Iowa governor still ducking public questions

Three weeks after her re-election victory, Governor Kim Reynolds continues to avoid unscripted interactions with journalists. She has not held a news conference for 20 weeks, and her public appearances since the November election have not even built in “gaggles” where reporters could informally ask a few questions.

Reynolds cut off press conferences about four months before the 2018 midterm election as well, but during that year’s campaign, she participated in three televised debates and pledged to hold weekly news conferences if elected. Though she didn’t keep that promise, she provided several opportunities for reporters to ask about her plans soon after winning the 2018 race.

This year, Reynolds agreed to only one debate with her Democratic challenger and made no commitment regarding future news conferences. The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy has not replied to Bleeding Heartland’s questions about plans for media availabilities.

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New film puts new definition on “Woke”

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association.

I saw the trailer for Will Smith’s new film “Emancipation.” Smith’s character Peter is the enslaved man whose terribly scarred back was photographed in 1863 and viewed by millions during the Civil War era and beyond.

I immediately thought of Governor Ron DeSantis saying, “Florida is the state where WOKE goes to die.” He was speaking, wife and kids at his side, just after the November election where he was re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

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U.S. schools teach too little Native American history

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

By the time you read this, Native American Heritage Month will be almost over. I admit I missed most of it again this year, too. I wouldn’t have known except for seeing a banner on the Washington Post website, calling special attention to Native American articles during November.

Why is there so little education in the U.S. about Native Americans? Possible causes include ignorance, oversight, pedagogy obstacles, and fear. Undoubtedly, it’s a blend.

News under the Native American heading often relates to changing offensive school mascots and team names, decisions usually prompting considerable controversy. Still, the name changes are a significant step in the right direction. Meanwhile, politicization of this issue underscores the need for education while simultaneously foreshadowing challenges facing advocates of a more inclusive curriculum.

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On gratitude and Sylvan Runkel

This post was supposed to be a book review.

I bought a copy of Sylvan T. Runkel: Citizen of the Natural World at the Okoboji Writers’ Retreat in September, thinking it would be perfect to review for my Iowa wildflowers series. Runkel co-authored some of the best Iowa wildflower guides, and I’ve used Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands and Wildflowers of the Tall Grass Prairie countless times.

Co-authors Larry Stone and Jon Stravers both knew Runkel and interviewed many of his friends, relatives, and former colleagues while researching their biography. As expected, I learned a lot about how the famous conservationist grew to love the outdoors and became passionate about native plants and natural landscapes.

The book also struck a chord with me as I’ve been coping with the most physically challenging year of my life.

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Clark farm on Muscatine Island

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

Alexander Clark became extraordinarily wealthy for a Black man in 19th-century America, but nobody yet has assembled all the details we could learn. 

Muscatine’s entrepreneurial barber is remembered for achievements as churchman, lawyer, masonic grand master, publisher, and statesman.

I hadn’t thought of Clark being involved in farming until I received this question from Louisa County historian Frank Best: “Did Alexander Clark own a farm out on the Island?”

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Republicans' next move: Rewrite the U.S. Constitution?

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party.      

Now that the November 8 midterm election has passed, Republicans have maintained their trifectas in 22 states (losing only Arizona), and control one or both legislative chambers in at least half a dozen others. Don’t be surprised if the GOP’s next move in some state legislatures will be to call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention.

Permit me to explain.

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Did low turnout sink Iowa Democratic candidates?

Fourth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2022 state and federal elections.

Many people have asked why Iowa experienced the red wave that didn’t materialize across most of the country. While no one factor can account for the result, early signs point to turnout problems among groups that favor Democratic candidates.

Although this year’s turnout was the second-highest in absolute numbers for an Iowa midterm, participation was down about 8 percent compared to the 2018 general election. The number of Iowans who cast ballots this year (1,230,416) was closer to the 2014 level (1,142,311) than to the high-water mark of 1,334,279, reached four years ago.

My impression is that the decline in turnout was not evenly distributed, but was more pronounced among registered Democrats than among Republicans, who have long been more reliable midterm voters in Iowa.

That alone could account for the narrow defeats of U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (who lost to Zach Nunn in the third Congressional district by 2,145 votes, a margin of 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent), Attorney General Tom Miller (lost to Brenna Bird by 20,542 votes, 50.8 percent to 49.1 percent), and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald (lost to Roby Smith by 30,922 votes, or 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent).

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Democrats prevail in three Iowa House races after recounts

Democrats have officially won three close Iowa House races following recounts completed this week, confirming that the party will hold at least 36 of the 100 seats in the chamber next year.

In House district 20, covering part of Council Bluffs and Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, the final vote tally narrowed Josh Turek’s lead over Republican Sarah Abdouch by one vote. He ended up winning by six: 3,403 votes to 3,397 (50.0 percent to 49.9 percent). Turek, who uses a wheelchair, will be the first disability rights advocate elected to the legislature.

In House district 42, covering part of Ankeny, Heather Matson remained 23 votes ahead of GOP State Representative Garrett Gobble: 6,991 votes to 6,968 (50.0 percent to 49.8 percent).

This area is by far the “swingiest” current Iowa House terrain. In a district covering much of the same territory, Republican State Representative Kevin Koester held off a challenge from Matson in 2016, then lost to the Democrat two years later. Republican Garrett Gobble narrowly defeated Matson in 2020, only to lose an even closer race this year.

In House district 72, covering part of the city of Dubuque and some areas of Dubuque County outside the city, State Representative Chuck Isenhart’s lead over Jennifer Smith shrank from 95 votes to 94. Final tally: 6,164 to 6,070 (50.3 percent to 49.6 percent).

Click here for maps, voter registration totals, and recent voting history for all of the districts where Republicans requested recounts.

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Will Pat Grassley's power play get school vouchers through Iowa House?

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley sent Governor Kim Reynolds a message this past week: her school voucher plan will need to go through him before it reaches the House floor.

In an unusual move, the speaker put himself in charge of a new five-member Education Reform Committee “dealing with bills containing significant reforms to our educational system.”

The decision could signal Grassley’s determined to get a “school choice” bill to Reynolds’ desk, after House Republicans couldn’t find the votes for the proposal over the past two years.

Alternatively, it could give more cover to GOP holdouts by sparing them from voting against the governor’s plan in committee.

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Miller-Meeks touts ag tech, nuclear power at climate summit

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks advocated for precision agriculture, biofuels, and expanding nuclear power in comments at the recent 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as COP27.

Miller-Meeks attended COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt as part of a delegation of six House Republicans who belong to the Conservative Climate Caucus. U.S. Representative John Curtis of Utah formed that caucus last year with support from fossil fuel industry and influential conservative advocacy groups. Miller-Meeks is the only Iowan among the 76 House Republicans currently listed as Conservative Climate Caucus members.

The Conservative Climate Foundation sponsored the House Republican delegation to COP27 and coordinated a panel discussion for the media. Little is known about that organization’s finances; its tax filings are not publicly available on the Internal Revenue Service’s website or ProPublica’s database of tax returns from 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

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Republicans seeking recounts in six Iowa House races

All 99 Iowa counties have finished counting their votes, clearing the way for recounts to begin. None of the 34 state Senate races were decided by a razor-thin margin this year, but Republican candidates have requested or will ask for recounts in six of the 100 state House races.

Two of those elections are very close, two others were decided by margins under 100 votes, and the last two are not remotely within striking distance for the losing candidate.

If every candidate now leading remains ahead after the recount, the GOP would have a 63-37 majority next year, up from 60-40 currently. In the fourteen years I’ve closely followed Iowa legislative races, I’ve never seen a recount change the winner.

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Todd Halbur concedes state auditor's race to Rob Sand

GOP nominee Todd Halbur has conceded the state auditor’s race to Rob Sand after the Republican Party of Iowa refused to assist his campaign with a recount.

Unofficial results show the Democratic incumbent leading Halbur by 600,719 votes to 597,826 (50.1 percent to 49.8 percent). It’s extremely unlikely a statewide recount would have helped the Republican overcome a 2,893 vote deficit, given that the 2020 recount in Iowa’s second Congressional district (covering one-fourth of Iowa) only changed a few dozen votes. Recounts in state legislative races typically change a handful of votes.

However, Halbur told the Des Moines Register last week he planned to request a recount to address what he called “human error, technical errors and maybe even some blatant egregious errors that have happened to our votes across this state.”

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It's a unique profession

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring

There really are some jobs your guidance counselor never imagined. For example, some people work as professional cuddlers for those struggling with loneliness, depression, and trauma. Some are paid to test water slides at resorts and hotels, to make sure they are safe and fun. Specialists ghost write online dating profiles for people short on writing skills, but long on virtual romancing. And there are even professional bridesmaids, for the brides with few close friends but big wedding plans. 

All a bit strange, but real occupations held by real people.

Teaching isn’t as unfamiliar as those jobs, but it is unique from other professions in at least four ways.

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Grassley rewrites history on marriage equality stance

The U.S. Senate is on track to pass legislation protecting same-sex marriage rights, after twelve Republicans (including Senator Joni Ernst) joined all Democrats in voting to proceed with debating the bill on November 16.

Senator Chuck Grassley was among the 37 Republicans who voted to block the bill. In a written statement, he claimed the legislation would “put people with certain sincere religious beliefs at greater legal risk,” even though a bipartisan amendment addressed concerns of religious organizations well enough to satisfy the Mormon Church.

Grassley also portrayed himself as supporting marriage equality: “Of course I believe that all married couples should be able to continue to benefit from the same federal rights and privileges that Barbara and I have enjoyed for 68 years – regardless of their race or sexual orientation.”

That’s not what he said when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, or when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act.

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Backing carbon pipelines cost Senate President Jake Chapman his seat

John Aspray is Food & Water Action Senior Iowa Organizer.

State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott’s victory over Senate President Jake Chapman was a bright spot on a dark day for Iowa Democrats. While Republicans clinched a further majority in the state House and Senate, Trone Garriott pulled off a rare thing for a Democratic candidate — an upset over a sitting Republican in leadership. She previously won a GOP-held open seat in 2020.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Autumn in southeast O'Brien County

Bruce Morrison is a working artist and photographer living with his wife Georgeann in rural southeast O’Brien County, Iowa. Bruce works from his studio/gallery – a renovated late 1920s brooding house/sheep barn. You can follow Morrison on his artist blog, Prairie Hill Farm Studio, or visit his website at Morrison’s studio.

I’ve heard many folks express that autumn is their favorite season. It has always been mine. 

Even as a youngster, when any sane kid would tag summer as a fav (for obvious reasons), I’d still long for autumn. The fall season had a siren song about it; maybe it was too short, leaving you wanting…longing for more; frost in the air, colors everywhere, and harvest time. But more than likely, it was all those things plus what young kids long to spend time for outdoors in autumn. 

"Yellow Ave, Up the Road from Donnie's Place" - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison"Yellow Ave, Up the Road from Donnie's Place" - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

“Yellow Ave, Up the Road from Donnie’s Place” – photograph – © Bruce A. Morrison

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She presented herself as a scholar

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

September 10, 1867: the beginning of the end of segregated schools in Iowa; the day 12-year-old Susie Clark tried to enroll at Muscatine’s Grammar School No. 2.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago “on the 10th day of September, 1867, said school being in session, she presented herself, and demanded to be received therein as a scholar under the common school law.” (Iowa Supreme Court, ruling in Clark v. Board of Directors, April 14, 1868.)

Instead of a welcome at her neighborhood school three blocks up West Hill from her home at W. 3rd and Chestnut, someone in charge turned Susie away on orders of the school board.

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Goveror promotes Taryn Frideres to chief of staff

Governor Kim Reynolds has picked Taryn Frideres to be her next chief of staff, the governor’s office announced on November 15. Frideres has been the governor’s chief operating officer since early 2021.

Sara Craig Gongol, whom Reynolds tapped to be chief of staff in December 2018, is leaving the office to serve as the Republican Governors Association’s next executive director, Politico was first to report today.

According to the governor’s office news release, Frideres served as U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s general counsel before holding several positions within the State Department, culminating as deputy to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration. In that role, Frideres headed the ambassador’s Washington office and served “as a liaison to the White House, State Department, and Congress.”

Frideres will be the fourth woman chief of staff for an Iowa governor. Gretchen Tegeler was the first woman to hold that job during the first Terry Branstad administration, followed by Cynthia Eisenhauer, who was chief of staff for the last two years Tom Vilsack was governor, and Craig Gongol.

Salary records that Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests indicate that Craig Gongol and Frideres have been among several governor’s office staffers who are paid more than Reynolds herself. (State law caps the governor’s salary at $130,000 per year.) As chief operating officer, Frideres earned $163,176 in base pay during fiscal year 2022, and Craig Gongol earned $168,792 during the same period. Both received small raises at the beginning of the current fiscal year in July.

UPDATE: The governor’s office announced on November 21 that Jacob Nicholson will be the governor’s new chief operating officer, effective December 1. From the news release:

Jacob has worked for the State of Iowa’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management since 2008.

“I am excited for Jacob to join our team. I’ve worked closely with him over the last several years while he’s led the charge on many of our state’s major crisis incidents. He’s proven himself as a strong leader during our state’s most challenging times, and I know his depth of knowledge and experience will make him a great asset to the people of Iowa as my Chief Operating Officer.”

“I am honored to serve as the Governor’s Chief Operating Officer and put to work my skills and experience to greatly benefit Iowans,” said Nicholson. “Throughout my time at HSEMD, I have worked very closely with all state agencies and will continue to foster those relationships to ensure we are providing Iowans the best level of service they deserve.”

Prior to joining the Governor’s Office, Jacob served as the Response Division Administrator and Chief of Operations in the State Emergency Operations Center and has responded to over 25 presidentially declared disasters. Jacob led and coordinated the State of Iowa’s response to some of the largest and most complex disasters in Iowa’s history, including the COVID-19 Pandemic, the August 2020 Derecho, and widespread record flooding across the state in 2019.

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Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted

David McCartney is retired University of Iowa Archivist, a position he held from 2001 until 2022. He delivered these remarks on November 11, 2022 at the Veterans for Peace event on Iowa City’s Ped Mall.

Thank you all for joining us this morning as we observe Armistice Day.

The original intent of this day, and our observance of it at this hour, is to commemorate the agreement that ended the First World War, an agreement signed in France between Germany and the Allied forces.

It was a prelude to peace negotiations, beginning on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. Armistice is Latin for “to stand or still arms.”

By an act of Congress in 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day. Some, including the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Rory Fanning of Veterans for Peace, have urged the U.S. to resume observation of November 11th as Armistice Day, a day to reflect on how we can achieve peace as it was originally observed.

It is in that spirit that we honor the original intent of Armistice Day this morning by honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted war, those who have advocated for peace.

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Affirmative action benefits all students and communities

Matt Sinovic is the Executive Director of Progress Iowa, a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization.

Iowans know everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status. We know education is one of the greatest methods to achieve success, and we believe talented students from all backgrounds deserve a fair shot to overcome obstacles to educational opportunity.

We also know that the greatest opportunity to learn comes in diverse settings, where we can discuss with and learn from people of different races, religions, and ethnicities. Learning from people with different backgrounds benefits our nation, our communities, our workforce and our students. 

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