Randy Evans's blog

We need to accept outcomes we dislike

Most people go through life never stepping foot inside a courtroom. Most people, that is, except for attorneys, judges, journalists, the few of us chosen to be jurors, and an even more select group, those who are accused of crimes.

If I were talking now with my dear parents, may they rest in peace, I would quickly assure them that my many days spent in courtrooms have been in a professional capacity, not as a defendant trying to avoid the slammer.

As a reporter and later as the boss of reporters, I have had an up-close vantage point to watch our court system as it works. I claim no special expertise. But 50 years in a ringside seat on the judiciary have given me perspective that is worth sharing.

Justice’s distress signal should distress us all

Here is a tidbit from my years as a newspaper reporter and editor:

I never voted in a primary election, never attended the Iowa caucuses, never stuck a candidate’s sign in my yard, never had a bumper sticker on my car, never signed a petition, never donated to a campaign.

When Sue and I married, she got something more in the deal than my sparkling personality. She knew she could not have any yard signs, because people driving past our home would not know which part of the yard was for her opinions and which was for mine. To eliminate any confusion, there were no yard signs. Period.

Live-streaming gov’t meetings should be the norm

You don’t often hear anyone extol the benefits of the Covid pandemic. But I did few weeks ago — when I stood before the Storm Lake Kiwanis club and talked about government transparency in Iowa.

I did not wade into the debate over masks, social distancing or vaccinations. It was a polite audience, but I was not silly enough to needlessly venture onto that thin ice.

What I said about the pandemic was this: State and local governments embraced, even if grudgingly, the benefits of live-streaming their board meetings during the pandemic so the public could watch from wherever they were.

Gov’t officials forget, again, they work for us

The Legislature took an important step two weeks ago in voting to toughen penalties for state and local officials who violate a key government transparency tool, Iowa’s open meetings law.

Unfortunately, lawmakers’ actions may not be enough to reverse the love for secrecy that too many government boards and councils demonstrate. The latest example comes from Des Moines.

City officials moved discussion of possible changes in Des Moines’ “standard development agreement” away from a meeting of the City Council that any interested citizen could attend. The discussion was held, instead, during two private meetings of council members the public did not know about.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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