No one needs a civility lecture from Jeff Shipley

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters at the Iowa state capitol on January 31, 2024.

“If you wish to enjoy civil rights, being able to act and behave civilly is a prerequisite,” State Representative Jeff Shipley tweeted on January 31, shortly after his latest effort to take civil rights protections away from transgender Iowans went down in flames.

Even for a practiced troll like Shipley, it was a remarkably ignorant and obnoxious statement.

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The word “groomer” has become a slur

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

Want to be called a “groomer”? Try reading a library book like Teach Her a Lesson, a new thriller by attorney Kate Flora. Flora “peels back the horror of a teacher being falsely accused by a student of initiating a long-standing sexual relationship.” So says reviewer Frank O Smith. It would seem a book only for teachers and parents, but it’s not. It could easily and appropriately find its way into a school library (excerpt). I hope it does.

Or try recommending The Passing Playbook on a public Facebook page. It’s a new young adult novel by Isaac Fitzsimmons (excerpt). Book reviewer Alaina Leary says Fitzsimmons explores privilege, identity, the complicated relationships we create through family and friends, and discovering the potential our voices have with charm and passion. 

“Teens everywhere will love this one,” says one review. Meaning Moms for Liberty would likely hate it. Says Leary, “It’s about fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris, a proud nerd, an awesome big brother, and a David Beckham (British soccer champion) in training. He’s also transgender.”

Hands down, the term “groomer” has become a slur, as foul as the “N” word or “f*g.” Its frequent use, as an insult, is often meant to imply teachers are potential sex offenders. Ironically, House File 2056 would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work unsupervised in child care centers while caring for children under age 5.

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February 11: Local writers address Iowa’s path to sustainability

Linda Schreiber is a member of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.

Water pollution, flooding and drought, soil erosion, and extreme weather events are grabbing increasing attention across Iowa. What’s going on – and what can we do about it?

These and other Iowa environmental problems – and their solutions – will be the focus of Project GREEN and the Iowa City Public Library’s Second Sunday Garden Forum 2024, on Sunday, February 11, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. The forum, which is free and open to the public, will also stream live on Iowa City Public Library’s YouTube channel.

The forum’s discussions will be based on the book Tending Iowa’s Land: Pathways to a Sustainable Future (University of Iowa Press, 2022), which includes chapters by 28 Iowa premier scientists and environmental activists. Book editor Connie Mutel will lead a panel with five authors who contributed chapters on soil, water, climate and biodiversity problems. Ample time will be allowed for audience participation and questions.

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Governor's latest attack on trans Iowans can't be constitutional

Photo by Laura Belin from a rally outside the Iowa capitol on March 5, 2023

UPDATE: On February 6, Republicans advanced this bill from an Iowa House subcommittee. A few hours later, the full House Education Committee amended the bill to remove the driver’s license section, then approved it along party lines. Democrats requested a public hearing, which took place on February 12 (video). Following committee passage, the bill was renumbered as House File 2389. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t give LGBTQ Iowans even one full day to celebrate the downfall of a bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa’s civil rights law.

The latest legislative proposal from the governor’s office would lay the foundation for “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans and what one advocate called an “astonishing government violation of privacy rights.”

Although House Study Bill 649 contains some language designed to bolster the state’s potential defense in court, there’s no way the governor’s newest effort to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people could be constitutional.

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State agency released misleading school voucher numbers

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

On January 26, a month later than planned, the Iowa Department of Education released a summary of the annual certified enrollment numbers for Iowa’s public and private K-12 schools. The agency’s news release also provided our first look at the impact “education savings accounts” (also known as school vouchers) have had on public school enrollment across Iowa.

Public school enrollment for the current academic year was 483,699, a decrease of 2,776.8 students (0.57 percent) from the previous year. Conversely, private schools had a total enrollment of 36,195 students, an increase of 2,503 students (7.4 percent) over the previous year.

When you dig into the voucher numbers, however, things begin to get interesting. According to the Department of Education, 16,757 students used vouchers this year to attend a private school.

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The controversial 1824 presidential election

Left: John Quincy Adams, depicted by painter Thomas Sully. Right: Andrew Jackson, also painted by Thomas Sully.

Rick Morain is the former publisher and owner of the Jefferson Herald, for which he writes a regular column.

The 2024 presidential election will in all probability be decided in the usual fashion, with a candidate receiving a majority of the electoral votes declared the winner. That’s the way it’s been done in almost all 109 presidential elections since the nation’s founding.

But not all of them. Exactly 200 years ago, the 1824 presidential election tested the Constitution as never before or since. In some ways the 1824 event seems old-fashioned, while in other respects it was a precursor of our modern contests, including recent claims of a stolen election.

To set the 1824 stage:

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We need Melissa Vine in Congress

Dr. Frantz Whitfield, a native of Des Moines, began his lay ministry experience at Corinthian Baptist Church, which began his journey towards a plethora of preaching opportunities across the capital city, both while residing in Des Moines and even after becoming an ordained pastor serving in Waterloo.

As a preacher, I know considering others is a fundamental aspect of community. Melissa Vine embodies this principle, caring about your dreams and the opportunities available to you.

Undoubtedly, achieving greatness is a challenging endeavor, but commanding greatness is an even more formidable task. The political climate in Iowa has been disheartening, necessitating a candidate capable of tackling difficult issues to guide our great state toward a brighter future. It is with great pride that I endorse my friend, Melissa Vine, to represent the third Congressional district.

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Plan for Iowa AEAs relied on consultant's faulty analysis

Members of the public at a January 31 Iowa House subcommittee considering House Study Bill 542, the governor’s bill on Area Education Agencies. (photo by Laura Belin)

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a follow-up letter he emailed to all 150 Iowa state legislators on January 30. His first message to lawmakers regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies is available here.

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education between 2012 and 2020. When I wrote my first comments to you regarding the AEA bill(s), I had only seen the bills themselves and was somewhat confused regarding the rationales for some of the bill components. The underlying report upon which this bill’s proposals are based was released recently through a Freedom of Information Act Request and posted here. This report was written by Guidehouse Inc., a respected national and international company. The report is quite well done in many regards. After reading this report, I am able to provide more specific analysis and more detailed recommendations on improving special education results in Iowa.

There appear to be three thematic issues (and a host of smaller inaccuracies) with the report that cause the report’s recommendations to be problematic. Fortunately, all 3 major issues can be fixed. The issues are: 1. The analysis is incomplete 2. The analysis/recommendations rely on unproven assumptions and 3. The analysis does not recognize the benefits inherent in the uniqueness of Iowa’s Education System structures. I will expand on each of these.

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The Greenway connection

This column by Daniel G. Clark first appeared in the Muscatine Journal on August 23, 2023. Above: Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune, September 23, 1919.

Recently I told John Jelly’s 40-years-later account of a “colored man” bringing food for a “freedom seeker” hidden on a farm in northern Muscatine County in 1855. From not much evidence, I concluded that man must have been William H. Greenway (1840-1930).

Then I discovered Jelly had exposed young Greenway a decade prior to his 1896 letter to historian Wilbur Siebert. That version of the little-known story identifies Jelly as Atalissa correspondent.

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Oh say can you see: Things can get worse

“By Dawn’s Early Light,” Photomechanical print by Edward Percy Moran, public domain from the Library of Congress, available via Wikimedia Commons

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.

To nourish patriotism, some Iowa legislators want to force public school students to sing a song with lyrics gloating about “the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave” that doomed slaves who, in exchange for freedom, fled to the British side in the War of 1812.

That is one take on House Study Bill 587, a proposal to mandate daily classroom singing of a verse or all four verses from our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Gender identity bill belongs in dustbin of failed, dehumanizing ideas

Photo by Nuva Frames, available via Shutterstock

Nick Covington is an Iowa parent who taught high school social studies for ten years. He is also the co-founder of the Human Restoration Project, an Iowa educational non-profit promoting systems-based thinking and grassroots organizing in education. Editor’s note: An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill.

House File 2082 sought to make Iowa the first state in the country to remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act and reconstruct it as a “disability.” That framing spreads harmful misinformation under the medical model of disability and undermines our shared goal of creating a safe and inclusive future for Iowa’s families and young people. 

We should understand that HF 2082 is both cruel and unnecessary, as transgender identity is not a disability and disability is also a protected class under Iowa Civil Rights law. 

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Iowa state auditor asks feds to block fertilizer plant sale

State Auditor Rob Sand has asked federal regulators to block Koch Industries’ planned acquisition of OCI Global’s Nitrogen Iowa fertilizer plant in Lee County.

In a January 30 letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who leads the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, Sand noted tax incentives totaling some $550 million had supported building the plant, which “was pitched to taxpayers as a project that would encourage future competition and growth for the region.”

Scott Syroka highlighted the problematic sale in a Bleeding Heartland post last month. That article detailed how then Governor Terry Branstad’s administration orchestrated a package including $300 million in federal tax giveaways related to a flood relief program, $133 million in local tax abatements from Lee County over twenty years, and $112 million in state tax credits or forgivable loans.

The auditor’s letter argued that a sale to Koch Industries would likely increase fertilizer costs for farmers. It would also negate the original intent of the deal; the idea that Koch wouldn’t own the new plant justified “the massive commitment of tax dollars in the first place.” Sand said he agreed with comments Branstad made to reporters in 2013, asserting that the Koch brothers “don’t want the competition,” whereas Iowans “want competition.”

Sand is the first Iowa statewide official to contact federal officials about the sale, which OCI Global announced in December.

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Are trans Iowans losing their civil rights? Will I be next?

Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, a past president of the Sioux City Education Association, and former Sioux City school board member.

An Iowa House subcommittee will consider House File 2082 on January 31. Republican State Representative Jeff Shipley introduced this bill, which would remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

I wanted to start with some anecdotal story about a time when I had rights and lost them, but I could not come up with anything. Then I realized, of course I haven’t experienced this. Rights are not usually given and then taken away randomly. One might lose a driver’s license after drunk driving or speeding, but not because the government arbitrarily decided one should no longer be eligible to drive. That’s part of the problem with HF 2082.

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Iowa lawmakers advance misguided proposals, ignore big problems


Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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 meeting only every other year. Biennial sessions had been a fact of civic life in Iowa since statehood 122 years earlier. 

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Trans Iowans face broadest civil rights threat in years

UPDATE: After this post was published, the Iowa Business Council, Technology Association of Iowa, and Greater Des Moines Partnership registered against the bill.

SECOND UPDATE: Subcommittee members voted 3-0 on January 31 not to advance this bill. Original post follows.

An Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee will soon consider the broadest threat to trans rights since lawmakers added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the first year of a Democratic trifecta. House File 2082 would remove gender identity as a protected class, while redefining “a diagnosis for gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder” as a disability under the civil rights act.

Eighteen organizations are already registered against the bill, which is scheduled for a subcommittee hearing on January 31.

But as the Republican-controlled legislature’s attacks on transgender Iowans continue to escalate, some groups that helped hold the line against past efforts to rewrite the civil rights code are on the sidelines, for now.

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A cautionary note for Iowa Democrats who attended a GOP caucus

From left: Carolyn Jenison, Angelo Thorne, and Tanya Keith attend a Republican precinct caucus in Des Moines on January 15 after changing their party registrations. Photo by Tanya Keith published with permission.

The Iowa Democratic Party will soon send “presidential preference cards” to registered Democrats who would like to vote by mail for Joe Biden, Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson, or “uncommitted.” Voters will have until February 19 to request the cards, and will need to return them by March 5 (or with a March 5 postmark).

One group of Iowa Democrats should not attempt to vote by mail, however: those who switched parties in order to attend a Republican precinct caucus on January 15.

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Iowa hospitals must stop unlawful drug testing after births

Rachel Bruns is a volunteer advocate for quality maternal health care in Iowa. This article originally appeared on the Des Moines Register’s website.

The Des Moines Register article “What Patients Should Know About Hospital Drug Testing” missed some key information that may help families disrupt the illegal maternal and newborn drug screening practices taking place at Iowa hospitals and clinics.

The U.S. Supreme Court made clear in 2001 (Ferguson v. Charleston) that prenatal drug testing without specific informed consent is unlawful. Nevertheless, some Iowa clinics and hospitals continue to conduct such tests, when urine is gathered for testing of urinary tract infections or to check urine glucose or protein levels. Such practices are not only unlawful, but also create mistrust of the medical system—putting the lives of moms and babies at risk. 

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Greenway's Underground Railroad

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal on August 2, 2023. Above: Underground Railroad map by State Historical Society of Iowa.

It’s okay to imagine Muscatine as a station on the Underground Railroad, but only two reliable accounts tell specific instances of aid to the freedom seekers.

I’ve told about the 1848 Jim White case that is an important piece of the story of our hometown hero Alexander Clark. The second documented case is from the small town of Atalissa, along U.S. Highway 6 in the northern part of the county. Evidently slave catchers found no welcome there.

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Crumbling foundations: Davenport's struggle with governance and integrity

Photo of Davenport City Hall is by Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Alexandra Dermody is a Davenport-based Gen Z community advocate, nonprofit director, and small business owner.

As a lifelong Davenport resident, Gen Z business owner, nonprofit director, activist, and queer woman with a deep vested interest in the future of my community, I am deeply concerned about the state of my city’s governance. Recent events, including the tragic collapse of The Davenport apartment building last May, the contentious city council dynamics, and questionable financial decisions, have cast a shadow over our city’s leadership and particularly Mayor Mike Matson’s administration.

The collapse of The Davenport, resulting in loss of lives and severe injuries, exposed glaring failures in our city’s inspection and oversight systems. It’s disheartening that the city’s investigation into this catastrophe failed to address its own role and responsibilities in preventing such a disaster. This lack of introspection and accountability is a glaring omission, reflecting a concerning lack of transparency in our city government.

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