Our grammarian governor plays politics with words

“Unsustainable” is a fascinating word, especially when it is used in government and politics. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary folks, tell us unsustainable means something cannot be continued or supported.

But in governmental affairs, that definition sometimes gets changed. Instead of something truly being incapable of continuing, the word often means the person using the term simply does not want that “something” to go forward.

Understanding this distinction can help us better parse the statements our politicians make. Here is a real-life example to illustrate this difference:

Back in December, Gov. Kim Reynolds ended Iowa’s participation in a summer food program for low-income families with school-age children. The governor made the decision even though the bulk of the expense would be paid by the federal government.

About 240,000 Iowa children from needy families are affected by her decision. Their parents would have received $40 per month during the summer for each child who qualifies for free or reduced-priced school lunches. The program’s purpose was to help these needy families feed their children during the summer when classes are not in session and the kids are not eating at school.

In Iowa, the federal government offered $29 million for food assistance this summer. State government would have been responsible for covering $2 million in administrative costs.

Iowa House votes down measure that would have required more inspections of puppy mills

Iowa Capital Dispatch
April 10, 2024

The Iowa House rejected a proposal Wednesday to require annual inspections of all state-licensed dog breeding facilities by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“Who doesn’t love puppies? We all love puppies, but sadly, Iowa is closing in on number one in the nation for unscrupulous puppy mills,” Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said.

He offered an amendment to a larger agriculture policy bill, House File 2641, that would require an on-site inspection of every state-licensed dog-breeding facility every 12 months, as well as require on-site inspections if there was reasonable cause.

Currently, the law says the department “may” inspect breeding facilities.

Jacoby wrote to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last summer to call for better enforcement after the seizure of more than 120 dogs from a breeding facility in his Johnson County district. Inspectors reported many of the animals were in distress and Jacoby said a dozen of them died.

Republicans opposed the amendment.

It's time Davenport leaders put down their shovels

City officials in Davenport have managed to accomplish the impossible this year: They have brought Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature together to agree on something.

The two parties have bickered over topics like changes to the Area Education Agencies, liability protection for farm chemical manufacturers, making birth control pills available without a prescription, and providing state tax money to arm teachers.

But the D’s and R’s came together in the House last month, voting 92-2 to increase the penalties for government officials who violate Iowa’s open meetings law. The bill also requires a judge to remove a member of a government board who has twice violated the meetings law.

This unusual consensus among D’s and R’s was on display again last week. The House Government Oversight Committee heard testimony on a scandal in Davenport city government that has dragged on for months, with one troubling disclosure after another.

Hardened hearts, short-sightedness at Capitol

by Ed Tibbetts, Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 20, 2024

Republicans in the Iowa House hate government freebies.

Unless it’s their corporate friends who get them.

The latest evidence of this hypocrisy is the effort to kill a central Iowa program and prevent others like it that are aimed at helping poor people.

UpLift is a test program in central Iowa that gives $500 per month to 110 individuals who live with at least one dependent up to the age of 25 and who have a median household income of only $24,000 a year.

These government officials did whaaaat?

What were they thinking? That is a question I ask myself a lot lately.

Those were the first words out of my mouth when the Manhattan district attorney had to postpone Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial on the alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels — the delay necessitated because government lawyers had dropped the ball.

I muttered those words during several days of court hearings in Georgia into Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis’ affair with a subordinate prosecutor — the one she chose to lead the criminal case against Trump and a dozen other defendants for trying to undo that state’s 2020 presidential election results.

And those words come to mind about bills the Iowa Legislature is considering that would affect criminal cases like those brought against state university athletes for their online wagers on sporting events.

What were these government officials thinking? That is an excellent question in these cases.

Regardless of party, irresponsible is still irresponsible

Like many people who call this state home, I have long taken an interest in the careers and achievements of people who have gotten their start in Iowa.

As a kid, I was fascinated to walk through that two-room cottage in West Branch, knowing a president of the United States, Herbert Hoover, was born there.

Having grown up at the start of the Space Age, I have marveled at the achievements of Peggy Whitson, whose record-breaking space career was “launched” in Beaconsfield and the public schools of Mount Ayr.

And more recently, I have been amazed by the talents of Caitlin Clark, the University of Iowa basketball wizard who has drawn attention from fans around the globe.

All of this may help explain why I have paid more than passing attention to Democrat Katie Porter, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California — and why I was greatly disappointed by her outlandish, baseless comments after she lost the recent California primary election for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Nursing home residents’ cries fall on deaf ears

Iowa Capital Dispatch
February 28, 2024

Iowa Capital Dispatch has been reporting for four years about nursing home residents dying due to neglect, as well as the state’s backlog of inspections and its lack of staff to complete them. It was bound to get lawmakers’ attention eventually.

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman, who writes these stories, has been reporting on similar issues for more than two decades.

I was semi-hopeful before the start of the 2024 legislative session that this would be the year the Legislature actually did something meaningful about it. I should have known better.

Pay attention to officials’ talk vs. their actions

Voters have busy lives — families to care for, jobs demanding their attention, bills to worry about.

So, they can be forgiven if they do not closely track their government leaders’ statements and actions. Sometimes voters may find discrepancies between what politicians say and what they do.

Here is one example:

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was in the news last week with a statement about the need for Congress to replenish a federal program, the Victims of Crime Act, that assists these people in a variety of ways.

She was one of 42 state attorneys general, Republicans and Democrats, who wrote to leaders of Congress urging them to provide this important assistance.

“We must protect victims from being victimized twice,” Bird said in a statement. “Victims have already been through enough. With a looming 41 percent cut in victim services funding, we’re calling on Congress to ensure victims and survivors receive the support they deserve.”.

With her statement, Bird opened herself up to criticism that she was talking out of both sides of her mouth when it comes to protecting crime victims from being harmed again.

Simple solutions rarely are simple or solutions

One of the fallacies of politics these days is the notion of simple solutions. Regardless of whether the problem is immigration, the homeless, gun ownership or transgender people, too many leaders or would-be leaders want us believe government can take simple actions to make a complex problem go away.

Rarely do those simple solutions address the underlying problem. Often, those solutions are not simple, nor are they really solving anything.

Often, these simple solutions are little more than gussied-up wedge issues designed to drive people into camps of ”us” versus “them.”

We have seen this with the issue of private ownership of guns. Statistics show there are 393 million guns in private hands in the United States. With two-thirds of American adults not owning a gun, that means the typical gun owner has almost four guns.

So the simple solution of banning sales of semi-automatic firearms really does not solve the problem of mass killings. The problem is more complicated than can be addressed with one “solution.”

It is that way with many other problems, too. This year, Iowans have seen bills introduced in the Legislature that are offered as supposed solutions to issues involving people who identify as transgender.

This is not what leadership looks like

These days, with political campaigns that seem to go on forever, Iowans may not recognize the significance of what occurred at polling places across the state on November 5, 1968.

Voters approved an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that day, ending the Legislature’s practice of only meeting every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier.

Advocates for the amendment made the case lawmakers needed to be in session each year to deal with the growing complexity of challenges and the pressing demands facing Iowa.

In recent years, however, leaders like Gov. Kim Reynolds and her allies in the Legislature often talk about government overreach and the need to rein in the size and scope of state and local governments.

Maybe they are correct. Maybe voters should be asked to undo the 55-year-old constitutional amendment and return the Legislature to meeting every other year. Maybe that would give lawmakers and the governor time to thoughtfully study these complex challenges and pressing demands — so they do not go into hurry-up law-making mode whenever they spot some perceived need for a new law.

You may disagree with the perception the process of making laws has gotten out of control in Iowa in recent years. But consider:


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