Living in Society

School District Politics

I was voter #63 on March 7, 2023.

Three bond measures on yesterday’s ballot passed with required majorities. 18.51 percent of registered voters participated in the election, according to preliminary results released last night by the county auditor.

A curious fact about the election was that 530 people signed the petition for the bond referendum and 632 voted for the bond. One presumes those 530 signers all voted for the ballot measures and made up the majority of votes that resulted in passage.

Based on following local elections for many years, I submit those 530 voters make up the core constituency in school board elections. Without those voters on board, no school board candidate is likely to win an election. While there have been challenges to the school board status quo during the last two cycles, the core constituency candidates won the elections. If an anti-establishment candidate does not recognize this basic aspect of school district politics, and develop a campaign to counter it, there is little chance they can beat the establishment.

Next up is a school board election in the fall when Adam Haluska and Jami Wolf’s current terms expire.

Here are the preliminary results of yesterday’s election. Click on the image to enlarge its size for better reading:

Living in Society

Election Day 2023

Polling place at the Catholic Church

There is a school bond election today and I’m voting yes to the $25.5 million the school district wants. The bond might not have been necessary if Republicans in the Iowa legislature had been doing their job to support K-12 public schools instead of ditzing around with which bathroom people use and restricting access to books. I expect the bond to pass with a low-turnout vote.

Today in the Iowa Senate 11 bills are on the debate schedule released yesterday by Republican Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. The governor’s education and state government reorganization bills are on the list. So are the bills with restrictions on which bathroom a person can use, and prohibiting trans-gender medical procedures for minors. There is also a ban on “woke” investing of public funds. I intend to lay low after we vote, run a few errands, and let the shit show commence and run its course. Republicans have the votes to pass whatever they deem appropriate, logic and compassion be damned. They are expected to pass most of these bills.

In the meanwhile, I plan to write until we have to leave. Like many people, I don’t see what benefit can be derived from our politics. At least, today that is true.

Living in Society

What War Means

When I was in eighth grade at Holy Family Catholic School, we were required to keep a current events scrapbook. I still have mine. It has four sections: Vietnam, Nation and World, Local, and Misc. My grade on the project was an “A.”

I clipped this Associated Press photograph from the Times-Democrat, a precursor to the Quad-City Times. A soldier was shot, and in the image has just begun to fall. I thought of this image through the years because it reminds me of the reality of war. We need such a reminder.

The Vietnam War was ongoing during my high school years and prominent in society. That’s likely why one fourth of the scrapbook was clippings about the war. The idea we boys would all potentially face compulsory service weighed on those times.

Soon after my 18th birthday, Mother took me to the Selective Service office to register for the draft. Our 1966-1967 high school yearbook was “Dedicated to the struggle for peace in Vietnam, especially to those graduates who are or soon will be a part of that struggle.” Going to war seemed a real possibility that day.

While I was reluctant to get involved in anti-war protests, when four students were killed at Kent State, I participated in a demonstration at the Davenport Armory, carrying a mocked up coffin representing one of the dead. I also participated in a school strike, skipping our humanities class because there were more important things going on in the world. I gladly served detention for skipping class because I had done the right thing.

As a septuagenarian, we work to get rid of things that can’t be passed on. I’ll be keeping this clipping, my draft card, and memories from that time. The reality of war has become distant from us. It is sanitized by media and highly controlled public relations staff in the military.

It is important to remember what war means.


Impressions of the Divine

Midst the trafficking of our lives
   we seek mostly what we know...

What's special about that?
It's me, it's you, it's all new
      ... isn't it?

We seek paths we know,
   worn well by our boots, and
   stained by our feces;
Yet, isn't there something else
   in the jungle surrounding us?

A philosopher and theologian am I
   within this world of concrete and glass.

But then, I am, I AM!
   alive, human, and wanting nothing
   but satisfaction from this life...
   ... why is it so slow in coming?

Words are ink on paper,
   the embossing of a typewriter.
People say this is the nature of our lives:
   Impressions of the Divine on earthly matter...

It is just a path worn by the trafficking of our boots.

~ Fort Benning, Georgia, Sept. 29, 1976

Living in Society

Off Year Caucus

Dan Feltes was elected First Vice Chair of the Johnson County Democrats on March 2, 2023.

The monthly central committee meeting was followed by the off-year caucus. The evening was intended to start us toward re-organizing the county Democratic Party to win in 2024. It was a somewhat chaotic meeting. We are Democrats, so that’s to be expected.

The best part of the meeting was the reunion with people met during previous campaigns. We talked about our work to elect Royceann Porter as the first black county supervisor. We talked about walking the walk. We talked about shared experiences. It was good.

I have no illusions about what is possible. The meeting was a chance to get out of the house and discuss politics with others. For a while, I’ve been participating via video conference rather than in person. There was a different dynamic to being there. If we did something to make a difference in our politics, that would have been a surprise benefit.

Conversations in person remain difficult after a long withdrawal from society beginning during the coronavirus pandemic and continuing as I write my book. As the engines of conversation ignite, I’m not sure we are at our best when we converse in person with strangers.

One person ranted about doing more door knocking to activate people to work on politics. They had what I would describe as a driving personality. Drivers tend not to be the listening type and just want to assert their point as gospel. That never goes well.

Why did Democrats perform so abysmally? The answer was at the doors, for those who were listening.

I door knocked during the midterm campaign and found people home. They didn’t want to get involved with politics. Some weren’t even interested in voting. I called it apathy at first, but that’s not right. People are dealing with complex lives and pressure from all parts of society. It is work enough just to deal with getting by. Politicization of schools during the pandemic was particularly on people’s minds. Politics seems unlikely to resolve situations like this. So people turn their back on politics, even if it goes against their self-interest, even if it means striking out on their own. Political organizing in that environment was challenging. Little seems to have changed less than a year later.

Much was made at the meeting of an “aggressive plan to rebuild the Democratic Party in Iowa under the leadership of our new chair, Rita Hart.” Here’s the problem: Hart lost her last two elections. The race for the Congress was a nail-biter and our best chance to hold the First District Congressional seat. We came up short. No question Hart is a decent person and a loyal Democrat. It will take more than that to turn this Republican state around. There’s little hope with Christina Bohannan either. She lost the first Congressional race in the district 46 percent to 53 percent. She should have won. The Democratic Party needs winners to lead us out of the woods. They are in short supply.

I have confidence in Zach Wahls and Jennifer Kofrst who are our senate and house minority leaders. They are two people when we need a legion of activist leaders.

By the end of the caucus, we talked about building infrastructure to activate people to work on campaigns. We have large geographies of the county represented by Republicans. It seems like we should learn about those precincts and do what it takes to turn them Democratic. For Pete’s sake, Democratic voter registrations in the Johnson County part of House District 91 outnumbered Republicans. We still lost that half of the district. Consensus was lacking in our group about this focus.

People talked about how Johnson County goes blue every election and how we might help people in the rest of the state with our excess capacity. We too quickly take the winning portions of the county for granted and project that on conservative areas like ours. I mean, I worked on campaigns outside the county before. While we try to be helpful, we don’t always know the turf or the culture of those foreign canvasses. When it’s all hands on deck to win a special election, not all hands are of equal value. It makes me gag when I hear and read of the reference to Johnson County as being solid blue.

We are supposed to follow up with our conversation via video conference in a couple of weeks. I’d like to find a replacement for myself on the central committee. Even the most active in my precinct want no part of that. At the end of the day, now is the time to finish my book and that will have to be my focus for the next 18 months. Good news is the first in the nation Iowa precinct caucuses were cancelled and that will free up my time.

We have to start somewhere and off we go.


On Retreat

I said a prayer,
then meditated.

Tea brewed with
Orange Pekoe teabags
is hot, dark, and ready.

While out for a walk,
I bought chewing gum
from a vending machine
near the main railway station.

I chewed gum all the way home.

Through the window,
children are playing.
I realize something
is bothering me.

I do not share the joy
of playing children.

Instead, I'm on retreat,

as ice cubes crack
with the heat of the tea,
before I sit at the typewriter.

~ Mainz, Germany, May 30, 1977


Something Is Missing

What is life?
But then who am I to ask?
I am a grown person, not married.
I mastered the art of survival.
I lead a good life,
or so they tell me.
Yet am I really living?
I am not sure.

The plans I make are hollow,
lacking companionship.
At least I am planning...
My mind is active,
yet something is missing.
Something is missing...

~ Mainz, Germany, Jan. 14, 1979
Living in Society

Unrecognizable Iowa

Melting snow in late February.

Tomorrow night is the biennial organization meeting and election of officers for my county’s Democratic party. I plan to attend in person, even though video participation is available. I’m fit to be tied about our state-wide politics for a couple of reasons, yet mostly because Democrats lost our ability to hold back the extreme politics of the opposition.

We need a path to fixing this.

Former county supervisor Pat Heiden filled me in with a fundraising email on Tuesday:

Hello! I’m reaching out to you today because we need your help! The Iowa Democratic Party is initiating an aggressive plan to rebuild the Democratic Party in Iowa under the leadership of our new chair, Rita Hart.

It begins with us in Johnson County.

Email from Pat Heiden, Feb. 28, 2023.

I’m glad Heiden remains involved with party politics. She already worked a full career before winning her election. Instead of taking it easy after leaving office, she remains politically engaged. Good for her.

I previously received a fund raising email for the same event, to which I replied,

Happy one month left of winter!

You can take me off your political fund raising list. I won’t have extra cash for political donations until I hit the lottery or get our house fixed up whichever comes first. Also, I’m 80k words short of finishing my book, and pretty busy until I write them.

I’m a bit overdosed with these four speakers in any case. They are very available, apparently everywhere.

Have a great spring, if it ever arrives!

Regards, Paul

Email sent Feb. 25, 2023.

Gone are my days of seeking to be a recognized political activist. As a septuagenarian I’m more interested in conserving resources and preparing for elderly living, especially if I become infirm. I’m still fit to be tied.

After decennial redistricting, we landed in a Republican-leaning Iowa House and Senate District. Our Democratic senate candidate worked hard to win the 2022 election and came up short. Our Democratic house candidate was unopposed in the primary, yet took a new, demanding job after filing that prevented her from running the kind of underdog campaign that was needed. After living through the 2012-2020 cycles with Bobby Kaufmann winning all five contests, experience shows it unlikely we will be able to get these seats away from Republican incumbents. That is, unless the county party does something more to win in 2024. This is one of the reasons I plan to attend the organization meeting in person tonight.

Is it that bad? Yes, it is.

Our State Senator Dawn Driscoll is part of Republican party leadership. While she does communicate through a weekly newsletter, she has supported leadership initiatives, notably, school vouchers and setting liability caps for medical malpractice and the trucking industry.

She is floor manager for Senate File 443 which would reorganize how county supervisors are elected, requiring large counties like ours to eliminate at-large supervisor elections and establish districts where each voter picks only their own supervisor. This is a significant change. If it passes, rural voices will be less relevant than ever because to evenly divide the districts by population, urban voters will be part of and dominate every district.

Our State Representative Brad Sherman has sponsored 16 bills as of this writing. The list of bills resembles the playbook of right-wing interests. Included in his sponsorship list are bills covering means-testing for public assistance, anti-trans discrimination, K-12 social studies curriculum, prohibition of drugs used for abortion, a Second Amendment preservation act, voter suppression, changing the Iowa Civil Rights Act, closer scrutiny to books available in school libraries, nullifying the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and prohibiting abortion in the state. None of this is surprising. Elections matter and Driscoll and Sherman won fair and square.

Yesterday the national cancer registry released it latest report, saying Iowa was second in the nation for incidence of cancer. We are the only state where the rate of cancer cases is growing. Likewise, our public schools used to be considered best in the nation. We’ve fallen to 24th in K-12 schools, according to U.S. News and World Report. This is not to mention our deteriorating water quality, lack of population growth, and a workforce shortage that negatively impacts business.

While these things are not really news, everything is hitting at once. Iowa as presently configured is not a state I would choose if I weren’t born here. Young people wised up and chose to live and work elsewhere.

So, yes. I’m fit to be tied and young enough to try to do something about it. It will take all hands on deck to steer the ship back on a reasonable, responsible course.


Paul VI has Passed

The Pontiff passed to the other side.
I saw him in the Vatican and smiled,
Grace and power of the Word flowing,
Energizing all of us in an audience.

The Vicar of Christ, they proclaimed!
Such a thought to modern man
In a world of skepticism and doubt,
The Vicar of Christ!

Today begins the ritual,
With closed doors and smoke from the tower.
People will look on and wonder,
What is the relevance of this?

I long ceased attempts
To understand the mystery
And now live in its light.
Would have it no other way.

The Pontiff passed to the other side.
Again I am smiling.
Grace and power of the Word flowing,
Energizing all of us in audience.

~ Mainz Germany, August 7, 1978

Where Today’s Road Might Take Us

I walk with confidence.
Hand outstretched,
I greet you.
Let us shake hands
And speak,
For who knows
Where today's road might take us?

I came with purpose.
Mind intent,
I know why I came.
Let us bargain
And deal,
For who knows
Where today's road might take us?

~ Mainz, Germany, March 18, 1979