Living in Society


State Capitol

Last night the Iowa Legislature considered and passed a bill to cut unemployment benefits in the state. Both the House and Senate approved a measure, although the chambers differ on whether there will be a one week waiting period before benefits commence. A version of the bill will pass before adjournment sine die.

I was fortunate to make it through 54 years in the workforce without filing unemployment. My work life can be characterized as stable, although I changed jobs a lot, mostly because I wanted or needed to for various reasons. Work life radically changed since the 1970s, especially after the election of Ronald Reagan as president. What Iowa Republicans are doing is wrong.

Iowa Capitol Dispatch reported last night:

If signed into law, House File 2355 will make several immediate changes for Iowans on unemployment.

Unemployment benefits will last only 16 weeks, rather than the current maximum of 26 weeks. Iowans will also have a one-week waiting period before they receive their first payment under the Senate’s version of the bill.

Unemployed Iowans may need to accept a lower-paying job sooner in the process to continue receiving unemployment benefits. Under current law, an individual would not be required to take a lower-paying job offer for the first five weeks of employment. The bill would change that, ratcheting down the definition of “acceptable” job beginning in the second week of unemployment.

Iowa Capitol Dispatch, March 23, 2022.

My decisions about filing for unemployment were a recognition of the privilege in which I came up. If I was eligible for benefits, I took pride in finding my own way without them. There was never fear of falling behind financially. When I left a job on my own, I carefully considered the consequences and made a financial plan which worked in every case. Not everyone is so lucky.

With Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, they can pass whatever laws they want. The Republican governor is unlikely to veto. If there is a single pattern, it is their desire to re-create what living in Iowa means. I know what it means to me. It is treating working people with respect that is anyone’s due. Obviously, Republicans don’t feel the same.

Living in Society

LGBTQ? Not if Republicans Can Help It

Vote board at the Iowa House of Representatives on Feb. 21, 2022

During last night’s Iowa House of Representatives debate on HF 2416, regarding eligibility for girls’ athletics, Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-82) repeatedly referred to supporting LGBTQ students as “affirming a mental illness.” He also compared being LGBTQ to “spreading cancer that will continue to grow.” He voted for the bill, which said in part, “Only female students, based on their sex, may participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls.” The usage of “sex” means sex at birth as it pertains to trans-gender girls.

Shipley’s Republican colleague, the bill’s floor manager, Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-04), said the purpose of the bill was protecting “biological females” from “biological males.” HF 2416 passed the House 55-39 and was messaged to the Iowa Senate, where it is expected to be approved. Governor Kim Reynolds was willing to sign the bill into law, although she wanted to see the final version before committing. Last night, Iowa made mockery of its motto, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”

Should the bill be signed into law, there is likely to be a lawsuit. Janice Weiner, candidate for state senator and current Iowa City City Councilor, posted on Twitter, “Expect at least one lawsuit to be filed as soon as it passes. And likely will request a preliminary injunction. This is federal legal territory, not a state legislative culture wars playground.”

I have a t-shirt that says, “Love is Love.” Well not in Iowa where being LGBTQ is a malignancy, and trans girls are discriminated against, and potentially bullied. Why won’t Republicans leave children alone?

I wrote a post “Republicans Sweep Big Grove” after the 2020 election, in which I laid out my beefs with the Iowa Democratic Party. Since then there have been multiple announcements of Democratic legislators departing the Iowa legislature at the end of the 89th Iowa General Assembly. According to Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland, nearly 40 percent of current Iowa House Democratic lawmakers are either retiring or running for a different office. While legislators like my State Senator Zach Wahls, House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn have not given up, the consensus is Democrats will be unlikely to build a coalition to defeat Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections, or even in the 2024 presidential election.

The plain truth is Iowa politics is so toxic, few voters want to engage and even fewer are willing to volunteer in campaigns. Legislative capers of the patriarchy like HF 2416 don’t add anything positive to the political climate. Republicans seek to divide the electorate and have been relentless in the pursuit of prejudice against LGBTQ citizens.

We can’t let HF 2416 stand. It is a long, difficult road to overturning the Republican agenda, although try, we must.

Living in Society

Republican Romp

Iowa Capitol

We know Republicans are feeling pretty good about the way the state is going when the normally reserved Matt Windschitl includes a joke in his legislative update. “If a car uses wheat-based ethanol, does it qualify as a hy-bread vehicle?” The newsletter was about ethanol, and Republicans feel good when they address it to support corn-growers and the product from which it is made.

The Iowa House got its way with last week’s HF2128 regarding E15 ethanol in the state. It passed with many Democrats joining the Republican majority in favor. What didn’t get told in Windschitl’s newsletter was it was Democrat Mary Wolfe of District 98, ranking member of the judiciary committee, who wrote the language to help gas station operators in small towns deal with changes the new law would bring by increasing the blend of ethanol.

As has been expected for many years, especially since Republicans gained control of the Iowa Senate in 2016, each year brings more crazy legislation. Among the topics that have been broached in the early days of the final session of the 89th General Assembly are eliminating state income tax, eliminating all Iowa Code (yes, all) a bit at a time until it is revised by the legislature or deleted, putting surveillance cameras in virtually every K-12 public school classroom so parents can watch, sending teachers and librarians to jail for making unapproved classroom materials available, qualified immunity for police officers, and there will be something about taking away the rights of women to manage their health care once the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling that may impact Roe Vs. Wade later this year.

With all of these and more, Republicans are feeling pretty good about themselves. Don’t break your arm patting yourselves on the back people.

It looks like Democrats have a long road toward regaining a majority in either legislative chamber. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds rules the roost and is expected to cake walk into another term after the November election. Democrats ran one of their biggest donors against her in 2018. He came up short on charisma if not on money. Only Democrat Deidre DeJear, the losing 2018 Secretary of State candidate, is in the running against Reynolds. DeJear’s campaign hasn’t been able to achieve lift off. Being well-liked among Democrats hasn’t translated into a successful campaign for DeJear.

As I wrote yesterday, the pandemic is being normalized, even if it is not over. What hasn’t been normalized, or even adequately addressed, is how Democrats dig out of the grave they dug for themselves since Tom Vilsack was governor.

Like many Democrats, I’m willing to do my part. I also have stuff to do before I’m ready to enter my own grave. As a new septuagenarian, there is no time to wait for Democrats to get organized. That I can write that sentence does no justice to how disorganized we are as a party. The fear is there is no hope of digging out in the foreseeable future or in my lifetime.

I’m not encouraged by people who say we should wait until the campaign season is upon us. That means the 89th General Assembly adjourned sine die, summer is behind us, and the election is within shouting distance. The long-term structural change Iowa Democrats need lies outside any single election.

Some positive things have been accomplished by our leaders, especially by my state senator and senate minority leader Zach Wahls. What Ross Wilburn, Zach and the gang are doing is okay, yet not enough, and too slow in evolving.

While good people try to organize the circus we Democrats tend to be, Republicans are telling jokes and enjoying good times promoting corn ethanol during the Republican romp of which they can see no end.

Living in Society

Iowa House District 91

Iowa House District 91.

I’m waiting to see if someone announces their candidacy for Iowa House District 91, newly created by the Iowa legislature during our post-U.S. Census, decennial redistricting. I’ll say what I’m thinking: electing a Democrat in this district will be difficult. Most of the geography is rural, and 10,757 of 16,506 registered D/R/NP voters live in Iowa County which is even more rural than the Johnson County portion of the district.

The Iowa legislature finalized new districts on Nov. 4, 2021. It was late this year because of the delay in the census. There is no incumbent representative, so it is an open seat. Three months have gone by and no Democrat jumped into the race. Maybe they realize how difficult winning here will be. Maybe they feel there is plenty of time. I’ve been asking around and there might be a person evaluating whether to run as a Democrat. Maybe not. It’s not a good sign.

That’s not to say a Democrat can’t win. The right Democratic candidate with the right connections and ability to relate to Republicans and No Party voters can get elected. In the related Iowa Senate District 46, there is a Democratic and a Republican incumbent who are expected to face off in the November election. Democratic Senator Kevin Kinney is well familiar with getting elected in rural geography and should he run, could aid the House District 91 candidate. We don’t have an official candidate in either race yet.

The January breakdown of voter registrations in Iowa County was 2,481-D, 4,565-R and 3,711-NP. In Johnson County it was 2,760-D, 1,271-R and 1,718-NP. As has been the case in rural elections during the previous 10 years, how no preference voters vote will determine the results. Rural no preference voters lean Republican. My current precinct went Republican across the board in 2020 and is expected to do so again without a strong Democratic candidate. We paid a price for the retirement of Dave Loebsack who won every race in my precinct.

The precinct caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 7, and that is traditionally the time when new candidates speak. In Johnson County we decided to hold a virtual caucus, so that makes it easier for candidates to contact people throughout the county. We’ll see if someone announces.

In the meanwhile, there is not a lot to do in this race but wait and see.

Living in Society

Don’t Tell Us What to Read

Morning Reading for $1.25

I got my first library card in 1959 and have been reading ever since. When I was young, teachers kept an eye on my reading and made their opinions known. If they didn’t like a particular book, I read it at home where my parents supervised me.

My first conflict was in eighth grade over a book written by Ian Fleming, one of the 007 series. The priest saw I had it and confiscated it because of Bond’s interaction with women. I discussed it with my parents and eventually bought another copy from my allowance.

In high school I heard about J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye and wanted to read it. It was prohibited and unavailable in the school library. I read that one too. I managed the conflicts between teachers and my reading.

What I can’t abide is the state legislature regulating which books should be allowed in schools. This decision should be between teachers, librarians, and parents. The claim parents don’t know what books are in schools seems bogus. If the legislature wants to do something, fund on-line access to card catalogues throughout the state. We don’t need lawmakers telling us what to read.

~ First published on Jan. 22, 2022 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Living in Society

Election Week 2021

Trail walking at Lake Macbride State Park on Nov. 4, 2021.

It was a good week to be a Democrat. Unemployment was down as the Biden administration generated more jobs this year than the last three Republican presidents combined. CNBC reported:

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 531,000 in October, beating the estimate of 450,000.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, a new pandemic low and better than expectations.

Wages rose 0.4% for the month and were up 4.9% from a year ago.

Leisure and hospitality led job creation, followed by professional and business services and manufacturing.

Job creation roars back in October as payrolls rise by 531,000 by Jeff Cox, Nov. 5, 2021.

Even cynical traders on Wall Street enjoyed the news, sending major indices to record highs.

Around midnight the U.S. House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill the U.S. Senate passed on Aug. 10, alongside a framework for the Build Back Better Act which is the core of President Biden’s social agenda. Biden is walking the walk in getting things done in Washington. My member of the House voted against the measures.

Locally, the school board election confirmed what I had believed, that our community was happy with the status quo, returning two long-time incumbents and adding another female to the board. Cassie Rochholz has been supportive of the current direction of the board, so she fits right in. A positive outcome of the election is better gender equity with two females on the five-person board. In other good news, by reacting to the outbreak in October, the Solon Community School District reduced the number of COVID-19 cases in the school from 67 to zero in four weeks, KCRG reported. It would have been better if the district had prevented the outbreak by following the science of contagious diseases, yet the reaction of the superintendent and school nursing staff created a positive out of the disaster they made.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom announced he would not seek reelection to the State Senate in 2022. Joe is among the best Iowa Democrats and a leader when leadership is needed. When Democrats held a majority in the Iowa Senate, Bolkcom held the line against Republican efforts at hegemony. I lost track of how many conversations I’ve had with him over the years. He has been very responsive and on the right side of issues that matter. He will be missed when his term ends in 2023.Thank you Senator Joe Bolkcom!

Finally, my new House District #91 is having the first of what I hope will be many political events before the 2022 general election. On Veterans Day, the Iowa County Democrats will host U.S. Senate candidate and retired admiral Mike Franken at a meet and greet event in North English. I had to look on the map to see where that is, yet the hour drive to the event will help me get acquainted with the Iowa County political landscape. That’s important if we are to work together to elect a Democratic state representative.

We’ve had a good week so far. Let’s see what the weekend brings and keep it going!

Living in Society


Fall Colors

Going into the Nov. 3 election we hear a lot about “bipartisanship,” mostly from politicians wanting to get elected. I’m not sure what the word means any more.

A bill passed in the legislature with unanimous consent is technically bipartisan. Everyone realizes the technique is used to move daily business along rather than to more than cursorily agree on something such as the content of the bill.

There are clear divisions in our two-party political system. What is called “bipartisan” really isn’t more than an attempt to compromise our values. Compromise can be good in a democratic republic like ours. The trouble is we don’t share the same values and compromise that works toward complex solutions has recently been minimal and ineffective. Bipartisanship should be set aside so our elected officials can do what’s right. That’s a tall order.

When I was a township trustee we formed a 28E agreement to manage fire and emergency services for several townships and the nearby city. This is basic compromise. We formed a board of trustees with representation from the various governmental entities to formalize how we would approach services. It took more than two years from conception to signed agreement and in retrospect the increased public visibility of the public service, and better fiscal management, proved to be an effective solution. I’m no longer on the board of trustees yet I can read the minutes from their meetings in the newspaper. The new entity serves as an example of government doing what’s right.

Did trustees from the several townships and the city have political views? Of course they did. We were able to set that aside to work on a project that mattered to the entire community.

Our state and federal government should work more like our local townships do. The trouble is there are too many lobbyists with too much influence. In addition to lobbyists, there are the people behind them. I think it’s weird to have a page on the state legislature’s website that indicates how lobbyists view certain legislation. In Iowa, lobbyists have come to dominate the legislative process. The joke is the agriculture committees have to check with the Farm Bureau before doing anything. Lobbyists write bills that save legislators from doing their own thinking.

In the federal legislature the influence of lobbyists isn’t so obvious unless one walks the corridors of House or Senate office buildings. There lobbyists far outnumber regular people seeking their representative or senator. Going back to our 28E agreement, the only lobbyists for creation of the process were those who had a stake in its outcome, including the mayor, the fire chief and his deputies, the county attorney’s office, and other elected officials.

Our legislative process has been compromised by the influence of corporations and their lobbyists, including non-profit organizations. It takes so much money to run for office it is hard for candidates to decline their money. Those who do are handicapped out of the gate and risk being viewed as less than serious candidates because of the lack of fund-raising skills. Iowa’s 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary campaign was a case in point. The fact that Theresa Greenfield knew how to raise funds and did so played more of a role in her winning than policy positions embraced by so many. Money eclipsed politics every time and will for the foreseeable future.

Three weeks before the general election is not the best time to raise this. There is never a good time to raise it. Legislators deny contributions influence their votes yet it’s hard to believe them. We are so far from doing what’s right in so many areas of our governance it seems quaint to say it’s even possible any longer.

Let’s face it, our government is compromised and we need to do something about it.

Living in Society

Political Bandwidth

Cup of Coffee with State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, Stanwood, Iowa, March 16, 2019

The 2020 general election will be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which for me is deciding whether policy or politics is the most important part of it.

Politics is the art of what’s possible. I’m over the naive notion that policy matters more than politics, although the art of what’s possible has produced some problems.

Perhaps the best recent example of politics over policy was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which passed with only Democratic votes and has been fought tooth and nail by its opposition ever since. Voters want better health care, but the ACA was challenged from the beginning. It didn’t deliver better health care. The insurance premiums were expensive. The co-pays were high. The only talking point that persists is that more people who did not have access to health care were covered. Despite continuing feel-good stories about the ACA, its solutions were not so good. It was what was possible.

A policy-only approach to the 2020 general election is equally problematic. I believe it is mostly because of the decline in K-12 education, the rise in private and home schooling, and the dominance of FOX News and right-wing radio among people who continue to be radio listeners or view television broadcasts and cable. The electorate has been dumbed down and will swallow almost anything people hear repeated often enough. Making policy for a gullible electorate results in crap for legislation. When the court system finds such legislation deficient, as in the recent “fetal heartbeat” law in Iowa which was declared unconstitutional, the reaction from a dumbed down electorate is “impeach the judges.” Ill-informed notions of how government works are de rigueur and infrequently challenged.

Policy wonks talk among themselves in a bubble of their own making but their policy products are not often well received. What will stand the light of an open society? Getting out in it.

It is easier to think and talk about politics than to get out of a house or apartment and actually do something in political society. Once a person escapes the fencing of confirmation bias and faces actual people with differing views, a couple of things become immediately apparent. The biggest is a person no longer has internal debate, mistaking it for action.

We are on our best behavior in a gathering of diverse people — less likely to assert extreme positions. It is a moderating effect of social interaction. It is easy to generate excitement among a small group of friends with common interests. What is hard is persuading people much different from us our ideas have merit.

There is a tedium to working through issues with others which can take the fun out of problem-solving. In modern society we want our gratification and conclusions right away. Execution of them becomes a neglected afterthought. Working through issues together requires a commitment to process that isn’t part of ad hoc meetings in public. We are a society with decreasing respect for such group decisions. More characteristic of how it works is some of us would rather drop our policy bomb at a gathering — like a terrorist with no serious intent of further discussion or resolution — and having disrupted normal discourse, escape to our compound. It gets old, fast.

The radio spectrum is a good example of our politics. On the A.M. band there is one type of programming, on the F.M. another. There is satellite radio that bypasses the spectrum. All of them play a role. I currently have only four stations programmed on my car radio where I do most of my listening.

During my transportation career I traveled a lot. When with my boss in Pennsylvania, Georgia, or other godforsaken places, he would turn on the radio in the rental car, find Rush Limbaugh, and want to have a conversation with me about it. I refused to participate meaningfully. I viewed political talk in the workplace as unnecessary and unwanted when there was so much else to discuss regarding our business. He would hammer me about Robert Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court which had occurred more than a decade earlier. I failed to mention I was a supporter of and had caucused for Ted Kennedy during the 1980 Iowa caucuses. Maybe it would have been better to rip the bandage off and get it all out there. Maybe I’d have lost my job, but maybe not.

On Saturday, a farmer friend and I met at her farm and drove over to Stanwood for a meeting with our state representative, Bobby Kaufmann. The obscure town along U.S. Highway 30 is home to some scrappy people: doomsday preppers, FOX News listeners, and citizens with tough personal stories. We were welcomed by a group of about 27, and are getting to know some of the regulars who attend these meetings. It was one of the best political meet ups I attended.

What made it good is after four elections, Kaufmann rose within the Republican Party which has a majority in the House of Representatives. Because of his leadership position, he knows what is going on with issues that are in the news. A person wants that in a politician. While Kaufmann and I don’t often agree, we find common ground. My questions were few and centered around issues that matter to me: water quality, state revolving loans for public utilities, IPERS, and that’s it. He’s a skilled legislator who can focus both on policy and the art of what’s possible. He paid for coffee and cinnamon rolls for anyone who wanted them.

The easy statement to make is we should balance our politics and policy. I’m not sure about that. A better approach is to recognize there is political bandwidth and tune in. We find opportunities to move the needle of policy a good distance through discussion with diverse groups of people. When that’s not possible, talk about what is. I believe that can be how bold change in society takes place.

It’s part of sustaining a life in a turbulent world.

Kitchen Garden Writing

40 Acres Sans Mule

Flooded Farm Near the Cedar River, Sept. 27, 2016

There is nothing magical about 40 acres in the 21st Century. Today’s American farmers can make a living on much less, largely because of crop diversification, technology, and emerging markets for locally grown food.

For a beginning specialty-crop farmer, 40 acres might be too much to handle.

“40 acres and a mule” entered the vernacular as a way of dealing with the question of what to do with newly freed slaves during and after the Civil War. Give them 40 acres and a mule to get started as free men, or so the line of thinking went.

In 1865, William Tecumseh Sherman provided for confiscation of 400,000 acres of land in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, to redistribute in 40-acres parcels to formerly enslaved farmers. The arrangement did not persist, although even today, presidential candidates posit the United States should pay reparations for slavery.

While specialty crop farmers work hard, long days to make ends meet and sometimes take a job in town to provide enough household cash, they increasingly seek to own their future. To a person, that means buying land. In Iowa good farmland is expensive.

For farmers, the desire to create a farm on less than 40 acres has to do with start up capital. To make a go of it as a specialty farmer on 40 acres, that means $350,000 or more for land, another $100,000 or more for an on-farm dwelling, and more for at least one barn, a couple tractors, and other equipment for cultivation, mowing, tilling, fencing and general operations. Finding a banker to finance such an operation is difficult without collateral other than the land. There is also the hurdle of what to do with all that land. While a small farm can grow into 40 acres with success and over time, a beginning farmer has much to learn and the scale can be intimidating.

Shouldn’t there be opportunities to start a farm on less than 40 acres? The county board of supervisors said no. Couldn’t you move to another county? The market is in urban centers.

In Iowa farms have an agricultural zoning exemption. Beginning farmers seek the ag exemption in order to make ends meet on narrow gross margins. To be defined as a farm in our county, and get the exemption, 40 acres is required. Some of my farmer friends have been asking for accommodation of smaller farms for many years and none has been forthcoming from the county board. The future belongs to the young and they will not be stopped.

That brings us to House Study Bill 239, an act relating to the county zoning exemption for property used for agricultural purposes. Farms are defined as follows:

The bill provides that property is used for agricultural purposes if at least 51 percent of the annual gross revenue derived from the property comes from the growing, harvesting, or selling of crops and livestock raised and produced on the property or brought to the property and not more than 49 percent of the annual gross revenue derived from the property comes from the sale of agricultural experiences and other farm-related activities.

The number of acres defining a farm becomes irrelevant should the measure pass the legislature and be signed by the governor.

This bill amounts to an end run around the county board of supervisors. While it didn’t clear the state government committee this session, it remains eligible for consideration and debate next year in the second session of the 88th Iowa General Assembly.

A representative from our county made it to the bill’s subcommittee hearing on March 5. In what was described as a long, arrogant speech, the official characterized rural residents who had been working with the county board of supervisors as “loud complainers.” Not a good look for anyone, especially a county official.

Today was a great day of spring-like weather. We can feel it in the air as farmers prepare equipment, tend livestock, and prepare for another crop. Whether on 40 acres or 4,000 there are many common threads running through farming. Whether they will be defined according to the same standard is an open question. It’s time to see if the legislature can resolve the issue for beginning farmers, since the county won’t.

Living in Society

Normal Saturday Morning of Politics

Colleen Bringman, Katie Biesendorfer, Kyle Tester and Carmen Black on a Specialty Crop Producer Panel in Montgomery Hall, Johnson County, Iowa on March 9, 2019

Ice and snow began to melt, exposing a small disk of grass over the septic tank. It suggested an overdue spring is arriving. After a long, hard winter I’m skeptical.

Time to get outside the house for something other than work.

Saturday became a series of renewed conversations with friends. Politics was part of three events in Iowa City and Coralville, coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack, a forum hosted by the Johnson County Food Policy Council, and a fundraiser for Eric Giddens who is running to represent State Senate District 30 in a March 19 special election. I’d forgotten how many friends I have in the community.

Not everyone in Iowa has first in the nation caucus fever. Politics was discussed. It was local politics. The field of Democratic candidates for president is beginning to come into focus. While some have declared a candidate preference, many of us are anxious for spring to begin, such anxiety pushing aside the vagaries of the nascent Democratic presidential nominating process. I felt like a normal human by not thinking about presidential politics for a morning.

Congressman Dave Loebsack chatting with constituents at Dodge Street Coffee, Iowa City on March 9, 2019.

The first event was coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack at a coffee shop co-located with a convenience store near Interstate 80. In a welcome turn of events, there was no speech. Loebsack spent the hour meeting individually with attendees without a set agenda. The event was very personal and individualized.

I overheard the retired college professor mention his age, 66 years.  The average age of members of the 116th Congress is 58.6, according to Politico, so that makes Loebsack older than average. It seems unlikely he will have the longevity in the House of Representatives of the late John Dingell or other long-serving men and women. Who might replace him when he retires is an open question for constituents. The last few times I was with Loebsack he publicly mentioned his age or his potential retirement so it’s out there.

I didn’t have much to say to the second district congressman as we shook hands. He knows my issues: climate change and preserving Social Security and Medicare. We met during his first election campaign in 2006. He knows me, we share a common history, and that is something for a person who represents roughly 750,000 people.

From North Dodge Street I drove through the county seat to the fairgrounds where the Johnson County Food Policy Council was hosting its 5th annual forum in Montgomery Hall. My friends and colleagues Carmen Black of Sundog Farm and Kyle Tester of Wilson’s Orchard were both part of a specialty crop producer panel.

Black announced that HSB239 is advancing in the legislature. She later said the bill is expected to pass the Iowa House of Representatives. The intent of the legislation is to help small and new farmers overcome high land prices and get started in farming. The bill defines a farm by the amount of agricultural revenue a property produces rather than any set number of acres.  Getting the agricultural exemption, which is part of the point of the bill, is crucial for small and new farmers.

I spoke to two of the county supervisors after the panel and brought the bill to their attention. Supervisors have a lot of issues on their legislative agenda and this bill was introduced without fanfare only last week. If adopted, HSB239 could have an impact on county land use policy and regulations.

I left Montgomery Hall, and a free luncheon from Local Burrito Catering, heading to the Iowa River Landing in Coralville where the fundraiser was in progress. I arrived as Iowa senate minority leader Janet Petersen was finishing her speech. The event was hosted by the three state senators who represent Johnson County, Kevin Kinney, Joe Bolkcom and Zach Wahls, who were all present. Wahls is my state senator. My intent was to drop in, write a check, and head home. So many people I hadn’t seen in a while were there so I spent most of an hour in conversations. Zach Wahls has proven to be accessible since we elected him last November. I encouraged him to continue his excellent communication about what’s happening in the legislature in various media.

As the gathering broke up I walked in a light, sweet rain to my car across the roundabout. I headed north on Highway One thinking, “I’ve got to get out more often.” I felt a longing to make more trips to the county seat. When spring arrives, maybe in April, I will.