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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

August 6, 2018

Des Moines Register. August 1, 2018

Iowa court temporarily halts harmful, GOP-crafted changes for absentee voting

The injunction shreds the state’s pathetic attempt to defend onerous new requirements on early voters

Thank goodness for the courts. Last week, Iowans were reminded how important it is for the judicial branch of government to check legislative and executive branches that have run amok.

A Polk County District Court temporarily stopped the state from implementing provisions in an Iowa law that created unnecessary obstacles to absentee voting in this state. The ruling was a win for Iowa voters, common sense and democracy.

The 2017 law was crafted by Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, passed by the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature and signed by former Gov. Terry Branstad. It is perhaps best known for requiring voters to provide qualified identification at polling places beginning in 2019.

But the law made lesser-known changes that will discourage and confuse Iowans who want to vote early.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and an Iowa State University student sued to prevent Pate from enforcing these changes. They argued the new law could disenfranchise eligible voters and would disproportionately harm Democrats, who are more likely to cast early ballots.

Judge Karen Romano halted implementation of provisions that shorten the time frame to cast an absentee ballot, require a voter verification number on a request for an absentee ballot, and allow county auditors to act as handwriting experts and reject ballots.

The 23-page injunction also artfully shreds the state’s pathetic attempt to defend these new rules.

Romano wrote that the state “has not even attempted to explain” how shortening the time to submit an absentee ballot from 40 days to 29 days, including two weekends, “will ensure fairness or preserve the integrity of elections.”

It doesn’t. The reduction in time does, however, create change and disruption that may deter people from voting. Plaintiffs cited data from the 2016 general election showing between 40 and 30 days prior to election, 88,163 absentee ballots were cast and received. Obviously many Iowans use those days, and retracting them “is a substantial burden on the fundamental right to vote,” Romano wrote.

More: Roses & thistles: ISU is making it easier for students to exercise their right to vote

She also halted a provision allowing county auditors, who are not trained in handwriting analysis, to determine whether a voter’s signature on an absentee ballot request matches the signature on the envelope containing the ballot. The auditor is required to notify the voter of a supposedly faulty ballot, but if it is received after 5 p.m. on the Saturday preceding the election, the voter receives no notice and his or her vote is not counted.

Those voters would have no due process and lose their right to vote. (In 2016, 9 percent of absentee ballots were received after the deadline imposed by the law.)

The judge also ended the requirement for a voter verification number to be provided on an absentee ballot request, a number people may not be able to produce when canvassers knock on the door. County auditors receiving absentee ballot requests can easily confirm whether the applicant is a registered voter. They’ve been doing it for years.

Pate, who is up for reelection in November, also has put out confusing materials about the law. Romano ordered his office to stop disseminating materials stating Iowans must have an ID to vote without making clear that it is not required in 2018. The requirement to provide identification does not go into effect until 2019.

Pate responded to the ruling with a statement saying he was disappointed, and his office would immediately appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Yet he must not have been too disappointed, as he promptly used the ruling to solicit campaign donations. In the email asking for financial support, he referred to Romano as an “activist” judge, a term used by those who are unhappy with a court ruling. He wrote that if he is unseated, he will be replaced by “a liberal activist who will work to undo all of the progress we have made.”

(Pate’s opponent, Democrat Deirdre DeJear, also referenced the ruling in a campaign email soliciting donations.)

Ideally, Iowa’s secretary of state should be trusted, free from political partisanship, and focused on increasing voter participation. Unfortunately, Pate continues to defend a law that is an experiment in voter suppression and creates obstacles to early voting.

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Sioux City Journal. August 2, 2018

Civility project is a noble effort

We are among the 70 percent of Americans who, according to various polls, think the tone of our nation’s political discourse is getting worse.

In fact, debates over issues of the day are at the lowest point for civility we have seen.

It’s a disturbing trend in need of change, because unwillingness to talk and listen with respect to one another and using abusive language and hostility only sow the seeds of deeper division and discord.

No greater national good is served by shouting, finger-pointing and name-calling, because they produce nothing but more of the same.

To this end, we applaud the National Institute of Civil Discourse and its Revive Civility project.

Based at the University of Arizona, NICD — a nonpartisan center for research, policy and advocacy — was established in 2011 after a shooting in Tucson killed six people and wounded 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“NICD envisions elected officials who work collaboratively to tackle the big issues facing our country; a media that accurately informs and involves citizens; and a public that actively engages with its government — of the people, by the people, for the people,” according to the organization’s website.

“Joining forces, we can ensure that civility emerges once again as the glue that binds, repairs and strengthens our democratic nation.”

In Iowa, Revive Civility is a yearlong project of NICD in partnership with the Robert and Billie Ray Center at Drake University. One event already was held in Waterloo in July.

“The community conversations include skill-building exercises for participants to learn how to have a civil conversation across differences, according to organizers. “Through active listening, Americans can begin to better understand their fellow citizens’ perspectives and develop more tolerance toward those who think differently than they do.”

Waterloo City Council member Steve Schmitt was one of the participants in the Waterloo event at Hawkeye Community College.

“I think there’s a lot of incivility in society in general and in particular in local politics, and I just wanted to hear some thoughts and perspectives on that,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt said it’s important to keep in mind people you disagree with are still people.

“I think that’s critical. I think all of us could do that, myself and other people too,” Schmitt said. “I think having sessions like this on an occasional basis, a regular basis would be a good thing for everybody.”

We encourage support for this project because we share NICD’s goal of improved, more respectful dialogue in an admittedly increasingly politically charged environment.

A reasoned debate or argument, presented with facts and without name-calling and personal attacks, often can be hard to find.

Not everyone will agree with every viewpoint, but each of us has a right to speak and to be given cordial, respected consideration. If you don’t agree with someone else’s point, politely disagree or scroll past whatever offends you.

Everyone, including our leaders, needs to hit the reset button for political discussions. We can agree to disagree, but we must be respectful when we do so.

Turning the country’s Titanic of incivility in a new direction will be anything but easy because we have so much work to do, but the effort needs to begin somewhere.

Why not here?

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Quad City Times. August 4, 2018

In 4-H firing, ISU might have sided with prejudice over state law

Ah Iowa — where kindness and understanding toward gay and transgender teenagers is a fireable offense.

That looks to be exactly what happened this past week to former Iowa 4-H Director John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas. Cardenas was sacked week just a week out from the Iowa State Fair, the most important date on the 4-H calendar, the Des Moines Register reported Friday.

Iowa State University, a public institution that manages the state 4-H program, unceremoniously fired Cardenas months after a national 4-H inclusion policy raised the ire of right wing culture warriors. The policy — in line with state civil rights protections — would have, among other things, permitted transgender students to use bathrooms and bunks that align with their gender instead of their biological sex. Iowa 4-H recently rejected the national proposal after hard-right religious organization, Liberty Counsel, demanded Iowa State do so or face a lawsuit.

To say Iowa State University’s vice president of extension and outreach John Lawrence was terse, yet vague in his letter firing Cardenas would be an understatement.

“Your letter of intent states that your position serves at the pleasure of the administration. At this time, I have decided to exercise that provision and terminate your employment . effective immediately,” Lawrence wrote, according the the Register.

By all accounts, Cardenas, the first Latino to hold the post in Iowa 4-H’s 115-year history, was a solid, well-respected leader for an organization facing potentially terminal demographic changes outside its control. He was, according to those within his orbit, a positive force for 4-H.

And yet, it was Cardenas at the helm when national 4-H — managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — posted its proposed inclusivity policy. He sat atop Iowa’s chapter amid the push to adopt the new standards. And it was Cardenas who weathered the onslaught of rage from religious radicals whose primary goal is shoving a narrow belief system down society’s throat.

For generations, gay and transgender people have lived in the shadows. They lived false lives. They feared laws that labeled a genetically determined sexually orientation a crime. They committed suicide at substantially higher rates than the general population.

But, in the past few years, the public restroom became a battleground, the Alamo of a prejudicial worldview that was finally losing its stranglehold on society. Suddenly, the hardliners argued, bathrooms were the hunting ground of sexual predators, as if armed guards had been posted at the doors for decades.

It’s a twisted, outdated approach that conflates homosexuality with perversion. It’s flat-out false. And it confuses a push for greater social access for all Americans — the thrust of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause — as an assault on those who’ve long controlled the levers of society.

And yet, those in this camp have every right to hold whatever view they please. That’s free speech. They don’t, however, have the right to inject it into the public sphere as if they, and they alone, hold a monopoly on truth. That’s especially true when all the science works against them.

Ramming a single religious view into the public sector is, by precedent and reason, completely counter to the tenets of religious freedom.

It’s no secret that federal civil rights protections have eroded under the Trump administration. The LGBTQ community is, by and large, not a protected class, under the current application of federal law. It is, however, in Iowa law. And, clearly, the scuttled inclusivity proposal, which probably ran Cardenas out of town, was in line with state law.

So a public university looks to have fired a man in service of discrimination, while rejecting the laws of the state that governs it. And, no doubt, those who manufactured this controversy will shout form the rooftops about a victory for religious freedom. In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. August 3, 2018

Sen. Charles Grassley works hard

Iowan hasn’t missed a Senate vote in more than 25 years

When voters choose someone to represent them in Congress, they expect that the person who has won their support will honor that trust by taking the job very seriously.

A strong indicator of just how faithfully U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley discharges his responsibility to represent Iowans is his commitment to being on hand to cast a vote when decisions are made. On July 20, he marked a remarkable record. He achieved a quarter century of never having missed a Senate vote. That’s 8,169 consecutive votes. It’s also a record no other senator has equaled.

It’s not uncommon for members of the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate to be absent when votes take place. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for some missed votes, but showing up to weigh in on behalf of one’s constituents should be a major priority for anyone who is elected to the House or Senate.

Iowa’s senior Republican senator is clearly a champion in that regard.

“Representative government only works when both the people and their elected representatives communicate and participate in the process. I look forward to my 99 county meetings every year because each of them is an opportunity to listen to the concerns and priorities of Iowans,” Grassley said, explaining how he views his job. “Voting on behalf of the people of Iowa is the second half of the equation. A missed vote is a missed opportunity to effectively represent Iowans. I take my responsibility as a senator from Iowa very seriously. I want Iowans to know I’m on the job every day and not missing a vote is one way of doing that.”

The Messenger applauds Grassley’s dedication to serving Iowans tirelessly. He sets an example that other public servants would do well to emulate.

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