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Kavanaugh confirmation all but certain after bitter fight

WASHINGTON — After weeks of shocking accusations, hardball politics and rowdy Capitol protests, a pair of wavering senators declared Friday they will back Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, all but guaranteeing the deeply riven Senate will elevate the conservative jurist to the nation's highest court today.

The announcements by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia ended most of the suspense over a political battle that has transfixed the nation — though die-hard Democrats insisted on arguing through the night to a mostly empty Senate chamber.

Some of them continued raising concerns that Kavanaugh would push the court further to the right, including with possible sympathetic rulings for President Donald Trump, the man who nominated him. But the case against Kavanaugh had long since been taken over by allegations that he sexually abused women decades ago — accusations he emphatically denied.

In the pivotal moment Friday, Collins, perhaps the chamber's most moderate Republican, proclaimed her support for Kavanaugh at the end of a Senate floor speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. While she was among a handful of Republicans who helped sink Trump's quest to obliterate President Barack Obama's health care law last year, this time she proved instrumental in delivering a triumph to Trump.

Collins told fellow senators that Christine Blasey Ford's dramatic testimony last week describing Kavanaugh's alleged 1982 assault was "sincere, painful and compelling." But she said the FBI had found no corroborating evidence from witnesses whose names Ford had provided.

"We will be ill-served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be," she said. "We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy."

Those passions were on full display this week in a fight that could energize both parties' voters in elections for control of Congress just five weeks away. The showdown drew raucous demonstrators — largely anti-Kavanaugh — to the Capitol, where they raised tensions by repeatedly confronting lawmakers despite an intensified police presence. Another 101 protesters were arrested Friday, the U.S. Capitol Police said.

It's all expected to conclude this afternoon with a final roll call almost solidly along party lines. That would mark an anti-climactic finale to a clash fought against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement and Trump's unyielding support of the nominee, opposing forces that left Kavanaugh's fate in doubt for weeks.

Manchin, the only remaining undeclared lawmaker, used an emailed statement to announce his support for Kavanaugh moments after Collins finished talking, making him the only Democrat supporting the nominee. Manchin faces a competitive re-election race next month in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 42 percentage points.

"My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced any type of sexual assault in their life," Manchin said. But he added that based on the FBI report, "I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him."

Protesters chanted "Shame" at Manchin later when he talked to reporters outside his office.

Republicans control the Senate by a meager 51-49 margin. Support from Collins and Manchin would give Kavanaugh at least 51 votes.

Three female GOP senators — Jodi Ernst of Iowa, West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, sat directly behind Collins as she spoke. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sat directly in front of Collins and pivoted his seat around to face her. A few Democrats sat stone-faced nearby.

When she finished, Collins received applause from the roughly two dozen GOP senators present.

Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a fellow moderate and friend of Collins, became the only Republican to say she opposed Kavanaugh. She said on the Senate floor Friday evening that Kavanaugh is "a good man" but his "appearance of impropriety has become unavoidable."

She added that with Supreme Court appointments lasting a lifetime, "Those who seek these seats must meet the highest standards in all respects, at all times. And that is hard."

In a twist, Murkowski said she will state her opposition but vote "present" as a courtesy to Kavanaugh supporter Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., who is attending his daughter's wedding in Montana. Murkowski said she'd use an obscure procedure that lets one senator offset the absence of another without affecting the outcome. That would let Kavanaugh win by the same two-vote margin he'd have received had both senators voted.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who has repeatedly battled Trump and will retire in January, said he'd vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation "unless something big changes."

Vice President Mike Pence planned to be available today in case his tie-breaking vote was needed, which now seems unlikely.

In a procedural vote that handed Republicans an initial victory, senators voted 51-49 Friday to limit debate and keep the nomination alive, defeating Democratic efforts to scuttle it with endless delays.

School days running on time
Two new Sioux City elementary schools still on good timeline

SIOUX CITY -- Carol Strait has had a long view of the process of creating a new Bryant Elementary school.

Strait lives in the 2700 block of Jackson Street, and her daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren live in the 2900 block of Jones Street, just two houses south of the building that is under construction.

"They bought it so that their kids could go to Bryant. They are super excited about it," Strait said of Chris and Christina Fox.

Strait added, "If I see the workers, I will encourage them a bit, give them  a thumbs up. It is my grandkids' education. It is wonderful for the neighborhood."

The construction workers in recent months have completed key steps, so the opening of a new Bryant Elementary School building remains on schedule for August 2019.

"We are very pleased to say this project has been on schedule since day one," Brian Fahrendholz, director of operations and maintenance, said Thursday.

At the same time, about a dozen blocks away, the initial work is underway for a new Hunt Elementary, which is the second major project ongoing in the school district.

In both cases, old schools will be replaced with new buildings bearing the same name. Overall, as the warm season construction days wind down,  Fahrendholz said things look good.

"We are excited to get one of these projects going and one completed," Fahrendholz said.

The new Bryant Elementary, which will house grades K-5, is set to open next year. The new Hunt Elementary, also a K-5 school, is projected to open in 2022.

School district officials are aiming to construct a new Bryant to replace the old building, at 821 30th St., which dated to 1890 before it was demolished in summer 2016. That happened after considerable neighborhood controversy on where the school should be built.

After a new 10-acre spot could not be found, school officials morphed to a three-level option at the same spot where the old school was located. The size will be 106,950 square feet, to accommodate up to 625 pupils.

Fahrendholz said the 2017 weather cooperated, so the building was enclosed by mid-December, which meant workers could proceed with interior work during winter in a heated environment. Similar good news played out over the year since, he said, so in the next few weeks such projects as exterior brick placement and exterior window work will be done.

Over the winter months ahead, the Bryant interior work will include sheetrocking of walls and installation of electrical and plumbing fixtures. The classrooms should come together by early summer, Fahrendholz said.

The school board approved a low bid of $17.3 million for the main part of the Bryant work from Hoogendoorn Construction, of Canton, South Dakota. Counting two earlier phases, the total cost is about $21 million.

While the new Bryant is being built, the school's students are attending classes in the former Crescent Park Elementary building.

Meanwhile, plans for the new Hunt Elementary keep moving along, so the midtown neighborhood is changing in the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Jackson and Nebraska streets. Homes were bought by the school district along both sides of the street, and all but two have demolished.

The number of off-street parking spots adjacent to First United Methodist Church has dropped, since church officials sold one of two parking lots to make room for Hunt.

All that was done in order to get rid of the Hunt Elementary School in the 2000 blocks of the streets, so a new one can be built just to the south. The existing school, which dates to 1906, is by far the oldest in the city’s public school system.

It will be demolished after students use the building for one last year through May 2019, then for a few years they will be relocated to Crescent Park.

Fahrendholz said a final design of the roughly 90,000 square foot building is underway, and will likely be aired in 2019. School officials decided to keep the Hunt school to two levels and not build a third floor, which could have increased the cost by $2 million.

Current tasks on the new Hunt grounds include installation of geothermal wells. The third bid package in the Hunt project will likely be taken to the Sioux City School Board in spring 2019, for site work such as demolishing the school and the last two homes, along with remaining street and underground utilities reconstruction, Fahrendholz said.

A fourth bid package is expected by late 2019 or early 2020, for the main construction of the building.

Overall, Fahrendholz said people living near both school projects like what they've seen.

"We seem to get a lot of support from neighbors," he said.

top story
"French Fries" sculpture to be repainted blue

SIOUX CITY -- A majority of voters want an iconic, bright yellow Sioux City sculpture, often referred to as the "French Fries," repainted blue.

More than 1,000 votes were cast to change the iconic sculpture's color scheme over a three-week period in September, which included the center's annual ArtSplash celebration over Labor Day weekend. Voters had the option of choosing a red, blue or yellow color scheme for the sculpture, which is titled "Sioux City." Blue was the top vote-getter.

The repainting is being scheduled, the Art Center said in a statement Friday.

Sculptor John Henry has used one of the three primary colors, blue, red and yellow, for many years. He allowed "Sioux City" to be repainted in any one of those colors. The 56-foot tall steel and aluminum sculpture was constructed in 1977 and first installed in downtown Sioux City in 1978. Funded equally by the National Endowment of the Arts with matching funds provided by then-Iowa Beef Processors, Inc., Sioux City has become as recognizable as any other landmark in the community.

Henry has created dozens of monumental sculptures that are installed throughout the United States and have been exhibited in Canada, Korea, Japan and throughout Europe. Sioux City is the only large sculpture by Henry in Iowa.


John Henry's 1977 sculpture "Sioux City," colloquially known as the "French Fries" for its fry-like shape and yellow color, will be repainted blue.

Farm bureau unveils limited health plan that cuts costs

DES MOINES -- Health coverage offered by the Iowa Farm Bureau through a new option approved by the Iowa Legislature will allow people to be turned away if they have pre-existing conditions.

The farm bureau unveiled details of its health coverage Wednesday, about seven months after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law that promises to lower costs by skirting requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The farm bureau's plan isn't considered insurance, meaning it won't be regulated by the Iowa Insurance Division or be bound by federal regulations.

Applicants will be asked if they have been diagnosed or treated for a variety of ailments, including diabetes, heart problems or mental issues, according to The Des Moines Register . Farm Bureau Vice President Steve Kammeyer said the organization will be free to reject applicants or charge them more money, unlike standard health insurance offered through an Affordable Care Act exchange.

The farm bureau promised premiums would be "much lower" than comparable insurance plans that comply with the ACA but didn't provide specific figures. The organization said its plans would cover maternity services, mental health care and prescription drugs.

To enroll in the plan, people will need to join the organization and show they don't qualify for insurance through their employers and a government plan, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The farm bureau plans will be sold through insurance agents, and they will be administered by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Former Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss said she's concerned about the plan's lack of oversight and was skeptical about how it will compare to traditional insurance. Wellmark is overseen by regulators.

"I just think there are a lot of holes in it," Voss said.

Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen said he supports the farm bureau plans.

Susan Voss, Iowa Insurance Commissioner (handout photo)

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

West Sioux's Hunter Dekkers drops back to pass during action Friday.