Weekly News Roundup: Gov Signs Water Quality Bill, Anti-Islam GOPer Forms Pro-Trump PAC

Also: Old Navy fires employees after racial profiling incident, Libertarian Party to hold its first major party caucus, Rastetter to expand ethanol production in Brazil

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

Kim Reynolds Signs Water Quality Bill, Critics Call It Toothless

Achieving a goal she set out in her Condition of the State address in January, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a water quality bill into law last month — her first as governor. The new law will allocate $282 million over 12 years from an existing water tax as well as gambling revenues and establish a water quality fund within the state’s Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship for various agricultural conservation efforts. Reynolds called the bill’s passage a “monumental step forward,” but critics were quick to point out its shortcomings. Like other water quality efforts, the law only adds voluntary measures, not mandatory regulations that environmentalists have long argued are necessary to improve Iowa’s heavily polluted waterways. It also lacks measures to track its effectiveness, and the funding falls far short of the $4 billion an Iowa State University study found would be required to adequately address water pollution.

Former GOP County Chairman Forms Pro-Trump PAC, Targets Dem with “Hit List”

The former chairman of the Pottawattamie County Republican Party has formed a political action committee called Republicans for Conservative Values to support Iowa politicians who back President Trump. The former chairman, Council Bluffs resident Jeff Jorgensen, told his hometown paper the Daily Nonpareil that he was “forming this PAC as a response to what Democrats have done,” noting protests at recent events held by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

He added that the “No. 1 person on our hit list” would be Glenn Hurst, a Democrat running for the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors, who is “not someone interested in county governance” but “advancing the liberal agenda.” Jorgensen drew controversy last September when he promoted a conspiratorial anti-Islam presentation in Oakland, Iowa. Protesters at the event included Hurst.

Old Navy Employees at Jordan Creek Fired After Racial Profiling Accusation

Iowa made the international news over the weekend after a black man claimed on Facebook that he was racially profiled at an Old Navy in the Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines. The 29-year-old man, James Conley III, was wearing an Old Navy coat he’d received for Christmas, and a store manager demanded that he remove it so it could be scanned to ensure it wasn’t being stolen — something Conley said wasn’t requested of other, white customers. “Every time I go to this store I have on my same exact winter blue jacket and have never been asked to scan my clothing and the previous ‘non-black’ customers had on identical apparel as me from Old Navy but was never asked to scan their clothing,” he wrote in a Facebook post that included videos of the incident.

In response, Old Navy fired three employees at the Jordan Creek location and posted a message on Facebook that read in part, “The situation was a violation of our policies and values, and we apologize to both Mr. Conley and to those we’ve disappointed.”

Libertarian Party of Iowa to Hold Its First Major Party Caucus in State History

On Monday, Iowa’s political parties with major party status will hold precinct caucuses, the first step in a process that will lead to the formation of updated party platforms and, for the Democrats, potentially select delegates who will pick a gubernatorial candidate if none in the crowded field receive 35 percent of the vote needed to win the nomination outright in the June 5 primary. The day will also be memorable for the state’s Libertarian Party, which gained major party status last year after its presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, received nearly double the votes needed to meet the required 2 percent threshold. It will be the first time in Iowa history that the party holds a major party caucus.

His Focus Back on the Private Sector, Rastetter Announces Brazil Ethanol Plant Expansion

GOP kingmaker and agribusiness magnate Bruce Rastetter ended his controversial tenure as president of the Iowa Board of Regents at the end of April to refocus his attention on his private business ventures. On Jan. 30, Rastetter’s Alden-based Summit Agricultural Group announced its latest move: a $100 million expansion of FS Bioenergia, a corn ethanol plant in Brazil. The expansion is intended to increase the Mato Grosso plant’s ethanol output from 60 million to 140 million gallons annually.

Gavin Aronsen
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.