A must-watch MLK, Jr. clip for Iowans

“Share this clip of my father,” tweeted Bernice King, the CEO of the King Center on January 17, the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must study him beyond the end of ‘I Have a Dream.’ (and that’s taken out of context, too)”

I don’t recall seeing this video before today. It’s from a speech in 1968, but I haven’t determined the location. Dr. King spoke about the massive government assistance for mostly-white farmers over more than a century, helping “the very people [now] telling the Black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

The civil rights leader delivered a similar message in other venues, for instance while visiting Ohio Northern University in January 1968, and during a March 1968 appearance at Grosse Point High School in Michigan.

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State appeals ruling on law targeting trans Iowans

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is appealing a Polk County District Court ruling that found the state law and policy designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery are unconstitutional. The state filed notice of its intent to appeal on December 17, near the end of its 30-day window to do so following the District Court’s decision in November.

The Iowa Attorney General’s office had no comment on the appeal. Governor Kim Reynolds’ office also had no comment on why the governor is determined to prevent transgender Iowans on Medicaid from receiving medically necessary care approved by their doctors.

Plaintiffs Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington have been waiting for years to obtain surgery and first challenged the state law in court within weeks of Reynolds signing the provision into law in May 2019.

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Court finds law targeting trans Iowans unconstitutional

For Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington, the news was life-changing. Polk County District Court Judge William Kelly ruled on November 19 that Iowa’s law designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

He ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to change a longstanding regulation “excluding coverage for sex reassignment surgery” and said the agency must apply the revised rule to allow “transgender individuals coverage under Iowa Medicaid for medically necessary gender affirming surgery for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria and other relevant diagnoses.”

Vasquez and Covington are transgender Iowans who qualify for Medicaid and have been unable to obtain the health care they need for years. They have been seeking legal redress since soon after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the discriminatory statute in May 2019.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with what the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director Rita Bettis Austen described as a “historic win for civil rights in Iowa.” Soon after the court ruling was published on November 22, Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters, “The governor’s office is disappointed in today’s decision and disagrees with the district court’s ruling on Medicaid coverage for transgender reassignment surgeries.”

Reynolds echoed the sentiment when speaking to reporters on November 23: “Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree […] My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”

She should stop fighting this battle.

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Give Ras a chance

Charlie Hodges is a Democratic activist in Polk County.

In early 2020, I had a memorable evening, but not for the reason I anticipated. I attended a house party for Joe Biden before the Iowa caucuses and looked forward to meeting members of Biden’s family and a former U.S. Ambassador, among others. However, as the evening played out, the biggest impression made was by an Iowa House member from Waterloo: Representative Ras Smith.

I left the party having met several very interesting people, but I was not thinking about the caucuses at all, frankly. I thought about how Ras Smith completely held the attention of that room filled with dignitaries when he talked. I thought about how inspirational and hopeful he was. I thought about how charismatic he was. I thought about what his next step in politics would be – because I knew the Iowa House was not his ceiling.

Now we know – he’s running to be our next governor

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Quick hits on issues of the day

Herb Strentz on Afghanistan, what it means to be free, and a counter-intuitive place to look for hope and optimism.

One way to cope with overwhelming issues and events of the day is to hide someplace, until the storms blow over.

But of course, they won’t blow over. And even if we think they will, it’s better to try to understand what is happening and what we might do about it.

To that end, here is some brief food for thought on issues of the day.

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State pays $70,000 to settle Black Lives Matter protesters' lawsuit

The state of Iowa has agreed to pay $70,000 and improve First Amendment training for state troopers in order to settle a lawsuit filed last year by five protesters who were banned from the Iowa Capitol Complex.

Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Brad Penna, Brandi Ramus, and Haley Jo Dikkers were among seventeen people whom state troopers had banned from the capitol grounds following a July 1, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest that led to numerous arrests. They filed suit last October against Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephen Bayens and several Iowa State Patrol officials, saying the bans violated their rights under the First, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

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