Trump's own words provide a wake-up call

Jim Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice.

Have you ever thanked God that you never lived Nazi Germany? Well don’t get off your knees just yet; you might still find out what that was like.

Donald J. Trump is straight out of fascism’s central casting. Think Adolf Hitler (who Trump seeks to emulate and whose rhetoric he echoes), Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (whose legacy and tactics he endorses), Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (whom he supports, and who is the darling of the reactionary GOP and Fox News), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (with whom Trump is bonded).

If elected, Trump intends to be America’s first dictator in the mold of the foregoing authoritarians or “strongmen,” as Ruth Ben-Ghiat described in her book Strongmen, Mussolini to the Present.

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Error prompts governor's "extraordinary" intervention on appointing judge

For the second time in three years, Governor Kim Reynolds refused to act on a slate of nominees approved by one of Iowa’s regional judicial nominating commissions.

In early November, Reynolds took the “extraordinary step” of returning one candidate to the District 2B Judicial Nominating Commission. She eventually appointed Ashley Sparks to fill the District Court vacancy, but only after the commission held an additional meeting (at the governor’s request) to nominate a second eligible candidate for the judgeship.

The sequence of events raises questions about the governor’s legal authority to intervene when a judicial nominating commission has not adequately discharged its duties.

The situation also raises broader questions about the District 2B Judicial Nominating Commission. In November 2021, Reynolds refused to fill a vacancy in the same district after determining a judge’s “unprofessional” conduct had tainted the selection process. Since then, the District 2B commission—unlike all of its counterparts around the state—has not followed statutory and constitutional provisions that call for the senior judge of a district to chair such bodies.

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Are Republicans really gaining among Black voters?

Dan Guild is a lawyer and project manager who lives in New Hampshire. In addition to writing for Bleeding Heartland, he has written for CNN and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, most recently here. He also contributed to the Washington Post’s 2020 primary simulations. Follow him on Twitter @dcg1114.

Those who follow polling closely have noticed a surprising shift in recent findings. Curtis Dunn of NBC News recently wrote, “Waning enthusiasm from Black voters presents an inflection point for Biden’s campaign.” Politico’s Steven Shepard also covered “warning signs” for Democrats about Black voters. The political consulting firm Catalyst, which I respect, suggested that Democratic support among African Americans fell in the 2022 midterms.

This table compares exit poll data (I used the Pew validated voter exit poll for 2016 to 2022) with an average of high-quality polling in the last 45 days of the campaign. The results are shocking. Recent polling averages indicate a 35-point shift in margin among African Americans. If that is happening, it is an enormous development in American politics. The African-American vote is vital to Democratic success in key battleground states such as Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

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Who speaks for nature? Can justice and citizenship guide us?

Photo of Neil Hamilton speaking at the Iowa Nature Summit on November 17 provided by the author and published with permission.

Neil Hamilton is the former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor emeritus at Drake University law school. He delivered these remarks at the Iowa Nature Summit at Drake University on November 17, 2023.

My hope in planning the Summit was our collective work can help change the trajectory and effectiveness of how we advocate for nature in Iowa. I hope you agree we are off to a good start.

Elevating nature in our discussions

One challenge we face is elevating the discussion of nature to the place it deserves in the public discourse. It is too easy for those threatened by our issues to characterize us as just a bunch of nature lovers—people who like to play outdoors while others are trying to make a living. This is a dangerous mind set because if political issues involving nature are reduced to being between Iowa’s pigs and you playing in the river—history shows pigs may win every time.

Our respect for nature is about much more than just enjoyment—as vital as that is. Our respect for nature focuses on the essential role—the foundational role—nature plays in supporting life. Without nature there is no human survival, it is that simple. That is why water quality, soil health, and climate are essential to our future—it is why we need to elevate the importance of nature in our advocacy.

If we want the view of Iowa nature in five years to be better and not just a continuum of little progress and slow decline, what must change? How do we get out of the rut—or ephemeral gully—we find ourselves in today?

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Miller-Meeks has faced tougher GOP opponents than David Pautsch

U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks officially has competition in the 2024 Republican primary to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district. David Pautsch, best known as the founder of the Quad Cities Prayer Breakfast, filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission this month and held a news conference on November 16 to lay out his vision.

Based on what we’ve heard so far, Pautsch won’t give Miller-Meeks anything to worry about. She defeated several well-funded opponents as a non-incumbent candidate for Congress, and will take more advantages into next year’s race as an incumbent.

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Trump and Iowa Republicans imperil democracy

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

If you’re looking for something to quench your thirst for a measure of hope in our democracy, don’t turn to Iowa caucus news for a figurative drink. That well is polluted—to put it mildly—perhaps poisoned, to take a more worrisome view. Given the nature of the campaigns, it looks like the January 15 Iowa Republican caucuses will only make things worse. We may have to hope for redemption of democracy in the November 2024 election.

What’s at stake: the earth’s mightiest nation may have a major-party presidential nominee facing 91 federal or state criminal charges across five indictments. For Donald Trump’s supporters, that rap sheet is not only not disqualifying—it generates more sympathy for the candidate and boos for media coverage of his baggage.

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When Iowa refused to join "Franksgiving" celebrations

I’m grateful for so much this Thanksgiving, including an independent platform and a community of readers who appreciate in-depth coverage of Iowa politics.

In past years, I have marked this holiday by sharing links about its origins and the associated myths, or ideas for making soup and other dishes from Thanksgiving leftovers.

Today, with permission from Matthew Isbell, I want to share a vignette about Iowa’s Thanksgiving celebrations during a previous era, when (like today) this state was solidly Republican during a Democratic presidency.

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What Kim Taylor's voter fraud case tells us about Donald Trump's big lie

Federal courthouse Northern District of Iowa, photo by Tony Webster, creative commons license and available at Wikimedia Commons

Kim Taylor could face years in prison after a federal jury convicted her on November 21 of 52 counts of voter fraud, voter registration fraud, or giving false information in registering or voting. Over the course of a six-day trial, prosecutors presented evidence Taylor forged signatures on voter registration forms, absentee ballot request forms, and absentee ballots in order to secure votes for her husband in the 2020 election. Prosecutors identified Jeremy Taylor, a Republican who previously served in the Iowa House and is now a Woodbury County supervisor, as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.

The jury found Kim Taylor helped cast dozens of fraudulent ballots—a large number, but small in comparison to the 45,700 ballots cast in Woodbury County in 2020, not to mention the 1.7 million ballots cast across Iowa.

Which raises an obvious question for all Republicans who have expressly or tacitly endorsed Donald Trump’s sweeping claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” or stolen from him.

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Kindness is a medicine that helps us all

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at

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.

The need for that antidote now is as great as it ever was. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of uplifting news if we look for them.

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A close look at Iowa's very political—not medical—proposed abortion rules

Iowa’s near-total abortion ban remains blocked by court order. But new details emerged last week about how some provisions might be enforced if the Iowa Supreme Court finds the law constitutional (as the state has requested), or lifts the temporary injunction on the ban while litigation proceeds.

One thing is clear: despite repeated references to “standard medical practice” in the document the Iowa Board of Medicine considered on November 17, the proposed abortion rules bear little resemblance to how physicians actually care for patients seeking an abortion.

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Celebratory high-fives are premature for Summit Carbon Solutions

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

Landowners targeted for eminent domain by Summit Carbon Solutions won several victories in recent weeks, but the fight is far from over. Though wounded, Summit continues to threaten the private property rights of thousands across Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  

Three companies have proposed CO2 pipelines in Iowa: Summit, Navigator, and Wolf. Navigator cancelled its project last month after regulators in South Dakota and Illinois denied permits following fierce opposition from impacted landowners and concerned citizens. The Illinois Commerce Commission recommended the Wolf permit be denied, and the company has not yet obtained a permit in Iowa.

Summit also suffered significant blows from regulatory agencies in multiple states. North Dakota’s Public Service Commission (that state’s utilities regulator) denied the company’s initial permit application, and Oliver County denied its injection well permit. However, the Public Service Commission granted reconsideration, and Summit plans to reapply with a revised route farther north of Bismarck.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission denied Summit’s permit and upheld county ordinances requiring greater setbacks than the company proposed. Summit plans to reapply and has moved senior staff into five key counties to live in cities such as Aberdeen and Sioux Falls so they can work with local residents to find acceptable alternate routes. 

Because of the permit denials in the Dakotas, Summit’s grandiose plan is a pipeline to nowhere. Facing pushback from the public and rejection by state regulatory agencies, Bruce Rastetter (the CEO of Summit Carbon’s parent company, Summit Agricultural Group), recently announced that Summit’s planned CO2 pipeline project has been delayed by two years. Initially planned to be operational in 2024, the pipeline is now proposed to begin working in 2026, if approved.

Two weeks ago, the Iowa Utilities Board concluded its eight-week evidentiary hearing on Summit’s permit application. Summit executives and expert witnesses presented their case, followed by intense cross-examination from landowners’ attorneys and other parties. The board denied a motion by landowner attorney, Brian Jorde, to dismiss the case because Summit failed to meet the burden of proof.

The evidentiary hearing involved gripping testimony from hundreds of Iowans with land targeted for condemnation by eminent domain. Landowners talked about permanent land damage, decreased crop yields, disruption to farming operations, abandonment of planned building projects, and defilement of Century Farms. Many were distressed by narrow setbacks that put the hazardous pipeline dangerously close to homes and wells. 

Sons and daughters of elderly landowners told heartbreaking stories of the mental distress their parents suffered from being badgered by Summit’s agents. Veterans were grief-stricken and moved to tears because the country they fought for is not protecting them from the unconstitutional taking of their land. A witness who fled communist China when the government confiscated her family’s property sees the same thing happening to her farm in America. Videos of landowner testimonies can be viewed on Bold Nebraska’s YouTube channel

The board denied a motion to allow time for citizen comments. Neighboring landowners and tenants impacted by the pipeline, as well as concerned citizens, were not allowed to speak. The board did allow written comments and objections from those parties to become part of the official record.

Even though the hearing is finished, the Iowa Utilities Board must study thousands of pages of records, transcripts, legal briefs, and other documentation before issuing a decision. There is no deadline for the board to issue an order, and the process could take months. The board could deny the permit or approve it with conditions. Even if the permit is approved, it will be appealed and could be tied up in court for years.

Meanwhile, many other roadblocks stand in Summit’s path. Its affiliated LLCs must obtain water permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for hundreds of millions of gallons of water that would be needed for carbon capture facilities. (Many of those permits could be challenged.) Summit Carbon must also obtain permits for wastewater disposal, air quality, road crossings, conditional use, and river crossings. Several counties are working on set-back ordinances, and state legislators are planning to press for eminent domain reform. 

To sum up: while the Iowa Utilities Board’s hearing on Summit’s permit has ended, the fight is far from over. From the statehouse to county courthouses across Iowa, impacted landowners and concerned citizens will continue to rally against Summit’s unconstitutional land grab and its dangerous CO2 pipeline. Celebratory high-fives are premature for Summit Carbon Solutions.

Jan Norris contributed research to this essay. Top photo by Emma Schmit, published with permission: landowners rally in Fort Dodge on November 8, the second-to-last day of the Iowa Utilities Board’s evidentiary hearing on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline.

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Is our governor dismantling Iowa?

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

Marilynne Robinson has been called “America’s greatest living writer.” When she calls out Iowa’s governor over our state’s new education policies, we need to pay heed.

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus in the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop (1991-2016). She continues to live in Iowa City where she writes, plans her lectures, and attends to worship at the Congregational United Church of Christ

She is the author of the Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead (2004) and four other novels, all my favorites, plus hundreds of essays, lectures, and collections. Her four novels in the Gilead series were selected as a set for Oprah’s Book Club in 2021.

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Uneasy times as a librarian shuts out other ideas

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at

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.

The Marshalltown Public Library provided an example of poor optics.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bidens

Lora Conrad lives on a small farm in Van Buren County.

Bidens. Whether you call them Bur Marigold or Beggarticks or one of a dozen different common names, they are all Bidens varieties. One year an explosion of many bright yellow flowers but another year, nary a one. That is a characteristic that Bidens cernua and Bidens aristosa have in common…along with making awns with multiple points all the better to grab anything hairy or clothed that walks by.

These are the two Bidens I see the most in Van Buren County. B. aristosa and B. cernua both have lovely bright yellow rays. However, they look different enough to tell them apart on the basis of the flowers alone, as shown in this side by side comparison. (Each is discussed separately below.)

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Will growing support for unions bring transformative change?

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register and the Substack newsletter Showing Up, 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.

In the spring of 1972, Dad brought a college scholarship application home from work, funds made available through his Hormel union, then the “Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen of North America,” now the less muscular sounding “United Food & Commercial Workers.” Applicants were required to take a proctored test about the history of the U.S. labor movement. Highest scores would be rewarded at several levels: $1,000 for first, maybe two at $500, probably several at $250.

Instructions included reading a particular book, something like “Mileposts in Labor History.” So, I’ll read the book, take the test, and win the money, ha. As I recall, I had a few days to make this happen, and eagerly swung by the high school library. Not surprisingly, the book was not part of the collection, nor was it in the town library. I did find several relevant volumes, however, one with more photos than narrative (Eugene V. Debs displaying anguish), a Samuel Gompers biography, and a history book with a Haymarket Square chapter.  

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Court finds Iowa's garbage search law unconstitutional

A Polk County District Court has ruled that the Iowa legislature “overstepped” when it enacted a law allowing police to search garbage outside a home without a warrant.

In a November 13 order granting a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained through trash grabs, Chief Judge Michael Huppert found the 2022 law “void as inconsistent with the language of article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution as interpreted by the Iowa Supreme Court.”

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Why Iowans can't force a statewide vote on abortion rights

Ohio residents voted to add reproductive rights protections to the state constitution on November 7, passing the measure known as Issue 1 by 56.3 percent to 43.7 percent. When that language goes into effect, it will prevent enforcement of a law Ohio’s Republican trifecta enacted in 2019, which would prohibit almost all abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected.

Iowa Republican lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed a similar near-total abortion ban in July. A Polk County District Court blocked enforcement of that law, and the state has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to dissolve that injunction and uphold the law as constitutional.

Voters in Michigan, California, and Vermont approved reproductive rights constitutional amendments in 2022, and activists hope to place similar measures on the November 2024 ballot in other states, such as Arizona, Florida, Nebraska, and Missouri.

Some Bleeding Heartland readers have asked why Democrats aren’t trying to do the same in Iowa, where polls indicate a strong majority of adults believe abortion should be mostly or always legal, and the state’s partisan lean is roughly the same as Ohio’s.

The answer is simple: there is no mechanism for Iowa voters to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

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Court dismisses challenge to Summit-linked Iowa water use permit

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past twelve years.

A Polk County District Court has dismissed a legal challenge to a water permit linked to Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But the attorney for the petitioners indicated this won’t be the last attempt to derail the permits Summit-linked LLCs will need for carbon capture facilities.

As Bleeding Heartland previously reported, the suit filed by Kimberly Junker, Candice Brandau Larson, and Kathy Carter sought to review the decision by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue “a water withdrawal permit pursuant to Iowa Code § 455B.265.”

“Upon review of the Motion and the court file, the court finds and concludes that the Motion is supported by good cause and should be granted for the reasons stated in the Motion,” District Court Judge Jeanie Vaudt wrote in her brief November 7 order.

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U.S. government should help families decorate veterans' graves overseas

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at

Veterans Day is around the corner. For John and Bob, the day will be for remembering the men and women who serve in the United States military—and two service members, in particular. 

For John, it will be his son, Robert, a Marine lieutenant who will forever be 29 years old. For Bob, it will be his father, Karl, forever the face on treasured family photographs of a handsome 26-year-old Army captain.

John and Bob are patriots through and through. They are not big-government fanatics. They have something else in common, too. They both believe the American people should never forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by members of the U.S. military, and that is a reason they are disappointed with a decision made by the government they love.

They believe the federal government has made a terrible, insensitive mistake by walking away from a pledge to the families of our war dead after World War II—to make it convenient for Gold Star families to remember their 234,000 loved ones who are interred or commemorated in 26 military cemeteries and memorials in more than a dozen foreign countries. 

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Political chaos prevents problem solving

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s 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. 

In college, I worked as a security guard at a window factory. My job was to make rounds ensuring there were no intruders or fires. Usually there were two guards working in two connected factories. 

The factory was dark; guards were alone.

Most nights I read and dozed. The guards hired were either college students or people who couldn’t find another job, since $2.20 an hour was a lousy wage, even in 1978. 

One of the guards was a failed undertaker who tried to entertain us with mortuary horror stories. He also frequently left his building to jump out and scare the other guard on duty. Most nights, it was a joke.   

But one night, things changed.

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