Casual sexism in the Iowa House becomes easy clickbait for Radio Iowa

The Iowa House Government Oversight Committee wasted more time today arguing over efforts by some Republicans to investigate last year’s Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth. For background on the controversy surrounding the annual event organized by the non-profit Iowa Safe Schools, see reporting by Iowa statehouse correspondents William Petroski and James Q. Lynch, as well as Mark Joseph Stern’s article for Slate. Committee Chair Bobby Kaufmann could be directing his oversight energy toward the governor’s hasty privatization of the Medicaid program, which will affect health care for one in six Iowans. But no, Kaufmann asserts “it would be a dereliction of my duty if we did not have an investigation” of the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, attended by roughly a thousand people last year. (I am a longtime supporter of the conference but play no role in planning it.)

Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Nate Monson has declined invitations from Kaufmann’s committee to testify about the conference. Today Democratic State Representative Mary Wolfe, a defense attorney by trade, and Republican State Representative Dawn Pettengill, occasionally prone to paranoid fears, disagreed over whether Monson should be compelled to appear. I’ve enclosed below excerpts from their remarks at the latest committee meeting.

House Republican Clel Baudler interrupted the exchange to declare it a “catfight,” “eliciting laughter from some committee members, including Pettengill,” by Lynch’s account.

It’s disappointing but not surprising that an Iowa lawmaker would belittle two of his female colleagues by reducing their substantive disagreement to a “catfight.”

Equally disappointing and much more surprising: O.Kay Henderson validated Baudler’s assessment by elevating his description to the headline and lede of her story for Radio Iowa. Putting the word in quotation marks signified that the label came from someone other than the journalist. Nevertheless, a story called “Committee ‘catfight’ over panel’s subpoena power,” with the opening sentence “One committee member today used the word ‘catfight’ to describe this debate,” gave Baudler’s interjection more importance than it warranted. Henderson’s reports reach thousands of Iowans, not only online but also through more than 50 affiliate radio stations.

In contrast, Lynch played it straight with his title (“Iowa lawmakers clash on scope of oversight in LGBT case”) and lede (“Members of an Iowa House committee that reviews the performance of state agencies clashed Wednesday over the scope of its authority to compel testimony from members of the public”). He mentioned Baudler’s comment near the end of the story, where the colorful detail belonged.

I don’t expect Baudler to provide enlightened commentary on legislative happenings. I do expect one of Iowa’s most accomplished and respected female journalists not to seize on a sexist cheap shot as clickbait.

From James Q. Lynch’s report for the Quad-City Times and several other newspapers:

Defense attorney Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said she would advise a client “to refuse to appear in front of a panel that has no legal authority over him to answer questions.”

However, Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, cited a section of Code that “specifically gives us authority to call witnesses, administer oaths, issue subpoenas, cite for contempt.”

The idea that “any standing committee can subpoena anybody for any reason at any time based on curiosity or a personal issue was never the intent of the people who wrote the Code,” Wolfe said. “I find that really concerning and I would think that everyone in this room would and certainly everyone in your party.”

Kaufmann continued to justify the inquiry into the Iowa Governor’s Conference citing the use of tax dollars.

That prompted Pettengill to ask why the committee was investigating Midwest Academy, which did not receive tax funds.

The Midwest Academy was a private boarding school in Keokuk, recently closed amid allegations of abusive practices; see here, here, here, and here. In thirteen years of operation, the academy was never regulated or inspected by any Iowa agency. The House Government Oversight Committee recently agreed to investigate what happened at the school and how it flew “under the radar” for so long.

  • Radio Iowa

    I recently started getting R.I.’s daily email. I was hoping for NEWS. I’ve been sadly disappointed.

    • they do some good reporting

      on state political issues. I don’t subscribe to their e-mails, though. Do those highlight something else, like sports coverage?

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