Sexual harassment makes Iowa Capitol no place for teens

Sexual harassment makes Iowa Capitol no place for teens

Featured, Gazette Column
Legislative page program should be paused until Statehouse culture changes Each year the Iowa Senate, House and Legislative Services Agency employ high school juniors and seniors as pages. Unless persistent and significant workplace culture questions are answered, 2018 should be an exception. It’s been nearly five months since an Iowa court found that Kirsten Anderson, a former Iowa Senate Republican caucus staff member, was wrongfully terminated hours after she reported sexual harassment. It’s been more than a month since the state settled the case without an appeal, agreeing to pay Anderson and her attorneys $1.75 million from the state’s coffers. To date, no one has been held accountable. [caption id="attachment_1419" align="alignleft" width="500"] A portion of the Iowa Senate GOP's internal investigation report atop a picture of the Iowa Statehouse.[/caption] Perhaps…
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Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Time to stop the Chicago blame game

Featured, Gazette Column
There’s a persistent rumbling of how Chicago transplants are to blame for just about every negative trend in Eastern Iowa. Perhaps you’ve heard it? The lack of affordable housing in our communities, as well as the strain on local social services organizations, according to the rumbles, is because people from Chicago are moving here and jumping to the front of the line. Incidents of violence are skyrocketing, they say, because Chicago transplants are bringing gang activity, guns and illicit drugs with them. Even if violence and mayhem isn’t the intent, there’s a cultural divide between small city Iowa and big city Illinois that’s impossible to cross. And, perhaps worst of all, the rumbles single out people from Chicago’s south side as instigators of neighborhood corruption, which is too often a…
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Fort Madison prison advocates pray for public reprieve

Fort Madison prison advocates pray for public reprieve

Featured, Gazette Column
1839 prison could be breakout attraction, economic draw Driving by the original Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, I always wondered if the offenders housed within were tormented by happy sounds emanating from the miniature golf and ice cream stand located just outside its sandstone walls. This past weekend, I found out. Nothing from the outside penetrates the razor wire and thick rocks that jut several feet skyward, surrounding the buildings and yard. A blessing? A curse? I honestly can’t say. The facility, established nearly a decade before Iowa became a state, has been effectively shuttered since Aug. 1, 2015, when more than 500 offenders were bused to the state’s new Iowa State Penitentiary, built a little more than a mile away on a site that once housed a prison…
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Partisan messaging won’t help rural Iowa

Partisan messaging won’t help rural Iowa

Featured, Gazette Column
Maybe I set too high a bar for former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge’s initiative to engage rural Iowa voters. The first news release from the organization, Focus on Rural America, arrived Tuesday afternoon. It contained a summary of the group’s revelations following a series of focus groups with rural Iowans who switched their presidential vote from Democrat Barack Obama in 2012 to Republican Donald Trump in 2016. None of the findings are earth shattering. • Both Obama and Trump were considered agents of change, candidates the broke the status quo. • Messaging by the Hillary Clinton campaign was described as murky; the Trump campaign messaging was clear. • Democrats generally were perceived as focusing too heavily on entitlements and social programs, which voters translated into a lack of interest for…
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State won’t force my daughters

State won’t force my daughters

Featured, Gazette Column
For the past several years I’ve searched for a way to get my oldest daughter to move back to Iowa, and ways to keep my younger daughter in state. Thanks to the Iowa Legislature, I’m putting those plans on hold. There’s been plenty of “progress” this session that’s contributed to my decision. A full-throated denial of local control stands out, as do limitations on workers’ rights. But the final straw came this week when lawmakers decided that if my daughters become pregnant the state can force them to continue the pregnancy and give birth. It’s a decision that sickens me to my very core, and not just theoretically. I was one of those women who learned that a very much wanted child would not survive. I had to make the…
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First in a series: Weighing the benefit of a ‘Fresh Start’

First in a series: Weighing the benefit of a ‘Fresh Start’

Featured, Gazette Column
45-year-old Linn County ministry is only of its kind in the state Hundreds of people quietly working behind the scenes on behalf of Fresh Start Ministries can’t be easily labeled. Then again, neither can those who serve as the face of the organization, or those who rely on its services. To be sure volunteers include local pastors and church members. But there are also social justice advocates and social workers. Some business leaders are part of the mix, as are elderly and other shut-ins throughout the area. Past and current members of law enforcement are present too. A few who were once recipients of the program’s outreach have come full circle and now work to help others. Many, but not all, are Christians. I first became aware of the organization…
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Vaccine bill risks health for freedom

Vaccine bill risks health for freedom

Featured, Gazette Column
A bill working its way through the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature casts public safety concerns aside, and relies on “freedom” as justification for putting children’s health at risk. On Thursday, a three-member House subcommittee approved a bill sponsored by Iowa Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids. The bill inserts a “personal conviction” clause into state law regarding childhood vaccinations. If passed, no parent will be required to vaccinate children enrolled in care facilities or public schools. A news article in The Gazette noted “Republicans argued the immunization mandate violates Iowans’ religious liberties and personal freedoms.” Hogwash. Iowa Code 139A.8 addresses vaccination requirements for children enrolling in “any licensed child care center or elementary or secondary school.” It lists the various immunizations children are required to obtain before enrolling — diphtheria, whooping cough,…
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Video: Conversations from the Iowa Women’s March

Video: Conversations from the Iowa Women’s March

Featured, Gazette Blog
DES MOINES — Thousands of Iowans gathered at the State Capitol last weekend as part of the Women’s March, a movement that began as post on social media and grew into an international force. [caption id="attachment_401" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Participants in the Iowa Women's March gather on the steps of the State Capitol in Des Moines in January 21, 2017. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_402" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Thousands of Iowans filled the sidewalks and streets surrounding the State Capitol in Des Moines in January 21, 2017. It's estimated more than 25,000 people participated in the Iowa Women's March. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)[/caption] In this video, a few of those Iowans explain why they needed or wanted to be part of the demonstration. This is why they marched. This blog post and video…
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‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

‘Sanctuary’ label or not, Iowa City right to listen to its own

Featured, Gazette Column
Members of the Iowa City Council deserve praise for weathering a barrage of politically-motivated ugly comments and threats from people in surrounding areas as they explore policy questions raised by local residents. Shortly after Mayor Jim Throgmorton was prompted to include discussion about Iowa City becoming a “sanctuary city” on Tuesday night’s work session agenda, a statewide conservative advocacy and action group led by Jimmy Centers initiated a robocall. Centers, previously a part of Gov. Branstad’s administration, urged supporters to let their voice be heard by attending the work session or contacting Iowa City officials. More than 100 recipients of the call took advantage of its automatic forwarding to connect with city hall. About half that number emailed the city. “I do not want Iowa City to become a sanctuary…
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Rural Iowans eager to engage art in their communities

Rural Iowans eager to engage art in their communities

Featured, Gazette Column
Cold temperatures and snow showers didn’t keep rural community leaders off the roads Thursday. Opportunities to learn firsthand about grant funds linking art projects and revitalization don’t happen every day. About 100 people, at least half from smaller communities, traveled to Iowa City for the last of four Iowa meetings hosted by ArtPlace America. a New York-based organization that issues grant money through the National Creative Placemaking Fund. [caption id="attachment_335" align="alignright" width="640"] Cat Nelson, facility manager at the Washington Community Center, and Kadie Dennison, development and marketing manager at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, were among the roughly 100 people who traveled to Iowa City to learn more about grant money that helps infuse the arts in community development projects. ArtPlace America hosted the Iowa City meeting on Dec.…
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