Weekly News Roundup: “My Two Moms” Activist Announces State Senate Bid, Trump Commutes Rubashkin’s Sentence

Zach Wahls in 2011. Image: YouTube screenshot

Editor’s note: The Informer’s weekly news roundup is presented in partnership with KHOI community radio and read Mondays on the station’s “Local Talk” program, which will instead air a pre-recorded show on Christmas Day. “Local Talk” will return to its regular programming next week.

Zach Wahls, Famous for “Two Moms” Viral Video, Announces State Senate Bid

Political activist Zach Wahls, who rose to fame in 2011 when he spoke on the floor of the state House of Representatives in opposition to legislation to end civil unions for LGBT couples, describing how he was “raised by two women,” has announced he will run for the state Senate seat of Coralville Democrat Bob Dvorsky, who doesn’t plan to seek re-election next year. After video of Wahls’ Statehouse speech went viral, his life changed dramatically. He’s since written a book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, made numerous national TV news appearances, and co-founded Scouts for Equality, which advocates for LGBT rights in the Boy Scouts of America. He is now seen as the favorite to succeed Dvorsky and has already raised nearly $30,000 since announcing his bid Thursday. However, Democrat Janice Weiner, a 26-year retired US diplomat, is also running for the District 37 seat.

Medicaid Providers Were Fined $1.5 Million for Failing to Meet Standards

More evidence of the failure of the Iowa GOP’s Medicaid privatization was unveiled in a newly released report showing that the state’s three providers were assessed $1.5 million in penalties over the past 18 months for failing to comply with performance standards, according to a report in the Des Moines Register. Most of the fines — $1.2 million — were given to AmeriHealth Caritas, which recently terminated its contract with the state, claiming it was losing too much money providing healthcare services here. Over the same period, the other two providers, Amerigroup and UnitedHealthcare, were fined $146,486 and $217,819, respectively. Since the program for low-income Iowans, which covers about a quarter of the state’s insured patients, was privatized, Amerigroup has also announced it will not take new patients. The new system has led to myriad complaints of reduced services; and several health officials told the Register that they had trouble even contacting AmeriHealth, leading to poor services and unpaid bills.

Trump Commutes Sentence of Kosher Meatpacking Plant Fraudster Sholom Rubashkin

On Wednesday, President Trump commuted the 27-year sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, who was convicted of money laundering and bank fraud after the notorious 2008 federal immigration raid on his kosher meatpacking plant in Postville that rounded up up nearly 400 undocumented workers, including children. Rubashkin was initially charged for that, as well, but only convicted on the other charges. Although there was ample evidence of his guilt, Rubashkin’s sentence — handed out by the controversial and since scandalized US District Judge Linda R. Reade — was harsh and possibly a violation of Rubashkin’s constitutional right to a fair trial. Writing for Slate, Mark Joseph Stern wrote that “Donald Trump was absolutely right to commute his draconian and constitutionally defective sentence,” adding, “The only shame here is that Trump will almost certainly decline to grant clemency to other prisoners whose cases are just as egregious.” Before Trump’s commutation, which will free him, Rubashkin had served more than eight years behind bars.

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.