Let the sunlight in

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Two recent reports by State Auditor Mary Mosiman demonstrate why she deserved to get beat by Democratic challenger Rob Sand in the November election. Mosiman punted on a report over why the Iowa Department of Natural Resources eliminated the job of animal feeding oversight coordinator, and a week later made a jumble of Medicaid numbers to claim that taking it private is saving us money. Mosiman was covering for her Republican colleagues running state government.

The job of Gene Tinker, a career employee for the Extension Service and later IDNR, was eliminated because he was telling counties how they could object to new confinements in bad places or existing nuisances. The hog industry that has Gov. Kim Reynolds by the ear made certain that Tinker was gone. It was chalked up to a budget crisis, while the department collected millions of dollars a year in fees from producers to pay for Tinker’s salary. Mosiman said that funds were diverted away from Tinker’s job according to Hoyle, but that the IDNR accounting system makes it difficult to figure out how $11 million in feeding fees were allocated. IDNR did not respond that it would take up the changes Mosiman suggested, the main one being to use the state accounting system and not an in-house shellgame on a PC.

Mosiman tried to take a poke at Medicaid savings in another report. She has been all over the map on this number, depending on electoral atmospherics. She has delivered three different numbers by our count. So we simply don’t believe her latest number that turning over Medicaid to insurance companies has saved over $100 million. If that is so, we don’t understand why the state was spending down cash reserves and cutting budgets all over to make up for cash crunches wrought from Medicaid privatization. Republicans are hoping that the audit will allow them to wash their hands of Medicaid and move on by denying services to rural Iowans.

Note that each of these reports was issued after the election. Then-State Sen. David Johnson, I-Ocheyedan, requested an audit of IDNR 13 months ago. A report, not an audit, came out after the midterm election. It was followed by the Medicaid report, requested by a Democratic legislator.

Fortunately, voters installed a check on all of this with the election of Sand as state auditor. Formerly a lawyer in the Attorney General’s Office, Sand promised that he will provide the oversight of Republican excess that Mosiman could not. We hope he follows up and digs deeper on the IDNR report on how these funds are actually spent. Producers deserve to know, and so do us surrounded by livestock facilities. And the public deserves to know how it can apply the law, as Tinker did under the requirement of that very law. Mossiman did not contemplate that by eliminating Tinker’s job, IDNR broke the livestock feeding law that the Republicans wrote. Sand should consider that question as necessary in attempts to restore Tinker to the job.

Sand also needs to explore more deeply how Medicaid privatization is starving all of state government. He needs to document how service has declined (including the closing of more than a dozen nursing homes in rural areas) while spending to insurance companies has ballooned. The public finally deserves a full accounting that has been hidden until now.

And, Sand needs to draw in his old Democratic boss, Attorney General Tom Miller, as a watchdog with teeth who will stand up for transparency and accountability. With the legislature and governorship under complete Republican control, skeptics willing to scrape away the hubris are needed more than ever. It is their job, to protect the taxpayer, our air and water, and the integrity of Iowa government. All are under attack, and whitewashes won’t wipe that fact away.

Mend fences

President Trump has made sounds in the past couple days that he might want to bury the trade hatchet with China when he meets with its leader this weekend. We certainly hope so. The world, and Iowa farmers, have enough troubles without a trade war between the world’s largest two economies, which depend so much on each other.

Trump knows he got thumped in the Midwest in the midterm elections in no small part because beans have taken a beating since the US slapped tariffs on China, and China responded by taxing beans and pork. Domestic steel is increasing costs on manufacturers, and they are chipping their teeth. GM announced it will shut down five plants. The stock market is teetering on a bear market. Trump knows the situation with China can only get worse.

Likewise, Chinese leader Xi understands that he must feed a nation with growing expectations for protein delivered by soy and pork. The Chinese need our soybeans, our pork and our seed technology so they can feed themselves. Xi cannot stand the heat of domestic politics anymore than Trump, and the Chinese economy is not operating on all cylinders.

They will not arrive at a trade deal this weekend. At least, we can resume negotiations that could quickly lead to a resolution of differences. It’s a relief that Trump might be starting to recognize what a disaster his trade policies are for export-sensitive Iowa.