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Iowa’s caucuses need to be more inclusive

Some of my friends who are Democrats are asking Iowa party officials some very uncomfortable questions these days.

I applaud these people for standing up. Their questions go something like this:

Is the Iowa Democratic Party more concerned about keeping the Iowa caucuses first in the nation in the presidential nomination process, even if the caucus structure prevents countless Democrats from participating?

It’s wrong to ban fair visitors for speaking up

This year’s Iowa State Fair received spotlight attention from coast to coast, thanks in large measure to the presence of just about everyone with an itch to be the next United States president.

The Iowa Tourism Office could never afford all of the glowing imagery of Iowa and the fair that was sent around the globe this month – the shoulder to shoulder crowds, people enjoying corndogs and pork chops on a stick, and judges rendering decisions in all manner of contests, from cakes to cantaloupes to cattle.

Shoe-horned into this Norman Rockwell-esque portrait this year was an unfortunate incident that showed an embarrassing lack of understanding and appreciation for the important role freedom of speech plays in our state.

We can see what is important to University of Iowa

The people of Iowa have gotten a look at the University of Iowa’s priorities in recent weeks.

I doubt this was the message administrators in Iowa City intended to send.

But I don’t know how else to interpret the juxtaposition two recent news stories created.

The first came in early August when university President Bruce Harreld signed a three-year contract extension with Gary Barta, the director of athletics. The new agreement increases Barta’s guaranteed compensation to $1 million per year.

In contrast, Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is responsible for all of state government’s revenue collections and for government services that range from higher education to highways to trash collection in state parks, is paid an annual salary of $130,000.

The Hawkeye athletic teams spend more each year on adhesive tape than Reynolds receives in compensation. Indeed, it would take the state’s chief executive seven and a half years to receive as much as Barta will be paid in just one year.

Congress has dithered long enough on guns

How many more will it take?

How many more mass shootings?

How many more bodies of adults and children will need to pile up – in the aisles of retail stores, in churches, in the classrooms and corridors of schools, in offices, in movie theaters, in nightclubs?

How many more times must this happen before our leaders in Washington, D.C., do what is so long overdue and work on solutions – and not brush off any discussion because it’s too soon after a tragedy to “engage in politics”?

How many more massacres need to occur before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who alone decides what will be voted on in the Senate, allows members to cast their “yea” or “nay” votes on modest gun-control legislation that already has been approved by a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House?

How much longer must we wait?

We need these reminders about immigrants

Years ago, when I was a young pup of a reporter for the Des Moines Register, my assignment was covering state and federal courts.

Normally, it amounted to reporting on the dirty laundry of society that gets scrubbed in the courts – the murders, the robberies, the embezzlements and the civil lawsuits.

But whenever time permitted, I would grab a seat in the back of U.S. District Judge William C. Stuart’s ornate courtroom in the federal courthouse in Des Moines and watch as he administered the oath of citizenship to newly naturalized citizens of the United States.

What’s going on in our school classrooms?

One of the most common types of violence in Iowa’s K-12 schools does not involve fistfights or guns.

This form of violence often flies under society’s radar, not receiving attention it should from school boards, the governor, the Legislature, and from the news media.

This explosive behavior involves students who go on rampages in classrooms, cursing and screaming at the teacher, tipping over desks, knocking computers, books and other supplies to the floor, and who force the teacher to shoo other students into the hallway for their safety while the teacher tries to persuade the out-of-control student to calm down.

Campaign losers should be thanked, not jailed

What in the world has gotten into us?

Through the years, we poured ourselves into political campaigns, put out yard signs for our favorite office-seekers, and held “coffees” to encourage our friends to back our candidates.

It wasn’t unusual for our views to be at odds with those of our friends. But that was the beauty of the American way of government. Our political differences did not rise to the level of personal animosity.

Congress needs to focus on this caravan

A small caravan crossed the United States border last month, but this was not the kind of caravan that has been in the news for more than a year.

The caravan was not being led by a “coyote” who was guiding hundreds of illegal immigrants to the border so they could try to sneak into the U.S.

Instead, at the head of this group of cars and SUVs from the Twin Cities was a Minnesota mother in her minivan who was leading everyone to a pharmacy five hours north in Fort Frances, Ontario.

There’s judicial activism you like – and dislike

One of the most contentious issues in the Iowa Legislature this year involved the way the state’s judges are chosen.

That process was established 57 years ago when voters amended the Iowa Constitution. It’s worth noting that Republicans held solid majorities then in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate.

In the years that followed – when governors were Republicans, as well as when they were Democrats – the stature of the Iowa judiciary was saluted across the United States for its fairness and nonpartisan nature.

It's wrong to view citizens as nuisances

There have been plenty of examples that raise questions whether government boards in Iowa truly understand they work for the people, not for government officials and employees --- and that they are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of taxpayers.

The latest example comes from Polk County, where county officials seemed determined to keep the public in the dark until after they had formally decided to sweeten the severance benefits for a handful of top employees – at a cost to taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We have seen similar examples, both in local government and state government, where governing boards have appeared not to be watching how taxpayer money is spent.

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