Parallel messaging gave GOP Statehouse control

Parallel messaging gave GOP Statehouse control

Gazette Column
Have casual conversations with Iowans and a pattern emerges of the ways the national 2016 election narrative did and did not apply to the Statehouse. Since November I’ve been quietly talking to people around Iowa. I’ve reached out to farmers and small town residents I met during research on rural communities, as well as urban dwellers I met through discussions on public transit and affordable housing. As a general rule these aren’t folks who’d be labeled as political activists. That is, they vote, but don’t shake signs outside Congressional offices or hold court with the county central committee. They live in the present, focused on taking their kids to activities, worried about their mortgage and expending energy on careers or higher education. Nearly all political nuance is lost on them.…
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Disability isn’t so easy, even for the desperate

Disability isn’t so easy, even for the desperate

Gazette Blog
As much as I need to stop thinking about the Washington Post story on Social Security disability benefits reprinted in The Gazette on Sunday, I’m having trouble letting it go. As the youngest child of elderly parents — my mother went to the doctor for concerns about menopause only to discover she was pregnant with me — I grew up on Social Security dependent benefits. So, in addition to my parents’ Social Security retirement checks, our family received a little more than $200 each month earmarked for me. In order to better make ends meet, my father and mother worked odd jobs. Until bone cancer made it impossible, my mother took in sewing projects. My dad mowed lawns and did handyman or mechanic work when he could find it. During…
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Jobs and housing go hand-in-hand

Jobs and housing go hand-in-hand

Gazette Column
Two news items caught my eye last week — one a human interest piece, the other a business announcement. Yet at their heart, they pointed to the same need. Gazette business reporter George C. Ford detailed plans by an Alliant Energy subsidiary to launch a 1,300-acre mega commercial and industrial park near The Eastern Iowa Airport. The development, made possible by an agreement to sell family farm lands, would benefit from the state’s first certified super park development, also nearby and being developed by the airport, and a first-of-its-kind freight and logistics hub planned by the Iowa Department of Transportation. The mega park known as Big Cedar, the transportation hub and complementary super park received praise from state officials, who dubbed the projects as critical economic drivers for the region…
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White House Housing Toolkit a good start

White House Housing Toolkit a good start

Gazette Column
Have outdated and onerous zoning ordinances and environmental protections stifled housing development and local economies? A new federal report says they have, contributing to issues such as income inequality, gentrification, strained safety nets, commute lengths, racial segregation and homelessness. The past few days have been nearly overwhelming. We survived (and at least partially mitigated) another historic flood, did our best to absorb this election season’s first presidential debate, and remain in mourning for the latest young life claimed by senseless gun violence. It’s little wonder a new housing report didn’t spawn big, local headlines. [caption id="attachment_150" align="alignright" width="640"] (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)[/caption] Yet this White House produced “toolkit” offers a road map not only for the housing-strapped California coast, but for Midwestern cities like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids as they…
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Rethink sales tax holidays

Rethink sales tax holidays

Gazette Column
Sales tax holidays like the one happening in Iowa this weekend may sound nice, but they aren’t good public policy. And, yes, I can already hear groaning from the parents and grandparents reading that first sentence. Bear with me. For those who are unfamiliar, for the past 16 years, Iowa residents have been given two days in August to purchase various back-to-school items that cost under $100 without paying sales taxes. In addition, since 2000, the legislature has mandated that all retailers participate. Supporters of these holidays assert the incentive stimulates the economy by encouraging shoppers to purchase more of the goods included on the state’s tax-free list, even if some are impulse buys. But, research has time and again shown this to be false. The New York State Department…
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On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

On the road to Philly: Gillian Popenuck

Gazette Column
Political Revolution exists beyond candidate, convention Gillian Frances Popenuck didn’t know she was being prophetic when she told Bernie Sanders, “See you in Philly.” The two met after a rally where Popenuck was chosen to introduce the candidate. “We had some time together backstage,” Popenuck said. “This was before the caucus in Iowa, so he had no idea how well he was going to do. He told me, ‘Whatever happens to me, you got to keep continuing to fight.’ And I told him, ‘I’ll see you in Philly.’ It was just one of those one-off things that you say. But he looked at me very sincerely and said, ‘Yes. You will.’” Three months later, the 30-year-old Burlington mom of two was elected during the 2nd District Convention as a delegate…
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The circus comes to Cleveland

The circus comes to Cleveland

Gazette Column
Perhaps Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said it best: “Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Members of the Republican Party are on their way to Cleveland, where they will — despite movements to the contrary — choose Donald Trump as their nominee. Let that sink in. The Republican Party will choose a man who, as recently as March 2012, wasn’t registered as a Republican. There is plenty more than can and has been written about Trump — from talk of small hands to racial and gender slurs to, worst of all, far too few policy positions. But his rejoining the GOP, ending more than a decade of party hopping, is significant. Don’t get me wrong: I understand his vexation. After all, I am a…
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Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Iowan, once nation’s youngest grocer, still fighting for rural

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — If attendees at the Rural Grocery Summit pulled Bic lighters from their pockets, gave them a flick and held the flame in the air as the owner of three rural Iowa grocery stores gave his keynote address, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was clear many attending viewed the man as part rock star and part legend. And, for those searching for rural saviors, Nick Graham comes pretty close — even if he is reluctant to embrace the fame. His popularity has little to do with his overall success rate, because he’d be the first to tell you that he has made mistakes. But no one can deny that Graham embodies an attribute that’s become a necessity in rural counties and small towns. Nick Graham, you see,…
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Summit focus is declining food access

Summit focus is declining food access

Gazette Column
WICHITA, Kan. — Rural grocery store owners, food advocates and system experts are gathered for the fifth Rural Grocery Summit. If you’re wondering why I’m in the audience … well, let’s say you probably aren’t alone. The answer as to why I’m attending the summit is both simple and complex. The most direct answer is that I grew up in rural America; I’ve lived it and have family still living it. What happens to them matters to me and, therefore, what ails rural places also matters. More complex is my ongoing curiosity about how groups of people interact, and the ways industries and organizations adapt to ever-changing external forces. Why have we allowed certain places to exist as food deserts? How long are we willing to let our tax dollars…
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Transit blog, day nine

Transit blog, day nine

Gazette Blog
The changing face of 'those people' One of my main take-aways from this project has been that many people — roughly four out of every five I’ve spoken with — have developed a certain perception of who uses public transit. Some believe transit users are all homeless or nearly so. One woman told me that most bus riders are people with alcohol addictions who have had their driver’s license revoked by the state. Still others have implied the system would be more efficient if it only stopped at Goodwill or other places that employ people with disabilities. An added tax on retirement housing complexes and nursing homes should be explored, one man wrote, since the elderly are primary transit consumers. Large, local businesses should sponsor transit services, noted another, because…
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