GOP governor draws criticism for saying she wants her ‘own’ attorney general

Gov. Kim Reynolds drew criticism for encouraging a crowd at a weekend campaign event to elect Republicans for state attorney general and auditor, asking specifically for someone who’s “not trying to sue (her) every time they turn around.”

“I want my own (attorney general), please,” Reynolds said in a video posted by WHO reporter Taj Simmons. “And I need a state auditor that’s not trying to sue me every time they turn around.”

Democrats currently hold both offices: Rob Sand was elected as state auditor in 2018. Attorney General Tom Miller was first elected in 1979 and has served more than 35 years in the position. Republican Brenna Bird, who lost to Miller in 2010, is challenging him again this year.

Sand has not sued Reynolds, according to an auditor’s office spokesperson. He has led several investigations into the Reynolds administration, including the alleged misuse of federal COVID-19 aid to pay for staff salaries and a new software system. Reynolds returned the $21 million used to purchase software.

Reynolds, Sand and Miller are all up for re-election in 2022.

Democrats criticized Reynolds for promoting Republican replacements to Sand and Miller, arguing the governor hopes to dodge oversight if re-elected.

“The state attorney general works for the people of Iowa, not the governor. The state auditor is the taxpayer watchdog, not the governor’s lapdog,” Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said. “The governor wants cronies, instead of real accountability.”

The Republican Party of Iowa fired back that Reynolds “should be promoting Republican candidates up and down the ticket.”

“Iowans know how worthless our current state auditor, state treasurer and attorney general have been,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. Kaufmann listed several Republican contenders for statewide office and said Iowans “will elect them to stand up to the overreach of the Biden administration and put Iowans ahead of D.C. special interests.”

Radio Iowa reported that Reynolds encouraged attendees of the event to vote for Republicans down the ballot, beyond just the statewide positions.

“And, it’s important that not only do you start at the top, but you go all the way down because our local officials need your help, too,” Reynolds said, according to Radio Iowa. “That is our bench.”

On Monday, Sand tweeted screenshots and clips of instances when he defended Reynolds. He pointed to a 2022 report that concluded late updating of COVID-19 data was the result of lab delays, not a cover-up by Reynolds or the Department of Public Health.

“I’ll keep doing this no matter what, because it’s the right thing to do,” Sand tweeted. “My hope is others will join me and we can make our politics and our state better for it.”

Sand also took the opportunity to link to his fundraising website: “She wants a lap dog. Keep your watchdog here,” he tweeted.

Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa is running for the Republican nomination for state auditor. On Hanusa’s campaign website, she said the role of state auditor is “not about politics.”

“Using this important office to launch baseless investigations based on partisan politics is wrong and disrespects the people of Iowa who place their trust in this office to ensure sound government,” the website reads.

Hanusa’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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Democratic candidate Abby Finkenauer knocked off the Senate primary ballot in Iowa

Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer did not gather enough valid signatures to appear on the Democratic primary ballot, a district court ruled late Sunday.

“The Court takes no joy in this conclusion,” Polk County District Court Judge Scott Beattie wrote in his decision. “This Court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election, and Ms. Finkenauer and her supporters should have a chance to advance her candidacy. However, this Court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice.”

To qualify for the primary ballot, Finkenauer was required to collect at least 3,500 signatures, including at least 100 from 19 different counties. In March, a state panel ruled that she did so by a razor-thin margin, with just barely enough signatures to qualify in several counties.

The court’s decision came down to three signatures that were undated or had been dated incorrectly. Beattie reversed the panel’s decision and determined those signatures were invalid under Iowa law, and therefore could not be counted toward Finkenauer’s petition. Without those three names, Finkenauer received over 100 signatures in just 17 counties – not enough for the ballot.

Finkenauer said in a statement Monday the decision was a Republican attack, noting she had submitted over 5,000 signatures overall.

“This misguided, midnight ruling is an outrageous and partisan gift to the Washington Republicans who orchestrated this meritless legal action,” Finkenauer said. “We are exploring all of our options to fight back hard against this meritless partisan attack, and to ensure that the voices of Iowans will be heard at the ballot box.”

The Republican Party of Iowa criticized Finkenauer and the Iowa Democratic Party in a Monday statement.

“The severe lack of enthusiasm behind Iowa Democrats has real consequences and the first victim to fall is Abby Finkenauer,” said Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann. “Not qualifying for the ballot is a complete and utter embarrassment.”

The Finkenauer campaign has a tight window to appeal the decision. The secretary of state must start sending ballots to overseas and military voters 45 days before the June 7 primary, on April 23. That means the decision must be finalized well before then, allowing the state enough time to print and assemble the ballots.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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'If we wait until 2024, we're done': Iowa Trump rally-goers want change before the next presidential election

Christina Ramirez drove five hours to Des Moines looking for one thing: hope.
“Our country is just slipping away little by little," she said. “I want to know if there's any hope for us, for anybody, for this country."

Ramirez was one of thousands to attend a rally for former President Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Saturday. The outdoor event drew Trump fans from across the Midwest and beyond.

“We've been singing, we've been chanting," said Brighton resident Vicki Entsminger, who arrived at the fairgrounds at 9 a.m. “We've been talking about the way it is right now."

Entsminger, 52, said she felt things were “getting a little bit scarier out there" under President Joe Biden. She said things were better during Trump's administration — she and her husband bought a house and a Harley Davidson motorcycle — while they struggled during former President Barack Obama's tenure.

“President Trump had everything perfect," Entsminger said. “And that's what I'm hoping for again."

Crowd eager for another Trump run

Attendees of Saturday's rally were excited by the prospect of another Trump presidency in 2024.

Trump has not officially announced his plans for 2024, but he has frequently teased the idea of another run.

Some attendees hinted toward conspiracy theories that Biden did not actually win the 2020 election, or that Trump would retake the presidency before the next general election.

“I'm ready for him to come back now … If we wait until 2024, we're done," said Nick Bruge of Rock Falls, Illinois.

When asked who else they might be interested in for a 2024 run, attendees mentioned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis most frequently. Other contenders were South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, conservative author Candace Owens, and California governor candidate Larry Elder.

There was broad support for “outsiders" running for office, and distrust of career politicians.

“These politicians are not our friends. The government is not our friend," said Dylan Johnson of Waterloo. “They don't want what's best for us."

Trump is popular among Iowa Republicans, according to a September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, with 91% of GOP members saying they feel favorable toward him. Trump saw his highest Iowa approval ratings in September.

What issues are ralliers concerned about?

Ralliers shared concerns with a wide range of issues: vaccine mandates, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the economy and more.

Audie Calvert of Freemont, Nebraska, said he was most interested to hear about illegal immigration at the southern border and vaccine mandates.

“Coming across the border illegally like they're letting them do, it's unconstitutional … A country with borders is no country," he said.

Iowa Republicans focused extensively on the border this week, with Gov. Kim Reynolds traveling to Texas for a press conference and Sen. Joni Ernst introduced new legislation on the issue.

Trish Clingan of Prairie City said she would want Trump, if elected again, to fight inflation and put “freedom and personal choice back into everything." She objected specifically to mask and vaccine mandates.

Ramirez also objected to vaccine mandates and especially to health care companies that fire workers who choose not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I'm more fired up because of what's happening in this country," Ramirez said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Anti-vaccine activists hold Iowa Capitol rally

Several hundred Iowans gathered in the Capitol Rotunda before Tuesday's special session to rally against vaccine mandates.

“I'm thrilled to see all of you, but I'm actually aggravated that we have to be here at all. Who would have thought, in America, in Iowa, we would have to come to plead for our rights and our liberty?" said Tamara Scott, a national committeewoman for the Republican Party. A row of children stood behind her holding handmade signs that read “The final variant is communism" and “Proudly unpoisoned."

Lawmakers do not plan to consider legislation on vaccine requirements during today's special session.

Speakers at the rally called on Gov. Kim Reynolds or legislators to call another special session to consider the issue, and they encouraged the crowd to reach out to lawmakers. Several speakers noted that lawmakers had not been responsive to calls and emails from their group.

Two of Iowa's most vaccine-critical lawmakers, Rep. Sandy Salmon and Rep. Jeff Shipley, spoke at the event which was hosted by the anti-vaxx group Informed Choice Iowa. Shipley was a fan-favorite, with the crowd chanting “We want Jeff!" ahead of his appearance.

“We have not just COVID-19, but we have totalitarian fever, and that is what we have to eradicate," said Salmon, arguing that vaccine mandates violate the fourth amendment of the Constitution.

Shipley asked “why even bother" drawing new congressional maps if President Joe Biden will mandate legislation in Iowa. He told the crowd they were leaders for freedom and liberty.

“There are scared lines that must not be crossed. There is the sacred line of medical freedom," Shipley said. “Does anyone really think this vaccine mandate will be the end of it?"

What vaccine requirements does Iowa have?

The state government of Iowa has imposed no COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Reynolds has maintained throughout the pandemic that the decision to get vaccinated and the decision to wear a mask should be a personal choice.

Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to prohibit local governments and private businesses that receive government funding from requiring proof of vaccination. Iowa also passed a law that prohibits schools from requiring students or staff to wear masks. A federal judge has temporarily blocked that law.

But Iowa is affected by federal vaccine requirements. President Joe Biden instated a vaccination requirement for federal employees. Employees of large businesses must be vaccinated or receive weekly tests. Nursing homes that receive Medicaid or Medicare dollars must also ensure their staff is vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many private businesses also require employees to be vaccinated. Several large healthcare companies in Iowa, including UnityPoint and MercyOne, require vaccinations.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Congresswoman fires back after Tucker Carlson suggests she 'loathes' Christians

Rep. Cindy Axne told reporters Monday that her comments were “completely misconstrued" in an episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight.

In a segment of the show last week, host Tucker Carlson criticized a recording of Axne speaking at a Zoom event. In the clip Carlson aired, Axne spoke about “anti-vaxxer crazies" responding to mask mandates at schools before speaking briefly about “the Christian Right."

“It's painful to watch because they've weaponized religion," Axne said in the clip. “They've weaponized politics."

After playing the video, Carlson asserted that Axne hates the people she's speaking about.

“It's hard to remember those are actually human beings she's talking about — some of the weakest human beings in our country," he said. “But she would never know they're real people because she clearly loathes them. She hates them."

National and state Republicans released critical statements of Axne following the Carlson segment. Iowa GOP spokesperson Kollin Crompton said her comments were “a slap in the face to every person of faith in Iowa." Axne's Republican opponent Nicole Hasso called her “a rabid Christianophobe."

At a Monday event in Norwalk, Axne told reporters that the clip was “taken out of context and completely misconstrued" before speaking broadly on the intersection of politics and religion.

“I'm frustrated by folks around this country who use religion as a way to deny science and put our communities at risk," Axne said. “Because I grew up as a Catholic saying that you support people in your community, you serve others, and you put others above yourself."

Axne said that religion should stay separate from politics, citing the founding fathers and a recent speech where Pope Francis said that Christians should not use the cross as a political symbol. She criticized Carlson for trying to create a false narrative with the clip.

“I'm not sure when we're going to get past having the public understand that what they see on Fox television is being misinterpreted," she said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Federal judge temporarily blocks Iowa ban on school mask mandates

A federal judge has temporarily blocked an Iowa law that prohibited schools from instating mask mandates on students.

Under a Monday ruling by District Judge Robert Pratt, Iowa school districts may impose mask mandates on their students, staff and teachers. The decision comes after a disability rights group and several Iowa families sued the state, arguing that students with disabilities face “irreparable harm" when attending schools without universal masking. The lawsuit contended that prohibiting schools from requiring masks was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This article was originally published at Iowa Capital Dispatch

Pratt issued a temporary restraining order that prohibits the state from enforcing the law.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said passing House File 847 was necessary to “return decision-maker power to parents."

Gov. Kim Reynolds promised to appeal Pratt's ruling, calling him an “activist judge." Reynolds did not say specifically what steps the state would take to appeal the temporary restraining order, but she noted it was “very positive" that a state judge ruled against granting a temporary injunction in a similar case.

“People should never lose sight of the fact that you have an option to wear a mask," Reynolds told reporters at a Monday evening event, emphasizing her belief that parents should be able to make that decision for students.

Asked to respond to the argument of the lawsuit — that universal masking was necessary to protect children with disabilities — Reynolds directed reporters to her comments at a press conference earlier this month, where she said that there were online alternatives to in-person learning and that some students had issues wearing masks.

Pratt wrote in his decision that it is in the public interest to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially “for the safety of disabled children."

“Moreover, there is little harm to … permitting the individual public school districts to return to the way in which they were operating prior to [the law's] passage by leaving a universal mask mandate to their discretion," Pratt wrote.

The ACLU of Iowa filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Arc of Iowa and the group of parents.

“We are grateful to the district court for blocking this dangerous law, which put vulnerable kids in harm's way and violated their civil rights in education," Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, said. “We are relieved that schools across the state will now be able to protect those kids as required by federal law."

Already, some Iowa schools plan to reinstate mask mandates. Des Moines Public Schools announced Monday evening that it will begin requiring masks on Wednesday.

“The court's decision to set aside Iowa's ban on school districts being able to protect children in our care is welcome news," said Superintendent Tom Ahart in a statement.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Marjorie Taylor Greene rants about 'the new axis of evil' during rally in Des Moines

Republican representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz held a spirited event in Des Moines on Thursday night, railing against technology companies, the media, Democrats and members of their own party who were disloyal to former President Donald Trump.

This article was originally published at Iowa Capital Dispatch

“The Democrats, the media and big tech — that's the new axis of evil," said Greene, who was suspended from Twitter last week for posting misinformation about the COVID vaccine. “Because if it's truthful, they don't want to hear it, they don't want to talk about it."

The crowd didn't fill the ballroom at the Iowa Events Center, but it was enthusiastic. Greene and Gaetz mentioned several politicians and bureaucrats by name — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “The Squad," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — and the crowd booed for each one. In response to a tirade against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the audience chanted “lock him up."

Gaetz and Greene focused most extensively on President Joe Biden, criticizing his handling of the Afghanistan exit and falsely claiming that Biden did not win the 2020 election. Greene said she would file articles of impeachment against Biden Friday.

“I believe in firing people when they're corrupt and they do a bad job," Greene said. “Joe Biden is failing America and he needs to be impeached."

Both Greene and Gaetz are controversial figures in the GOP. Gaetz, a Florida representative, is embroiled in investigations into an alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that may have violated sex trafficking laws. Greene, a freshman representative from Georgia, has spent her tenure promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, the COVID vaccine and more. She was removed from committees in February and reprimanded in May after comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.

Iowa's Republican delegation in D.C. did not publicly support the event — none of the state's senators or representatives appeared on stage with Gaetz and Greene, and they did not post on social media about the rally.

Iowa Democrats loudly condemned the event and called for Republicans to denounce it.

“We're still waiting for Governor Reynolds and Iowa Republicans to denounce the racist and homophobic language of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene," Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn wrote in a statement. “Their silence emboldens the dangerous fringes of their party and encourages violence against our friends and neighbors."

Several prominent Republicans have visited Iowa this summer as organizing for 2022 and 2024 begins. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Vice President Mike Pence spoke in July at a conservative Christian conference. Sen. Ted Cruz is headed to the state later this month, as is Sen. Marco Rubio.

Neither Gaetz or Greene discussed personal political ambitions on Thursday, instead focusing on Trump. Greene asked the crowd if they were ready to support Trump in 2024. Gaetz suggested Trump run for the House instead — “Why wait until 2024?" — and become Speaker of the House in 2022.

“You'll be hearing a lot from us," Gaetz promised at the end of the event. “Thanks for fighting for our country and for our movement. Make sure you're ready to go caucus for Donald Trump in 2024 — we'll be there with you."

Trump has not announced if he plans to run for office in 2022 or 2024.

Editor's note: Story has been updated to correct Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's title.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.