Randy Evans's blog

Is it right to treat big whales differently?

On a late summer afternoon in Bloomfield 40 years ago, the people of Iowa learned about an unofficial government principle we have seen repeated in recent weeks.

Although this has played out in various ways through the years, it ultimately comes down to the same concept: If your problem is large enough, government will step in and lend you a helping hand. But if government decides yours is not a big problem, you probably will have to fend for yourself.

And we wonder why many Americans are disenchanted with government and its sense of fairness these days.

Iowa out of step on access to police video

Every few months, someone is killed or injured by police somewhere in the United States under circumstances that lead to inevitable questions about what exactly occurred.

Typically, answers come when video from the law officers’ squad car cameras or their uniform cameras is made public. Each time this occurs, there are two inescapable conclusions:

First, police in most states realize it is their obligation to release this video. They know that public faith and respect for law officers will suffer if citizens and journalists are prevented from viewing the footage, especially when an incident results in death or injury, most notably when the person was not armed.

And second, each time such video is released somewhere in the United States, it becomes obvious Iowa is out of step with most other states — because in Iowa, law enforcement agencies and government attorneys insist the video must forever remain off-limits because it is part of a confidential investigative file.

This insistence on secrecy harms public trust and respect for Iowa law enforcement.

A rural school teaches lessons on governing

By Randy Evans

There is an interesting study in contrasts playing out right now in Iowa.

One example comes from the Davis County School District in Bloomfield. It is the 96th-largest of Iowa’s 328 public districts, with an enrollment of 1,150 students.

The other example comes from the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The Davis County school board is wrestling with an incredibly difficult decision — whether to hold classes four days a week instead of the traditional five-day-a-week schedule.

The decision-making process has been marked by ongoing public information over the past five months. There has been lots of opportunity for people to ask questions about what is best for the Davis County schools and Davis County kids.

The process is geared both for learning what people in the district want and for helping the community become comfortable with the decision the school board eventually makes.

On the other hand, the solid Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate, with a Republican in the governor’s office, seem more interested in gaining legislative victories and less interested in following a process that builds confidence and acceptance among Iowans whose opinions differ from the Republicans.

Governor supports a different indoctrination

A recent public opinion poll found that three-quarters of Americans want members of Congress to end their bickering and begin compromising more with their colleagues from the other party.

The poll was conducted across the United States by Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion for National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour.

If such a poll were conducted in Iowa, it’s my hunch the pollsters would find people here have similar views of the inability, or unwillingness, of senators and representatives in Washington to engage in the thoughtful give-and-take art of lawmaking.

It is also my hunch that Iowans are at a similar point with respect to the Legislature’s recent string of proposed laws that target our 327 public school districts.

That hunch jelled even before Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled last week where she may be headed next in her quest to transform public schools. Her new goal should bother freedom-loving moms and dads and others who understand what our Founding Fathers wanted when they established the United States — you know, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Elections, not caucuses, should be the focus

Not that she asked, but I have some advice for Rita Hart, the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Yes, Hart is an experienced practitioner of politics. She was twice elected to the Iowa Senate. She was the Democrats’ lieutenant governor candidate on the ticket with Fred Hubbell in 2018. And two years ago, she came within an eyelash — six votes — of winning a seat in Congress. She also is a former teacher and still farms with her husband near the Clinton County town of Wheatland.

Normally, I would trust the judgment of someone with her credentials on what her priorities should be as the Iowa Democrats’ top state leader. But this is the Iowa Democratic Party, and too many party activists, along with civic boosters and journalists, cling to the belief that the process of choosing presidential nominees absolutely and without question must begin in Iowa.

So many questions, but so few answers

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that private school vouchers appear to be barreling toward passage by the Iowa Legislature, just three weeks into the 2023 session. These vouchers, or education savings accounts, or whatever you want to call them, would give parents $7,600 per year for each of their kids to attend a private K-12 school.

Although the outcome has been easy to foresee, it has not been easy to get answers to the many questions being asked across the state as lawmakers move to make this landmark change in education in Iowa.

Some questions that deserve answers include:

  • Does the governor and other proponents really believe $900 million can be siphoned away from Iowa’s 327 public school districts over the next four years for vouchers without harming the public schools?
  • The premise is to give parents a choice of where their children will be educated. Don’t parents already have a wide range of options if they can't afford the tuition at a private school — from enrolling their kids in an adjacent public school district at no cost, to home-schooling, or enrolling them tuition-free in Iowa Connections Academy or Iowa Virtual Academy, Iowa’s two online public schools?
  • If a child has learning disabilities or behavior issues, or if English is not the child’s native language, do vouchers serve their intended purpose when these children can be turned away by a private school without the parents having any recourse? When that occurs, what happens to the governor’s “school choice” message?
  • Forty-one of Iowa’s 99 counties do not have any private schools. How are vouchers going to help students in those counties, especially when voucher money cannot be used to pay for the expense of driving to a private school in another county?
  • Do supporters of the governor’s proposal really think state tax revenues will be sufficient to allow the Legislature to allocate $340 million per year for vouchers indefinitely?
  • What happens when the income tax cuts lawmakers approved in 2022 fully take effect in the next few years? These tax cuts will reduce the state general fund revenue by about $2 billion — a reduction of about one-fifth.
  • Won’t the combined effects of the cost of vouchers and the reduced income tax revenue put an excruciating squeeze on the state government’s budget needs? Won’t that squeeze make it nearly impossible to maintain the services that Iowans have come to expect — from state law enforcement, to the courts, state parks, community colleges and state universities, to health care for the poor, and the public schools?
  • Why are Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican leaders in the Legislature adamant to get the voucher program approved before the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency completes its cost analysis — especially without an estimate of how much the state will pay a for-profit company that is still to be chosen to manage the voucher applications and payments?
  • Might the governor and Republican leaders be trying to get this proposal approved before Iowans fully understand the cost, and the consequences, and can express their opinions when their senators and representatives are back home on the weekends?

School enrollment data show there are 482,000 students attending public K-12 schools in Iowa. Private schools now serve 33,000 students.

The governor and proponents of vouchers have talked about the "failing" public schools in Iowa. Shouldn’t these officials be called on to cite specific examples of these failures, so Iowans know whether the concerns are legitimate or exaggerated?

This Iowa ‘trifecta’ drops the ball with vets

In politics, having a “trifecta” in government is a good thing for a political party — until the trifecta’s inaction on some popular issue starts to haunt the party.

Iowa Republicans served up an example of the consequences of such inaction in the days leading up to Christmas. The example involves military veterans, a highly sought-after constituency that is part of any solid political movement.

In political lingo, the Republicans have had a trifecta in Iowa’s state government since 2017. That is when the party gained the majority in the Iowa Senate to go along with its majority in the Iowa House and having a Republican in the governor’s office.

A trifecta means the party usually has an easy time getting its policy priorities approved by lawmakers and signed into law by the governor — Republican priorities like big tax cuts. It means the party’s control of those three key elements of the government generally can stop legislative action on proposals its members oppose — such as the Democrats’ efforts to improve water quality across Iowa.

But there is a downside to having that firm grip on state government. We are seeing that this winter, since the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund ran out of money and had to stop providing financial aid to lower income veterans and their families.

The news has uncorked plenty of dusty memories

It is amazing what takes up room in our memory.

Yes, our basement can accommodate stacks of storage bins and shelves lined with boxes filled with what we politely assure our spouse is “important stuff” from our life. Our memory is no larger than our head, but long-forgotten details are tucked away there amid the cobwebs.

Those details are brought back to life by the unlikeliest of events. For me, one of those occurrences was the launch and then the landing of the Artemis 1 spacecraft a few weeks ago.

If not careful, we could fall on this slippery slope

Few people like being told what they must do. Lorie Smith is one of them.

The suburban Denver, Colo., business owner, a devout Christian, builds websites for customers. She wants to expand her business and begin building websites for couples who are planning weddings.

But she is adamant that she does not want to be forced to build websites for same-sex couples. Doing so, she says, would violate her faith, which does not allow her to celebrate same-sex marriages.

Iowa D’s shouldn’t lose sight of what's important

Judging from the furrowed brows and dire predictions in Iowa, you might have thought a national Democratic Party committee had voted to eliminate motherhood and apple pie last week.

Actually, what the committee eliminated were Iowa’s first-in-the-nation Democratic precinct caucuses — a quirky, though coveted, kick-off role for Iowa Democrats in the party’s presidential nomination process every four years since 1972.

After the fiasco in the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses, when tabulating and reporting glitches left the outcome in doubt for several weeks, the decision on Friday was as much of a surprise as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ landslide re-election victory.


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