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In Iowa: 'Precedent' no reason to not seek answers

We give cover to those with whom we agree

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Trying to name the political elephant that won’t budge from the corner and keeps mucking up the floor? His name is Precedent, and he appears to be here for the long haul.

I’m not exactly sure when he arrived, but I do know what makes him thrive. And, collectively, we’ve been serving him buckets upon buckets of scandalous food.

For a prime example, let’s travel back in time to 2007, when the George W. Bush administration was taking heat for dismissing at least eight U.S. attorneys. When Congress requested the White House release administrative documents related to the U.S. attorneys, the public found out that White House staffers had been conducting official business on private servers run by the Republican National Committee. Further, the RNC told Congressional investigators the emails had been deleted — somewhere between 5 million and 22 million of them.

There were two specific laws that spoke to the situation. The first, the Hatch Act, prohibits use of government resources for political purposes. Bush administration officials said they were utilizing the private server to remain in compliance.

The second, the Presidential Records Act, requires preservation of all presidential records. Given the nature of some of the emails obtained by investigators — for instance, one authored by the administration’s deputy director of political affairs discussing the firing of a U.S. attorney in Arkansas — many legal scholars believed this law was violated

And while the Bush email scandal was one of the earliest and biggest at the national level, it was hardly the first time the public learned of an elected official using a private server and then cherry-picking what later would be revealed.

From 1999 to 2007, then Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used a private server, according to Wall Street Journal reporters, and, in December 2014, he and his assistants made the decision on which were personal and would be kept confidential and which dealt with official state business.

Lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s team to investigate lane closures on the George Washington Bridge chastised their own client and his staff for communicating via private email accounts.

Three years ago a Freedom of Information Act request by the Hartford Courant revealed that Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and his staff were using private email accounts.

There are many, many more examples, but let’s be sure to take note of latest and most reported upon of them all: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server while she served as U.S. Secretary of State.

Each of these scandals have their own distinct flavor, but they all boil down to the same thing. The elected officials wanted to do the public’s business outside the public’s eye. And in every instance, that should have been something you spoke against.

But if you were like many Americans, you instead gave political cover to the politicians you agreed with, and worked to crucify those with whom you disagreed. Precedent was set, surrounded by buckets of chow.

The messy political elephant also is eating well in Iowa these days as supporters of Gov. Terry Branstad’s now infamous unilateral decision-making plug their ears against the warning bells of providers and recipients of Medicaid services.

Relying on sketchy projections, Branstad says the fast-paced move to managed care will save the state millions. Recipients who can no longer receive the same products and services they had under the state’s previous fee-for-service program simply have fallen prey to partisan politics, he says.

Providers are upset because they’re now under more scrutiny, he says.

Branstad blatantly and, at least in my opinion, foolishly tosses around words such as “fraud,” insinuating that the old system was chock full of providers and recipients who wanted nothing more than to bilk taxpayers of every penny possible. He and his administration offer apples-and-oranges comparisons to back up their claim, further alienating a host of Iowa businesses, big and small.

Nevermind that it didn’t have to be done this way. Forget that the workshops now planned to help Iowa providers understand the paperwork and workflow of the state’s three contracted managed-care organizations should have been done six months ago.

Those who repeatedly have enabled this governor to usurp the balance of government are finding it difficult even now to locate their spines. Better to let our state’s most vulnerable continue on a path of uncertainty, better to let a host of small businesses take out lines of credit and possibly close their doors than admit that this “modernization” isn’t going as promised. It’s so much easier to look the other way, to swallow the rancid assurances, than to stand up and demand reality-based discussion on where the state goes from here.

How many Iowa providers have received only partial payment on their claims from the managed-care companies? We don’t know. How many Iowans are now doing without services they received under the former state-run plan? We don’t know because the state either doesn’t get that information from the managed-care companies or hasn’t felt the need to release it.

How many Iowa businesses have taken loans to stay afloat, have laid off workers to make ends meet, have stopped providing certain services or are otherwise in danger of shuttering their doors because of this “smooth transition”? Again, we don’t know.

Questions like that — and no doubt some will say this column in its entirety — are just a result of partisan bickering.

Precedent already has been set. The Iowa Juvenile Home was closed. Two state-run state mental health institutes were shuttered.

Please pay no attention to studies showing that Iowa ranks last for state psychiatric beds, or that law enforcement has become the state’s de facto mental health providers, or the vast multitude of news reports saying Iowa businesses aren’t getting paid.

Just place the clothespin on your nose and pass another bucket to Precedent. He isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

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