Environment Nuclear Abolition Politics

Day to Day Politics

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Last June I broke publicly from our state representative Bobby Kaufmann and endorsed Democratic candidate Jodi Clemens for House District 73 in a letter to the editor of the Solon Economist.

With a circulation of less than 1,000 weekly copies, I’m not sure my endorsement was widely read.

I went on to post three additional pieces critical of Kaufmann before the midterm elections. I am confident he saw the ones in the local newspaper. He won the election without breaking a sweat.

Today’s question is whether I should drive to town to attend his town hall meeting. The 88th Iowa General Assembly convenes tomorrow.

Yesterday I emailed Kaufmann my priorities for the session, mentioning three things:

  • The legislature should support ways farmers can produce more revenue per acre.
  • I questioned the need for more tax relief and encouraged him to find a permanent solution to the back fill problem Republicans created in 2013 when they altered property taxes for farmers and corporations.
  • I reminded him of our local issue of keeping the restriction on larger horsepower boat motors on Lake Macbride during boating season.

Of everything on my political wish list, these three things seem possible yet also insufficient. The better way to impact the legislature would have been for Clemens to have won the election. We came up short. It’s time to accept the results and move on.

In a Sept. 24, 2016 opinion piece in the Cedar Rapids Gazette I articulated what is most important in society: follow the golden rule, nuclear abolition, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Under President Trump, none of these is going well in our government. My work continues regardless of who my elected officials might be. Politics by its nature will almost always disappoint and party affiliation of our leaders does nothing to change the primacy of these focal points for action.

I’m left wondering why I would attend today’s town hall meeting when there is other, more important work to do.

The legislative agenda is being set by Republicans. If Democrats were in charge, it would be much different. I don’t accept the mental construct that the opposition party should resist the party in power as an end goal for the Iowa legislature. Likewise the idea we are “holding elected officials accountable” by constantly calling and emailing them is off the mark. I’ve been in Senator Chuck Grassley’s D.C. office when such calls came in and the impact was a tick mark in a pro or con column on a tally sheet to be read by staff. Grassley gets his legislative feedback directly from Iowans in his annual tour around the state, and from the Washington, D.C. community of which he has long been a part. So it is with with local representatives. That’s a case for showing up today, although not a strong one.

When I wake each day I don’t think about politics until I read the newspapers. As humans we are attracted to conflict and there’s plenty of it recounted in news media. Republicans have been a long time coming to power. Now that they have it, they are remaking the state in their eyes, changing long-standing policy. That’s the nature of political power. The longer conservative Republicans maintain control of government the harder it becomes for Democrats to undo policy changes. With two more years under Republican hegemony it seems unlikely there is any going back to what used to be.


Snow stopped falling overnight. The driveway needs clearing then there’s community organizing work for the coming year. Our infrastructure needs maintenance and if we don’t do it, no one will. Isn’t that always the case?

It reduces to a simple maxim that guides me through life: there is no other, just the one of which we are all a part. That perspective gets lost in today’s political culture. Working to improve our culture is as important as anything else we do. Such work starts at home where I expect I will spend the day.

Home Life

Build the Fire House

Firefighter Gear

I encourage readers to contribute financially to the fund to build a new fire station.

During my four years as a Big Grove Township Trustee, where part of our work was to manage the Solon Tri-Township Fire Department, it became clear the need for a new facility is real.

The current property tax levy will not cover the expense of building a new fire station along with everything else in the budget. Because the service is not managed by the city, exclusive use of city funds would be inappropriate. Management falls to the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency whose minutes are published regularly in the Economist.

Set funding issues aside and the need is there. When the current facility is ready for deployment on a call, equipment is crowded everywhere, potentially delaying response time. Additional space would make it easier for our firefighters to respond. Training is a crucial part of managing volunteer firefighters and the proposed enhancements to training facilities would serve that purpose.

At the Dec. 12 agency meeting, Chief Siddell reported 428 calls had been made in 2018, 50 more than they have ever made in one year. The combination of a growing need for emergency response and a volunteer fire department makes it important we provide what resources we can to support the effort.

Contributing to the capital fund to build the new fire station is a pragmatic way to do that. Any contribution would be welcome.

Find the campaign at

~ Published in the Jan. 10 edition of the Solon Economist

Social Commentary

Christmas is Coming

Christmas Lights

It’s been seven weeks since the end of apple season, now two weeks until Christmas. The glow has come off holiday seasons.

It’s not that I’ve become all grinchy, hidden away in a darkened lair while neighbors illuminate their homes in festive lights. I don’t know what it is but last year we didn’t even open the holiday decoration boxes and this year likely won’t either. It makes the clean up easier and there are no young children and few family members with whom to share our traditions. People turn inward this time of year and so shall we.

We make home made chili on Christmas eve and serve it with cornbread. There are special recipes and sparkling apple cider. Christmas day we’ll fix a dinner with elements of what we had for Thanksgiving — sweet potatoes, wild rice, farm vegetables, a relish plate, and a source of protein. There will be leftovers. It will be tasty and traditional.

I know what to do to make it through the holidays — contact friends and relatives and plan for next year. Write a budget, get organized for tax season, plan the garden. The world starts shutting down Christmas eve and there will be time for a long winter’s nap… or two. Time to spend writing along with restlessness and resting for what’s next in 2019… a long walk on the lake trail.

My disconnect from Christmas began with military service. The first year in Germany, no one even knew I was there except for the battalion commander’s secretary and my family. Without a telephone, before the time of personal computers, I spent the holiday alone and that broke me from family traditions. By the time New Year’s came, other officers realized I was there and tried to include me. It felt ersatz and futile.

There was a resurgence of Christmas spirit with some joyful times when we married. Even in our decoration-less home with just the two of us the day is special. That will be enough. We’ll miss having our daughter with us and will think of her as Christmas day turns to night. One year she worked the park’s fireworks display as families gathered on streets of make-believe. Someone has to make holiday memories for night visitors.

Today I return for a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store. With five days off work I’m getting cabin fever and that will dissipate as morning turns to afternoon. Socialization at work is a main reason to stay in the work force while I can. Soon the Christmas merchandise will go on clearance with bargains to be had. I might bring something home. Who knows whether our holiday lights will even work after so long in storage. I might even use them again this year because hope remains. It’s the season of hope.

Farming Politics

Farmers Talk Land Use

Ready to Exit Stage Left if Proceedings get Dull

The room was packed for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors public hearing on the County’s comprehensive plan. Current and would-be farmers were present and spoke about their profession. The hearing took two and a half hours.

Supervisors have been working on the plan for two years and would like to finish it and move on to what matters more, the Unified Development Ordinance, which codifies how the plan will be implemented. Last night’s public hearing brought the county closer to closure, even if the subject of land use will continue to be debated well beyond my years of walking the earth.

The main points were the 40-acre rule for definition of a farm is an obstacle to beginning farmers, and there is a wide difference of opinion regarding the role of animal feeding operations in producing the beef, pork and chicken non-vegetarians love to eat.

The Frequently Asked Questions page of the plan website addressed the first issue, “Will the new Comprehensive plan change the 40-acre rule?” Short answer is no. While officials expressed a desire to accommodate smaller farms during the process of developing the comprehensive plan, one expects the 40-acre rule to remain intact. A farmer can make a living on less than ten acres, especially if they can benefit from the State Code’s agricultural exemption from county zoning regulations. The path is unclear to enable farmers to acquire smaller parcels that would be zoned as ag exempt. There may not be a path, except by supervisors establishing special criteria and deciding each parcel individually on its merits. That’s no way to go. Not only is it labor intensive the politics of the board can and will change over time. People have spoken on the issue. Now it’s time to see what supervisors do.

If people want meat and meat products, livestock will be raised to meet demand. The words “concentrated animal feeding operation” have become a lightening rod of tumult about livestock production. Many do eat meat and few non-farmers want to live next to a livestock production facility. In any case, the State of Iowa maintains preemption over concentrated animal feeding operations. Under Republican control of government, preemption is here to stay. I doubt that would change under Democratic governance. People like their pulled pork, fried chicken, hamburgers and steaks, and it has to come from somewhere. Environmentally it would be better for humans to source protein from plants. If you believe they will over the near term, stand on your head.

The highlight of the hearing was a grader and son of a farmer who read an essay titled, My Barn. “I see my cows Jake and Nick coming up to me because they’re excited for me to rub their noses,” he said. “They feel as soft as a teddy bear.” The hearing engaged several livestock farmers. The ones who raised cattle and hogs took issue with persecution of their trade and the appellation “CAFO.” They said treatment of animals was humane on their farms.

There was insider baseball about the new map to accompany the comprehensive plan. My view is “whatever.” Let the supervisors decide based on best practices. There’s no going back to the way the land was before it was settled. It’s already been ruined by development and that happened in the 19th Century. The North Corridor Development Area has been designated as a buildable area in the plan in order to preserve county farmland. When one flies over it, it’s clear it has been settled from the outskirts of Iowa City and Coralville all the way to the county line. Everyone who has a strong opinion on the NCDA has an ox being gored. Speaker and naturalist Connie Mutel made the best case about how the new map was developed using “best practices.” Managing development in the county is like carrying water in a half empty leaking bucket.

Despite the serious nature of the presentations last night was fun. I got a chance to see friends and acquaintances in the context of working together to resolve issues of beginning farmers. That counts for something and in these turbulent times where would we be without that?

Social Commentary

Summer Weekend

Ciha Fen, Johnson County, Iowa

Dan and I visited the Ciha Fen Preserve across the Cedar River in Johnson County on Saturday.

“The Ciha Fen Preserve is a sand prairie/savanna complex on a wind-deposited sand ridge,” according to “It contains the Ciha Fen, which is one of the only two documented remaining nutrient-poor fens known in the state of Iowa.  It has numerous rare plant and animals species.”

Wild Flower

It was a chance to spend part of the afternoon together. We were the only visitors when we stopped by.

When the Catholic parish opened a new grade school, Dan and his siblings transferred in from public schools. Since then we’ve done a lot together.

After lunch at one of our local Mexican restaurants we returned to the house to work in the kitchen. I put six pints of vegetable broth on the stove to process; made a spice mix using using cayenne pepper, Serrano pepper, curry powder and cumin; and made a batch of homemade sweet chili sauce for tacos. We wished we lived closer together to spend more afternoons like this. I sent him home with two paper grocery bags of vegetables and small jars of the spice mix and chili sauce.

Mexican Flag Enchiladas

Before he left, we toured the garden. The limbs of apple trees are filled with fruit, bending under its weight. There is a lot of growing left in the season and I’ll have to prop branches up so they don’t break. Japanese beetles are in the apple trees eating leaves and procreating. There are more of them this year than last, but it’s not the worst infestation we’ve had.

It’s a turning point toward summer. Spring garden planting is finished, leaving weeds to be pulled and crops to be grown and harvested. It’s time to begin work on the rest of the yard. That will be my July: pruning lilacs, cutting dead limbs from trees, and addressing the planting area in front of the house. I’ll start today, but not before I put the spring tools away and park my car inside the garage again. After watering the garden this morning, that’s next on a long to-do list.

I’d better get after it.


Hope in Solon

Eastern Sky at Sunset

Yesterday’s election of Lauren Whitehead to the Solon City Council represents a turning point in local political activism.

Whitehead campaigned diligently in an environment where city residents sought to become more active in politics after the 2016 general election.

What she accomplished by activating local voters serves as a model for the Iowa Democratic party’s future — a bottom up organizing effort focused on local issues. Some issues, like curb and gutter infrastructure, would not have come to the forefront if she had not raised them. Voters cared about issues Whitehead raised.

Whitehead did things that are absolutely necessary for a candidate to win, the sine qua non of getting elected. Most importantly, she worked in the community to meet residents and explain her campaign. Her work serves as an example of what is possible with a solid candidate among citizens seeking to articulate their frustration with the electorate that gave us our 45th president.

That’s not to say City Council work will be easy. Council had been slow to address infrastructure issues, which were an important part of the campaign. After voters rejected a $1.35 million ballot initiative to purchase a building to serve as city hall and a community center in 2011, they spent more to acquire property and build the current city hall. Likewise building the city’s required drinking water capacity has been delayed. The city has been bumping its debt limit in recent years despite reasonable management of city finances. Debt incurred for existing projects restricts council’s ability to make new plans. To make a difference, Whitehead needs time to learn about the current financial structure, retire old debt and implement her ideas. That includes getting re-elected in November when her current term expires.

Those of us who know and have worked on campaigns with Lauren feel good about the election results. Even though the sun is setting on the type of political activism in which she came up, if we look east, a new day is coming.

Lauren Whitehead represents the future of what politics can be. The Iowa Democratic Party would do well to pay attention.

Environment Local Food

Pelicans Left

Fallen Apple Blossom Petals

Pelicans left Lake Macbride this week. They were gone when I drove across Mehaffey Bridge Road on Monday.

Have they depleted the fish stocks and gone to better hunting grounds?

Did they detect something in nature that triggered migration?

I don’t know, but hope they will return in the fall.

Pollination of fruit trees appeared to go well. Apple blossom petals are falling as fruit sets. We enjoyed the flowers for so brief a time. They served their purpose and are transformed by pollinators buzzing through the trees.

Rain began Wednesday and is expected to continue through the weekend. Tomato and lettuce seedlings remain at the greenhouse and the cart of seedlings at home is ready to plant if the ground dries out. I move the cart outside the garage in the morning and back inside as the sun sets. A transient ritual of gardeners who grow their own seedlings. Only a few more weeks and the cart will be re-purposed to other garden tasks.

A sense of transition is palpable as pelicans leave, blossoms are deflowered, and we take next steps on our walk through this season. We smell, touch and look at the wonder of life around us understanding it can’t be held — only lived.

Politics Social Commentary Writing

Defining Community

Pelican Swimming in Lake Macbride

Each of us defines community through our engagement in society.

Whether participation is passive, active, or in between, our lives and how we live them contribute in a meaningful way to how we live with others in a community.

Not everyone is a joiner. For some the focus is on the county seat, the state capitol, or the federal government. For some it is on school systems and the public library. For others it is the world of commerce — transportation, shopping, working a job. Many people just try to make it through each day with dignity. Community is broader than any one of these pursuits.

Misunderstanding our role in shaping a community and how we do and can contribute is a source of affliction in modern society. For me, the best remedy is getting involved at a local level. In consideration of that, I joined our home owners association board as a way to influence the place where we live. I wrote this note on the community Google group:

Association members:

Tonight at the regular monthly meeting of the Lake Crest Manor Home Owners Association Board of Directors I was appointed to the board and then elected as president to replace Bob Huber.

I appreciate the board’s confidence in electing me.

For those who don’t know Jacque and me, we moved here in August 1993 and raised our daughter who graduated from Solon High School in 2003. I “retired” in 2009 from CRST Logistics and currently work four different jobs in the community: at Theisen’s Supply in Coralville, at Local Harvest CSA, at Wild Woods Farm and at Wilson’s Orchard. Jacque works part time at the Solon Public Library.

I began serving on the board in 1994. My first tour of duty was ten years followed by a second tour from November 2009 until December 2013. I’m glad to be back for a third (I think). When we moved here we were told that everyone takes a turn on the board. While that turned out not to be true, I believe changing board members regularly is good for the health of our community. If you are interested in serving, there will be a position open at our next board meeting.

A couple of important things came out of tonight’s meeting.

Gene Lawson was elected treasurer to replace Rob Sprague who resigned effective May 1. Gene and Rob will be working together to make sure there is a smooth transition in our finances.

On Sunday, April 30, at 1 p.m. at the Solon Public Library, there will be a meeting about the boat docks. If you care about this issue it would be a good meeting to attend. The Iowa DNR made a proposal to change who is eligible for our dock spaces to include Lake Crest Manor Parts I and IV that are not part of our association. Note this is a proposal only. We will explain the proposal and get your feedback at the meeting. The board will get back to the DNR after the meeting saying that either 1). we accept it, 2). we reject it, or 3). we have a counter proposal. Since we lost our original grandfathered arrangement in 1998, the DNR has asserted more power in regulating our docks. This is a complicated issue so it’s best to attend the meeting if you are interested. Already there has been a lot of discussion about it by the board and in our community.

Tonight the board passed a motion to apply by May 1 to the Iowa DNR to add additional slips to our docks. I would point out a couple of things. 1). The DNR is open to adding dock space around Lake Macbride, so now is the time to secure that permission. 2). If we get approved for additional space we may or may not actually add it. There is some opposition in the association to the idea of adding dock space and those viewpoints should be considered. 3). The DNR approval of a request is not at the state park. Because of this, we may not get a response for this boating season. After a discussion the board decided to set a date certain for the application submission. I was the only board member to vote against the motion, with one abstaining.

I’m not planning to pepper you with constant emails. Just wanted to say hello to those in the Google group.

The best way to contact me about association business is via email. The response will be more timely than chasing phone mail messages, which is inevitable when dealing with a person holding four jobs.

Hope to see you at a board meeting soon.

Regards, Paul


Solidarity Rally Sunday, Feb. 5

Dear Iowa community organizers,

In these challenging times, we urge Iowans to come together and speak out against the recent bigotry and hate towards immigrants and refugees. Organizing in support of these groups ensures we are a more united and unified country.

You are invited to the “Solidarity Rally” this Sunday, February 5th. The rally begins at 1:00pm in Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall (201 Dubuque St, Iowa City, IA 52240) with speeches by Mayor Throgmorton, Sudanese community members, religious leaders, high school organizers, and others.

This event is cosponsored by PEACE Iowa, Arab American Institute, concerned Arab Americans, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and supporters, and Students Against Hate and Discrimination.

For more information, please contact Newman Abuissa

Have a good day. Best,

Joan Hanna
Community Relations and Programs Associate
Arab American Institute

Home Life

New Year’s Eve Review of 2016

Rural Cedar Township
Rural Cedar Township

2016 was the year of the 1997 Subaru.

By choosing an old car as my main vehicle I got a low purchase price and issues related to a 20-year old car.

A leaking head gasket took more resources than expected to diagnose and repair. The car went to the shop three times beginning in September, generating $3,600 in repair and rental car expense. At that price a new car can never be justified. It’s fixed for now.

There were additional highlights.


I began working as the receiving clerk at the home, farm and auto supply store. The dynamic of my weeks changed as I worked regular hours Monday through Friday with weekends off. I haven’t quite adjusted to the “early start time” of 7:55 a.m., which cuts into my prime writing time.

We had a brief spell of sub-zero weather, during which I pruned our apple trees. There was no fruit this year.

I spent free time campaigning with friends for Hillary Clinton before the Iowa caucuses.


Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses by the slimmest of margins. She won our precinct easily, garnering two delegates at the caucus to one for Bernie Sanders and one for Martin O’Malley. Clinton picked up the O’Malley delegate when he dropped out of the race on caucus night.

Had coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack and a small group of area activists at the Big Grove Brewery in Solon.

Began soil blocking at Local Harvest CSA very early on February 7.


Had a work-related injury at the home, farm and auto supply store requiring a clinic visit and five stitches in my right hand.

Attended the Johnson County Democratic Convention in Tiffin.


Our daughter visited for a few days.

Hello Spring! Potluck hosted by Local Harvest CSA.

Had breakfast in Coralville with my friend from grade school. It was the first of several meals together this year.


Read and reviewed Connie Mutel’s book A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland.

Kurt Friese, candidate for county supervisor, meet and greet at Big Grove Brewery in Solon.


Participated in a signing ceremony for the new agency established to manage emergency services for the City of Solon and three townships.

Attended a wedding in the Soulard District of Saint Louis.


Attended Congressman Dave Loebsack’s annual Brews and BBQ event where I met Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

Campaign kickoff event for Amy Nielsen’s bid to represent Iowa House District 77 at her home in North Liberty.

Read the book Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town by Nick Reding.

Began seasonal work at Wilson’s Orchard. This commenced 100 straight days of work.


Met with Kate Edwards of Wild Woods Farm to arrange a job trimming onions.

Covered editor’s job at Blog for Iowa.


Filed initial enrollment application for Medicare.

Viewed the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on my hand-held device.

Beginning of car trouble and repairs.


Mom fell out of bed and had to be hospitalized.


Participated in holiday gatherings for the home, farm and auto supply store and Wilson’s Orchard.

Thanksgiving at home.


1997 Subaru finally repaired.

Medicare coverage began.

Christmas at home.

We made it through the year with some new experiences. For that I am thankful. I’m also ready for 2017 to begin.