Pardon me for not rejoicing

Pardon me for not rejoicing

Gazette Column
Another day, another spitting match between Gov. Terry Branstad and a public employee union. The latest lawsuit was launched by AFSCME in response to Branstad’s shuttering of two of the state’s four mental health institutes. The union was joined in the Polk County filing by 20 state lawmakers. “Iowa law clearly states that the state of Iowa shall operate mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda,” said AFSCME President Danny Homan. “This was the law when the governor announced his decision to close these facilities. This was the law when the legislature passed, with bipartisan support, the funding to keep these facilities open. This was the law when he closed these two facilities. It still is the law today.” The entire situation could nearly be cut-and-pasted from the aftermath…
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The big issue with the other Branstad veto

The big issue with the other Branstad veto

Gazette Column
Perhaps Gov. Terry Branstad doesn’t have a clear understanding of what a cliff effect is or how it hampers economic advancement. Amid the flurry of veto activity before the holiday weekend and subsequent reactions, it’s likely the governor’s refusal to grant a 5 percent increase to the federal poverty level standards associated with child care assistance wasn’t on your radar. After all, what’s more important: limiting the ability of about 200 Iowa households to increase wages or shortchanging thousands of K-12 districts? In reality, they both are clear examples of how this administration’s policies hurt the working class it espouses to protect. Campaigning in 2010, Branstad expressed concern over what’s known as the “ cliff effect ” in child care benefits. This cliff effect occurs when a working parent is offered…
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Keeping the ‘Faith In Iowa’

Keeping the ‘Faith In Iowa’

Gazette Column
Witosky, Hansen book offers clear view of marriage equality struggles and influence Civil rights vanguards aren’t immediately appreciated and are rarely comfortable. Iowans know this from experiences dating to the early 1800s, well before statehood. The first ruling of the Iowa Territory Supreme Court in 1838 said a slave could not be forced to return to a slave state after residing on our soil. At a time when women were considered legal property by most Americans, married and unmarried Iowa women legally owned property. And, a century before interracial marriages were nationally recognized, they were taking place in Iowa. The list goes on. From a ban on segregated schools 90 years before a similar national decision to a 1953 legislative refusal to take up a McCarthy-era demand for public employee…
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Eminent domain bill deserves fair hearing

Eminent domain bill deserves fair hearing

Gazette Column
A decade has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court decided private property could be legally seized by the government and handed to a different private property owner under the guise of “economic development.” Kelo vs. New London was met with widespread distaste, earning the public ire of Republicans and Democrats alike. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spelled out the dangers: “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.” As public sentiment toward the decision soured, backlash within the states began. In 2006, the Iowa Legislature passed a bill to restrict the use of eminent domain for economic development. Although the bill was…
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Should Iowa have more official state symbols?

Should Iowa have more official state symbols?

Gazette Column
National average is 22; Hawkeye State has six Tennessee’s failed attempt to codify the Holy Bible as its official state book made me wonder about Iowa’s official items. Relative to other states, we have very few state symbols. One of the first acts of the General Assembly in 1847 was to adopt the state seal, which pictures a citizen soldier standing on a wheat field, surrounded by farm and industry implements, with the Mississippi River in the background. An eagle is overhead with a scroll of the state motto: “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.” The motto itself is not singularly official. It was the work of a three-member Iowa Senate committee, and has been incorporated into the official flag and seal. Fifty years later, the…
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Rayhons case reveals law’s flaws

Rayhons case reveals law’s flaws

Gazette Column
Jury selection took place this week in the trial of Henry Rayhons, a former Iowa lawmaker who stands accused of sexual abuse against his ailing wife, Donna. The case hinges on whether or not Donna, who was in a care facility due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, was able to consent to sexual activity and, of course, if sexual activity did occur. The couple, both in their 70s, married in 2007. They each had children from previous marriages and, as it often is in end of life situations, the presence of grown children was not trivial. Early last year, as Donna’s mental capability eroded and safety questions arose, two of her daughters suggested placement in a care facility. Henry balked, later explaining he did not want to be separated and…
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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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Voters drowned out by spending

Voters drowned out by spending

Gazette Column
Although we won’t know fundraising results from other county, legislative and statewide candidates until the disclosure deadline tomorrow, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds let their cat out of the bag Thursday. The duo is reporting a whopping $4.5 million cash-on-hand and promising, now that the legislative session has closed, their campaign “will kick into high gear.” Iowa’s 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimate is a total population of 3.1 million. Roughly 1.9 million people were registered, active voters as of May 1, according to the Secretary of State. This means the Branstad-Reynolds campaign has collected roughly $1.45 for every man, woman and child in the state, or $2.37 for each active, registered voter. Looking only at the Republicans? That’d be $7.49 per GOP voter. To put it another…
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Work flexibility a win-win

Work flexibility a win-win

Gazette Column
Is it too soon to suggest what the Iowa Legislature should discuss in its next session? If you, like me, think it isn’t, then I propose we ask our lawmakers to stop squabbling over equal pay and minimum-wage hikes (at least for now) and turn their eyes toward Vermont. As of January, Vermont business owners are required by law to consider worker requests for flexibility such as job sharing, working from home or alternative schedules. The law protects the workers making such requests from retaliation. It is essentially a legally protected conversation that can have a tremendous impact on single parents, those tasked with caring for an elderly relative or families stretched thin due to child care costs. While the idea is fairly unique in the United States, several European…
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The women are coming?

The women are coming?

Gazette Column
More than half of the state’s population is female, yet women hold less than 25 percent of legislative seats in Iowa. While we have seen a trend of female lieutenant governors, no woman has been elected to live in Terrace Hill or to serve on behalf of Iowans in Congress. Yet if we are to believe the latest research on why women are underrepresented at each level of government, blame for the gap falls primarily on the shoulders of women themselves. Once a woman takes the plunge into politics, she is statistically just as likely as any male counterpart to emerge victorious. The reason more women don’t serve, researchers say, is because most stand on the diving platform and refuse to jump. According to a 2013 research study, there are…
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