News Politics

Iowa Senator Fundraises Against “Pro-Death” Colleagues

Robin Marty

Anti-choice legislation in Iowa may not be making it through the legislature, but it's making good fundraising fodder.

Iowa Republicans knew there was no way that a bill attempting to deny funding for Planned Parenthood and ban Medicaid funding for abortions for rape and incest victims would pass, but proposed the measure anyway simply to get a debate on the topic started.  Why? 

Because it’s an election year, of course.

Debate over the bills was short and vitriolic, Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson reports.  But one legislator got just what he wanted out of it — enough fodder to use in a fundraising email.

Via The Des Moines Register:

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Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, derides three Democratic senators by name in the email, which refers to a passionate back-and-forth on the Senate floor last week during a vote on a budget bill.

“I’m tired of pro-death politicians and left-wing radicals hiding the fact that they have no problem murdering babies with my tax dollars by accusing people like you and I of not caring for women and children,” Sorenson writes.

He asks for donations of $35 to help fight “the left wing liberals (who) are lining up a candidate against me in the next election.”

If you thought Sorenson’s rhetoric was a little over the top in his fundraising email, it’s nothing compared to his debating style, where he asked one colleague, “How many babies are you willing to slaughter, dismember and throw in a garbage can for a billion dollars?”

Roundups Politics

Hello From Iowa: Three Things You Should Know About Monday’s Caucus (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Monday’s Iowa caucus marked the first votes of the primary season, signaling that the race for the White House is truly underway.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included reference to an unverified claim about vote counts in one Iowa precinct originally posted on C-Span by an “anonymous user” and reported elsewhere in the press. We do not consider the claim to be credible and have removed the reference to it in this piece. We deeply regret this error and are taking steps to prevent further such errors in the future.

Monday’s Iowa caucus marked the first votes of the primary season, signaling that the race for the White House is truly underway.

The night brought its fair share of surprises, including a too-close to call showing from the Democrats, the dropouts of several candidates, and the allocation of delegates, who will help decide the party’s nominee for president, quite literally left up to a coin toss.

Here are the night’s need-to-know details:

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In Some Precincts, the Difference Between a Clinton and Sanders Win Was Literally a Coin Toss

The allocation of some Democratic delegates was quite literally left up to a coin toss in many Iowa caucus locations in an otherwise extremely tight race between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) is taken into account.

By the end of Monday night, Democratic presidential rivals Clinton and Sanders found themselves in a virtual tie with caucus results too close to call. Although Clinton has now been declared the winner, a statement from the Iowa Democratic Party called the race historically close, noting that some outstanding results remained to be accounted for last night, prolonging the final tally:

The results tonight are the closest in Iowa Democratic caucus history. Hillary Clinton has been awarded 700.59 state delegate equivalents, Bernie Sanders has been awarded 696.82 state delegate equivalents, Martin O’Malley has been awarded 7.61 state delegate equivalents and uncommitted has been awarded .46 state delegate equivalents.

As the Des Moines Register reported, several precincts left the final decision on delegate allocation up to a coin toss. There were at least six instances where, under the advisement of party leaders, Democrats decided winners in disputed cases based on flipping a coin—and Clinton was the winner each time. The coin toss is a longstanding method of deciding ties in the Iowa caucuses.

Ted Cruz’s Pandering to Evangelicals Paid Off Big

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has spent months building up his repertoire of ultra-conservative talking points and campaign promises, and Monday night it finally paid off, as the presidential candidate clinched a Republican victory in Iowa.

Cruz took home nearly 28 percent of the night’s votes, Donald Trump came in second with 24 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ranked third with 23 percent.

The Wall Street Journal attributed Cruz’s win in no small part to a “surge of evangelical Christians, along with support from the Republican Party’s most conservative voters,” no doubt stirred up by his extreme viewpoints.

“Mr. Cruz built his campaign on opposition to abortion, gay marriage and compromise by Republican leaders in Congress. That message produced a distinct uptick in evangelicals and other social conservatives attending Monday’s caucuses,” the Journal explained, noting that evangelical Christians made up 64 percent of GOP caucus attendees, up from 57 percent in 2007.

Cruz has spent months courting these voters, seizing on every opportunity that came his way to demonstrate his extreme opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality.

Last week, Cruz announced the creation of an anti-choice coalition called “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” tapping noted extremists such as Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins to help lead the group.  

Cruz’s affiliation with these extremists followed months of endorsements from similarly notorious figures and organizations, including the anti-marriage equality organization National Organization for Marriage and Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, who recently called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally.

We Finally Say Goodbye to O’Malley and Huckabee

Only shortly after he said “Hello,” Mike Huckabee decided to say goodbye to his hopes of winning the White House in 2016, bowing out of the presidential race as the results showed him toward the bottom of the pack on caucus night.

The former Arkansas governor announced the suspension of his campaign in a Monday night tweet thanking his supporters. Although he will no longer have the benefit of the national campaign spotlight, representatives of Huckabee’s campaign promised he would continue to address the issues he ran on.

“He is going to continue to push for the issues he believes, but right now this is about thanking his staff and supporters and being with his friends and families and see what doors will open next,” Huckabee spokesman Hogan Gidley said, according to CNN.

Despite his consistent anti-choice rhetoric, Huckabee failed to build the same following in the 2016 race that helped him win the Republican Iowa caucus in 2008, as Cruz captured the key evangelical voting bloc instead.  

But that wasn’t for lack of trying. Huckabee used the campaign trail to tout his stringently anti-choice platform, going as far as to suggest that should he be elected president, he may use federal troops to stop abortion. The former presidential candidate also was a vocal proponent of using fetal “personhood” measures in order to outlaw abortion in the United States.

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley also decided to formally suspend his campaign amid disappointing caucus-night results, which earned him less than 1 percent of the votes.

“I want to thank everyone who came out to our events, and lent me their ear. Everyone who went out to caucus for me tonight, and lent me their voice. I give you my deepest gratitude,” O’Malley wrote in an email to supporters announcing the end of his campaign. “Together we all stood up for working people, for new Americans, for the future of the Earth and the safety of our children. We put these issues at the front of our party’s agenda—these are the issues that serve the best interests of our nation.”

O’Malley’s decision to end his White House run comes as news has broken that his campaign was struggling to remain afloat financially: His campaign’s latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings revealed he had taken out a loan to finance his run and still was unable to pay many of his staffers.

The former Maryland governor’s presidential platform had included calling for universal access to reproductive health care, instituting federal paid family leave, and providing a “living wage” by raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

News Health Systems

Iowa Hands Over Medicaid to Companies With Troubled Histories

Teddy Wilson

Critics of the privatization scheme point to other states that have handed over Medicaid to health-care companies only to watch Medicaid waiting lists grow and service dwindle.

Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) officials said last week that the agency had signed contracts with four companies to implement Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to privatize the state’s Medicaid program, despite the troubled history and frequently criticized lobbying tactics of the companies selected to run the program. 

Critics of the privatization scheme point to other states that have handed over Medicaid to health-care companies only to watch Medicaid waiting lists grow and service dwindle.

Iowa Medicaid Director Mikki Stier said in a statement that implementation of the program is intended to improve quality and access, promoting outcomes and accountability while creating a more predictable and sustainable Medicaid budget.

DHS officials have claimed that the program could save the state $51.3 million in its first six months. Lawmakers and critics of the privatization plan have questioned the accuracy of the agency’s estimates.

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The four companies that the state has hired to manage Medicaid were announced by DHS in August. Amerigroup Iowa, AmeriHealth Caritas Iowa, UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley and WellCare of Iowa will operate the state’s $4.2 billion Medicaid program.

Iowa’s DHS is working with the companies to establish provider networks in the new IA Health Link program that will serve nearly 600,000 low-income Iowans.

The four companies that the state has contracted each have troubled histories of managing similar programs in other states, according to a Des Moines Register investigation. More than $10.2 million in fines have been imposed on the companies resulting from more than 1,500 regulatory violations.

Amerigroup, the parent company of Amerigroup Iowa, in its bid for the contract, provided the state with information about nearly 800 regulatory sanctions against it, totaling more than $4.7 million in fines. Among the companies that provided bids for the Iowa contracts, no other company disclosed as many sanctions or as many fines as Amerigroup.

Amerigroup agreed to pay $225 million in 2008 to settle claims that it defrauded the Illinois Medicaid program by systematically avoiding enrolling pregnant women and unhealthy patients in the state’s managed care program, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Amerigroup was one of the three managed care companies contracted by Kansas to operate a similar Medicaid privatization program championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. KanCare has been mired in controversy since its inception, and Amerigroup has been at the center.

KanCare was launched in January 2013, when the state’s traditional Medicaid program was phased out. In its place, the Brownback administration contracted three for-profit health insurance companies to coordinate health care for more than 360,000 low-income residents. Amerigroup Kansas, United Healthcare Community Plan and the Sunflower Health Plan all received contracts to operate the program.

In 2013, the three companies managing KanCare lost a total of $110 million, and in the first half of 2014 the companies lost another $52 million. Opponents of the program are now growing concerned that if any of the three companies were to withdraw from KanCare, it could cause a significant disruption in service.

There is an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation into complaints about Medicaid waiting lists for disability services in Kansas.

Democrats on the state legislature’s KanCare Oversight Committee last year called for the appointment of a separate committee to investigate whether any legal or ethical boundaries were crossed when Brownback approved $3 billion in contracts with the managed care companies. Republicans on the committee blocked the proposal.

Amerigroup has been at the center of controversial lobbying tactics.

The three companies donated more than $50,000 to the campaigns of Kansas lawmakers since the KanCare program began in 2013, according to reporting by KCUR. Seven of 11 lawmakers who are members of the KanCare Oversight Committee received campaign contributions from one or more of the companies.

Amerigroup contributed more to candidates than the other two companies combined, donating more than $27,000 to lawmakers’ campaigns.

Lobbyist and staffers of Amerigroup have reportedly had private lunches with Republican lawmakers on the committees providing oversight for the KanCare program. Amerigroup co-hosted a fundraiser Wednesday for Republican members of the state senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Kansas GOP state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee, chairwoman of the committee, sat across the table from Amerigroup lobbyist Gary Haulmark during the fundraiser that was held in a downtown Topeka barbecue restaurant, reported KCUR.

Dean Lerner, former head of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, told the Des Moines Register that in light of the companies chosen by Branstad, the Obama administration should reject the state’s privatization scheme.

“This information alone—Iowa’s inability to hire a contractor that hasn’t defrauded the government—should be enough” for the federal government “to refuse to grant the state permission to privatize management of Medicaid,” Lerner said.