Randy Evans's blog

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:

Iowa needs to stop creeping secrecy over names

The increasing secrecy by Iowa law enforcement and their lawyers about identifying people by name raises important questions underlying public confidence in the critical work of first-responders.

The question deals with whether police can or should refuse to identify persons involved in incidents and crimes. Despite Iowa’s history of openness about crimes and accidents, with increasing frequency public officials refuse to provide names of people who end up in these events, whether as victims or perpetrators.

A few examples illustrate this issue:

Des Moines police officers encountered a tense standoff early the morning after Christmas in 2022. The incident involved a 16-year-old boy with a handgun. The events unfolded inside the apartment where his grandmother lived. His mother and stepfather lived a couple of doors away.

In the five minutes after officers arrived, having been summoned by the stepfather, officers pleaded 70 times with the teen to put down the gun, according to a report from the Iowa attorney general’s office. The standoff ended when the youth raised the gun toward officers, resulting in them firing 14 shots that struck him in the head and torso.

The attorney general’s report identified the dead boy only by his initials, T.J.

Des Moines city attorneys ordered police not to make public their body camera video from the standoff or the teen’s name, despite the willingness of officials to do so. The lawyers claimed releasing the name and video would violate Iowa’s juvenile justice law because the teen had not been charged with any crime in connection with the standoff. Of course, authorities seldom prosecute the dead.

Keep this supposed legal analysis in mind and think back to the mass shootings at Perry High School. Within hours of the tragedy, law officers released the name of Dylan Butler, 17, the student who fatally shot one student and injured four other students and three school employees before he took his own life.

It is time to look for ways to reduce tragic toll of guns

Like many Iowans, my thoughts have been rather chaotic since the horrible news from Perry High School last week.

The events were so sad and senseless. A 17-year-old student was dead, having shot himself. An 11-year-old sixth-grader, known for his big smile and cheerful outlook, was dead from three gunshot wounds. Seven other students and school employees, including the high school principal, were wounded by the teenager.

Americans are numb to the number and frequency of school shootings and other mass killings. Our leaders appear to be paralyzed. Yes, they express their sadness and concern, but thoughts and prayers are not enough.

Also inadequate was the message Donald Trump had for Iowans when he expressed his concern about the Perry tragedy. “It’s just horrible,” he said. “But we have to get over it. We have to move forward.”

Here we go again: Banning is not the solution

I really should not be surprised by some comments that represent what passes for civic dialogue in Iowa these days.

The latest example leaves me shaking my head, not just at the events themselves but at the reactions. Mrs. Gentry, my history and government teacher in high school, would be dismayed by intelligent people misunderstanding one of the foundations upon which the United States was established — that foundation being the desire of people for intellectual freedom.

How I wish I could still drop by the Gentry home, park myself on Mrs. G’s couch and dive into an in-depth conversation with her and Mr. G about the events that transpired in recent days at the Iowa Capitol. Some people’s mistaken notion of what religious freedom involves has brought the spotlight to Iowa from as far away as Great Britain’s BBC.

The trigger for all of this attention was the decision by the Satanic Temple of Iowa to temporarily erect a small altar with candles and a caped, ram’s-head figure representing the pagan idol Baphomet. The display was off the Capitol rotunda next to the grand staircase, not far from where another group placed the traditional Christian nativity scene.

Secret gov’t settlements are wrong — period

City leaders in Davenport have forgotten that city government there belongs to the people. It does not belong to the folks who were elected to city offices.

This reminder is necessary because a troubling series of events that is unlike any I have seen in five decades of monitoring the goings-on in local governments across Iowa.

The shenanigans should have State Auditor Rob Sand knocking on the doors at City Hall. He should be asking questions on behalf of the tax-paying people of Davenport — because city leaders there are not answering questions from the public or journalists.

An investigation by the taxpayers’ watchdog also would serve notice to officials elsewhere in Iowa to not try using Davenport’s secrecy strategy in their communities to keep the public in the dark about embarrassing or controversial decisions government makes.

Government should face up to care center concerns

A few months ago, I bumped into a former aide to Gov. Robert Ray. As we reminisced about the governor, our conversation turned to his nearly daily meetings with journalists.

The aide said yes, those press conferences provided reporters with access to the governor and his comments on issues the state was handling and hearing about from Iowans.

But Ray believed the daily press gatherings had another important benefit, too: Ray could do his job more effectively by listening to the journalists’ questions, the aide said.

State government is a sprawling operation. With reporters combing government agencies for news and bringing their questions to the governor, it meant Ray would be better informed about what was going on in the government he was responsible for managing. Sometimes, those questions dealt with concerns the governor was unaware of — matters that could be dealt with quickly before a small issue could grow into a bigger problem.

Today, Iowa is at the point where one issue has been allowed to fester into a significant problem — and this should alarm Iowans with elderly relatives or who expect to be elderly someday themselves. That issue is the quality of care provided by some of Iowa’s 414 nursing homes and care centers.

Kindness is medicine that helps all of us

This is my favorite time of the year. There is no late-night bombardment from infernal fireworks like there is with the Fourth of July. There is not the pressure of Christmas to choose just the right gift.

With Thanksgiving, it is about enjoying the company of family and friends — and deciding whether to scoop up pumpkin pie, apple or banana cream. With Thanksgiving, it is a time to reflect on our blessings and to think about others who are not as fortunate.

Back during my years as a newspaper editor, I was always eager for stories that raised our spirits and warmed our hearts. Those stories were a needed antidote to the heartache that seemed too often be in the news.

Uneasy times as a librarian shuts out other ideas

The word for today is optics — but not the kind where your eye doctor is an expert.

Instead of eyeglasses, I am thinking about the kind of optics that result when the perception of some person’s or some institution’s values are contradicted by the reality of the actions they take.

Here's an example. This involves poor optics.

Librarians across Iowa have been put on the defensive by parents and grandparents who criticize some of the thousands of books that fill a community library or school library. This criticism has been especially sharp toward books intended for teenage readers that contain content with homosexual or transsexual themes or that include descriptions of sexual encounters that some people believe are too explicit for these readers.

Librarians have stepped forward to explain that it is not proper for people to force the removal of challenged books, thereby taking away other people’s ability to choose what they want to read or what they want their children to read. Library administrators have informed parents how they can limit the books their children have access to in the library or in the classroom.


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