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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

October 8, 2018

Des Moines Register. October 5, 2018

Why are Iowa GOP incumbents hiding from voters?

The Register’s editorial board spent much of last week meeting with candidates for Congress and for governor, talking about their qualifications for office and plans should they be elected.

But if you watch the videos on DesMoinesRegister.com or check the schedule, you’ll notice who is absent: All of the Republican incumbents.

One Republican operative told us the campaign’s decision was influenced by a perception that the media have been hostile, especially since President Trump has been in office. Another said campaign leaders objected to editorials citing an incumbent’s voting record on health care because that doesn’t reflect his position on the issue. (We think our editorials have been accurate. But if the congressman met with us and discussed his record, perhaps he could persuade us otherwise.) Others say they don’t expect to receive an endorsement, so why should they bother?

Republican Mitt Romney probably didn’t expect the Register’s endorsement for president in 2012, either. He met with the board and was pleasantly surprised. But these meetings aren’t just about endorsements, and Republican incumbents aren’t just dodging the Register. They are snubbing you, the voters. They’re avoiding having to defend their records or expose their plans to probing questions. You should ask them why they’re hiding.

Christopher Peters, who is running in the 2nd Congressional District, is the only Republican who has participated in an interview with the editorial board. He’s challenging Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, who was scheduled to meet with the editorial board later in the week. We didn’t think the meeting was hostile, and Peters hasn’t complained — but you can watch and decide for yourself.

Republican Rep. David Young, who is seeking a third term representing the 3rd District, refused to meet. Young is also participating in only one televised debate against his Democratic opponent, Cindy Axne, and two radio debates. Young does hold town halls and meets with voters around the district. But he hasn’t met with the Register editorial board since before the 2016 election. Axne did agree to meet with the board.

Campaign and congressional office staff for Rep. Steve King, 4th District, who is seeking a ninth term, didn’t even bother to respond to the invitation, issued in late August, or to subsequent emails and phone calls. King has also refused to debate his Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten, and he has held precious few public town halls in his district in recent years. It shows a disturbing lack of accountability to voters.

Staff for Rep. Rod Blum, a Republican engaged in a competitive battle for re-election in the 1st District, have discussed scheduling a meeting but so far have not. We hope Blum will make time. His Democratic opponent, Abby Finkenauer, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 9.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was neck-and-neck with her Democratic challenger in the recent Iowa Poll, also declined to meet with the board.

Reynolds’ challenger, Fred Hubbell, spent an hour with Register reporters and editors on Tuesday. He fielded questions about why he hasn’t released more than a summary of last year’s tax return, and explained why he can oppose tax credits today that he used in his business career. He offered his ideas for returning Medicaid management to state control and sketched an outline of how he would find more money for education. In the first 24 hours, nearly 3,500 people had watched at least part of the video.

Reynolds, on the other hand, abandoned her weekly news conferences in July. She hasn’t scheduled meetings with other editorial boards around the state. Instead of answering questions about her agenda, which is still largely under wraps, she is spending millions on ads demonizing Hubbell as being out of touch.

Some of her supporters are worried, with good reason. Reynolds has agreed to participate in three televised debates, including one sponsored by the Register and KCCI-TV, airing live at 7 p.m. Oct. 10. It’s the first time she’s debated as a statewide candidate. Editorial board interviews are a lower-stakes opportunity to prepare for the sorts of questions she’ll field from media debate moderators. They also allow her to spend more than 60 or maybe 90 seconds answering questions about complex issues like Medicaid privatization and tax reform.

Maybe these candidates are getting bad advice from their well-paid consultants or maybe they think their supporters will cheer them for thumbing their noses at the media. (Reynolds’ decision to bring in Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to headline a fundraiser may be a clue to which choice is closer to the truth.)

But if candidates don’t have to publicly answer questions about their records and agendas during the campaign, it will be harder to hold them accountable once they’re in office.

Don’t let them hide from you.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. October 4, 2018.

Soybeans are big business in Iowa

Nobody knows exactly how long humans have cultivated the soybean, but agricultural historians are quite certain its domestication as a crop in China dates back three millennia. There are actually Chinese records documenting soybean growth as far back as the 11th century. There is some disagreement about who first introduced soybeans into North America, but researchers seem to agree that by the 1760s soybean seed had reached Georgia.

Whatever the origin, few would dispute that in the 21st century soybean cultivation is important to the world as a food source and a great deal more. Food, health products, biodiesel and printer ink are among the more important uses of this versatile bean. As just one example, The Messenger uses color soy ink to print every issue.

Iowa leads the nation in soybean production. The Iowa Soybean Association estimates that soybean farmers contribute about $9 billion to the Hawkeye State’s economy each year.

The sale of soybeans grown in Iowa to foreign clients is a major positive contribution by our state to the U.S. trade picture. In that regard, Iowa’s commercial relationship with China is a huge asset. China imports more Iowa soybeans than all other countries combined. Nearly one out of every five people who inhabit this planet lives in China. The long-term importance of selling soybeans to that market is enormous.

Iowa’s renewable fuels industry has great potential. Soybean farmers are of vital importance to the biodiesel sector of that evolving economic sector. Iowa’s status as a leader in soybean growth has positioned it to be at the very heart of biodiesel production. According to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, Iowa manufactures about 12 percent of the nation’s biodiesel and is poised to become an even more significant factor in that industry.

Soybeans and the farmers who grow them are key components of Iowa’s economic game plan for 21st-century prosperity.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. October 2, 2018

Caution needed with genetic advances

A new genetic engineering procedure holds the promise of fighting human diseases and revolutionizing agriculture.

Among other things, CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) can “edit” DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, which has been called “the molecule of life”) to stop cancer cells from multiplying and also make cells resistant to the virus causing AIDS.

It could make crops pest-free, stop illnesses in livestock and provide a new plant-based source of ethanol.

In 2012, University of California researchers, working with a Swedish counterpart, published a study in Science detailing how CRISPR fought a species of bacteria (Streptococcus pyogenes) that causes strep throat and a flesh-eating disease by making two short strands of RNA (the ribonucleic acid present in all living cells), which Cas9, then a mysterious protein, latched onto.

“The sequence of the RNA strands corresponded to stretches of viral DNA and could home in on those segments like a genetic GPS,” WIRED reported. “And when the CRISPR-Cas9 complex arrives at its destination, Cas9 does something almost magical: It changes shape, grasping the DNA and slicing it with a precise molecular scalpel.”

In other words, a “microscopic multi-tool” could be programmed to edit the DNA of animals and plants in wondrous ways — turning genes off or substituting a new version.

It suddenly turned science fiction into reality, prompting ethical, legal and regulatory questions regarding editing species.

The science fiction is the recent Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie, “Rampage,” which featured CRISPR-engineered animals becoming ginormous monsters. It can’t do that.

However, it can edit humans — including potentially creating designer babies.

Last year an international team of researchers corrected a mutation in dozens of viable human embryos, targeting the MYBPC3 gene that causes the heart muscle to thicken later in life. The condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.

In July, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics — a British-based independent group — ruled that editing a human embryo, sperm or egg to influence characteristics is “morally permissible” if conducted in a way that is “ethically acceptable.”

The CRISPR revolution has some Iowa connections.

Feng Zhang, an Iowa-educated medical biologist leading the Broad Institute’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Harvard University team, received the first CRISPR patent after editing DNA on animals and plants. (Cal’s CRISPR editing took place in test tubes.)

Zhang’s family emigrated to the U.S. when he was 12. At 16, while attending Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, he earned an internship at the gene therapy research institute at Iowa Methodist Hospital.

University of Iowa doctors at the Wynn Institute for Vision Research used CRISPR in two mice to disrupt a mutant gene responsible for some forms of glaucoma, a leading cause of irreversible blindness.

Iowa State University is using CRISPR to create disease-resistant plants — with a funding assist from the Iowa Soybean Association — that repel pests, improve protein levels and are less susceptible to drought.

CRISPR also could prevent Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome in hogs, a disease estimated to cost the U.S. livestock industry nearly $600 million annually.

In addition, according to WIRED, agronomists have used CRISPR to alter yeast DNA to consume plant matter and “excrete ethanol,” which could further reduce reliance on petroleum.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture “has allowed more than two dozen transgene-free plant products with knockout mutations to move forward without regulatory oversight,” according to Future Science,

However, that’s not the case in Europe.

A 2001 Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruling put stringent regulations on genetically modified organisms — species with entire genes or long stretches of DNA inserted into a plant. It made an exception for organisms when the DNA didn’t include a foreign genetic material or was modified by techniques such as irradiation.

That gave European scientists hope CRISPR would escape the GMO stigma that has prompted some consumer wariness. But in late July the ECJ held CRISPR to the GMO standard.

“It is an important judgment, and it’s a very rigid judgment,” Kai Purnhagen, a Dutch legal scholar specializing in European and international law, told Nature. “It means for all the new inventions such as CRISPR-Cas9 food, you would need to go through the lengthy approval process of the European Union.”

That gives non-European Union nations an agricultural research advantage.

Yet with all the exciting CRISPR possibilities, it’s still imperative to get things right, particularly regarding procedures on people.

For instance, last December U.S. researchers published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “suggesting” that genetic differences between patients could complicate the design of CRISPR-based therapies.

In effect, they were addressing CRISPR accuracy. For all of CRISPR’s potential benefits, when splicing up an individual’s DNA, it’s a concern that should be heeded until more clinical studies are concluded.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. October 3, 2018

Council scores with Miracle League support

As the October nights turn crisp, and competition heats up in the Major Leagues, it’s easy to get nostalgic about baseball, a leading American pastime.

What happened on Monday should make all baseball fans cheer.

No, we’re not talking about the historic game between the Cubs and the Brewers.

The other thing that happened on Monday — the really life-changing thing — is that the Dubuque City Council took steps to bring baseball into the lives of kids with disabilities in the form of a Miracle League Park.

Volunteers have worked for years to bring to Dubuque a Miracle League Park — a place where children with physical and mental limitations have the opportunity to play baseball. Games take place on a special, rubberized-surface playing field designed to accommodate children who use wheelchairs or other equipment, or who would benefit by this sort of venue.

Merle Santjer and Tom Witry led the volunteer effort to bring the field to Dubuque. And this week, the Dubuque City Council joined the team, approving a development agreement allowing the handicapped-accessible ballfield and playground to be built at the city-owned Veterans Memorial Park. The city would be in charge of day-to-day maintenance of all park amenities, including the field, playground and a new pavilion featuring restrooms, classrooms and a concession area.

What a great project for the City of Dubuque to support. It aligns with council goals on so many levels: Family-friendly amenities, inclusivity, upgraded parks and recreational facilities.

While the volunteer leaders have been outstanding, and the City of Dubuque support is great, there remains an opportunity for every citizen to get involved.

Miracle League of Dubuque is fundraising for the construction of all the amenities described in the agreement with an estimated cost of $3.59 million. That’s a lofty goal. But the Dubuque area happens to be a community that loves its baseball. And the idea of bringing the game to kids who face daily challenges, well this is a project the community should really get behind.

To donate or for more information, go to miracleleaguedubuque.com.

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