Iowa governor, local officials at odds over shelter-in-place order

Governors of seventeen states have issued shelter-in-place orders to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). But Governor Kim Reynolds again maintained on March 24 that data do not support that action in Iowa. She and top Iowa Department of Public Health officials are betting that closures already in place, along with official efforts to encourage social distancing, will be sufficient to keep serious COVID-19 infections from overwhelming our health care system.

A growing number of local leaders disagree.

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What took them so long?

Better late than never. Governor Kim Reynolds recommended on March 15 that Iowa schools close for four weeks to slow the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The same day, Republican legislative leaders announced the House and Senate will suspend operations for at least 30 days after meeting on March 16 “to consider resolutions regarding continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans.” Clerks and secretaries have been told they will be paid through April 21, but “March 16 will be your last day of employment.”

While several state legislatures around the country hit the pause button last week, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver waited for recommendations from the governor or the Iowa Department of Public Health.

As recently as the late afternoon on March 13, Reynolds was assuring the public, “At this time, Iowa is not experiencing community spread of the virus.” Such a definitive statement was not warranted, given how few people had been tested for COVID-19.

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Des Moines City Council members flouted gender balance requirement

Two Des Moines City Council members seeking re-election on November 5 used their appointment powers to perpetuate a gender imbalance on a key board in the state’s largest city, despite a state law requiring certain local boards to have no more than a simple majority of male or female members.

Joe Gatto, who represents Ward 4, and Linda Westergaard (Ward 2) both named men to fill vacancies on the Des Moines Plan and Zoning Commission when state law indicated a woman should have been appointed. Gatto has done so twice. The second time, his choice worsened the commission’s imbalance and happened well before the end of a statutory period during which officials are supposed to make a “good faith effort” to find someone from the underrepresented gender.

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Jack Hatch running for Des Moines mayor

Former State Senator Jack Hatch will run for Des Moines mayor, he announced on WHO-TV on September 19, the last day for local candidates in Iowa to file nominating papers. A few minutes later, his campaign released a statement and a video, both enclosed below, and launched a website at JackHatchforMayor.com.

Key issues for Hatch will include fixing roads and neighborhood infrastructure, addressing “the urgent mental health care crisis that has been ignored,” protecting drinking water, improving area schools, and public safety measures including steps to reduce gun violence. All of those topics were mentioned in a telephone poll Hatch commissioned earlier this month, which Bleeding Heartland summarized here.

Defeating sixteen-year incumbent Mayor Frank Cownie will not be easy, and Hatch will have only six and a half weeks to build his case with voters. However, unlike most challengers, he already has very high name recognition. Hatch represented parts of Des Moines in the Iowa House or Senate for more than 20 years, was the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, and is a well-known property developer.

Hatch told WHO-TV’s Dave Price he started thinking about running for mayor after Cownie “decided not to protect our drinking water when he had a chance to,” adding that Cownie “was silent” as Republican legislators tried to break up the Des Moines Water Works in 2017. Hatch acknowledged he was starting his campaign late, saying others had considered running against Cownie but backed off. He’s in the race because sees the future of Des Moines “being blurred” without strong leadership.

Turnout on November 5 may be higher than usual for a city election, because Des Moines has multiple competitive city council races, and this is the first year school board elections will be held concurrently with elections for municipal offices. Early voting begins on October 7.

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