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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

November 19, 2018

Des Moines Register. November 16, 2018

Roses & thistles: Iowa volunteers serve to honor those who served our country

A rose to the dedicated volunteers who help keep open and running the Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center. Without them, important local and national history may be lost.

Fort Des Moines, built in 1901, is the site of two ground-breaking developments in the U.S. military.

After the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, there was pressure from groups like the NAACP and leaders like W.E.B. DuBois to qualify black officers to lead their compatriots. In May, the federal government announced the creation of a training camp for 1,200 black officers in Des Moines. The fort became the Army’s first officer candidate training school for African-American men, graduating 639 men, including 106 captains, 329 first lieutenants and 204 second lieutenants.

Many served in France, then returned to lead civil rights efforts. These include Charles Houston, who litigated more than 60 Jim Crow cases for the NAACP. More than 100 doctors and 12 dentists were commissioned at the fort as the first African-American medical officers in the Army.

“Fort Des Moines would play a revolutionary role in the movement toward diversity and, eventually, integration in the U.S. military,” wrote Penelope LeFew-Blake in her book “Images of America, Fort Des Moines.”

Later, during World War II, the facility was the site of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps trainees, which most know as Women’s Army Corps. This is where 72,000 troops trained and the first female officers received their commissions.

The museum opened in 2004, but has struggled financially. Its most recent income tax data from 2016 shows it had $212,757 in expenses and $93,215 in revenue.

Enter passionate volunteers, who keep the building’s heating system running and serve as guides to visitors on Saturdays, the only day the museum is open to the public. College students, professors and a retired elected official are among those who give their time and energy to ensure the preservation of history in Iowa’s capital city and our nation.

And a rose to lottery winner Lerynne West of Redfield for making generosity her first priority. West, 51, won $343.9 million from the enormous Powerball drawing earlier this month — so she doesn’t really need a rose. She could buy her own flower store if she wanted.

But this single mother of three instead announced that she would give $500,000 to a foundation that assists wounded veterans. West, who appeared Wednesday on the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” said her father was a Vietnam veteran and her three brothers served in the military.

West had made it clear when she claimed her winnings that she would be looking for ways to help others.

“When I would dream about (the lottery) I would get all frivolous and have a whole lineup of cars that I was going to buy, and that’s not the case anymore,” West said. “Once you have won and you realize the responsibility and the impact you can make, all frivolity goes out the window.”

West created The Callum Foundation, which she said would focus not only on veterans, but on work dealing with poverty, education and animal welfare. The charitable organization is named for her grandson, who survived only one day after his birth. Her initial donation goes to The Travis Mills Foundation, which supports veterans and their families through long-term programs that help them overcome physical obstacles, strengthen their families and get rest and relaxation.

It’s wonderful to have the national spotlight on a prime example of “Iowa nice” for a change.

Kudos, too, to Casey’s General Stores for making generous use of its $10,000 prize for selling the winning ticket. Casey’s donated the money to the Redfield community’s high school, fire department and first responders.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. November 15, 2018.

Grassley and Klobuchar join forces

By his example, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley helps counter the disillusionment so many Americans express about Congress. The Iowa Republican is an important GOP leader, but he works harmoniously with many other senators — both Democrats and Republicans.

A good example of constructive bipartisanship is the letter he and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, just sent to President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Seema Verma.

Grassley and Klobuchar are jointly sponsoring the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act. Their letter calls upon these officials to support for this legislation.

The bill is designed to increase competition in the drug industry and thereby help bring down the cost of prescription drugs. It is intended to limit certain anticompetitive practices by drug companies that slow down the introduction of affordable generic prescription drugs.

“We have long been concerned with the rising cost of prescription drugs and the strain it places on patients and our health care system, including critical government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Noncompetitive drug markets can result in higher prices and reduced patient access to essential medical treatments,” the senators wrote. “By promoting the timely introduction of affordable generic drugs, our Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act would increase prescription drug competition in U.S. markets, driving down prices and improving the quality of life for patients across the country.”

Expensive prescription drugs contribute significantly to the high cost of health care in our nation. Congress needs to find ways to make health care less expensive. That Grassley and Klobuchar have joined forces in a bipartisan effort to seek a partial solution is an encouraging step in the right direction.

Their collaboration reminds us that good government often requires cooperation and compromises. Unfortunately, too few officeholders seem committed to exploring opportunities for bipartisan agreements.

Iowans and Minnesotans should be proud that they have sent to Washington two senators who work across the partisan divide to find common ground. Grassley is a conservative Republican. Klobuchar is a liberal Democrat. Officeholders at all levels of government should be inspired by their willingness to work together to craft and advance this bill. It shows that even when people disagree on many things it is frequently possible to find areas where joint action is possible.

The Messenger applauds this demonstration of productive bipartisanship.

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Quad-City Times. November 14, 2018

The land of second chances

It took a long time for Iowa to exit from the select group of states that had failed to send a woman to Congress.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, broke that ground in 2014, and as a result, a state that has taken pride in being in the vanguard of so many civil liberties achievements was able to leave the dubious company of Mississippi and Vermont.

Four years later, Vermont is now the only state that hasn’t sent a woman to Congress. And, as we noted last week, Iowa achieved another milestone this year by electing its first women to the U.S. House of Representatives and its first woman as governor.

Still, Iowa belongs to another small club of states that we would just as soon leave.

Just Iowa and Kentucky now forbid people with felony convictions from voting.

Florida had been among the few and not-so-proud. But last week voters there approved an amendment to the state constitution to restore the right to vote to felons who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation requirements. The amendment excludes those who have committed murder or certain sexual offenses.

News reports say about 1.5 million Floridians will now have their voting rights restored.

In his 2004 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said, “America is the land of second chances, and when the gates of prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”

We don’t know how many Floridians had his words in mind last week, but an impressive 64 percent of voters cast their ballot to do away with this restriction.

Iowa’s state constitution forbids voting by people who have committed an “infamous crime.” Two years ago, the state Supreme Court affirmed that to mean felonies.

The Sentencing Project, which is based in Washington, D.C., and has worked for a fair and effective criminal justice system for 30 years, estimates that nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s black voting age population has been disenfranchised as a result of this provision.

In all, an estimated 52,000 Iowans, or 2 percent of the voting age population, are disenfranchised.

In Florida, an estimated 10 percent of its population had been prevented from voting.

The proposal to change Florida’s constitution stemmed from a petition drive that gathered the signatures of more than 1 million people. And it was an effort that had a broad cross section of political support, including from Freedom Partners, a conservative organization with close ties to Charles and David Koch.

In Iowa, unfortunately, the process of amending the constitution isn’t so easy. An amendment requires a vote of two successive General Assemblies before it could even be put before the voters for ratification.

It seems unlikely that will happen.

“In the current political climate, it is definitely a heavy lift,” said Veronica Lorson Fowler, communications director for the ACLU of Iowa, which unsuccessfully challenged the voting restriction on felons in court a few years ago.

Still, she says the group will continue its efforts. And, she adds, there is interest among some lawmakers to redefine what constitutes an “infamous crime.”

We’re not sure how widespread the interest is, but we hope Florida’s decision might be seen as an example to follow.

We believe our state’s character is in keeping with former president Bush’s words: “America is the land of second chances.”

Forgiveness is what we plead for, and what we pledge, on Sunday at church. It is what many of us strive to practice daily.

We have now walked away from the small club of states that had failed to elect women to top statewide offices. We would be wise to also surrender our unfortunate membership in a club that still doesn’t fully offer a path to a better life to those for whom the gates of prison have opened.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. November 14, 2018

Judicial retention shows some voters’ true colors

Voters filling out ballots in last week’s election might have encountered some names with which they were unfamiliar — particularly in the category of judicial retention. Dubuque County residents were more likely to know a bit about the District 1A judges, particularly those seated in the Dubuque County Courthouse. But the Iowa Court of Appeals judges might have been foreign to voters.

The Iowa State Bar Association offers voters assistance in making their retention decisions in the form of the Judicial Performance Review, in which attorneys and judges are allowed to evaluate judges on their professionalism and demeanor. That review, along with some biographical information about each judge, appears on the website of the state bar association.

Some voters might have reviewed this information before casting a ballot, others might have opted to vote the same way across the board for judges with whom they were unfamiliar.

But an odd thing happened, especially in Dubuque County, when it came to voting on the Iowa Court of Appeals judges. One judge got about 2,500 fewer “yes” votes than her two colleagues on the ballot.

This is a judge who is a product of Iowa schools — attended high school in Cedar Rapids, college at Grinnell and earned a law degree and a master’s from the University of Iowa. She clerked for an Iowa Supreme Court justice and worked as an attorney for Legal Services Corporation of Iowa and with the Iowa with the Attorney General’s office. Then she was appointed to the appellate court in 1999.

After nearly two decades on the Iowa Court of Appeals, this judge received the highest Judicial Performance Review rating of any of her colleagues — 96.7 percent. Does that seem like someone who should be retained?

She was retained; all of the judges on the ballot were. But thousands more voters said no to Anuradha Vaitheswaran than did to her fellow judges, Michael Mullins and Mary Ellen Tabor. In Dubuque County, Mullins and Tabor were endorsed by more than 81 percent of voters. Vaitheswaran barely got 70 percent. Looking statewide, the gap was still there, though not as wide: she lagged 6 percent behind the others.

So, did voters know something about this well-credentialed judge of 19 years, supported by 97 percent of the legal community, to draw so many no votes? Or did those voters just decide they weren’t voting for someone with a foreign-sounding name?

Unfortunately, we strongly suspect the latter.

When local leaders talk about the importance of inclusivity and a diverse workforce, and about being welcoming to others, we sometimes hear pushback questioning why such an effort is necessary.

This vote for the Iowa Court of Appeals is an indication of why it’s necessary.

A segment of our population is simply not welcoming of newcomers — no matter how skilled and well credentialed they might be.

Eleven percent of voters in Dubuque County thought they could tell something about Anuradha Vaitheswaran that they didn’t see in Michael Mullins and Mary Ellen Tabor. Maybe they know something we don’t.

But if voters — or citizens or coworkers or neighbors — make assumptions about people because they have foreign-sounding names, it will be impossible for Dubuque to be a welcoming community.

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