Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Iowa Republicans blinded by abortion

Gazette Column
However shortsighted, expensive and harmful the resulting policies may be, Iowa Republicans remain obsessed with abortion. Last legislative session, they chose to scrap the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver, primarily funded by the federal government, and replace it with a new program funded solely by the state. That initiative, now known as the Family Planning Program, took effect July 1. Both programs provide men and women of childbearing age who do not qualify for Medicaid a cost-effective way of accessing reproductive health services including contraception, exams, screenings and testing. The Iowa switch wasn’t proposed because the original program was riddled with fraud or otherwise ineffective. In May 2016, the University of Iowa Public Policy Center concluded that more than 80,000 women had used the Iowa Family Planning Network waiver since…
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Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Education is aim of ‘Know Your Neighbor’ religion series

Gazette Column
Can three community discussions on religion improve life in Cedar Rapids? Organizers hope so. “Hans Kung has a great quote about there being no peace without the great religions coming together. So, we need to start at that level,” Charles Crawley, president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, said. The council worked with the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a series of three “Know Your Neighbor” events. Crawley says the idea was to work with the library on its mission to improve literacy by offering information that specifically addresses religious literacy and fosters community understanding. [caption id="attachment_1815" align="alignleft" width="400"] The first Know Your Neighbor religious discussion took place Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, before an overflow crowd at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.[/caption]…
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Affordable Housing Commission isn’t really optional

Affordable Housing Commission isn’t really optional

Gazette Column
When Cedar Rapids mayoral candidates Brad Hart and Monica Vernon met last Tuesday night in a public forum, listeners may have left with the impression that reviving a long dormant Affordable Housing Commission was optional. According to city code, it isn’t. Still, such a perception can be forgiven because city leaders have failed for more than a decade to populate the commission, which is charged with identifying “the nature and scope of the housing needs of low- and moderate-income citizens” and recommending “to the City Council effective strategies and programs to meet those needs.” Commission members also are “to generally assist in implementing appropriate activities in the accomplishment of these strategies and programs.” As our editorial board noted in a March 2016 call for the commission’s revival, the group was formed…
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Not too late to join the work of the SET Task Force

Not too late to join the work of the SET Task Force

Gazette Column
Many sparks needed to ignite a fire of change Members of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force held their first comprehensive public meeting Thursday night since releasing their final report and recommendations last February, and an important perspective was missing — yours. The SET Task Force, as it is called, was formed in the fall of 2015, a collaborative and community effort endorsed by the Cedar Rapids Community School District, city and county. Cedar Rapids and the metro area was reeling at that time due to a variety of violent crimes, in particular a rash of “shots fired” incidents. But it was the shooting death of Aaron Richardson, a 15-year-old, by Robert Humbles, a then 14-year-old, near Redmond Park in September 2015 that ultimately coalesced political will and led…
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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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New bus shelter at Westdale

New bus shelter at Westdale

Gazette Column
A lot of amazing things can happen in just a few months. In May 2016, I spent two weeks riding Cedar Rapids Transit buses and blogging about my experiences. At the request of transit riders, I tried to replicate some of their frustrations regarding the system by completing specific quests — for instance, one rider suggested I pretend to need to drop a child off at school or child care in one part of the city and then travel to work in a different part of the city. Another such quest had fellow columnist Todd Dorman and me traveling to Westdale Mall for lunch and shopping in an effort to see if we could return to our downtown office in a timely manner. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t return on time.)…
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Concert Across America remembers victims of gun violence

Concert Across America remembers victims of gun violence

Gazette Column
A national coalition of gun violence prevention artists, activists and organizations are coming together for a second annual Concert Across America. Iowa voices will rise up as part of organized events Sunday, but readers can sing out now. Last year, more than 5,200 artists performed at 350 events across 43 states to call for universal background checks and stronger laws in every state to reduce gun violence. As I write this column, more than 180 concerts across 40 states had been announced for 2017 — including the Iowa communities of Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Clinton. The events are planned for Sept. 24 because Congress designated the day for remembering murder victims. For this year’s series of events, national organizers hope individuals and groups from coast-to-coast also will take part in a world…
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Parenting a freethinker made easier

Parenting a freethinker made easier

Gazette Column
Two decades ago, as our family reeled from a full-term stillbirth, I grappled with ways to help our then 6-year-old daughter work through the grief of losing an infant brother. I searched for resources to offer reassurance and comfort, but there were scant few on the topic of death. And none I could find on stillbirth. So, we muddled forward with our own words. Was I saying the right things? Were there “right things” to be said? About a decade later, when a different daughter’s best friend died unexpectedly, I was given a book, “Parenting Beyond Belief,” edited by Dale McGowan. Suddenly I had a compass to help guide my child through grief, and advice on many other thorny topics. McGowan later co-authored a practical, companion book and, this past year,…
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Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Gazette Column
Spotlight reveals challenges within the Creative Corridor DUBUQUE — Every county in Iowa lacks a sufficient number of affordable housing units, which, in turn, contributes to the prevalence of homelessness most apparent in the state’s population centers. Although intensity varies, this lack of housing is a statewide challenge that affects the ability of communities to attract business and sustain a workforce, the need for taxpayer-funded safety net programs and overall health and well-being. So, this week, the Iowa Finance Authority launched the first of three statewide conversations on housing with a specific focus on the overwhelming need for supported living arrangements. “What we’ve learned from recent experiences in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” explained Carolann Jensen, chief programs officer with the IFA, “is that the push for housing, especially supportive…
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Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Gazette Column
With an eye toward the city of Cedar Rapids’ latest ordinance intended to curtail roadside panhandling, I took to social media and the streets Thursday with my writing hand extended. “Does the city need to do something about panhandling?” I asked friends and strangers alike. “And, if so, what?” My very non-scientific survey revealed that most — roughly 90 percent of the more than 100 people who engaged with me — don’t believe panhandling is a problem in Cedar Rapids. Several of these individuals spoke of panhandling situations in larger cities, where they’d been aggressively pursued by panhandlers on sidewalks or had received some unwanted service from a roadside panhandler, such as windshield cleaning. Those are not experiences they’ve had in Cedar Rapids and, more simply, they don’t see the…
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