Unfiltered Political News

Chopped: Beat Bobby Flay

When you turn on the Food Network, you are bound to see Bobby Flay prancing around on one show or another. After all, he is recognized as one of the best competitive cooks of all time. He recently made his appearance on a sub-series of “Chopped.” After three long shows, we finally see the group that will face off against Bobby Flay in an attempt to win $25,000.


During the first three shows, Bobby Flay had a chance to throw his own twist in the competition. Not only did he get the chance to choose one ingredient for each basket in an attempt to trip up his future competitors, he also had the privilege of sitting on the judge’s panel. By reaching the end of the competition, the winner, whose name was Seis, was the lucky man to take on Bobby Flay.


Seis had already won $15,000 for just reaching this point. However, in order to win an additional $25,000, he had to beat the champ in the kitchen. Lucky for him, he got to choose the dish of the day. Seis’ choice of dishes was bibimabap, an Asian dish. Lucky for him, Bobby Flay has never been known for his ability to pull Asian flavors together in a clean and impressive manner.


As if it isn’t scary enough to compete for $25,000, being put against one of the all-time greatest competitive cooks in America would be absolutely petrifying! However, after 45-minute cooking time, which is extremely long for the show chopped, the judges were forced to choose based on their three main criteria. The main tenets of the Chopped kitchen are flavor, presentation and creativity.


Unfortunately, Bobby leaves the Chopped kitchen undefeated. This is a little disheartening considering it is Flay’s first time on the show. Viewers were pushing strongly for Seis, especially since he worked so hard to get to a position to even face Flay. Even though he didn’t win, Seis should be proud of himself. He did take down three amazing competitors in his first episode, and three more fierce competitors just to get to this point. With someone who plows through so many hands in the food industry, you can bet we will be seeing him again.


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Trump to pick oil ally Pruitt to head EPA

President-elect Donald Trump is planning to pick Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the EPA, putting one of the agency’s most hostile critics and a skeptic of climate change science at its helm, sources close to the transition said Wednesday.

As attorney general for a state that is one the nation’s biggest oil, natural gas and grain producers, Pruitt has been at the forefront of lawsuits challenging EPA regulations on carbon emissions and water pollution, and he is expected to lead the effort to erase much of President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda. Pruitt has also faced accusations that he’s unusually close to energy producers, including a 2014 New York Times story reporting that he and other Republican attorneys general had formed an “unprecedented, secretive alliance” with the industry.

But his agenda would mesh well with Trump, who unloaded on Obama’s EPA during the campaign, calling it a “disgrace” that was strangling the economy. Trump promised to reduce the agency to “tidbits.”

“We’ll be fine with the environment,” Trump told Fox News last year. “We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”

The news of the expected nomination drew sharp criticism from green groups and environmental advocates in Congress, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who said he would oppose the “sad and dangerous” move.

“Mr. Pruitt’s record is not only that of being a climate change denier, but also someone who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry to make this country more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “The American people must demand leaders who are willing to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.”

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz also said he would fight Pruitt’s nomination. “The health of our planet and our people is too important to leave in the hands of someone who does not believe in scientific facts or the basic mission of the EPA,” he said in a statement.

Dan Pfeiffer, a former top Obama adviser put it more succinctly, tweeting, “At the risk of being dramatic. Scott Pruitt at EPA is an existential threat to the planet.”

Earlier this week, Trump raised eyebrows by meeting at Trump Tower with climate advocate and former Vice President Al Gore, who told reporters the two had a conversation that was a “sincere search for areas of common ground.” Gore had been expected to only meet with Ivanka Trump.

But that meeting apparently had little effect on the president-elect, whose choice of Pruitt was welcomed by conservatives from his home state, including leading Senate climate change critic Jim Inhofe, as well as the coal industry advocates at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which said Pruitt would be an advocate for good environmental polices “as well as mindful of the need for affordable and reliable electricity.”

Pruitt has professed skepticism about climate change science, and his selection marks a major turning point for EPA, which even under Republican administrations stretching back to the 1980s has been led by administrators who accepted the scientific evidence that human activity was warming the planet. Pruitt has questioned just how much temperatures have risen, and has been skeptical that man-made greenhouse gas pollution has had an impact.

“Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” Pruitt wrote in an op-ed in May with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

The vast majority of mainstream scientists agree that human activity is boosting global temperatures and lifting sea levels, and they have called for a rapid cut in carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.

Pruitt joined a coalition of states and other challengers in a failed attempt to kill EPA’s 2009 scientific declaration that climate change poses a threat to public health and welfare. That EPA “endangerment finding” is the basis for many of the agency’s subsequent greenhouse gas rules and is likely to come under new attack under Trump. Those include a suite of EPA regulations on power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan, which are expected to receive a judgment from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the coming weeks.

Pruitt has been supported by Trump’s energy adviser Harold Hamm, the head of Continental Resources, one of the nation’s biggest oil producers.

But his support for the oil and gas industry has also drawn scrutiny from sources like the Times. In 2014, for example, the newspaper reported that a letter Pruitt had sent to EPA three years earlier was actually written “almost entirely” by Oklahoma-based oil and gas producer Devon Energy.

Pruitt later told local media that his alliance with energy companies isn’t so secretive.

“It should come as no surprise that I am working diligently with Oklahoma energy companies, the people of Oklahoma and the majority of attorneys general to fight the unlawful overreach of the EPA and other federal agencies,” he said.

Pruitt has also been a leading critic and challenger of the Obama administration’s controversial Waters of the U.S. rule, also known the Clean Water Rule, which has drawn fierce attack from energy, agricultural and development interests. Trump has cited that regulation, which increases the number of streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act, as one of his top targets when he takes office.

Pruitt will now be charged with deciding how to follow through on gutting the regulation. He could let ongoing court challenges play out and hope the rule dies there, or ask the court to let the agency take the rule back — a move that could then put the Oklahoman in the driver’s seat for a new rulemaking aimed at resolving the longstanding uncertainty about the reach of the Clean Water Act.

He has also been a foe of other Obama programs, including Obamacare implementation, the White House’s transgender bathroom guidance and Interior Department protections for the lesser prairie chicken.

His LinkedIn biography boasts that he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,” and says that as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association he “led the charge with repeated notices and subsequent lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their leadership’s activist agenda and refusal to follow the law.”

Pruitt’s op-ed with Strange, which asserted that scientists disagree about climate science, was written to criticize Democratic attorneys general in New York and other states who were investigating whether Exxon Mobil had quashed its internal research on climate change.

That dispute — known as “#ExxonKnew” after the Twitter hashtag — quickly escalated into a battle between Democrats looking for evidence of fraud at the oil and gas giant and Republican attorneys general who argued the Democrats were stomping on Exxon’s free speech rights. Various court battles related to that dispute are ongoing.

Pruitt has also been a critic of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the law put in place by Congress a decade ago that requires oil refiners to blend corn ethanol and other biofuels into the nation’s fuel supply. EPA implements the rule.

He argued in a 2013 Supreme Court brief that EPA ignored the risks that gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol pose to cars’ fuel systems, as well as the mandate’s effect on food prices. The high court declined to take up that case.

Fossil fuel interests have given significant sums to Pruitt’s political campaigns.

During his 2014 reelection, in which he ran unopposed, Pruitt raised $114,000 from energy company PACs and executives, about 14 percent of his total fundraising. That included $5,000 from Devon’s PAC and $100 from William Whitsitt, the Devon executive who commended Pruitt’s Devon-penned letter to EPA as “outstanding,” according to the New York Times report.

Pruitt also garnered donations from oil magnate Hamm; PACs connected to Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Alliance Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Spectra Energy, ITC Holdings, Chesapeake, ONEOK, OGE Energy and Tulsa-based oil and gas producer Unit Corp.; and executives from Continental Resources, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the American Gas Association, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Peabody Energy, AEP, Southern Co. and Oklahoma Gas & Electric.

Pruitt started off as a private lawyer before spending eight years in the Oklahoma Senate, where he served stints as GOP whip and assistant floor leader.

From 2003 until his election as attorney general in 2010, Pruitt was co-owner and the managing general partner of the Oklahoma City Redhawks, a minor league baseball team. Pruitt’s official biography says that during his tenure, the team “regularly rated among the league’s leaders in attendance and merchandise sales.”

He earned his bachelor degree at Georgetown College, a Christian school in Kentucky, and his law degree from the University of Tulsa.

Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.

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How Trump got yanked into GOP's IRS impeachment fight

House Freedom Caucus members were gearing up for a floor fight Tuesday to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen when one of the group’s leaders, Rep. Jim Jordan, received an unexpected phone call from Reince Priebus.

Priebus, the new chief of staff for President-elect Donald Trump, asked Jordan (R-Ohio) to hold off on the effort to remove Koskinen, sources close to the matter said. The impeachment drive had been a long-running source of tension between Republican leaders who feared it was an abuse use of congressional oversight, and conservatives who believed Koskinen lied to them and deserved to be punished.

In the frenzied hours as the impeachment showdown neared, multiple conversations ensued between Priebus and Freedom Caucus leaders. There are conflicting accounts of where the outgoing Republican Party chairman came down.

GOP leaders say Priebus remained opposed to Koskinen’s impeachment. Freedom Caucus sources counter that Priebus called them back several times to retract any such opposition and say Trump’s inner circle would remain neutral.

Trump transition officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

The House ultimately voted against impeaching Koskinen, who has been under fire by conservatives for his handling of the aftermath of the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups, which exploded into a scandal in early 2013. Technically, the issue was referred back the Judiciary Committee, where it will die quietly, at least for the time being.

Yet the incident demonstrates how much has changed already for Capitol Hill Republicans. Trump is the master of the GOP universe now, and everything done in Congress will be viewed through the lens of whether it helps or hurts the incoming president.

In this case, getting involved in Koskinen’s fate could be a dicey one for Trump personally. During the presidential campaign, Trump refused to release his tax returns because of an ongoing IRS audit, which apparently is still ongoing.

Trump and Koskinen also have a personal relationship that goes back to the 1970s in New York City. Koskinen was involved in helping arrange the sale of the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan to Trump, a deal that helped launch Trump’s lucrative business career, according to a May 5, 1976, article in The New York Times.

Freedom Caucus sources say the back-and-forth over Koskinen shows that party leaders will use Trump and his inner circle as a lever against them. They fear that after years of bucking Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and their top lieutenants, GOP leaders will point to a Trump-run White House to justify their positions and try to steamroll the group as it tries to push the party’s agenda to the right.

The group also argues that Trump is not against impeachment. They say Republican leaders were just trying to use Trump to justify their opposition to impeachment.

“It’s blatantly false to suggest that the Trump camp opposed the move to impeach the IRS commissioner and that they conveyed anything of the sort to the Freedom Caucus,” said a source close to the group. “That narrative is certainly not coming from Trump Tower.”

A House Freedom Caucus source said Jordan contacted Ryan’s office about 10 days ago to tell him the group would move to impeach Koskinen. Jordan floated the idea of censuring Koskinen — a less severe punishment — as a middle ground.

The source said Ryan’s office was noncommittal on the censure idea. So Freedom Caucus members notified leadership Tuesday morning that they intended to force the issue on the floor later that day, as they’ve been threatening to do for almost a year now.

According to multiple sources, Ryan staffers contacted Priebus and urged him to weigh in on the Koskinen dispute. Ryan and other top House Republicans said they were worried that impeaching Koskinen would trigger a Senate trial for the IRS commissioner in early 2017 that could eat up weeks of Senate floor time, potentially impeding Trump’s early agenda. Plus, most of the House Republican Conference had no interest in voting on this sensitive matter, which many felt pitted them between their base and their conscience.

A top House Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Ryan’s office had reached out to the Trump team “to get them to say something to the Freedom Caucus on this. We can’t have the Senate just bogged down on this trial.”

Senior Republicans view many of the Freedom Caucus’ moves — including the Koskinen impeachment vote — as public relations stunts. They believe the group is more interested in headlines than passing legislation or doing serious oversight work.

Freedom Caucus members see it differently. Whether it’s Ryan or former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whom they forced out of office, GOP leaders often lack the political courage to do battle with progressives, they say.

AshLee Strong, Ryan’s spokeswoman, would not comment on Ryan or his staffers’ interactions with Priebus. But she did note that the House voted overwhelmingly to send the Koskinen issue back to the Judiciary panel.

“The majority of the House voted to refer this matter to the Judiciary Committee consistent with regular order because it would have triggered automatic consideration lasting into next year, filling up weeks of floor time and crippling our ability to hit the ground running on Trump administration confirmations and Obamacare repeal,” Strong said in a statement.

For the Freedom Caucus and their supporters, forcing Koskinen out of office has been a long and frustrating exercise. “John Koskinen has been able to get away with stonewalling Congress, obstructing justice and breaching the public trust. It’s time that Congress held him accountable for his actions,” Jordan said in his floor speech on the impeachment motion.

Freedom Caucus members and aides denied that a Senate trial would stall Trump’s legislative agenda, or that a way around any potential obstacles couldn’t be found. That’s what they say they told Priebus when he initially called to ask them to stand down.

A source familiar with their conversations said Priebus called back later Tuesday to clarify that Trump’s team was not against impeachment and would remain neutral.

“It’s ludicrous to suggest a president who ran on draining the swamp would oppose the impeachment of an IRS commissioner who targeted some of the very same people who voted for him,” said a Freedom Caucus member.

Sometime that afternoon, the Freedom Caucus source said Priebus asked the group to consider censuring Koskinen as a compromise. The group’s leaders took that idea to Ryan’s office, though Jordan had already publicly announced the group’s intention to force impeachment on the floor that evening.

Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) floated the idea of censure again during a meeting between Ryan and a group of GOP lawmakers Tuesday around lunchtime, the source said. But Republican leaders rejected that alternative, the person said, so the Freedom Caucus decided to go full bore for impeachment.

Leadership members and aides, however, remember the conversations differently, denying that HFC members really offered an olive branch with a censure option.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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Senate Dems shamed for nearly all-white top staffers

Senate Democrats are facing growing pressure to break the white male stranglehold on senior staff positions in their ranks — a push that’s uniting consultants and lobbyists inside the Beltway with Black Lives Matter and other minority leaders who are accusing the party of “soft bigotry.”

The attacks are prompting uncomfortable discussions among Democrats even as they welcome their historic Senate freshman class, which includes the chamber’s first Latina and Indian-American members.

Frustrations over the lack of diversity among the ranks of top Senate Democratic aides began seeping into public view after Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss deprived the party’s donors and lobbyists of a critical opening to build on the Obama administration’s minority-hiring efforts. Now, activists are shaming Senate Democrats, noting that the chamber’s only African-American chief of staff works for Republican Sen. Tim Scott. And civil rights groups are holding a public conference call on Thursday to escalate their campaign for more diverse hiring by newly elected senators.

It’s not just the chief of staff disparity — minorities are under-represented throughout the ranks of Senate staffers. African-Americans and Latinos represent more than a third of self-identified Democrats nationwide but hold less than 3 percent of senior staff positions for Senate Democrats, according to a report last year by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) acknowledged that changing the lily-white complexion of the chamber’s staff sparks “an uncomfortable conversation.” But Schatz, who has led long-running efforts to diversify the Senate’s workforce alongside his friend Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), said lawmakers and aides should keep grappling with “frankly, an ugly history in the Capitol” — the storied dome partly built by slaves.

“I don’t think anybody is nefarious” in terms of denying minority candidates a chance at jobs, Schatz told POLITICO. “But we’re just not getting it done, and we need to hold ourselves accountable as an institution.”

More than a dozen lobbyists — some big donors, some smaller donors — have been meeting to discuss how to proceed. The group has focused on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in particular.

“As minority lobbyists, we know we invest in the DSCC directly, financially, and we want them to, in return, invest in us as a community and not just take our money and then — when they make decisions on who to hire as vendors and staff — to look the other way,” said Oscar Ramirez, a lobbyist at the Podesta Group.

The Senate’s retiring minority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), spearheaded the creation of a Democratic diversity initiative 10 years ago that has generated a bank of hundreds of resumes of ethnically diverse candidates. Reid’s aide Maria Meier, who has been in charge of the diversity effort since 2011, is leaving by the end of the year.

Current and former minority staffers, as well as Schatz, are urging the party to expand and update it amid clear signs that the effort has failed to change hiring practices for senior Democratic positions.

The inability of qualified minorities to get their feet in the door is “something a lot of people have been sounding alarm bells on for years and nothing has changed,” one former Senate Democratic aide said in an interview. Chalking the problem up to a lack of diverse candidates is “bullshit,” the aide added, given the number of senior African-American and Hispanic aides who have risen in the Obama administration.

Incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’s prepared to do more. “We all need to do a better job making the Senate a diverse place, and that’s a responsibility I take seriously,” Schumer said in a statement.

Some minority-employment advocates, including the bipartisan Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, have coalesced behind legislation creating a chief diversity officer for the Senate that Schumer is still weighing whether to endorse. The SBLSC’s president, Democratic associate counsel Don Bell, said his group wants to tackle diversity as an “institutional issue” rather than a partisan one and has also reached out to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office.

But it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who bear the brunt of the increasingly vocal push for change from both former aides on K Street and civil rights groups. Clinton had enlisted multiple advisers of color in her transition preparations before her Election Day loss, stoking fears that diversity-hiring progress nurtured by Obama could be lost under Trump.

So far, Trump’s team has not announced any similar plans to prioritize diversity as they fill thousands of appointed positions in the executive branch.

“The problem is quite pronounced, and frankly, people need to be called out for it,” another ex-Senate Democratic staffer said, calling it “embarrassing” that only two Latinas, and one African-American, hold senior staff positions. In fact, no statistics are completely up-to-date because offices are not required to report on staff diversity.

Sens.-elect Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the chamber’s first Latina, and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), will carry high expectations on diversity next year given the ethnic makeup of their states. The U.S. is about 13 percent African-American, but Harris — born to a Jamaican father and Indian mother — will be the Senate’s third black member, alongside Scott and Booker.

“Progress in the Senate has always been slow, but increasing diversity among Senate staff demands urgency and attention — not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because more ideas and perspectives at the table change the conversation and lead to better solutions to our nation’s most pressing challenges,” Booker said in a statement.

Hispanics are the largest minority group in the nation, comprising an estimated 17 percent of the population, but Cortez Masto will take Reid’s seat next year as only the fourth in the chamber, alongside Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

And when Cortez Masto tapped two Hispanic men in her initial rollout of seven senior staffers, immigration activist and Bernie Sanders adviser Erika Andiola took notice. “Oh, look at all those Latinas she hired in her senior staff! A grand total of … 0,” Andiola, who now works for Sanders’ Our Revolution group, posted on Facebook.

Rey Benitez, who will be Cortez Masto’s communications director next year, credits Reid’s diversity initiative with helping him navigate the Hill job-searching process and hailed Reid for building a staff that reflects the ethnic diversity of Nevada.

“There is much to be done” to build on what Reid’s office has done to shape a Senate staff more representative of the nation, said Benitez, now Hispanic media adviser to the departing Democratic leader. However, he praised “the progress we’ve made” given that “in the actual governing body, we still don’t have much diversity.”

Benitez said Cortez Masto’s future staffing announcements would include diverse hires.

Harris’ office has yet to announce hires beyond her incoming chief of staff, but signaled her focus on the issue by naming minorities as two of her three Senate transition co-chairs. And Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a disabled veteran raised by a Thai-Chinese mother and American father, will bring her own unique background to the diversity-hiring push when she joins the Senate next year.

“Diversity of background, experience and physical ability among the public servants in Congress is critical to effectively representing the entire nation and addressing the concerns of all Americans,” Duckworth spokesman Ben Garmisa said by email.

Schumer showed his commitment to expanding minority hiring by attending a June retreat of former and current staffers working on the issue. His office has several options on the table, including a proposed Senate Democratic version of the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule” requiring interviews of diverse candidates for senior jobs without an enforced mandate to hire them.

The draft bill creating a chief diversity officer, however, also would require offices to report their hiring statistics — shining a potentially critical light on minorities’ problems breaking into the exclusive and elite Senate. One current Senate Democratic aide working on the diversity effort said Schumer’s office has privately supported the idea that statistics on minority hiring be made available to lawmakers and the public.

A senior aide to one Democratic senator said that “the idea has merit” but questioned the wisdom of pitching the diversity legislation while the party remains in the minority. “We need to get our own house in order,” the chief of staff said. “To turn it into a political football is to debase the bill.”

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GOP women rise to power in Iowa

Two years ago, Iowa had never even elected a woman to Congress. Now, Republican women are taking over the state.

With Gov. Terry Branstad accepting President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to become the U.S. ambassador to China, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is set to become Iowa’s first female governor, putting a capstone on the rapid rise of women in Iowa state government and putting Reynolds in pole position to win a full term in the 2018 election. It comes just two years after GOP Sen. Joni Ernst became the state’s first female member of Congress.

It’s a sharp contrast to a national GOP that has only slowly been able to advance women in Washington — and Branstad’s appointments, selections and suggestions in Iowa have played a big role as he prepared his final act in state politics.

“I have been honored to be a full partner with Gov. Branstad in this administration and know that the experience I’ve gained over the last six years has prepared me well for this next chapter of service to all Iowans,” Reynolds said in a statement.

When Reynolds passed on running for Senate in 2014, Branstad quietly pointed the NRSC toward Ernst, then a little-known Iraq War veteran in Reynolds’ old state legislative seat who became a GOP rising star in a matter of months. (This year, Trump considered Ernst as a possible running mate during the presidential campaign.) In the fall, as Branstad coasted to reelection, he made helping Ernst a top priority.

“Gov. Branstad has been hands-on in making sure every office in Iowa is in Republican hands,” said Tim Albrecht, a GOP operative who used to work for the governor. “And that means including women in the mix. He doesn’t default to men when making choices.”

Four years earlier, Branstad has selected Reynolds to be his running mate. Next year, as governor, Reynolds will work with Iowa’s first female House speaker in Republican Linda Upmeyer. And Branstad’s administration has touted the record number of female agency heads in charge of Iowa’s state government in recent years.

“In Iowa, women are leading in key positions throughout state government,” Branstad said when Upmeyer ascended to the top position in the state House.

Ernst’s rise was a particularly welcome development for Washington Republicans, who have struggled to elevate women in the Capitol. The ranks of Republican women in the House and Senate are each set to decline by one next year, after the results of the 2016 election.

Branstad has picked women to be his lieutenant governor every time he’s had the opportunity — first in the 1990s with Joy Corning, and in the 2010s with Reynolds. Branstad also appointed Iowa’s first-ever female auditor.

Reynolds’ pending promotion also gives her a leg up for 2018, when Iowans were preparing for the likelihood of an open gubernatorial contest. Branstad had long groomed her for the top slot, regularly promoting her initiatives and mentioning her in press releases. The Republican Party won full control of the state Legislature in November, giving Reynolds two years to rack up accomplishments with allies in both chambers.

If Branstad was still in office, she likely would have needed to win a primary, but incumbency could scare off some challengers. (It also gives her the backing of the Republican Governors Association even before the primary.) One GOP potential challenger, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, has already said he no longer plans on running.

“I encourage Iowa Republicans to unite behind Lt. Gov. Reynolds, help ensure her election in 2018 and join me in keeping Iowa red for the next generation,” Northey said.

Totally clearing the field will be difficult but not impossible: There are plenty of Republicans with pent-up ambition after Branstad’s decades as governor. Republicans mentioned Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett as a possible challenger and Rep. Steve King, an immigration hawk, said Wednesday he was considering a bid.

But Albrecht thought Reynolds wouldn’t face much intra-party difficulty: “I’d be very surprised if a competitive primary emerged,” he said.

Democrats, who just lost Iowa by 9 percentage points at the presidential level and hold just one of Iowa’s seats in Congress, see some opportunity for a bounce-back in Branstad’s departure. He was a historically popular figure in the state, and the Democratic Governors Association reminded reporters Wednesday that Reynolds has twice been arrested for drunk driving.

“Iowa Republicans said it best: Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is simply ‘not viable,’” DGA executive director Elisabeth Pearson said in a statement, linking to a 2013 POLITICO story. “Democrats already had Iowa as a pickup target. Gov. Branstad’s departure increases the chances for Democrats to win back the Iowa governor’s office in 2018.”

The most prominent Iowa Democrat — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — has seemingly ruled out running in 2018.

“I have no plans on running again,” Vilsack said in an interview with Radio Iowa. “I think there’s a new generation of younger leaders out there.”

State Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire had long been a rumored 2018 gubernatorial candidate, but might have difficulty making the jump to elected office after Democrats’ poor performance in November. State Sen. Rob Hogg, who lost a primary bid for Senate in 2016 but was just elected to lead Democrats in the state Senate, and state Sen. Liz Harris, a former TV anchor who is well-known in the Cedar Rapids area, could also make bids. Other names mentioned include former House candidate Jim Mowrer and former state Rep. and party chair Tyler Olsen.

“Had Branstad run again, he would’ve been very, very difficult to beat,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa Democratic consultant. “The way things were sitting a week ago was not great for Iowa Democrats. So any reshuffling of the deck is a plus.”

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Biden gets warm, bipartisan Senate send-off

Vice President Joe Biden returned to his second home in the Senate on Wednesday for a spirited bipartisan tribute that filled the normally staid chamber with laughter — including a Pope joke and a reference to the vice president’s satirical Trans Am-scrubbing alter ego.

The celebration of Biden went on for more than two hours, as six Republicans joined 17 Democrats in floor speeches celebrating the Delawarean who spent 36 years in the chamber before his vice presidency made him president of the Senate for eight years. Perhaps the most memorable send-off came from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who complimented Biden’s personal and professional character during Barack Obama’s presidency — an era marked by intense partisan warfare.

“There’s a reason ‘get Joe on the phone’ is shorthand for ‘time to get serious’ in my office,” McConnell said.

But the Kentucky Republican also drew several chuckles from the crowd with a few quips about Biden’s famously loquacious nature. Biden’s final turn as the Senate’s presiding officer is “good news” for him because he gets called “Mr. President,” McConnell said, and “good news for the rest of us because he has to let everyone else talk.”

McConnell also recalled Biden’s long-running portrayal in the pages of The Onion as evidence of the sense of humor maintained by the “muscle guy at heart.”

“When The Onion ran a mock photo of him washing a Trans Am in the driveway shirtless, America embraced it,” McConnell said. “So did he.”

Biden’s return came during a pivotal week for the vice president, who presided over the Senate during a Monday vote on medical-research legislation that also includes funding for his “moonshot” project to accelerate a cure for cancer. His former colleagues added plenty of levity, however, with tales of working should-to-shoulder with Biden over the years.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) joked that he used to carry Biden’s luggage during overseas trips while serving as the Navy’s Senate liaison and “I’ve resented it ever since.” Kidding aside, McCain lauded Biden for being “fair and courteous to everyone, even people who didn’t always deserve it.”

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) used a joke about the Pope deciding to drive his own car, only to be pulled over for speeding by police, to share a memory of Biden personally securing him a ticket to an Amtrak train about to depart, full of passengers looking on — making Durbin feel like he was being assisted by the pontiff.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) offered perhaps the pithiest testimonial after a warm tribute by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) closed with hopes to work with the vice president again. “Mr President? … Me too,” she told a beaming Biden.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also retiring this year after a congressional career nearly as long as Biden’s, honored the “awe-inspiring” vice president’s triumph over occasionally tragic circumstances. Biden’s first wife, Neilia, died along with their infant daughter in a car accident just a few weeks after his election to the Senate at age 29.

“Steven Spielberg and Hollywood should be listening,” Reid said. “Joe Biden’s life is the stuff of which movies are made.”

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Doe Deere Brings Lime Crime To Passionate Makeup Lovers

When it comes to being flawless and fearless, no one does it better than Doe Deere. She is the founder and CEO of the popular cosmetic company, Lime Crime. She’s an individual who is determined, passionate, and doesn’t let the naysayers get to her. She’s worked hard to get to where she is in the business world and has never compromised who she is or her integrity. She marches to the beat of her own drum, makes makeup that literally everyone can enjoy, and always manages to look gorgeous when stepping out into the world. Here’s her story.


Doe Deere launched Lime Crime cosmetics back in 2008. She wanted a cruelty-free makeup line that literally could be utilized by everyone. Deere understands that makeup is so much more than something we just put on our face to look good. It’s a way of life and freedom of expression for many people. Deere realized there was a market for people who wanted to live in the moment when it comes to makeup. They wouldn’t be satisfied by the cheap, mass-produced, products that come from the drugstore. That’s why her line of products are unique, fun, and colorful. When it comes to Lime Crime, Deere has dreamed up almost every color that you can think of! Her lip colors come in pinks, reds, purples, yellows, blues, greens, and so much more! She realizes no two people are created the same and therefore everyone has different tastes in makeup. She launched Lime Crime because she realized that bright colors were hard to come by. She realized that if she really craved the colors then there had to be other people out there who did too!


Deere is really in touch with her makeup. She only brings about new colors when she’s feeling inspired. That’s how she comes out with the best stuff and how she can truly feel that she’s making something that her consumers will connect with. She’s not trying to make a profit like most companies, rather she’s trying to forge a connection with the makeup lovers who buy her products.


Deere stands behind Lime Crime 100% and she understands it. That’s what truly helps her business to be successful. She runs everything online so she’s really able to tinker around with her makeup, the site, and the feel until she gets it right. This clear picture of what she wants Lime Crime to be truly helps. It means she will never sway from the makeup values she built her company on.

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Sapphire Rings and Jewelry for Everyone

You may have noticed that a lot of people are getting Sapphire rings for their engagement. Since there has been an explosion of people getting it for their brides. You might be wondering why this is such a big thing over the traditional Diamond.

Sapphires or Diamonds
The big reason the sapphire is now becoming something that a lot more people want to use for their engagement rings is that it comes in so many beautiful colors. Sapphires now come in Blues and Purples and Pinks to satisfy the wants of their new customers. They also are a way to be different from the pack. You might be thinking that you want something that isn’t the same as your friends and Sapphires may be the way to go.

Diamonds are still very popular for engagement jewelry. It’s traditional and it’s something that most people recognize for engagement rings. The Diamond also comes in many shades of colors such as the new Chocolate Diamond that is very popular these days. You can also combine Diamonds and Sapphires to make something really beautiful out of your engagement ring. You can put Diamonds in the main setting and add sapphires to the other areas of the ring if you like.

Why People Love Sapphires?
People love Sapphires because they are different and colorful and that makes them a great choice for an engagement ring. They also can accent or be the center of a ring depending on what you want for your rings. If you decide you want a Sapphire, you still have to find the right color for your needs. This way it will be different and amazing at the same time.

Sapphires are a great addition to any engagement ring. It can make it different and special for your special woman. You can show her how much you love her simply by getting a beautiful colored ring that is special just like she is. Take your time and know you are getting the right colors and settings for her and yourself. That way it will be just what she wants for her wedding. What are you waiting for? Get out there and find a great sapphire ring today.

Dr. Rick Shinto: Innovator for Managed Care

Society’s greatest concern regarding doctors used to be their bedside manner, but in the modern era it’s the ability to innovate. Rare doctors harness both traits. Dr. Rick Shinto, President and CEO of InnovaCare Health, falls into the category of this rare breed.

During his tenure as President and CEO of Aveta, Inc. from 2008 to 2012, he built provider networks and forged a Medicare Advantage program that provided sustainable, cost-effective, high quality medical treatment to patients. In 2012, he received New Jersey’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award in the Service category. He’s now bringing the same key skills to InnovaCare Health, working with CAO Penelope Kokkinides to build a Medicare Advantage program that provides cutting-edge treatments and a patient-first attitude. Shinto has called “quality service” his goal for many years throughout his tenure at multiple health care providers.

The Medicare Advantage program allows Medicare-eligible persons to use private insurance companies to access medical services, opening new treatment avenues and a larger provided network to recipients. In the traditional Medicare program, recipients receive medical treatment only through Medicare approved facilities. Managed care organizations that develop Medicare Advantage programs offer an expanded range of treatments and facilities, but keep costs at Medicare-approved levels. Rather than Medicare directly paying the facility for treatment, as occurs in the traditional program, in the Medicare Advantage program, the insurance company receives reimbursement from the federal government.

Dr. Shinto transitioned from a career as an an internist and pulmonologist to administrative service in managed care. He now brings his more than 20 years of operational and clinical experience to InnovaHealth to improve patient outcomes in a cost-effective environment. He previously served as Chief Executive Officer at MMM Healthcare, Inc. and PMC Medicare Choice, Inc.; Chief Medical Officer of NAMM California; Chief Operating Officer and Chief Medical Officer for Medical Pathways Management Company, and for Cal Optima Health Plan in Orange County, California. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of California at Irvine, his medical degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his Master of Business Administration from the University of Redlands.

“Dr. Rick” has kept his focus on the importance of the doctor-patient relationship from his earliest days as pulmonologist. The InnovaCare Health Medicare Advantage program he’s developing with Kokkinides goes beyond treating existing illness. InnovaCare’s program also features preventative care services including health education, wellness and fitness information for participants.