When local government goes viral

When local government goes viral

Gazette Column
Johnson County officials address zoning requests throughout the year, without much fanfare. Thursday night was different. Grant Schultz, who works a 143-acre plot of land on Strawbridge Road, near the tiny village of Morse, hoped to spur agritourism and bring in more farmworkers by rezoning about half the property as AR, or agricultural residential. He made application to the county, indicating that he wanted to install about three dozen cabins on the property, in addition to a fish farm and orchard. He and county planning officials disagreed. Ultimately the county’s planning and zoning commission rendered its decision, sending the matter before supervisors with a unanimous recommendation to refuse Schultz’s rezoning request. This is when an otherwise local zoning matter drew national and international attention. [caption id="attachment_1329" align="aligncenter" width="500"] A typically…
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Suggestions go beyond Appalachia

Suggestions go beyond Appalachia

Gazette Column
Economic recommendations for Appalachia unveiled by a nonprofit and four U.S. senators this week could benefit the whole of rural America, if they garner a champion. The Appalachian region includes all of West Virginia and portions of 12 more states, spanning from upper Mississippi to lower New York. It’s generally an area that’s coping with multiple and nuanced economic and cultural issues including shifting workforce priorities and the opioid epidemic. In May the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center began work with U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), David Perdue (R-GA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to establish a task force to develop recommendations for overcoming economic strife and isolation in four topic areas: education and workforce, entrepreneurship and job creation, energy and infrastructure, and rural health. On Wednesday the group…
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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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Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Gazette Column
Boosted by past policy decisions, Iowa has become a leader in child economic well-being. according to one national study. But the Hawkeye State is beginning to lag on children’s health. Iowa is among the top five states in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The study ranks states based on 16 indicators in four areas — health, education, economic well-being and family and community. The group says these are key factors in determining a child’s ability to thrive. Nationally, Iowa ranks third among states in economic well-being. It’s also among the top 10 for education (sixth), health (seventh) and family and community (eighth). The Hawkeye State’s composite ranking is fifth in the nation, following New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota. [caption id="attachment_1234" align="alignleft" width="640"]…
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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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Rural health programs face September deadline

Rural health programs face September deadline

Gazette Column
No doubt you’ve heard about the Women’s March and the March for Science. Let me tell you why more than 1,000 doctors marched on Washington earlier this month. Physicians and medical students converged on Capitol Hill to advocate for continued funding of teaching health centers, which offer medical residency programs in community settings. It’s one of the programs under the umbrella of the $7.2 billion Community Health Centers Fund, slated to end Sept. 30 unless Congress takes action. The combined programs support local access to medical care for thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans. They're especially vital for rural health. Teaching health centers — one of which is located in Des Moines — provide medical residency programs in community settings. Residents are trained in family and internal medicine, pediatrics,…
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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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Iowa HIV plan could help rural areas

Iowa HIV plan could help rural areas

Gazette Column
Comprehensive planning and data stockpiling by state officials is now a national case study on how to effectively meet the needs of rural residents with HIV. The details are part of a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Improving Health Outcomes Through Data Utilization,” which highlights six regional initiatives under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Work by the Iowa Department of Public Health, which receives a Part B grant through the Ryan White program, is Chapter One. The prominent placement is partly because Iowa is unusual in the world of HIV/AIDS outreach and care services. That is, about a third of state residents living with HIV/AIDS aren’t in urban areas. They’re scattered throughout the state, many in distinctly rural communities. These individuals often feel stigma regarding…
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In 2016, rural areas roared

In 2016, rural areas roared

Gazette Column
While it’s possible to look back on 2016 as a single year, doing so doesn’t provide clarity. The past year was a culmination of a decades-long and ever widening urban-rural chasm. To hear the national media tell it, the big news was the presidential election. But November was merely the coup de grace, a death blow to end ongoing suffering. I began my career in journalism in the late 1980s. Those were perhaps the final heydays of community journalism — local papers, run by local families. The next decade was marked by large news corporations gobbling up smaller dailies and weeklies. Each incarnation brought more cost-effective management by new parent companies, and fewer local jobs. Local presses stood still. Circulation and ad sales were centralized. Newsrooms emptied. Vertical integration of…
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