Sunday Grab Bag: Sanders Impresses, Paulsen and Gas Tax

Good morning readers! As always, a lot happened in the political world this week in Iowa. Enjoy our Sunday Grab Bag of shorter takes on a number of Iowa-based topics:

Bernie Sanders Impresses During Iowa Trip

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders finished up a three-day swing through Iowa last night. Once again, his visits stuck mostly to friendly liberal audiences: a book store in Iowa City, the University of Iowa and Drake’s campus and an ICCI dinner. Still, he gave impressive performances at many of the venues, displaying an effective speech style and natural interactions with the event attendees.This was a better Bernie than I’ve seen before.

Back in December at the annual Progress Iowa holiday dinner, I saw Sanders give a keynote speech that was boring, too dense with numbers and didn’t connect with the crowd on any level. There were no personal anecdotes, no mention of Sanders’ own background and no easy applause lines. I wondered if the progressive base would be reduced to rooting for a completely ineffective “Briefing Book Bernie” during the Iowa Caucus. This recent trip should give liberals hope that the left’s views will be properly articulated.

Sanders’ speech – and especially his Q&A – at the two colleges was crisp and concise. He didn’t linger on any issue for too long and cut down on the amount of numbers and stats he threw out. He remembered every students’ name and often referred back to previous students’ questions in his responses. No answer lasted more than two minutes, a big contrast to Joe Biden’s rambling and surprisingly terrible performance at Drake just a week ago (I asked a number of students about that, all of which agreed – Sanders came off much more relatable than Biden to them).

Of course, Sanders still has zero chance of actually winning the nomination. But if he continues to improve his stump speech and relatability, he actually will be able to impact the debate in the way many progressives want. Hopefully he decides to jump in with a formal campaign. Starting Line will have a full write-up of his two campus visits and further analysis tomorrow.

Paulsen’s Power Move

Republican House Speaker Craig Paulsen flexed his political muscles this week when he kicked off two Republican members from a committee voting on the gas tax. Two gas tax opponents were removed and Paulsen himself sat on the committee to ensure its narrow passage. Reaction was swift and negative from the strict no-new-taxes-ever wing of the Republican Party. Of course, it didn’t help their case when A.J. Spiker bumbled his way into the debate, giving RPI Chair Bobby Kaufmann all too easy a response. Why does Rand Paul still defend this guy?

Anyway, it was a rare (though not unprecedented) move by the Speaker. On its face, kicking members off committees temporarily because they’re not voting the right way sort of makes committee membership pointless, doesn’t it? On the other hand, leadership sometimes just has to play tough in the rough-and-tumble sport of politics. All I’ll say is this: before Republicans call Gronstal a dictator again for his procedural maneuvers that shut down Republican amendments, perhaps they should take a look over to their own House leadership’s tactics.

Democratic No’s On the Gas Tax

On that topic, what’s up with the safe-seat Democrats who voted no on the gas tax? I understand people like Chris Brase, Todd Prichard, Charlie McConkey and Patti Ruff voting no – they all represent swing or swingy districts that they need to duck out on this one. But what about Joe Seng, Timi Brown-Powers, Dave Dawson, Jo Oldson, Abby Finkenauer and Dan Kelley, all of whom voted no in committee?

I get that it’s a regressive tax. But when on earth is the Legislature going to have another chance to increase revenue in some fashion while Republicans still control the House and Governor’s office? Our roads and bridges need fixing. Everyone agrees on that. If you don’t get the money from a gas tax increase, it’s going to come from cuts in some other area, likely a Democratic priority like education funds or health care.

This is the chance to increase state revenue that has bipartisan support. Democrats love to campaign on raising infrastructure spending – it creates short-term jobs, gives the economy a boost and makes our roads safer. But when it came down to brass tax, multiple Democrats refused to support it because the funding source wasn’t absolutely perfect. What’s worse for the poor in this state? Paying the same 10-cent increase on gas as everyone else will? Or by having programs for job training, housing assistance, early childhood education or health care cut when state revenue can’t cover the costs to repair crumbling bridges? Big picture.

Hillary Clinton’s Early Messaging Tea Leaves

You’d think more state and national journalists would be interested in the likely Hillary Clinton message poll that I reported about Friday night. If it was from her campaign-in-waiting (and I’m positive it was), it gives considerable insight into the major policy issues she’ll run on, including several that haven’t been outlined in this amount of detail before. An increase in the minimum wage to $12.50/hour. A carbon tax on polluters that would pay for a $1,500/year refund check to middle class families. A new payroll tax costing average workers $1.50/week to pay for paid family and medical sick leave. Those are some bold proposals that could signal a Clinton campaign and administration willing to detail and fight for real, new policies.

Still, no major media seems keen to pick up on the scoop. But hey, we’re just a silly, little political blog. It’s not like Starting Line was the first to break the news on Gary Kroeger’s interest in running for Congress, the staff shakeup at the IDP, been the first one in Iowa by many hours to report on O’Malley’s first Iowa hire or be the first one out with a full story and profile on Ravi Patel’s run for Congress. And all in one month. That’s OK – it just means you loyal readers get all the good Iowa scoops that much sooner.

Thanks Again for a Great First Month!

We had our one-month anniversary on Thursday, the 19th. In our first month alone we had over 22,000 views! I though getting to 10,000 would be a major accomplishment. Thank you again for reading, for sharing the stories, and special thanks to all my friends who have helped me make this new site a success!


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/22/15

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