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Lack of openness led to ‘Save Iowa History’

Lack of openness led to ‘Save Iowa History’

Gazette Column
In politics, the truth is too often drowned out by perceptions, and such perceptions are driven by a lack of transparency. Like most of you, I’ve been watching the dust-up over changes at the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and especially how those changes will impact the State Historical Society of Iowa in both the Des Moines and Iowa City locations. What I’ve learned can be boiled down to perceptions. Before I began writing this column I went searching for the meeting minutes of the Iowa Arts Council and the Iowa Cultural Trust board of directors. Outside of three limited documents from 2013, the minutes were not available via the Internet. I’ve requested the documents along with their attachments from DCA staff, and fully expect that I’ll receive them. But…
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Indiana is just the beginning

Indiana is just the beginning

Gazette Column
When the U.S. Supreme Court returned its decision in the Hobby Lobby contraception coverage case, I argued the set stage would be of little benefit to women or religion. I’m saddened to see that in Indiana, my predictions, largely drawn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, have come to fruition. “Religious organizations exist,” she wrote, “to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith.” In contrast, businesses and corporations exist to create profits, and do not draw the workers or customers who sustain them from any singular religious community. I wrote that if the “ruling could somehow be limited only to medications or contraception, it would be bad enough, but there are much broader implications at stake.” Humans pray. Humans gather with like-minded others to express their faith.…
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Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Gazette Column
A significant (and I believe growing) number of Iowans no longer fit neatly into the two historic political categories that have dominated American politics, and they are owning it. While there have always been political outliers — those who align with the majority of one platform or the other, but are holdouts on specific topics — the current shift is different because people are self-identifying differently. At political events in 2008 and 2012 it was not uncommon to meet Iowans who described themselves as a specific brand of party supporter. For instance, “pro-choice Republican” or “pro-gun Democrat.” Even while differentiating themselves from a larger political perception, Iowans continued to claim a party brand. Recently, however, some of those who previously identified “centrist Democrat” or “moderate Republican” have dropped the party…
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Political spin turning voters off

Political spin turning voters off

Gazette Column
A  new study by a Philadelphia media watchdog group has found that, in the lead-up to the 2014 midterm elections, more time during broadcast newscasts was devoted to paid advertisements by political campaigns and third-party groups than actual information or discourse on policy issues. Researchers found that ad time outpaced news on political issues at a ratio of nine to one. “ ... By the numbers, it was no contest. Political ads vastly outnumbered political stories of any kind and that difference was monumental when it came to political stories that addressed any of the public issues that were raised in the ads.” While we don’t yet have solid research regarding the amount of time Iowa newscasters spent discussing policy issues in comparison to the amount of time spent airing…
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Goodbye, Sunshine

Goodbye, Sunshine

Gazette Column
Hillary Clinton, CR Schools provide murky bookends Few times in history has a time period devoted to awareness of a cause been bookended by two high-profile examples. Yet, that is exactly the case for this year’s Sunshine Week observance. Hillary Clinton’s private email server provided a kickoff gift to the 2015 observance that was simultaneously welcomed (for its ability to raise awareness) and abhorred (for its overt distain of the basic principle of open government). And, even as that national debate raged, Eastern Iowa residents were provided a close-up example of a public body operating in darkness. On Wednesday, the Cedar Rapids Community School District announced Brad Buck, currently the director of the Iowa Department of Education, as its next superintendent. The announcement followed a three-month, closed door search and…
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Max Villatoro closer to deportation

Max Villatoro closer to deportation

Gazette Column
An Iowa City pastor swept up in a federal initiative to arrest and expel migrant criminals from the country has been relocated to a detention facility in Louisiana, and is likely to be placed on plane later today and sent back to his birth country of Honduras. Max Villatoro, 41, was arrested by Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents on March 3. He and his wife, Gloria, founded Iglesia Torre Fuerte (First Mennonite Church) in Iowa City about five years ago. But, after entering the country illegally in 1995, the man known locally as Pastor Max had two skirmishes with the law — a drunk driving charge and aggravated misdemeanor related to the use of false documents to obtain a driver’s license in 1999. Villatoro completed probation and paid fines related…
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Max Villatoro not ‘worst of the worst’

Max Villatoro not ‘worst of the worst’

Gazette Column
Arrest of Iowa City pastor indicative of immigration enforcement woes If actions taken by the federal government are of any consequence, we should all be feeling a little more safe this week. As part of its ongoing “Operation Cross Check,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced the arrest of nearly 2,100 people with criminal records. The activity was part of a five-day nationwide initiative in which federal law enforcement agents targeted individuals with criminal records. “These are the worst of the worst criminals,” said Sarah Saldana, director of ICE. “These are not people we want in our neighborhoods.” ICE provided a list of four detained individuals as an example. A Jamaican living in Georgia was previously convicted on several charges including larceny and assault with a deadly weapon. A…
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All about that race (no trouble)

All about that race (no trouble)

Gazette Column
Decades ago, when our family came to Iowa, I found the Hawkeye State uncomfortable. Not only did our oldest daughter and I have twangy southern accents that had people asking us to repeat slowly drawled words and phrases — “High-Ah-Wah-Tha, Eye-Oh-Wah” was, in retrospect, one of the more accent-challenged place names for our first home — but it was strange to suddenly be surrounded mostly by people who outwardly looked a great deal like me. Growing up, I don’t remember any calls for diversity. But that’s probably because my hometown was an imperfect mix of cultures and skin tones. The situation was, of course, not to everyone’s liking. There were residents there, just as there are here, who chose to judge others on appearance. Fortunately, my family, led by my…
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Pew research important in diversity issue

Pew research important in diversity issue

Gazette Column
From an anecdotal standpoint, this is something many already felt. The Pew Research Center has released a new “Local News in a Digital Age” report based on their findings in three U.S. media markets — Denver, Colo., Macon, Ga. and Sioux City. While the entire report is worth the time you’ll spend with it, and perhaps even more compelling due to the Iowa connection, the section on diversity bolsters many ongoing local discussions as well as initiatives by advocacy organizations. Late last month, I published a column detailing inaugural diversity discussions in North Liberty. It was during the meeting that Chad Simmons, executive director of Diversity Focus, discussed what communities need in order to thrive. Specifically, he lamented a lack of local outlets for news and information that reach minority…
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Ferguson, Iowa City more different than similar

Ferguson, Iowa City more different than similar

Gazette Column
Disproportionate contact is symptom of bias, not a diagnosis When officials in Ferguson, Mo. held a news conference to respond to scathing federal allegations of racism and a public safety system driven by profit, the police chief didn’t appear and the mayor entertained no questions. That visual alone should serve as a major clue the situation in the St. Louis suburb is quite different from concerns expressed in Iowa City and other local municipalities. Still, it is difficult not to dwell on the similarities. In its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice reported disproportionate law enforcement contact with African Americans: “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of…
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