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.

Living in Society

Political Funnel Land

Iowa State Capitol

Monday’s date was written on an almost completed to-do list. I failed to figure out why.

I think it was because South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg held two public events in the county seat. At 2:30 p.m. he was hosted by the University of Iowa Democrats at a local bar, and at 7:30 p.m. the Iowa City Book Festival and Iowa City Public Library hosted him in one of a series of LIT Talks where he read from and discussed his book, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future. Buttigieg is a Democrat running for president in 2020.

Glad I’m not obsessing with the horse race to be president. I also wish my memory was better.

The political news originates from Des Moines where the Iowa legislature’s “first funnel” is this week. That means bills must be introduced and passed out of committee to remain viable for debate during the remainder of session. That is, unless someone, typically in the majority party, wants to stick the language into the end of year bills to balance the budget and close the session. A bill is dead if it doesn’t pass the first funnel, but not dead, dead.

I checked the daily bill roster several times yesterday and found one I believe has merit pertaining to pioneer cemeteries. I wrote an email to the county supervisors:


House Study Bill 234 pertaining to pioneer cemeteries was introduced to Representative Bloomingdale’s committee on Local Government today. I read the bill and find it to have merit.

I served as a Big Grove Township Trustee for one four-year term. We managed Fackler’s Grove Cemetery near Seven Sisters Road which meets the criteria for a pioneer cemetery outlined in the legislation. George Fackler is said to be the first person who died in the township and is interred there. The cemetery had been neglected for many years and despite efforts between the trustees and the Ely Historical Society, little progress has been made identifying the graves, if that’s even possible at such a late date.

The question the legislation poses is whether management of the county pioneer cemeteries should be by the township trustees or a centralized county commission for that purpose. I favor the commission approach because of its potential to make the county approach to pioneer cemeteries more uniform.

I realize you have a lot on your to-do list, but if this bill makes it out of the first funnel I hope you will support it.

Thanks for your work on the board.

Regards, Paul

Many bills were filed yesterday addressing fundamental issues with government. There was a bit of fluff, but you’ll have that.

This morning I wrote the chair and ranking member of the State Government Committee about HF 608 which is “an act relating to the tracking and counting of mailed absentee ballots.” The post office no longer uniformly postmarks mail but they do affix a bar code with a time stamp in it. This unresolved technical issue could have changed the 2018 general election results in House District 55 where a number of ballots that lacked a postmark, yet had a bar code, weren’t opened or counted. The law needs fixing to keep up with post office practices and so voters will not be disenfranchised by a minor process deficiency going forward. We’ll see what the legislature does this week.

Adults in Iowa spend some part of their time discussing politics and the rest of their time pretending politics doesn’t exist. Yesterday was a day to spend in political funnel land. I’m not sure I’m the better for it.


Interview with Ed Fallon

Bakken-Pipeline-Proposed-RouteBlog for Iowa caught up with Ed Fallon in Iowa City at a March 11 fundraiser for his Iowa Pipeline Walk along the proposed route of the Dakota Access oil pipeline from the Bakken shale formation through Iowa to Illinois.

Fallon presented a slide show of his experiences on last year’s Great March for Climate Action across the U.S., and answered questions during an event attended by about 35 supporters.

Discussions ranged over a variety of related topics. Two seemed most important: eminent domain and an environmental study of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) is leading a bipartisan effort to restrict use of eminent domain by private companies like Dakota Access in Iowa.

“I intend to introduce legislation in the Government Oversight Committee,” Kaufmann said in an email to constituents. “My committee is funnel proof and next week I will introduce an Eminent Domain Omnibus bill that will attempt to address the numerous eminent domain abuses going on throughout the state.”

When asked about the legislation, Fallon acknowledged the several bills filed regarding eminent domain had not yet been finalized into one.

“My biggest hope is it defines public use so clearly that you can’t come in and build a pipeline across Iowa and use eminent domain to build that,” Fallon said. “Because it’s not oil that’s being used here, it’s not being produced here, it’s being refined in Texas and shipped for the most part overseas.”

A bipartisan group of legislators sent a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board asking the regulatory body commission an environmental impact study of the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the letter raised eight concerns:

1. Safety risks and hazards associated with the product(s) to be transported through the pipeline;

2. Potential damage to water, land, soil, water, air and wildlife/wildlife habitat during construction;

3. Threats to the environment, farmland, wildlife and public health as a result of spills or explosions;

4. Spill prevention and clean up provisions;

5. Liability for damages to both public and private property and sufficiency of resources to cover such liability;

6. Adequacy of inspection/monitoring/enforcement mechanisms and resources;

7. Responsibility for planning, training, and equipping for emergency response;

8. Indirect impacts of the oil extraction process facilitated by the pipeline that may affect public health and safety as well as environmental security.

“If studying the environmental impact is something we do before we decide to move forward on this, then that has value,” Fallon said. “But if it’s something we do after the fact, after the damage is done, after the decision is made, then it’s kind of a moot point.”

During the question and answer session, Jack Knight of the Allamakee County Protectors indicated that delaying the IUB approval process through an environmental study was a valuable tactic in preventing the oil pipeline from being built.

Opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline have a bigger issue and Fallon touched upon that during our interview.

“Based on what the entire scientific community is telling us, that oil needs to remain in the ground,” he said. “Really this conversation about the pipeline is a sidebar, but a really important one.”

For more information about Fallon’s work, Blog for Iowa recommends, “Hitting the Pavement,” in the March 16 issue of the Newton Daily News, or follow him on

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Sine Die? Not So Fast!

State Capitol
State Capitol

DES MOINES— Governor Branstad’s office released an end of session message for the 85th Iowa General Assembly at 8:41 a.m. yesterday, saying, “despite the partisan tone of the session, we are pleased there was agreement on the majority of our legislative plan.” The House had been all high fives and out of there before 6 a.m., busy posting brilliant photos of the east side of the capital on Facebook as the sun rose.

Not so fast! The senate hadn’t adjourned.

House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer cautioned members that the session was not over until it was over— after the Senate adjourned sine die. Switching my audio feed over to the Senate, instead of calling up HCR 109, the Sine Die Resolution, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal called for a rules committee meeting and recess. When the Senate re-convened at 7:34 a.m., a prayer was said, they pledged allegiance, approved the April 30 journal, and then adjourned at 7:48 a.m. until Friday morning.

What happened has been well reported by corporate media. Rod Boshart of the Cedar Rapids Gazette was one of the first to break the story.

“The shutdown of the split-control legislature’s 2014 session got messy Thursday morning when Senate Democrats attempted to pass a resolution giving a legislative panel broad investigative power to look into alleged mismanagement and secret dealings by Branstad administration officials,” he wrote.

Session may end today, but the politics is far from over.

Republicans provided comic relief in the wee hours of Thursday when it was announced State Senator and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst called in around 4 a.m., asking the chair to be excused. The Republican level of participation in the Senate has been a joke, and Ernst has been campaigning with a clown car of candidates, running down the presumed Democratic nominee, Bruce Braley, and the president. Occupied by posting on Twitter about her footwear, she is likely to miss Friday as well.

The 2014 general election has begun in earnest. It is framing up nicely for Democrats.

Progressives should love it when the Republican U.S. Senate candidates, like Ernst, tie Bruce Braley to the Affordable Care Act. The law is working and its popularity will increase. If that is their campaign issue, please bring it on, because the law is already saving federal dollars on health care. In case you missed it, the escalating cost of health care was one of the drivers behind the law. It was designed to bring health care costs down and it is.

A reason to feel good about it is in light of 17.8 million sign-ups through Medicaid expansion and the web site, the Republicans are trying to switch their narrative to Benghazi faster than the sinking of the Titanic.

Another reason Democrats should be hopeful is the mail from the TEA people indicates they don’t realize their group’s influence peaked in the rebellion of 2010. The TEA party is over, and that they don’t get it is good for progressives.

Iowa Democrats are also fielding excellent candidates in all four congressional districts. The tides are shifting. Signs are everywhere that this could be a great year for Democrats, and with all of the women running, Iowa seems more likely than ever to elect its first female U.S. House member.

There is no useful Republican campaign story for the corporate media to cover outside the weirdness of their debates and events. The more weirdness on display, the more swing voters will be alienated. It seems clear that Iowans don’t want a “true conservative” representing them in the U.S. Congress. Pragmatism would serve them better, but who am I to give advice?

Meanwhile, Braley continues to build support, Hatch is catching Branstad in the polls, and with all their Benghazi, Obamacare, gun, abortion, military hagiography, pro-Israel, free market talk, what reasonable person could take Republicans seriously?

I appreciate the work of our legislators this session, and when the Senate adjourns it will be over, but beginning again with the 2014 general election campaign. I’m in. Are you?

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Corporations Are Making Me Grumpy

Capitol Dome
Capitol Dome

LAKE MACBRIDE— The bills come quickly as the second session of the 85th Iowa General Assembly draws to a close. They are required to produce a budget, and legislators tend to follow this law. It is not every day they comply with the law. For example, they still owe the school districts a 2016 supplemental state aid number. Not likely that will happen before adjournment sine die.

It is not the scofflaw aspect of the group that makes me grumpy, although there is plenty about the legislature’s actions or lack thereof to grumpify a person. In many cases they are puppets for corporations and that isn’t a happy thought. I’d be happier if the members were required to wear lapel pins to show their corporate sponsorships— the way ARCA, NASCAR and other motorsports club drivers adorn their fireproof suits. Maybe then I wouldn’t be appalled by some of the bills they support. It wouldn’t be good, but it might make the citizen experience more tolerable and lower my blood pressure. After all, in the post-Reagan era it’s all about me, isn’t it?

Garrison Keillor’s appearance at the First United Methodist Church in Iowa City at 7 p.m. on May 4 is making me grumpy.

My favorite local bookstore is sponsoring Keillor at a reading from his newly released collection of writing, “The Keillor Reader.” Back in the day I would have been first in line to buy a copy and be inside the church to hear him from the pulpit. But you see, we had a falling out over his acceptance of a sponsorship from the investment firm Allianz which invests in the nuclear weapons complex.

Maybe be he read my blog and dropped them based on the strength of my position, I hoped. Anxiously googling their relationship, it was worse than I thought. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of South Florida tried to get National Public Radio to pull the Allianz ads because the company collaborated with the National Socialist German Worker’s Party in their heyday. No Keillor for me, even though until last year, I listened to his program on Saturday nights, and had done so since our daughter was very young.

Which brings me to the connection. Why do I care about these corporate sponsorships anyway? Whether it is our legislators, or Garrison Keillor, or whoever? Why can’t I just live my life?

Someone has to be engaged in sustaining a life on the prairie, and it isn’t the ones sponsored by corporations.

Living in Society

Blips on the Legislative Radar Screen

State Capitol
State Capitol

LAKE MACBRIDE— During the second session of the 85th Iowa General Assembly, it appears legislators have been getting along swimmingly. The budget number was agreed behind closed doors, in what seems like record time. And if supplemental state aid for our schools wasn’t agreed within 30 days of the governor’s budget proposal, as required by state law… well, the school districts are getting used to that and it was a minor bump on the road to the 2014 midterms.

There were a few blips on the radar. There was the failed telemedicine bill, which passed the House, but from the beginning had no chance in the Iowa Senate. There was HF 2381, the gun suppression bill, that also passed the House with some progressive legislators, notably Rep. Mary Wolfe of Clinton, voting for it. It’s hope ended when Senator Rob Hogg, chair of the judiciary committee, said he didn’t plan to take up any gun legislation this session. In a bicameral legislature, where the consent of both chambers is required, any citizen who was taught the basics of our government should have known these bills were going nowhere, even if they piqued some interest in the media and among the uneducated. A basic lack of understanding of how government works could explain why these bills moved at all.

Is hope for the right wingers lost?

To get an answer, I went to Google and came up with an Iowa Gun Owners alert dated March 13 calling for gun owners to contact their state representative and ask for a vote on House File 2284, which, according to their web site is the “Constitutional Carry” bill that would make firearms permits optional in the state of Iowa. “The Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen. He, above all the rest, can move bills at his leisure,” the author wrote. “Let him know that you’re tired of the excuses, the rhetoric, and the inaction. Tell him now is the time to move this legislation forward,” he added.

If the bill missed the second funnel, can it still move? The answer is yes by invoking House Rule 60 which under certain conditions, including a super majority of 60 House members in favor, could suspend the rules for a vote.

If we go into the wayback machine, it is a short trip to 2010 when Republicans wanted to recruit seven Democrats to vote with them to invoke Rule 60 and advance a bill that would allow the people of Iowa to vote on an amendment to the state’s constitution that would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. The measure failed.

Fast forward to 2011, when former Representative Kim Pearson mounted an attempt to force a vote by using Rule 60, to give fetuses the full rights of U.S. citizens. She was unable to muster her own caucus around the failed effort.

So what is the point of this Republican madness? Don’t ask me. I am a progressive. It may have something to do with the low regard the Republican House leadership holds for moving on supplemental state aid for our schools.

In any case, have we heard the last of guns, gays and abortion as the 85th Iowa General Assembly fades into the history books? I don’t know that either, but rest assured, it is not too late for them to appear on the radar. If they do, one hopes the people of Iowa realize that elections matter, and are willing to roll up their sleeves and clean out the clown car that the Iowa House of Representatives will have become under Speaker Paulsen.

Elections matter. However, what matters more is the results produced for all of the people of Iowa. The special interest legislation mentioned above represents the nadir of social progress, something that matters to each of us, regardless of political party. We can all do better.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Politics is Still Local

State Capitol
State Capitol

LAKE MACBRIDE— Nothing has changed in the form of our state government. People get confused about this, due to an enthusiasm for the House of Representatives. There are three branches, the executive, legislative and judicial, although house enthusiasts say there are a different three, the house, senate and governor. They have it wrong.

I can understand why some get enthusiastic about the house. After all, it is our most representative chamber in a bicameral legislature. People get so enthusiastic, they sometimes forget about the bicameral part— that for a house bill to get to the governor’s desk for signature, the consent of the senate is required. Ditto in the reverse for senate bills. Behind the scenes, leadership is working on a budget, something they know has to get passed. Unlike the school aid formula, there would be consequences if the legislature ignored the statutory requirement to pass a budget before adjournment sine die. Bills without bicameral support are like so many necklaces and doubloons at Mardi Gras.

If people don’t have a relationship with state legislators, they could. The listening posts and forums are sparely attended, so anyone who shows up more than once is likely to get noticed. A visit to the Capitol? Even fewer constituents do that, garnering special treatment.

Guaranteed about any legislator is that a person will not always agree with their votes. In many cases, voting is predictable, but so much depends upon the specifics of the bill and and what leadership brings to the floor for debate. In more than twenty years, I have disagreed with every representative and senator I have had in Big Grove, although mostly I agreed with their votes. It hasn’t made much difference to which party they belonged, the nature of politics is no one gets what they want all of the time.

Iowa is currently in the filing period for state candidates, and a lot of people kick the tires on a run. Some have no idea what a campaign for the legislature involves. Others know well. I look forward to the March 14 deadline to see how our local races will shape up. With my newspaper work, I will be writing fewer letters to the editor than in previous years in an effort to avoid favoring elected officials and candidates to make an attempt at balanced news writing. I have an opinion, but will be expressing it infrequently in public. That is the price of working as a correspondent for a weekly newspaper.

What I do know and will say is that my public silence should not be mistaken for lack of engagement. Elections matter, and people should strive to be informed. I’ll be following the action in my community, and doing what I can to advance common interests. We all should be doing that… and that is an opinion I’m not concerned about expressing in public.