Weekly News Roundup: Governor Asks for Review of Saudi-Funded Lobbying, GOP to Create HR Position in Wake of Harassment Scandal

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The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

Gov. Reynolds Asks Ethics Board to Review GOP Officials’ Lobbying for Saudi Arabia

Gov. Kim Reynolds has asked the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to review the consulting work of Republican activists and executive branch employees Connie and Kim Schmett that was funded by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Reynolds’ request was a response to an Associated Press report earlier this month that that the Schmetts recruited veterans to lobby against a law that has allowed victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for allegedly supporting the hijackers. The couple did not disclose the lobbying in disclosure filings, and the veterans were recruited without knowing that the couple’s lobbying effort was funded with $101,500 from a Saudi campaign opposing the law. The Schmetts could be convicted for a misdemeanor and removed from their government positions for concealing their lobbying. However, Megan Tooker, executive director of the state ethics board, told the AP that it was more likely the couple would simply be asked to amend their filings to become in compliance with the law.

In Wake of Sexual Harassment Scandal, Statehouse Republicans Create New HR Position

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Republican Statehouse leaders plan to establish a new human resources manager position to field complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol. The decision comes a month and a half after the state of Iowa settled a lawsuit for $1.75 million with Kirsten Anderson, a former GOP Senate communications director who said she was fired in 2013 after reporting a “boys’ club” of widespread sexual harassment in her office. Plans for the new position were announced by Ed Failor, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix. Democrats have criticized Dix, some asking him to step down from his leadership role, for failing to address the harassment when it occurred and more recently continuing to blame Anderson’s firing on her work performance.

After Judge Overturns Her Impeachment, Muscatine Mayor Wins Re-Election

Last Tuesday, Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson won re-election by more than 800 votes. The result was a major victory for Broderson, who just six months ago was impeached and removed from office after a unanimous vote by the City Council, which had already stripped her appointment powers the previous year. Her impeachment was controversial and seen by many as without merit and politically motivated. After an appeal, she was reinstated to her office, and on Oct. 24, two weeks before the election, Muscatine County District Court Judge Mark Cleve ruled that Broderson’s “fundamentally unfair” removal violated her due process rights. On Tuesday, two Muscatine council members were also defeated and a third who did not seek re-election were replaced in what one observer described as a “sweep” for labor-backed candidates.

City Elections Yield Mixed Results for Progressive Candidates

Victoria Szopinski, a co-founder of the Ames Progressive Alliance organizing group, was defeated by local architect John Haila in her bid for mayor, while progressive candidate David Martin defeated Rob Bowers, a former Iowa State University deputy police chief, to replace ISU economics professor Peter Orazem on the Ames City Council in Ward 3. Szopinski’s critics claimed she would be divisive as mayor by bringing partisan politics to the nonpartisan position. That apparently wasn’t a concern for Nevada voters, who elected Story County GOP chairman Brett Barker as mayor and past chairman Dane Nealson to the council.

Across Iowa, progressive candidates scored several notable victories. Some examples: In Iowa City, council candidate Mazahir Salih became the first Sudanese-American woman to win election in Iowa. She campaigned on a platform focusing on issues including affordable housing. Ross Grooters, a union organizer and Democratic Socialists of America-affiliated candidate, won election to the Pleasant Hill council. And in Boone, three Democrats soundly defeated Republican incumbents.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.