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Tech start-ups founded by women have twice the number of female employees

Start-ups with at least one female founder wind up building companies in which nearly half the staff are women, a new study finds.

With an average of 48 percent female workers, women-led businesses have nearly twice the industry average and outpace some of the nation’s largest tech companies in gender diversity including Google (31 percent), Facebook (33 percent) and Uber (36 percent), according to the study by online startup investing platform FundersClub that surveyed 85 U.S.-based tech start-ups.

Alex Mittal, co-founder and CEO of FundersClub, said start-ups are key to addressing gender diversity in the workplace because the ones that succeed someday may be massive companies. The majority of start-ups surveyed had fewer than 20 employees.

They “have the potential to become huge — they’re great agents for change,” said Mittal, a co-author of the study.

The study also examined the effect of female tech founders on leadership and engineering teams. Women made up 38 percent of executives at businesses with at least one female founder — 2.4 times the average at start-ups with no female founders. At women-led companies, women made up 23 percent of the engineering teams — 2.3 times the average at businesses led by men.

The findings come on the heels of a months-long investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber, which has elevated awareness of what long has been one of the tech industry’s biggest deficiencies.

Mittal said the timing was simply a coincidence. Women in the industry say the survey’s findings are no surprise.

“Top female talent is more attracted to work on a team where they can see themselves in leadership and know that is respected in the company,” said K.J. Erickson, the CEO of Simbi, a service exchange platform.

Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, a network of women investors, said the survey failed to address the elephant in the room — race.

“How many of those women founders are white women,” asked Oberti Noguera, one of the speakers at the Iowa Women Lead Change Women’s Leadership conference in 2016. “It would’ve been even more exciting if this report had included race and gender together.”

Indeed, one 2016 study found that only 0.2 percent of venture deals from 2012 to 2014 went to start-ups led by black women. Lauren Schulte, founder of Flex Co., agreed gender is just one part of the diversity equation.

She recalled attending a Los Angeles gathering for women founders that attracted more than 200 women, but few of color.

“There were only two black women and maybe four Asian women, the rest of women were predominantly blonde and very attractive,” Schulte said. “This is not representative of the people that are out there.”

Diversity — gender, race and age, among other factors — is crucial to being competitive in the startup world, Schulte said. It “can bring a richness to problem solving that you can’t get if you have 10 people who are clones.”

John Norris to kick off Iowa gubernatorial campaign with ‘barn-raising’

CEDAR RAPIDS — John Norris is hosting a “barn-raising” July 9 to kick off his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor.

The kickoff potluck takes place from 4 to 6:30 p.m. at the Walnut Hill Picnic Shelter at Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Rd., Urbandale.

Norris, who served Tom Vilsack in the governor’s office and at the United State Department of Agriculture, will share his vision that “it’s time our government worked for all Iowans.”

Norris has been touring the state meeting with Democratic activists in preparation for the official launch of his campaign July 10 in his hometown of Red Oak.

The fifth-generation Iowan “is all about rural Iowa,” explained campaign spokeswoman Tessa Lengeling.

Admission to the potluck is free. Those who attend are asked to bring a dish to pass.

“If you can bring a lot, bring a lot. If you can bring a little, bring a little,” Lengeling said. “Everyone will be fed. That’s the Iowa way.”

Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to rsvp@norrisforthepeople.com.

Norris plans to hit the campaign trail across Iowa and has scheduled a stop in Cedar Rapids July 11. More details will be announced later.

Norris will join Sen. Nate Boulton of Des Moines, former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, former Des Moines school board President Jon Neiderbach, Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City, Davenport Alderman Mike Matson, Coralville nurse and union president Cathy Glasson and Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell in the race for the nomination.

The nomination will be determined by a June 2018 primary unless none of the candidates gets at least 35 percent of the vote. If that happens, a candidate will be nominated at the Democratic convention.

For more on Norris, go to norrisforthepeople.com.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Wife of Cedar Rapids banker convicted of embezzling funds from former employer

CEDAR RAPIDS — The wife of a Cedar Rapids banker was convicted last week in Marshall County for embezzling funds from a Marshalltown manufacturing company since 2006. 

Marcy A. German, 46, former office manager of Spread-All Manufacturing, pleaded guilty June 12 in Marshall County District Court to first-degree theft and tampering with records. The criminal complaint shows she misappropriated business funds from 2006 to December 2016. She was charged with using three company credit cards to make personal purchases in excess of $10,000.

German, who handled payroll, payables and human resources for the company, also paid herself with funds earmarked for a Health Savings Account, the complaint shows.

The other charge of ongoing criminal conduct will be dismissed at sentencing, as part of a plea agreement.     

Court documents show the prosecutor at sentencing will recommend running the 10-year and five-year prison terms concurrently and suspending both for a sentence of five years probation. She also will have to pay a fine up to $6,250 on the tampering charge.

Any restitution for the theft charge will result from damages awarded in a civil lawsuit filed by Spread-All Manufacturing against German and her husband, Timothy German, director, president and CEO of F&M Bank in Cedar Rapids, court documents show.

Timothy German was not charged in the criminal case.

Brian Maddick, president of Spread-All Manufacturing, said Thursday the theft was “well over $10,000.” He said he couldn’t disclose the total amount because of the pending lawsuit.

Maddick said Timothy German was the company’s banker but the relationship was severed in February following Marcy German’s arrest in December.

The lawsuit was filed in May by French Grove Enterprises Inc., doing business as Spread-All Manufacturing Co., in Linn County District Court. It claims Marcy German is liable for money she embezzled and money associated with the “goods taken,” along with any and all costs to prosecute and accounting and attorney fees.

The suit claims Timothy German is also liable for these funds because he benefited from his wife’s theft and “participated in the transfer of funds without the permission of the principals of French Grove/Spread-All.”

The company is asking for compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.

The Germans, through their Cedar Rapids lawyer, Gail Brashers-Krug, have denied liability and owing any damages to the company in documents filed Monday.

“Mr. and Mrs. German regret that the plaintiff (Spread-All) has turned what should have been an easily resolved issue into a criminal matter and an expensive, potentially protracted lawsuit,” Brashers-Krug said Thursday. “Mrs. German made some improper charges, and she feels terrible about them. Mrs. German would like to work with the plaintiff in good faith to examine each and every charge to determine which should be repaid, and repay every cent promptly.”

Brashers-King added that this has been a difficult time for the Germans and they look forward to resolving their differences and moving on with their lives.

Marcy German will be sentenced Aug. 7 in Marshall County District Court.

A trial date for the civil suit hasn’t been set at this time.    

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Apple Music wants to pay labels less

In the two years since its release, Apple Music has been gunning for Spotify’s top spot atop the music streaming world, playing the upstart as it rushes to occupy territory as an ambitious, new competitor.

It’s made some important strides. Apple has aggressively converted 27 million subscribers and has bolstered its catalog with exclusive online television.

And in yet another sign of Apple’s momentum, the company is said to be renegotiating its deals with record labels, offering a smaller cut on the promise it will continue to deliver ever more eager listeners.

Given that progress, what is the No. 2 streaming player doing hawking its service on daily-deals site Groupon alongside coupons for cargo shorts and couples’s massages? It’s part of the land grab, analysts said.

“A lot of the deals on Groupon are from companies that perhaps have seen better days,” said Rafi Mohammed, a pricing consultant. “But on occasion, Groupon does do a high-profile deal with a major company.”

First-time customers can sign up for Apple Music and get three months free, if they grab the Groupon deal. Afterward, subscribers automatically are renewed for a regular membership, at $9.99. The free trial is the same as the one Apple offers on its own site. Experts said that rather than giving off a whiff of sales-desperation, Apple’s Groupon move is the latest sign of the company’s aggressive play to reach new streaming customers.

“Apple Music is growing fast but not as fast as Spotify,” said Mark Mulligan, a digital music market analyst. “It needs to widen its acquisition funnel to attract more users. Groupon is just one example of this strategy.”

Apple’s consumer base is limited to people who already own Apple devices, whereas Spotify’s potential audience is anyone with a smartphone. But within the ecosystem of Apple products, this can work to Apple’s advantage, Mulligan said.

“Over the next couple of years, Apple is likely to strengthen its position due to its ability to market directly to iOS device owners and to give increased priority to Apple Music within its devices,” Mulligan said. “In effect Apple has an inbuilt advantage within the iOS ecosystem and by the same token, the ability to limit the reach of Spotify.”

Trump says he doesn’t have tapes of his conversations with Comey

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he doesn’t have recordings of his conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey, capping weeks of speculation about whether such tapes exist.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey,” Trump said Thursday in a pair of statements on Twitter, “but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Trump himself raised the question of whether he was taping his Oval Office conversations when, days after firing Comey on May 9, he blasted out a series of tweets suggesting the existence of tapes as a way to try to deter the ousted FBI chief from talking to reporters.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Trump wrote. He concluded with a tweet calling the investigation into Russian interference in the election and his campaign’s possible involvement a “witch hunt,” asking, “when does it end?”

Trump raised the possibility of tapes in a strategic fashion to ensure that Comey told the truth, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election has sought information on whether the tapes exist. The panel sent a letter on June 9 to White House Counsel Don McGahn requesting information on whether recordings of Comey’s conversations with Trump exist and, if they do, for copies to be turned over by Friday.

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned the White House Thursday that “time is running out” to meet the Friday deadline.

The president has promised to answer the question soon. He ended a news conference on June 9 with a cliff-hanger about the tapes: “I’ll tell you about that over a very short period of time.” He said in the same news conference that reporters would be disappointed with his answer — suggesting that there are no tapes.

Grocery store owners struggle as groceries become cheaper

It’s a rough time to be a grocery store, with competition from new rivals squeezing margins on all sides.

But it’s a killer time to be a grocery store shopper. They’ve never had so many companies vie to offer the lowest price.

The expansion of foreign discount stores Aldi and Lidl — the latter of which just opened its first U.S. stores last week — are challenging traditional grocery stores on cost, with prices that beat those in existing U.S. stores by 20 to 30 percent, on average.

On top of that, Amazon’s recent announcement that it plans to acquire organic giant Whole Foods threatens to take a bite out of grocers’ high-end business.

To stave off the new competitors, chains such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Albertson’s may have to make significant changes.

“Prices will go lower, that’s for sure,” said Daniel Lucht, the global research director at ResearchFarm, a British retail consultancy. “There will be lots of promotions, lots of special offers, lots of brands being pulled in, as well. This will be a great year for consumers.”

In some parts of the country, that great year already has begun — particularly where Lidl and Aldi have moved in. The two chains, both of which are German-owned, offer a limited selection of produce and packaged foods in relatively small, no-frills stores. That narrow focus has allowed them to optimize their supply chains and offer prices well below those of mainstream grocers.

A recent analysis by RBC Capital Markets, which compared Lidl sale fliers with those of other stores, found that its prices were about 22 percent cheaper than Food Lion’s and 20 percent cheaper than Kroger’s. Scott Mushkin, an analyst with Wolfe Research, has said that Aldi products typically cost about 20 percent less than Wal-Mart’s.

For brand-name products — think Coca-Cola or Oreos — analysts have found as much as a 200 percent gap between Aldi-bought products and mainstream-grocery-bought ones.

That historically hasn’t posed an existential threat to mainstream U.S. stores. Aldi has been in the United States for 40 years, for example, and still represents a tiny portion of sales by volume.

On June 12, however, the company announced plans to spend $3.4 billion over the next five years to open an additional 900 locations, which will make it the third-largest grocer in the United States. At the same time, Lidl plans to have 100 U.S. stores by this time next year, and analysts are predicting that within five years it could have as many as 600.

Conventional grocers have taken notice, spending millions of dollars on improvements to existing stores and developing new formats that emphasize offerings the discounters don’t have, such as prepared foods, coffee shops and pharmacies.

Many also have begun aggressive pushes to lower their prices relative to Lidl and Aldi.

“That is probably the most immediate effect you’re going to see,” said Bill Urda, a retail analyst at the Boston Consulting Group. “There are many factors that go into customer loyalty, but price is always up there.”

To wit, Wal-Mart, the country’s largest seller of groceries, embarked on a three-year, multibillion-dollar plan in February 2016 to lower its prices. While the company would not elaborate on the details of that project, citing competitive interests, Reuters reported that Wal-Mart significantly dropped its prices in more than 1,200 Midwestern and North Carolina stores earlier this year. In the cities where Wal-Mart was running the price experiment, Reuters found, a basket of its products cost eight percent less than their Aldi equivalents.

The company also has been in talks with thousands of its suppliers to reduce costs. Phillip Keene, a spokesman for the company, said its price reductions intensified this year and will continue into 2018.

Protester arrested outside President Donald Trump’s rally, accused of throwing an egg

CEDAR RAPIDS — A protester outside of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally is accused of throwing an egg at and assaulting a man.

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said a Cedar Rapids police officer heard a commotion in the 400 block of First Avenue East around 6:18 p.m. The officer then saw a woman, later identified as 22-year-old Anne M. Seifert, throw an egg at a man, hitting him in the chest. Seifert then charged the man, punched him several times and kicked him in both of his shins.

The officer said the man did not hit Seifert or try to defend himself.

Investigation into the matter revealed that the 43-year-old man had walked over to the protesters and was filming them when he and Seifert got into a verbal argument that escalated into the assault. Seifert allegedly told police she was upset because she felt the man had come across the street to provoke her and the other protesters.

Seifert was arrested and faces one count of assault.

Buelow said four people were cited for peddling at President Donald Trump’s rally and 17 protesters were escorted out of the event.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Tom Zinkula to be installed Thursday as bishop of Davenport Diocese

When 21-year-old Tom Zinkula was a Coe College senior trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life, he never imagined his 60-year-old self would one day lead the Davenport Diocese.

But Thursday, the Mount Vernon native takes the next step in his unlikely journey to the priesthood as he is installed as the ninth bishop of the diocese.

A ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at St. John Vianney Church in Bettendorf.

“I was in the second semester of my senior year and I decided I needed to do something, I needed to figure out where I was going,” Zinkula recalled.

He had studied math and economics, but didn’t see himself as a teacher. Instead, he became interested in actuarial sciences that combine math and business and took a job as an actuary after graduation.

“Already by the fall or toward the end of that year I knew this wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

He became interested in law and went back to school for three years in search of his law degree, this time to the University of Iowa. He interned at the Cedar Rapids law firm Simmons-Perrine during his second year of law school, and then was hired as an attorney after he received his degree.

“It was good, I really enjoyed what I was doing,” he said. “I wasn’t really looking for something different, but there was something missing in my life, and I was praying about it. I prayed for a couple years, thinking it was something on the side — volunteering, doing some kind of service. I just didn’t know where God was directing me.”

Then one day, he said, the path became clear.

“Suddenly the priesthood was presented to me by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “So that’s what I did — after practicing law for three years, I went off to seminary.”

Now, 27 years later, Msgr. Tom Zinkula of the Archdiocese of Dubuque is poised to become Bishop Tom Zinkula of the Davenport Diocese.

His path from priest to bishop in some ways has surprised him.

“I saw myself as a parish priest, that’s what I knew about the priesthood growing up in the Catholic church,” he said. “I never saw myself as a lawyer of canaan law, or as a vicar, or president of the seminary, or, now, bishop.”

But, he said, he accepts the position with an excited anticipation.

“It’s a big role, there are a lot of challenges,” he said. “I need to learn how to be a bishop, I need to know the people in the diocese, but it’s a new adventure, a new challenge and I look forward to it.”

“Really, at the heart of it all, there’s a sense of peace,” he said. “I do feel called to this ministry by the Holy Spirit. I feel like there’s a sense of peace about it, and it’s the right thing for me to do at this point in my life.”

Zinkula is succeeding Bishop Martin Amos, who was named to the post in 2006. Amos turned 75 in December and under Vatican rule was eligible for retirement.

Kmart closures mean 100 Iowans will lose their jobs

The closure of two Kmart stores in Eastern Iowa will mean about 100 people will lose their jobs.

The national retail chain said last month it would shutter its store in Iowa City, the last of its kind in the Corridor. A report from Business Insider later listed additional closures, including a Marshalltown location.

Those stores will cease operation in September.

When they close, 50 people in Marshalltown and 49 in Iowa City will lose their jobs, according to a recently updated state log of company layoffs and closures. A spokesman for the company did not respond when asked previously how many employees would be affected by the layoffs.

The state log also shows Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics has conducted additional layoffs at its Coralville office. The company said in April it would start staff reductions at the location, with an initial count including 220 employees.

The list from Iowa Workforce Development shows an additional 21 people will be laid off later this year.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

The Health 202: What’s in the Senate health care bill

WASHINGTON — Senate GOP leaders are poised to release an Obamacare overhaul that clearly tries to woo the moderate members of their party while also keeping spending in check and giving conservatives a few goodies, too.

Wednesday afternoon, The Health 202 scooped the major details of the draft health care legislation that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to bring up for a vote next week. Like the House bill passed in May, the Senate version would put big dents in the Affordable Care Act, repealing just about all of its taxes, pulling back on Medicaid expansion and ditching the individual mandate to buy coverage and the employer mandate to offer it.

But the Senate bill contains three elements McConnell is betting will win over a half dozen or so moderates who remain skeptical but whose votes are crucial to overall passage (remember: the majority leader needs only 50 votes since arcane budget rules are being applied to the measure, meaning he can lose just two Republicans). McConnell’s draft, hashed out behind closed doors, basically retains Obamacare’s insurance subsidy structure — with just a few tweaks — takes a gentler approach than the House bill in the short-term to Medicaid expansion, and wouldn’t allow states to opt out of key protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

The idea, aides and lobbyists say, is to provide a softer landing for people at lower ends of the income spectrum than under the House bill. That measure based the subsidies only on age and didn’t peg them to actual premiums, resulting in estimates of dramatic cost spikes for some Americans and prompting a heavy onslaught of public criticism that spooked many House moderates.

The Senate bill tries to fix that problem — sort of. Its subsidies closely mirror Obamacare subsidies, which are currently available to Americans earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Starting in 2020, under the Senate bill, this assistance would be capped for those earning up to 350 percent — but anyone below that line could get the subsidies if they’re not eligible for Medicaid. As under the ACA, the subsidies would be pegged to a benchmark insurance plan each year, ensuring that the assistance grows enough over time to keep coverage affordable for customers.

McConnell is also offering moderates an approach to Medicaid he hopes will be more politically palatable to them. It’s true the draft proposes even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House version by tying federal spending to a slower growth index. But that wouldn’t kick in for another seven years, well past moderate senators’ next reelection battles. And it doesn’t fully end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion until five years from now, gradually easing down the extra federal payments over three years starting in 2021.

The Senate bill also retains the ACA’s protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. It eliminates the House bill’s pathway for states to lift a ban on insurers from charging people with serious medical conditions higher premiums, which would have been another political hotbed for moderates. It does expand the use of certain “1332 waivers” to give states more flexibility — a provision that conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wanted — but those waivers don’t open the door to ducking the pre-existing protections.

The Senate bill would also provide funding in 2018 and 2019 for extra Obamacare subsidies to insurers to cover the cost-sharing discounts they’re required to give the lowest-income patients. Insurers have been deeply concerned over whether the subsidies will continue, as the Trump administration has refused to say whether it will keep funding them in the long run.

With this approach that sticks a little closer to existing law, McConnell is hoping to win over Republicans in states that embraced parts of the ACA, like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada. Their votes are absolutely crucial to the whole effort to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare, the promise Republicans made time and time again over the past seven years and which McConnell is determined to fulfill.

Even Wednesday, many members expressed deep skepticism toward elements in the draft as it took shape. “Up to this point, I don’t have any new news — tomorrow we will see it definitively — that would cause me to change that sentiment,” Capito told the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and Juliet Eilperin Wednesday.

Many moderates are still likely to be displeased that the Senate draft will almost certainly result in significantly more uninsured people than under the ACA, although it could look a little better than the House version on that measure, which is estimated to cost 23 million people their coverage in a decade. All of this won’t be known for sure until the Congressional Budget Office score is released, likely on Monday. Furthermore, the measure retains a provision to strip Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood clinics for one year, potentially alienating Murkowski, who supports abortion rights.

So what do conservatives get out of this bill? Big cuts to Medicaid further down the road and a repeal of nearly all of Obamacare’s taxes. Under the Senate draft, federal Medicaid spending would remain constant for three years. In 2021, it would be transformed from an open-ended entitlement to a system based on per capita enrollment. Starting in 2025, the measure would tie federal spending on the program to an even slower growth index, which in turn could prompt states to reduce the size of their Medicaid programs.

Conservatives, and the health care industry at large, also will be pleased that the draft proposes repealing all of Obamacare’s taxes except for its so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans in language similar to the House version. Senators previously toyed with the idea of keeping some of the ACA’s taxes.

But there’s a strong chance the Senate bill could spark a revolt on the right. Conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity wanted to erase Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion right away, and they’re also likely to view the Senate GOP’s approach to subsidies as another big, bad government entitlement. Anti-abortion groups may oppose the measure too since it removes the House bill language restricting federally subsidized health plans from covering abortions, which may have run afoul of complex budget rules.

Early voting begins for Linn County election

CEDAR RAPIDS — Absentee voting has begun for a Linn County special election on how future members of the county’s Board of Supervisors will be elected.

Starting today, Linn County residents can vote in-person at the Auditor’s Office’s Election Services department in the Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW in Cedar Rapids. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Absentee ballots also can be mailed to voters, who must return the ballot to the office by July 31.

On the ballot, residents will select from three options for a county representation plan, which dictates how voters select their county supervisors.

• Districts: Keep the current representation plan, where voters in each district vote for a supervisor who lives in that district.

• At-large/district: Voters countywide vote on supervisors who live within specific districts.

• At-large: Voters countywide vote on all three supervisors. Districts are done away with.

For the Aug. 1 election, Linn County Election Services has combined a few polling locations due to traditionally low voter turnout.

The following polling locations will combine services, but not change location:

• Cedar Rapids 7 and 15

• Cedar Rapids 43 and 44

• Hiawatha 3 and 3

• Monroe Township 1 and Hiawatha 4

In addition, Cedar Rapids 17 and 22 will combine and be relocated to First Lutheran Church, 1000 Third Ave. SE, while Clinton Township and Cedar Rapids 31 will combine and be relocated to Cedar Hills Community Church, 6455 E. Avenue NW.

The remaining of Linn County’s 86 precincts will remain unchanged, with the above polling location combinations in place for future elections.

The representation plan selected in August must remain in place for at least six years before it can be changed again.

Last November, county residents voted to reduce the size of the Linn County Board of Supervisors from five members to three.

If the county maintains a representation plan that includes districts, a temporary redistricting committee will need to remap the county into three parcels of similar population.

In November 2018, Linn County voters will select three supervisors to take office Jan. 2, 2019.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

Thursday Morning Read: Trump holds rally, protesters outside arena, fact checking Trump's speech

Trump holds rally in downtown Cedar Rapids - He doesn’t get credit for all he’s done in 152 days as president, Donald Trump said Wednesday night, but he’s made “amazing progress” improving the economy, lowering unemployment, curtailing illegal immigration and, in short, delivering on his promise to “Make America Great Again.”

A crowd of more than 6,000 at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids joined him in delivering that signature line from his campaign and demonstrated it believed him with cheers, chants of “USA, USA” and applause throughout the hour-plus campaign-style rally. Read more about what President Trump said during his rally here.

 

Protestors line the streets outside Trump rally - Heavy rains that came and went, and came again, didn’t deter scores of protesters who waved signs, chanted and elicited honks from passing cars while awaiting President Donald Trump’s arrival downtown Wednesday evening.

Familiar cheers and jeers rang out as about 150 protesters near the U.S. Cellular Center yelled “my body, my choice,” “lock him up” and “this is what democracy looks like.” Read the full story about the scene outside the arena here.

 

Fact Checking Trump's Speech - President Donald Trump’s stops in Cedar Rapids Wednesday touched on many important Iowa issues, from wind power to wrestling. The Gazette’s Fact Checker will review six statements for accuracy. Read through our fact check process and results here.

 

20 years since Norm got kicked out -  Many were disgusted. Some were delighted. University of Iowa athletic department people were mortified.

But time heals some wounds, so let us observe Thursday’s 20-year anniversary of a night that has lived in infamy with more amusement than ire.

On June 22, 1997, then-“Saturday Night Live” cast members Norm Macdonald, Jim Breuer and Darrell Hammond performed stand-up comedy in the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. Macdonald was the anchor on SNL’s “Weekend Update” segments. He also did popular impersonations of Bob Dole, Larry King and Burt Reynolds in sketches.

Read Mike Hlas' full column on when comedian Norm MacDonald was kicked out of his comedy show here.

 

Police investigating Iowa City robbery

IOWA CITY — Iowa City police are investigating a reported robbery.

According to police, the victim said they were in the 600 block of South Johnson Street when they were robbed by a skinny man wearing shorts and a gray T-shirt. The suspect had a buzz cut and wore glasses, the victim said.

The robbery is alleged to have occurred around 4:30 a.m., but was not reported until after 5 a.m., police said. Officers searched the area, but were unable to locate a suspect.

The alleged robbery remains under investigation and anyone with information is asked to call Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers at (319) 358-8477.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Iowa City man accused of body slamming Hy-Vee employee

CORALVILLE — An Iowa City man is accused of assaulting a Hy-Vee employee during a theft in April.

According to a Coralville police criminal complaint, officers were called to Hy-Vee, 1914 Eighth St., around 2:30 p.m. April 25 for a shoplifter who was fighting with store staff. Police said the suspect, 43-year-old Sedrick A.D. Lewis “body slammed” an employee into a metal fence before fleeing the scene.

Authorities said the store employee suffered a possible concussion and was taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury.

Police said Lewis also stole seven bottles of liquor valued at nearly $300 from the same Hy-Vee on March 2. On April 23, he allegedly stole several more bottles of liquor valued at nearly $270. Iowa City police said Lewis stole five bottles of Grey Goose vodka from a Kum & Go the same day as the Hy-Vee assault.

Lewis was arrested this week and faces one count of second-degree robbery, a Class C felony, for the Hy-Vee assault; and three counts of third-degree theft, an aggravated misdemeanor, for the three thefts.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Trump, in Cedar Rapids, touts ‘amazing progress’

CEDAR RAPIDS — He doesn’t get credit for all he’s done in 152 days as president, Donald Trump said Wednesday night, but he’s made “amazing progress” improving the economy, lowering unemployment, curtailing illegal immigration and, in short, delivering on his promise to “Make America Great Again.”

A crowd of more than 6,000 at the U.S. Cellular Center in downtown Cedar Rapids joined him in delivering that signature line from his campaign and demonstrated it believed him with cheers, chants of “USA, USA” and applause throughout the hour-plus campaign-style rally.

Many in the crowd said they came to the rally — some waiting five hours or more — to show their support for Trump and appreciation for what he’s doing.

“He needs all the help he can get because he’s not getting it from the party, but from the people,” said Tom Barr of West Liberty.

That’s because “he doesn’t have the old Republican network behind him,” said Joe Quaintance, who drove from Illinois. “But the people support him.”

“The media doesn’t give him credit,” added Judith McDonough, who drove from Van Buren County to show support.

That’s because his supporters, who “showed up and voted to put America first,” want “a government that shows you the same respect and loyalty in return,” Trump said. “That is exactly what I’ve done: put America first.”

Trump was making his first visit to Iowa since being sworn in as president and his first return to Cedar Rapids since a late October rally at the McGrath Amphitheatre. He visited Des Moines in December on his “thank you” tour.

The overarching theme of this 71-minute speech was making America great and putting America first. He framed it as a struggle between those who voted for him and the “same failed and tired voices in Washington (that would) keep us from delivering the change you voted for and the change you deserve.”

“The people are the rulers of this country once again,” he said. “One by one, we are keeping our promises.”

That’s why the arena was filled and why Trump voters are sticking with the president, Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler said.

“What the people appreciate about Trump is that he is willing to push back against the shrill, unhinged left,” he said. “They are glad he is willing to stand with them. They feel like they are included, not outside the tent.”

Seventeen protesters, part of a group, were escorted out of the arena, a Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman said.

Trump told his audience he has signed 39 pieces of legislation into law in the first five months of his administration, and signed executive orders to roll back countless regulations.

Declaring “Obamacare is over,” Trump said he hopes “we’re going to surprise you with a really good (health care) plan” and said majority Republicans are going to pass the largest tax cut in American history.

“Infrastructure’s going to happen, too,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of exciting things over the next few months”

Trump, who has proposed a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, promised to “rebuild not only America, but we will rebuild rural America” by buying American and hiring American.

He called for Democrats to get on board rather than stand in the way of the changes.

“They need to be positive. They can’t continue to be obstructionist,” Trump said. “They should come together — I don’t think they will, but I will tell you it would be a beautiful, beautiful thing if we could get together as two parties that love our country and come up with the great health care.

“If we had even a little Democratic support, you would have everything,” he added.

Instead, they engage in “phony witch hunts,” he charged without mentioning the congressional and FBI investigations into Russian meddling in the presidential election.

The “everything” he mentioned would include new immigration rules requiring people coming to the United States be able to support themselves without welfare services for at least five years, he said.

That sounded good to Lucy Ditch, 13, and Ava Johnson, 14, both of North Liberty, who were there to show support for Trump, especially his immigration policy.

“He knows what he’s doing,” said Lucy, who was wearing a “Make American Great Again” cap and Trump T-shirt. She agreed with Ava that it’s important to “keep the country safe.”

Along with those new rules, Trump renewed his pledge — again with the crowd joining him — to “build the wall.”

For the first time, he proposed making it a solar wall that will pay for itself by generating electricity.

“The higher it goes, the more valuable it is,” he said.

Whether it’s his U.S.> Supreme Court appointment, pushing his legislative agenda, pulling out of the Paris climate accord, withdrawing participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement or canceling former President Barack Obama’s “one-sided deal with the Castro regime,” Trump said he’s doing it because it’s what Americans want.

“I was elected to serve the citizens of Iowa … all 50 states and 320 million citizens,” he said.

Trump left the stage to the Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375, james.lynch@thegazette.com

B.A. Morelli of The Gazette contributed to this report.

‘He is able to connect with me’ C.R. crowd satisfied with what Trump had to say

CEDAR RAPIDS — Mary Waddell didn’t drive over from Davenport to learn something new or hear promises from President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

She watches the news and knows what the president has done and where he stands. She just came to see him in person.

“I came to get excited — get excited about the United States,” said Waddell, 65. “Get excited about America. We should all be getting excited about our country.”

A raucous rally that felt akin to a rock ‘n’ roll concert at the U.S. Cellular Center greeted Trump in his first visit to Iowa as president. Earlier in the day, Trump toured Kirkwood Community College.

Trump was last in Cedar Rapids for a rally at the McGrath Amphitheatre shortly before the election, on Oct. 28, 2016, and he held a “thank you” event in Des Moines on Dec. 8, 2016, after he was elected but before his inauguration.

Trump hit familiar refrains, railing against the media and the swamp in Washington, D.C., while touting his effort to make environmental regulations more friendly to farmers and boost American energy production. The crowd broke into a frenzy at several points, and Trump had playful interactions with some of his fans.

“He connects with people off the street,” said Renee Scheuerlein, 56, of Cedar Rapids. “That’s why he is the president, and Hillary Clinton isn’t. He was raised with a silver spoon, and he still is able to connect with me.”

Sunshine Pennington, 32, traveled from Chicago with her daughters Morgan, 9, and Georgia, 11, to see Trump in person. A rally in Chicago last year was canceled for safety reasons.

“It was filled with heart,” Pennington said in describing the speech, noting she most appreciated Trump’s commitment to veterans since her husband served for 12 years in the military.

Michael Smith, 51, of Burlington, described the atmosphere as “optimistic, hopeful — everything Obama promised but didn’t deliver.”

“As a businessman, when you want to do something, you get it done,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way in politics. I’d love to hear him say he is humbled by this job.”

Tom Barr, 73, of West Liberty, said he admired Trump’s show of “tenacity and strength, and his ability to continue to go for his goals and not be deterred by the media.”

“Every single issue he hit on is important to me,” Barr said. “We’ve needed someone like this for a long time.”

Trump spoke for 70 minutes to a nearly full house of around 6,000 people, according to staff estimates. A massive American flag hung high above as a backdrop, and supporters waved “Make America Great Again,” “Promises Kept” and “Drain the Swamp” signs. One man held up a homemade sign stating “Fake News.”

“There’s no more dynamic speaker than President Donald Trump,” Ginger McQueen, of DeKalb, Ill., said.

Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann teed up the boisterous crowd, skewering CNN and then The Gazette for a front-page “open letter” to Trump criticizing him for holding rallies around the country.

“That’s bush league,” Kaufmann said, while the crowd roared.

The crowd was strongly pro-Trump, although a dozen protesters, locking arms, were escorted out early in the speech after a coordinated whistle. The event had no further protests.

A Hillary Clinton supporter, John Haman of Iowa City, quietly attended the rally. While having his photo taken in the emptying arena, he said he “just wanted to experience” seeing the president. Despite brief cries from the crowd to “lock her up,” sitting among Trump supporters had been uneventful, he said.

“It was civil. It wasn’t hateful or anything like that,” Haman said. “That’s Iowa for you though. Iowans keep it civil and respectful.”

Jay Keniston, 39, of Washington, Iowa, described the crowd as “packed and energetic.”

“It’s a great thing he can come here and explain stuff to us, and what his next moves are,” Keniston said, noting he was most interested “to know when he is going to build the wall.”

“Just let him do his job, but they are not letting him,” Keniston added, noting by “they” he means the country.

Trump’s anti-abortion stance most energized Bob Cook, who said this was his first political rally. He made a six-hour round trip from Wisconsin with his wife, Ronda Cook.

“I felt very patriotic,” Ronda Cook said. “That’s what I liked about it. I feel like my patriotism has come back.”

Outside, as Trump supporters walked out of the venue and into scattered protesters, Nick Molo of Dubuque said he wanted to attend the rally to show Trump that people are still with him.

“It’s almost like he’s looking for feedback from us,” said Molo, wearing an oversized cowboy hat with “#TPIN” printed on the side — Trump Pence in November. “He’s trying to do what people want, not just what the inside establishment wants.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177, brian.morelli@thegazette.com; (319) 398 8330, molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Fact checking the speech: Trump mixed result on facts

President Donald Trump’s stops in Cedar Rapids Wednesday touched on many important Iowa issues, from wind power to wrestling. The Gazette’s Fact Checker will review six statements for accuracy.

Beef exports

First, in a statement about Trump from former Gov. Terry Branstad — now U.S. ambassador to China — who congratulated the president on trade relations with China.

“We’ve been trying to get American beef in China for 13 years and you’ve already done it,” Branstad said during an earlier event at Kirkwood Community College.

The United States has been frozen out of China’s beef market since 2003 when a case of mad cow disease got international attention. China dropped that ban in September — two months before Trump was elected. Increased trade talks this spring have resulted in an announcement last month that beef exports will be allowed into China by mid-July, according to news outlets, including National Public Radio.

Trump deserves credit for new developments in Chinese markets, but not for changes that happened before he was elected. Branstad’s claim is only half true.

Trump successes

Trump said he has passed 38 bills since he was inaugurated Jan. 20. GovTrack.us reports 40 laws have been enacted since Jan. 3. The president is correct in his claim.

The coal industry has gotten a boost from Trump, who issued an executive order in March rescinding parts of President Barack Obama’s clean power plan.

Trump talked about those changes and touted “clean, beautiful coal,” telling the Cedar Rapids audience at the U.S. Cellular Center Wednesday that “30,000 mining jobs have been added since my inauguration.”

This claim has been checked by several news outlets, including CNN Money, which spoke with a former Trump economic adviser who said the number of new mining jobs actually was closer to 43,000. However, Labor Department statistics show half those jobs were in oil and gas — not coal — and another 6,000 were in “non-metallic mining and quarrying, digging for things like granite and marble,” CNN reported.

Only 1,300 of the new jobs were in coal mines, according to CNN.

So while Trump’s statement is technically true with regard to the mining sector overall, linking it directly to coal is misleading.

Health Care

As the U.S. Senate considers a new health care plan, Trump told the Cedar Rapids audience the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is dying, by which he meant “insurance companies have all fled” Iowa.

While some insurers have pulled out, Minnesota-based Medica announced Monday it will sell individual insurance plans for the 2018 coverage year. As the last provider standing, Medica said it will increase rates an average 43.5 percent for all products.

Trump could have said most insurance companies have fled and be right. As it was, the claim is false.

Environment

When lauding Iowa farming, Trump brought up the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, also called Waters of the United States, which clarifies the 1972 Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands.

Republicans reviled the rule, saying it was overly broad and confusing.

“If they have a puddle in the middle of their field, it’s considered (a protected wetland under the rules),” Trump said. “We got rid of that, too.”

A federal stay was put on the rules in 2015 to allow for ongoing litigation, but the rules aren’t dead. Trump has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps to reconsider the rules and the agencies have started that process. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that deals with some aspects of the legislation.

It’s mostly false to imply Trump had a role in getting rid of the water rules.

• This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan, factchecker@thegazette.com.

Planes over politics: Dozens wait outside airport anticipating Trump’s arrival, departure

CEDAR RAPIDS — Right after President Donald Trump’s arrival on Wednesday evening, Mark Smith rushed to a drugstore up the road from the airport to get the photos he took of Air Force One developed.

Smith, like many others, had been watching the arrival of Air Force One as it flew into The Eastern Iowa Airport at about 5:30 p.m. ahead of Trump’s rally downtown.

With a semiprofessional camera, Smith, of Cedar Rapids, shot photos through the holes of the chain-link fence around the runway. He was surprised police hadn’t blocked the parking lot just off 18th Street SW near the airport.

Jim Russell of Ainsworth and his young son, Zach, were there, too. Standing off the side of the road, the Russells were less interested in the plane carrying Trump than in the plane carrying the transport vehicles.

“We stopped down here to see that one,” Jim Russell said of the cargo plane. “But then I saw the time so I figured we’d see him (the president) land.”

Zach weighed in with “I saw the president.”

As dozens of cars sifted in and out of the airport parking lot throughout the evening, it seemed the Eastern Iowans there were less interested in the politics than Air Force One, sitting on the tarmac,

Dick Carter, 75, of Tiffin, watched the arrival of the jet from the parking lot and, like Smith, was surprised he wasn’t chased out of the lot.

“Hopefully, they’re going to let me stay here and watch it take off,” said Carter said, a pair of binoculars wrapped around his neck.

Carter said he’s seen Air Force One at The Eastern Iowa Airport a couple of times, including once during the Reagan administration where the president held an event just outside the airport.

While a lifelong Democrat, Carter said he wanted to see the plane even though he doesn’t exactly like the person riding inside it.

This differed from Smith, a former pilot himself, who is a Trump supporter.

The president departed the airport just after 8:45 p.m.

Rain doesn’t deter protesters outside at Trump rally

CEDAR RAPIDS — Heavy rains that came and went, and came again, didn’t deter scores of protesters who waved signs, chanted and elicited honks from passing cars while awaiting President Donald Trump’s arrival downtown Wednesday evening.

Familiar cheers and jeers rang out as about 150 protesters near the U.S. Cellular Center yelled “my body, my choice,” “lock him up” and “this is what democracy looks like.”

They were there to show concern for the environment, health care and public education as well as to support equality and what they feel had been positive progress.

Pink shirts and buttons dotted the crowd, as Planned Parenthood supporters came out to show their displeasure at what they believe to be attacks on women’s health care.

Planned Parenthood has announced it will close four of its 12 Iowa clinics on July 1 — a move affecting more than 14,600 people — after the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature earlier this year decided to forgo federal family planning dollars and instead set aside $3 million of state money to create a program that excludes facilities that also provide abortions.

The dollars are used to pay for cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing and birth control for low-income men and women. The women’s health organization is closing clinics in Keokuk, Burlington, Sioux City and the Quad Cities.

“I just can’t believe we’re going backward and not forward,” said Abbie Bowen, 55, from Cedar Rapids. “I’m terrified for young women who want to have control of their sexuality.”

This was the first time Bowen has ever come out to protest, she said, adding she was happy to see a strong showing of dissenters despite the gloomy weather.

“But it breaks my heart to see women in that line instead of this line,” she said pointing to the line of Trump supporters snaking around the arena and down Fourth Street SE. Thousands of Trump supporters stood in line, a few even over night, to get into the rally.

Avery Cassell, 37, a Medicaid recipient from Hiawatha, said he’s concerned about the future of the government-sponsored program, which provides insurance to nearly 70 million low-income and disabled Americans — about 600,000 of them Iowans.

The GOP-backed U.S. House plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — which is now being reworked by the U.S. Senate — gets rid of income-related tax credits in favor of age-based tax credits, eliminates federal funding for the Medicaid expansion starting in 2020 and places a per capita cap on the insurance program.

Cassell’s 11-year-old son, Logan, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, he said, and he worries he won’t be able to afford necessary care.

“I feel like he doesn’t care about the people who are suffering,” Cassell said.

Health care wasn’t the only thing on protesters’ minds, as told by signs that ran ink and disintegrated during rains.

A pair of Cedar Rapids school district employees said they’re worried about future cuts to school programs, as well as anxiety some of their students are feeling.

“I teach second grade this year,” said Jenna Buhr, 26. “When he was first elected, I saw a lot of behavioral changes, I saw a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty with what was going to happen next with their families. Some of them worried their friends were going to be deported, because they didn’t know the facts of the issues and things. It was me trying not to put my beliefs on my students, but also let them know I was going to keep them safe and that I wouldn’t let anything happen to them.”

Maddie Paxton, 26, and Buhr’s partner of six years, said her school has a large number of students who rely on food assistance.

“Are they going to keep that?” she asked. “You never expect young children to soak in or worry as much as they do, but they understand. They get it.”

The couple, holding a sign that read, “respect existence or expect resistance,” also worries about their ability to get married and whether same-sex marriage rights will be rolled back.

“I think it’s just a constant state of things being so up in the air and not knowing what’s going to happen next,” Buhr said. “I feel like in the next four years we’re going to be in a constant state of, ‘What happens next?’ We’ve come so far, and homosexuals, their community has blossomed with their rights and people realizing who we are and what we stand for and that we’re people, too, and we’re worried we’re going to be set back so many years.”

The protest — organized by a handful of Democratic groups including Americans for Democratic Action Iowa, Women’s March Iowa, Iowans for Public Education and Planned Parenthood Voters — also featured speeches from Democratic politicians.

“This is not about Republicans and Democrats,” said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker. “It’s about the soul of America and these policies are bad for workers, bad for the environment, bad for women and minorities.”

Walker said it’s important to focus on 2018 and 2020 — a sentiment other speakers echoed.

Walker is considering a run against U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, the 1st House District Republican, though hasn’t decided.

l Comments: (319) 398-8331. chelsea.keenan@thegazette.com; (319) 398-8536, michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Iowa City police investigating man propositioning girls, asking them to expose themselves

IOWA CITY — Police are looking for a man who allegedly propositioned three girls in Iowa City Wednesday afternoon.

According to an Iowa City Police Department press release, a man driving a red, Toyota sedan approached three girls in the area of Washington Park Road around 4:55 p.m. Authorities said the man drove slowly next to the girls, asked them if they wanted him to expose himself and proposition them. The girls then ran from the man, police said.

The man is described as being 30-40 years old, with short brown hair and a beard. He was wearing a blue plaid or flannel shirt and his vehicle had tan leather seats and an Iowa license plate.

Anyone with information is asked to call Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers at 358-TIPS.

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