thus inflated by the Fed in the last decade with low interest rates and is now being re-inflated with lower interest rates and asset purchases. Altogether, bank depositors aren’t that important in the housing market any more. So long George Bailey.

Modifications Were a Joke

Think about it this way; if a mortgage for $200,000 goes bad, and the house is only worth $100,000 at the time, then the bank, FNMA, the investors, or the FHA is likely to lose $100,000 almost instantly in the foreclosure – they lose the “asset” of the $200,000 mortgage on their books, and replace it with a $100,000 house.

Because of this, any cash they can squeeze out of a borrower before the inevitable foreclosure on these bad loans (mostly written off already by this point) would go straight to the bottom line, saving money for the banks, the investors, FNMA, or the FHA as the case may be.

HARP, or the Home Affordable Refinance Program, had more success. It was designed to help underwater borrowers refinance without having to default. This would help them take advantage of the lower interest rates, and avoid the loss of asset equity that was hitting the financial system so hard.

In Defense of Strategic Foreclosure

In almost all circumstances, borrowers would have been better off defaulting rather than modifying. Instead of paying their $200,000 mortgage on their $100,000 house at 8 percent, they could pay a modified 3 percent, but still would have to throw money into the black hole without acquiring any equity from it.

I had a case like that; it was a couple in their mid-fifties, with no savings left, and their modified mortgage payment was still about $1,300 a month. This, in southern Iowa where a 2-bedroom apartment can be had for $600 a month. That was $8,400 a year they could have saved in cold, hard cash, to use to begin rebuilding their lives and avoid living so tenuously – especially at their age.

When you are under that much financial strain, guilt and sentimentality will do no good for anybody. If you are broke, admit it. If – or more likely when – they default again, with no cash reserves they are very likely to fall permanently into the dependent classes, in terms of housing, food, income support, and medical care.

Debt, on Top of Debt

That sums up the American economy in the words of David Stockman, and I see no reason to doubt him at this point. The idea that we don’t have to manufacture, mine, drill, or grow more in order to produce more wealth, but can simply purchase more assets with borrowed money, is a dangerous mindset that cannot last forever, a lesson we should have learned in 2008 but apparently haven’t.

If you think this is a glorious recovery, then answer me this: Where is all the wealth being produced by our allegedly recovering economy? The prices of inflation-sensitive assets are going up, but so are trade deficits, food stamp rolls, and the number of people outside of the workforce entirely. I think I am currently a “freelancer,” but that is just a white-collar unemployed guy.

This former foreclosure lawyer is more likely to live in a shack and raise goats than buy a mortgaged suburban house, because debt and freedom cannot harmoniously coexist. Maybe we should pay members of Congress in goats instead of money…

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