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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

January 21, 2019

Des Moines Register. January 18, 2019

Roses & thistles: Lawmakers catering to special interests cannot trample on Iowans’ rights

A rose to the plaintiffs who challenged Iowa’s “ag gag” law and were victorious. The misguided statute is unconstitutional, ruled James Gritzner, senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Going undercover at livestock confinements, slaughterhouses or other agriculture-related operations will no longer be a crime in this state — not that engaging in such activities should have ever been one.

Iowa lawmakers, pandering to the agriculture industry, made “production facility fraud” an unlawful act shortly after undercover investigations brought attention to troubling practices at farms. Among what was revealed: workers throwing pigs against the floor and burning beaks off hens without painkillers. At least some of those investigations were carried out by people who took jobs at facilities in order to expose mistreatment of animals.

The 2012 law made it illegal for anyone to obtain access to an agricultural production facility “by false pretenses.” This effectively criminalized all undercover operations by journalists and activists. Groups including the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued. The judge sided with them — and with free speech rights.

The question before Gritzner was whether lying — in this case misrepresenting one’s self in order to gain employment — was protected by the First Amendment. “To some degree, the concept of constitutional protection for speech that is false may be disquieting,” he wrote. Yet he quoted a U.S. Supreme Court decision in noting one of the costs of the First Amendment is protecting “the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”

Once again, the judicial system ensured politicians cannot satisfy their special interests at the expense of Iowans’ constitutional rights.

A thistle to Republican Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds for not knowing what was contained in the tax “reform” bill they rushed into law last spring. They seemed surprised to find out it leaves two nonprofit blood centers owing more than $1 million in new taxes. Now GOP elected officials are talking about fixing the “problem that was created inadvertently.”

Inadvertently? Actually this is the result of lawmakers not reading legislation or knowing what the heck they are voting for. And that tends to happen when they ram through a 130-page bill in the final days of a legislative session without a single vote of support from members of the minority party. It happens when elected officials mindlessly pursue a political agenda.

There is no doubt that tax-exempt status in this country has run amok. Too many entities are legally able to skirt contributing to the public purse, which funds everything from police officers to road repair. When nonprofit organizations (which also rely on public services) do not pay taxes, the rest of us pay more to compensate. So there is certainly a conversation to be had about who should be granted tax-exempt status.

But a conversation requires lawmakers to listen, learn, think and debate before passing legislation. They should try that this legislative session to avoid more half-baked tax bills they’re later scrambling to clean up.

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Quad-City Times. January 16, 2019.

Iowa’s measured ambitions

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave her first Condition of the State address as our newly elected governor on Tuesday. She said that Iowa is “soaring,” but for those who still are “looking for a way up,” the state must deliver on its promises.

The governor waxed determined about preparing young Iowans for the careers of the 21st century through the Future Ready Iowa workforce development initiative, praising the power of things like apprenticeships and proposing $20 million for the program.

She announced the creation of a Center for Rural Revitalization within the state economic development department and a fairly modest increase in tax credits to help with rural housing development — as well as $20 million over the next two years to try to leverage private investment in rural broadband.

We were pleased to see the governor proposed a constitutional amendment that would forever end the stain on the state that comes from its ban on voting for nearly all people who have ever been convicted of a felony.

This editorial board has pushed for restoring voting rights to people who have paid their dues to society, and we’re happy to see the governor move on this, though we are not sure the Republican-controlled legislature will follow her lead.

There was applause in the chamber for the governor’s words, but this legislature has lately been more interested in erecting barriers to voting, rather than tearing them down. So while we are hopeful, we will be watching to see what progress is made.

Even if successful, this proposal couldn’t go before the voters for a few years. Two successive general assemblies (which convene every two years) must approve legislation before it goes to the voters. That’s a long time to wait. We think the governor, who said Tuesday she believes in the power of redemption, ought to strongly consider an executive order restoring voting rights in the interim. A Des Moines Register report last weekend amply showed there are people who are losing, right now, their right to vote because of the way this prohibition is applied.

Elsewhere, the governor’s pledge that prosperity belongs to all Iowans is worthy of praise, of course. But we believe the best way to prepare Iowans for future success — to soar, if you will — is to ensure they get a proper education.

We were happy to see the governor go beyond the 1 percent increase in basic state aid that was approved for K-12 schools last year. But her proposed 2.3 percent increase is clearly inadequate to make up for what has been years’ worth of under funding. A Federal Reserve study last year said that Iowa ranks 24th in cost-of-living-adjusted teacher salaries. That’s not exactly soaring.

Besides, this is just a bit more than what the governor proposed last year — only to see the legislature cut that amount in half, favoring instead a large income tax cut.

The governor did say that in addition to the $93 million for preK-12 school spending, she would ask for another $11 million to narrow the transportation disparity that hurts rural districts, along with $1 million for STEM efforts.

We did not hear the governor say anything about devoting money to narrowing the per-pupil disparity that prevents districts like Davenport from spending as much on students as other schools in the state. In fact, her office confirmed there is no money in her budget for the per pupil inequity, which for Davenport and 169 other districts amounts to about $30 less per student than the average.

The governor made a big splash showing up at Central High School last year to sign a law that made a down payment on the per pupil and transportation disparities. But it apparently wasn’t enough of a priority for her budget.

Quad-City area lawmakers like Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, have promised they will continue to work on this problem. And the governor’s office told us Tuesday that she is willing to work with lawmakers on it. We’ll see.

We were happy to see the governor devote additional funds in her Medicaid budget to mental health efforts — $11 million over two years — and to move forward on a children’s mental health system. She also talked about giving regions, which oversee delivery of mental health services, more budget flexibility. That will be welcome. We expect, however, there will continue to be pressure by those local regions for greater ability to control their own tax and spending policies given the volatile nature of mental health budgets.

The Condition of the State address is the governor’s statement of priorities, her vision for Iowa. And while we would rather have seen greater investment and aggressiveness in things like funding our public schools and providing for a more just state, we will be eager to see over the next few months where our governor goes from here to put her own stamp on the state’s future.

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Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. January 16, 2019

GOP’s outrage over Steve King too little, too late

Let’s be clear: When Steve King recently questioned why “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” are offensive phrases, the Republican congressman from Iowa solidified his status as a bigot with little understanding of or appreciation for cultural equity and inclusivity.

His remarks were abhorrent. But for King, whom we’ve taken to task here several times, they were nothing new. He’s said such things — maybe worse, if that’s possible — on many other occasions.

But King is right about one thing: The blowback this time from his Republican colleagues is mired in politics.

House leaders this week stripped him of his congressional committee assignments. Fellow Republicans at the federal and state levels rebuked him, and several have called for his resignation.

Why now, after years of looking the other way or making excuses for Steve King? He’s said outrageously racist things — too many to list — for years.

It was 2½ years ago, in July 2016, when King infamously said this: “This whole ‘white people’ business, though, does get a little tired .... I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, ‘Where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about? Where did any other sub-group of people contribute to civilization?’”

Where was the Republican outrage then? Why wasn’t King stripped of his committee assignments then? Voters in Republican-laden western Iowa re-elected King twice — for his eighth and ninth terms — since he said that. Yet his colleagues have decided

only now that there is “no place in the Republican Party, the Congress or the country” for that language — as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday.

In 2017, King endorsed a tweet by a Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who advocates banning Muslim immigration and the Quran and who, for good measure, calls Moroccan immigrants “scum.” King added, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The GOP response? Crickets.

In August 2018, King said this: “What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have? Mexican food, Chinese food, those things — well, that’s fine. But what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price? We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.”

GOP leaders in Congress didn’t punish King then. No Republicans called for his resignation.

Gov. Kim Reynolds at the time offered a lame excuse for refusing to criticize King, who was one of her election campaign’s honorary co-chairs. But after she won election, Reynolds said, “I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that.”

Strong words from someone who had nothing to say weeks earlier.

It’s much the same with other leading Republicans this week. Why such a strong reaction when none of King’s previous ignorant and insulting remarks did? Could it be because the 2018 campaign is over?

It’s embarrassing, especially for Iowa, that King represents

anyone in Washington.

But Republicans’ belated and disingenuous indignation is equally troubling.

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