# Kim Reynolds



Its time for coming attractions to end

From left: Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, Florida Governor RonDeSantis, Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair, Governor Kim Reynolds. Photo first published on Reynolds’ political Facebook page on December 18, 2023.

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

My grandson and I go to a lot of Marvel movies. We sit in the front, bathed in superhero heroism. But before the feature, there’s always coming attractions. The first three or four trailers are loud and enticing. Usually we whisper, “That looks great. We should try to go.” By the eighth, we’ve found the bottom of our popcorn, our drinks are gurgling empty, and the coming attractions seem to look alike.

During what should have been the three coldest, snowiest months in Iowa, my wife and I escaped to Florida, the land of Iowa legislative “coming attractions.”

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What to know about the Iowa Supreme Court's next big abortion case

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Dana Oxley listens during oral arguments on April 11. Photo by Lily Smith/Des Moines Register (pool).

For the sixth time in the past decade, an abortion-related case is pending before the Iowa Supreme Court.

The only certainty is that the court will issue some majority opinion in the latest iteration of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v Reynolds. All seven justices participated in the April 11 oral arguments.

The law at issue, adopted during a special legislative session last July, is almost identical to the near-total abortion ban at the center of last year’s case. But after Justice Dana Oxley recused herself from the 2023 litigation, the other justices split 3-3, leaving a permanent injunction on the 2018 abortion ban in place.

In all likelihood, the Iowa Supreme Court will decide before the end of June whether to lift the temporary injunction on the new abortion ban. Normally, it’s not advisable to guess how any justice will rule following oral arguments. We can draw more inferences here, because all seven justices have written or joined opinions that are relevant to the current case.

This post is designed to help readers understand the legal context and key arguments for each side.

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Our grammarian governor plays politics with words

Governor Kim Reynolds speaks at the Iowa Tourism Conference on March 20. Photo first published on her official Facebook page.

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

“Unsustainable” is a fascinating word, especially when used in government and politics. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary folks, tell us unsustainable means something cannot be continued or supported. 

But in governmental affairs, that definition sometimes gets changed. Instead of something truly being incapable of continuing, the word often means the person using the term simply does not want that “something” to go forward.

Understanding this distinction can help us better parse the statements our politicians make. Here is a real-life example to illustrate this difference:

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On the Libertarian Party and running for political office today

Photo of Marco Battaglia provided by the author and published with permission.

Marco Battaglia was the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2022.

There is so much we could do better in terms of elections that it is difficult to know where to begin.

Currently the Iowa Secretary of State’s website will tell you that Iowa has three political parties. It does so because a ticket featuring myself and Rick Stewart received more than 2 percent of votes cast in the 2022 election for Iowa governor. In order to consistently be considered a recognized major political party in Iowa, a party must have its nominees exceed 2 percent in either the presidential or gubernatorial race (whichever is on the ballot in each cycle). 

Being recognized by the state as a political party does not mean candidates running as Libertarians will receive anything near fair representation in media coverage. Nor does it mean those candidates will be allowed to debate or attend forums with Iowa Democrats and Republicans, or that polling will include Libertarian Party candidates.

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Iowa House speaker not looking for AEA funding fix

House Speaker Pat Grassley speaks to reporters on April 11 (photo by Laura Belin)

Iowa House Republicans are unlikely to push for changing the new state law on services currently provided by Area Education Agencies (AEA), House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated in his latest public comments on the topic.

While some GOP lawmakers are concerned about a provision that could divert tens of millions of dollars from the AEA system, Grassley told reporters on April 11 that giving school districts more control over media and education services funding was consistent with the bill’s original purpose.

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They've done enough damage

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

It’s after midnight. You’ve yawned and stretched. You’ve heard the same story twice. There’s no move to leave. They’ve settled in. Your yawns become deeper, and more obvious. 

Still, they linger.

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Governor's summer meal grants amount to "crumbs for Iowa kids"

Free summer meal provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District in June 2023. Photo originally published on the school district’s Facebook page.

Governor Kim Reynolds asked state legislators this year to “join me in making literacy a top priority in every Iowa classroom.”

Judging by her approach to feeding hungry kids, the governor appears to lack basic numeracy skills.

On April 10, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Education announced “$900,000 in competitive grants to help more Iowa children and teens access nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months.” Those federal funds, which Reynolds is drawing from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, may help a few thousand more kids receive food while school is out.

But in December, Reynolds turned down $29 million in federal funding—more than 30 times the value of the new grants. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program would have provided food assistance worth $120 to each of an estimated 240,000 Iowa children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

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Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

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Ernst, Hinson keep quiet about Ukraine visit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi (D, NY-03) on April 5, while U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (background), U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D, IL-05), and U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson (R, IA-02) stand nearby. Photo originally posted on Zelenskyy’s X/Twitter account.

Traveling to a strategically important foreign country as part of a Congressional delegation is an honor—but you wouldn’t guess that from how Iowa’s current representatives in Washington avoid talking about the experience.

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst and U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on April 5 in Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv Oblast. Zelenskyy posted that he briefed the bipartisan delegation “on the situation on the battlefield, our army’s urgent needs, and the scale of the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.” He also “emphasized the vital need” for Congress to approve another military aid package to Ukraine.

Neither Ernst nor Hinson announced the visit in a news release or mentioned the trip on their social media. Since April 5, Hinson’s official Facebook page and X/Twitter feed have highlighted topics ranging from Hamas to Iowa women’s basketball, biofuels, a fallen World War II soldier, border security, “Bidenomics,” drought conditions, and solar eclipse safety. During the same period, Ernst used her social media to praise Iowa women’s basketball while bashing Hamas and President Joe Biden’s so-called electric vehicle “mandates,” “border crisis,” “socialist student loan schemes,” and federal policies on remote work.

Communications staff for Ernst and Hinson did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s emails seeking comment on the trip and their views on further military aid to Ukraine. Both have voted for previous aid packages.

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"Take time to read this bill": House Dem flagged AEA funding "oversight"

Barely a week after Governor Kim Reynolds signed an overhaul of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, House Republicans are looking for ways to change the law’s provisions on media and education services funding, State Representative Brent Siegrist confirmed on April 4.

Siegrist was among the House Republicans who worked closely on House File 2612, having previously served as executive director of the AEA system. He described the language giving school districts the ability to divert funding from media and education services as “just an oversight.”

He and his colleagues should have listened more carefully during the March 21 debate. Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman flagged this very problem, despite having little time to review the 49-page amendment Republicans rushed to pass.

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Iowa's latest hypocrisy in the name of religion

Governor Kim Reynolds signs Senate File 2095 at a FAMiLY Leader event on April 2. Photo posted on her political Facebook page and X/Twitter feed.

Henry Jay Karp is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa, which he served from 1985 to 2017. He is the co-founder and co-convener of One Human Family QCA, a social justice organization.

Welcome back, Iowa, to the Middle Ages, when the rule of the church was as absolute as the rule of the king! The so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which Governor Kim Reynolds signed on April 2 at a Christian organization’s private dinner, is a prime example of Iowa’s legislative hypocrisy, enacted in the name of religion.

Advocates portrayed Senate File 2095 as a defense of “religious freedom”—a freedom that already was guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article I, Section 3 of Iowa’s constitution. In reality, the legislation defends the freedom to discriminate and persecute in the name of religion.

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Christian Nation? Which one?

President Donald Trump listens to a prayer offered by the Rev. Franklin Graham on September 20, 2019. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Piller was a business reporter for more than four decades, working for the Des Moines Register and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He covered the oil and gas industry while in Texas and was the Register’s agriculture reporter before his retirement in 2013. He lives in Ankeny.

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and will deceive many.” Jesus Christ, Matthew 24. 

“Evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by people who, if Jesus appeared at their door, would give him the boot.” – Former President and former Baptist Jimmy Carter

Devout Christians who hoped they could get through the Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter free from politics were sorely disappointed.

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Why this school psychologist is leaving Iowa

Amy Endle began her career in Iowa and has been a school psychologist with an Area Education Agency since 2012. She emailed the message enclosed below to all members of the Iowa House and Senate on March 23.

Dear Iowa Legislators 

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to inform you of my family’s difficult decision to leave Iowa after 12 years of residency and return to our native Wisconsin. I have proudly served Iowa children, parents, and schools as a school psychologist since moving to Iowa in 2012. 

This decision was not made lightly and is driven by concerns directly impacting our livelihood and the educational future of our 3 children. The core reason for our departure stems from the increasing insecurity surrounding the sustainability of a gutted Area Education Agency (AEA) system. The knee-jerk decisions passed by legislators more interested in pleasing the governor than serving children in Iowa have not only affected the professional stability of highly trained education specialists, but have also cast a shadow over my family’s future in Iowa.

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Iowa House Democrats strangely quiet on eminent domain bill

Protester’s sign against a pillar in the state capitol on February 27 (photo by Laura Belin)

What’s the opposite of “loud and proud”?

Iowa House Democrats unanimously voted for the chamber’s latest attempt to address the concerns of landowners along the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline. But not a single Democrat spoke during the March 28 floor debate.

The unusual tactic allowed the bill’s Republican advocates to take full credit for defending property rights against powerful corporate interests—an extremely popular position.

It was a missed opportunity to share a Democratic vision for fair land use policies and acknowledge the progressive constituencies that oppose the pipeline for various reasons.

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A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

There’s a beloved children’s book titled, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, and it gets worse from there. 

After Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech on January 9, Area Education Agencies woke up with gum in their hair and it became a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.”

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Iowa House GOP's "big wins" won't avert big problems for AEAs

Representative Skyler Wheeler floor manages the AEA bill on March 21 (photo by Laura Belin)

UPDATE: The Iowa Senate approved the final House version of this bill on March 26, and the governor signed House file 2612 the following day. Original post follows.

Iowa House leaders attempted to wrap up work last week on the thorniest issue of the 2024 session: overhauling the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to comply with Governor Kim Reynolds’ demand for “transformational change.” Less than three hours after a 49-page amendment appeared on the legislature’s website on March 21, the majority party cut off debate and approved a new version of House File 2612 by 51 votes to 43.

State Representative Skyler Wheeler hailed many provisions of the revised AEA bill as “wins” for House Republicans during the floor debate. House Speaker Pat Grassley likewise celebrated “big wins in this legislation” in the March 22 edition of his email newsletter.

Nine Republicans—Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, Zach Dieken, Martin Graber, Tom Jeneary, Brian Lohse, Gary Mohr, Ray Sorensen, and Charley Thomson—didn’t buy into the official narrative and voted with Democrats against the bill.

I doubt any of them will regret that choice. If House File 2612 becomes law, it could irreparably harm the AEAs’ ability to provide a full range of services to children, families, educators, and schools.

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It's time for GOP politicians to stop ripping off Iowa taxpayers

Former State Senator Joe Bolkcom served on the Senate Ways and Means Committee for 24 years, including ten years as chair.

For the past eight years, Iowa taxpayers have been victims of a political scheme to collect our hard-earned taxes for services we never received.

Instead of investing our money in priorities to make Iowans stronger and more prosperous, Governor Kim Reynolds and our Republican-controlled legislature have hoarded our tax dollars into a colossal $5.5 billion surplus to redistribute to their favorite fat cat donors and special interest pals.

In a normal, functioning democracy, citizens expect their taxes will be spent to make their lives better. In Iowa, that should include adequately funding our local public schools; more inspectors to make sure our nursing homes are safe for seniors; better maintained state parks; more mental health, alcohol and drug treatment in all 99 counties; affordable colleges and universities; safer roads and prisons; improved maternal health; and serious efforts to clean up our polluted lakes and rivers.

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Iowa superintendents sound alarm about AEA changes

Superintendents from more than 30 Iowa school districts warned state legislators on March 17 that major changes to Area Education Agencies (AEAs) “will have grave consequences for the students we serve.”

In a message enclosed in full below and available here (pdf), the superintendents told lawmakers they “are deeply concerned about the proposed changes to the AEAs, especially the shift towards a ‘Fee-for-Service’ approach.” They highlighted the value of the existing AEA model, particularly for rural school districts that “rely heavily on AEAs for critical support.”

Caleb Bonjour, superintendent of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District, told lawmakers that those who signed are a “non-comprehensive list of superintendents” opposing legislation “that could drastically affect our Area Education Agencies.” Gladbrook-Reinbeck covers some rural areas in Black Hawk, Grundy, and Marshall counties.

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Immigration extremists rule red states

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

Well, well. The 2024 State of the Union is behind us. As I expected, President Joe Biden was ready and roaring to enter the fray. He tackled his opponent in the proverbial end zone and brushed aside MAGA supporters as if they were linebackers on a junior high school squad. As expected, the southern border was center stage, amidst a gazillion other gigantic topics.

Given that most Americans thought Biden would slump into a stupor while standing behind the podium, they must have been astounded that exactly the opposite happened. Vice President Kamala Harris seemed thrilled, smiling and clapping like a cheerleader at a National Championship Game. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson looked puzzled and confused, turning from glum to dispirited to angry with each tick of the clock.

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Let's keep talking about taxes

Iowa dollars

Al Charlson is a North Central Iowa farm kid, lifelong Iowan, and retired bank trust officer. The Waverly Democrat previously published a version of this commentary on February 28.

Iowans get it. We understand that we have to pay for the public services needed to maintain the quality of life we want for ourselves and our neighbors. A fundamental responsibility of our elected leaders at all levels is to maintain a system of state and local taxes which will raise the funds needed and do so in a way that is fair.

As discussed in an earlier column, major changes now being considered in the Iowa legislature would fall short of raising the revenue needed. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency’s Analysis of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Budget Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2025 (which runs from July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025) shows that if her plan were enacted, general fund spending would exceed tax revenue by $625 million. The governor intends to use surplus carryforward to pad the total available revenues to spend next year.

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Iowa GOP lawmakers want their politics in your kid's classroom

Ed Tibbetts, a longtime reporter and editor in the Quad-Cities, is the publisher of the Along the Mississippi newsletter, where this article first appeared. Find more of his work at edtibbetts.substack.com

Republicans in the Iowa legislature say they don’t want politics in your kid’s classroom. But that’s not true. They don’t mind politics in your kid’s classroom—as long as it’s their politics.

The proof was in full view on February 28 in the Iowa House.

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Adventures in misleading headlines

Some Iowa news headlines misrepresented an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on February 27, which resolved a long-running lawsuit over Iowa’s 2021 law banning schools from requiring masks.

“Federal appeals court upholds Iowa law banning school mask mandates,” read the headline on a Cedar Rapids Gazette story, also published in some of the Lee Newspapers.

KCRG-TV’s version (carried by other television stations with the same owner) was titled “Federal appeals court upholds Iowa ban on mask mandates.”

“Appeals court upholds law banning mask mandates in schools,” read the headline on Iowa Capital Dispatch, a website that allows Iowa newspapers to republish its reporting at no charge.

The framing closely tracked written statements from Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird, who hailed the Eighth Circuit decision.

There was just one problem: the appeals court did not “uphold” the law.

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A mother's perspective: How AEA reform will hurt Iowa's children

Heather Sievers is the founder of Advocates for Iowa’s Children and an Altoona mother of a child of rare disabilities. Photo of Heather with her daughter Rowan was provided by the author and published with permission.

I am speaking out to educate our communities and give voice to thousands of families across the state who are begging our Iowa legislators to stop the Area Education Agency (AEA) education reform bill from being passed into law during the 2024 legislative session.

Having spent years building my professional experience in effective health care transformation, performance and process improvement in large systems, I know we are not doing this the right way. We are not taking time to perform a credible and thorough study to determine what reform is needed before enacting a bill. A change of this magnitude cannot be rushed, or it will inevitably fail. The risk is too high to gamble on our children’s well-being and their futures. 

Any harm to our children as a result of the decisions made this legislative session will never be forgiven, nor forgotten. Our integrated AEA system works and is a national treasure. Many states aspire to implement a system like we have, and my personal story demonstrates that our system works. 

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Proposed CAFO rules won't protect Iowans or the environment

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. He wrote this essay after attending the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ virtual public hearing about the new Chapter 65 regulations on February 19.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been revising its regulations for animal feeding operations as dictated by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order 10, issued in early 2023.

Chapter 65 of the Iowa administrative code has long contained confusing and inadequate rules, which are open to manipulation by livestock producers and the DNR.

The DNR tried to revise the regulations recently to provide more protection for Iowa’s waters in areas of karst terrain. But the governor’s “Administrative Rules Coordinator” Nate Ristow blocked the proposed rule, because it would not reduce the “regulatory burden” on livestock producers.

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

The Iowa Board of Medicine has unanimously approved a new version of administrative rules related to a near-total abortion ban Republicans hope to enforce in the future.

The law, known as House File 732, is currently enjoined under a Polk County District Court order, which the state has appealed. If the Iowa Supreme Court eventually allows the ban to go into effect, the administrative rules would provide some guidance to physicians on how to approach the law’s (mostly unworkable) exceptions.

The revisions approved during a February 15 teleconference meeting address some objections physicians raised when the board discussed the rules in November and January. However, they do not change the reality that the rules don’t match how doctors normally interact with patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

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Iowa legislature's clock runs out on feeding hungry kids

Interactive School Nutrition Dashboard created by the Iowa Hunger Coalition

At least four bills that would have helped needy Iowa families feed their children didn’t make it through the state legislature’s first “funnel.”

Most bills not related to taxes or spending are considered dead for the 2024 session if not approved by at least one Iowa House or Senate committee by February 16. Efforts to expand access to meals didn’t receive a subcommittee hearing, let alone consideration by a full committee. That was true even for one school lunch bill with 20 Republican co-sponsors.

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Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

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A critical look at the Guidehouse report on Iowa's AEAs

Ted Stilwill served as director of the Iowa Department of Education under Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. He has also worked with a national nonprofit on program evaluation and school improvement work with several state departments of education and large school districts.

Last fall, Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services entered into a contract with Guidehouse, a business consulting firm, to produce a report on special education in Iowa. The study was designed to bolster Governor Kim Reynolds’ effort to decimate the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The report (enclosed in full below) does not name its authors. How much it cost the state is not known. The Reynolds administration has not shared its directions to Guidehouse. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. Nothing in the report indicates that a single Iowan was engaged in its preparation.

Most importantly, I believe the Guidehouse conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Of the three general negative charges against AEAs, none hold up to scrutiny, even when using data from the report.

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Can you hear us, Governor Reynolds?

Jenny Turner speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on the governor’s AEA bill on January 31. Photo by Laura Belin

Jenny Turner is a public school mom and a school speech therapist. She lives in West Des Moines.

Governor Kim Reynolds is not happy that Iowans have opinions about her attempt to gut Iowa Area Education Agencies. She even held a press conference—a rare occurrence—about her AEA plan on January 31, a few hours before Iowa House and Senate subcommittees were scheduled to consider her bill.

The governor has been desperately blitzing social media with graphics to try to persuade people.

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Governor's revised plan for Iowa AEAs is still very bad

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com    

In 7th grade, I tried to build a shadowbox. I had plans, but I lacked skill. After struggling for weeks, the deadline loomed, and my shadow box was a shadow of what it was supposed to be.

I turned it in. My shop teacher frowned, sized it up and said, “Work on it a little more.” I did.

After a week of measuring, sawing in the wrong places, and hammering my fingers more than once, I tuned it in again.

This time the frown was a silent grimace. In true shop teacher bluntness, he said, “It’s still really bad.” Then remembering he was supposed to encourage, he said, “You’ll get it next time.” 

I didn’t.

My 7th grade shadowbox is like the rewrite of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “AEA Destruction Act,” Senate Study Bill 3073. The governor’s proposed amendment is still really bad.

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Governor's bill would harm not only AEAs, but public schools broadly

Alexandra Bylund speaks at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on January 31. Photo by Ty Rushing/Iowa Starting Line

Alexandra Bylund is a senior at West Des Moines Valley High School and a student member of the West Des Moines school board.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to overhaul Area Education Agencies would limit the capacity and power of public schools across Iowa. This bill grossly targets not only special education programs, but general education, which would detrimentally affect the quality of instruction available to students.

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Metrics don't matter: How Kim Reynolds fudged Future Ready Iowa goals

Tom Walton chairs the Dallas County Democrats.

In 2018, Governor Kim Reynolds made “Future Ready Iowa” her trademark program designed to improve Iowa’s workforce, setting a goal to increase the number of Iowans who had attained a post-secondary education to 70 percent of the workforce by 2025.

Reynolds announced in last month’s Condition of the State address, “I’m happy to say that we’ve reached our ambitious goal, and we did it ahead of schedule.” Future Ready Iowa’s website likewise asserts, “we are now proud to report that we have met that goal as a state.”

Two years ahead of schedule sounds like a huge public policy accomplishment, right? Not so fast. On closer examination, Reynolds and her team fudged the numbers.

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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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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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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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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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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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Was childhood obesity a real concern or pretext for Iowa's governor?  

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

My mother used to make our lunches and send us off to school. Our packed lunch consisted of something like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and for dessert, something like a Hostess Ho Ho or Ding Dong. I would come home and have a snack, usually a couple of chocolate chip cookies. At dinner, my parents always wanted to make sure my siblings and I ate everything on our plate—after all, people were “starving to death in Biafra.”  

I was never heavy, but I do remember my mother calling me “pleasantly plump” a few times. I guess that phrase made it more “pleasant” to carry a little more weight. My mother never looked to Governor Nelson D. Rockefeller to tell me when or how much to eat. That was personal and a family matter, certainly not political.

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Ron DeSantis helped change Iowa for the worse

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended his presidential campaign in humiliating fashion on January 21, endorsing the man who had taunted and mocked “DeSanctimonious” for months.

Many political reporters have written about what went wrong for DeSantis, who ended up fighting for second place in Iowa after his team and allied super PACs spent at least $150 million and landed coveted endorsements. I wrote my own Iowa obituary for the Florida governor’s campaign shortly before the caucuses.

But make no mistake: despite gaining only 23,420 votes here last week, the DeSantis approach to politics left its mark on Iowa. While Governor Kim Reynolds formally endorsed her friend less than three months ago, she’s been copying his leadership style for years, hurting many vulnerable Iowans in the process.

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Iowa needs more thoughtful, inclusive approach to AEA reform

Dr. Andy Crozier is superintendent of the Central Lee Community School District. Author photo provided courtesy of the district.

I am writing to express my concerns about Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent announcement regarding the proposed reform of the Area Education Agency (AEA) system during her Condition of the State speech.

The suggested changes include moving AEAs under the Iowa Department of Education, narrowing their focus to special education, and allowing school districts to decide whether to opt into AEA services.

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The Condition of the State is a scary surprise

Governor Kim Reynolds delivers the Condition of the State address on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com   

We love surprises when we anticipate they’ll be positive. But we dread the surprise of a car not starting on a subzero morning, a call at 2 a.m. from a loved one crying, or a doctor’s hushed prognosis. We laugh when people jump out at a party shouting surprise because we know we’re safe. But we scream if a group jumps out surprising us while we’re on a midnight walk.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech last week was a scary surprise party for public educators and parents.

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Honestly, what did Kim Reynolds expect?

Screenshot of President Donald Trump and Governor Kim Reynolds at a rally in Des Moines on January 30, 2020

“I would say with a great deal of confidence that Kim Reynolds is the only person in the state of Iowa that could be a king or a queenmaker,” Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann told the Des Moines Register last February. “There’s a lot of people who like to cast themselves as kingmaker because it helps them to push their organizations, but she’s the only one that could be.”

Wrong.

Governor Reynolds spent much of the last two months campaigning for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and starred in a tv ad on his behalf. Yet her backing didn’t move the needle; polls showed support for DeSantis between the mid-teens and low 20s in Iowa for the last six months. As expected, he finished about 30 points behind former President Donald Trump at the January 15 caucuses.

DeSantis did eke out a second-place finish with 21.2 percent of the vote, about 2 points ahead of Nikki Haley. But that more likely stemmed from the Never Back Down super PAC’s extensive field operation, which was superior to what Americans for Prosperity Action delivered for Haley.

Reynolds should have known it was far too late to convince the GOP base to abandon Trump. She’d avoided offending his fans for years.

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2024 Iowa maternal health priorities: Birth centers, Medicaid, and midwives

Photo provided by the author, showing maternal health advocates advocating for licensure of certified professional midwives during an Iowa House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting in February 2023.

Rachel Bruns is a volunteer advocate for quality maternal health care in Iowa.

This time last year I wrote about five policies that would improve maternal health in Iowa. I’m updating the piece for the 2024 legislative session with a focus on three core priorities. 

Although access to abortion care and contraceptives are critical to maternal and infant health, I do not discuss those topics here. I want to highlight lesser-known aspects of maternal health specific to prenatal, birth, and postpartum care, which receive much less media coverage.

For the 2024 legislative session, I am focusing on three issues I raised last year, which have a strong chance to be enacted. These policies would improve maternal health in Iowa by expanding access to midwives and expanding prenatal care options. I wrote at length in 2021 about how midwives save lives, and it seems like every week a different study or article underscores how the midwifery model of care leads to better outcomes. If you’re interested in diving deeper, one of my favorite resources released in 2023 is this Issue Brief on Maternity Medicaid Strategies from the Maternal Health Hub.

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It's time to look for ways to reduce tragic toll of guns

Photo of Perry High School is by Richc80, available via Wikimedia Commons

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

Like many Iowans, my thoughts have been rather chaotic since the horrible news from Perry High School last week.

The events were so sad and senseless. A 17-year-old student was dead, having shot himself. An 11-year-old sixth-grader, known for his big smile and cheerful outlook, was dead from three gunshot wounds. Seven other students and school employees, including the high school principal, were wounded by the teenager.

Americans are numb to the number and frequency of school shootings and other mass killings. Our leaders appear to be paralyzed. Yes, they express their sadness and concern, but thoughts and prayers are not enough.

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Iowa House speaker hints at new law on "sexually explicit" books in schools

Republican lawmakers may take additional steps to remove “sexually explicit material” from schools, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley indicated on January 8. Speaking to fellow legislators, Grassley also blamed schools for politicizing what he called “a simple solution to protect Iowa’s students from inappropriate material.”

Grassley was the only House or Senate leader to address the school book bans in opening remarks on the first day of the legislature’s 2024 session. His comments came ten days after a federal court blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing a ban on library books and classroom materials that describe or depict sex acts.

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Iowa legislative predictions from the Magic 8 Ball

Photo of Magic 8 ball is by ChristianHeldt, available via Wikimedia Commons

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. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

When my kids were younger, we had a Magic 8 Ball. If you asked a Yes or No question and shook it, up popped an answer like, “Without a doubt,” “Outlook not so good,” or “Concentrate and ask again.” 

The Iowa legislature’s 2024 session began on January 8. Like last year, public education may well be on top of the agenda. With that in mind. I thought I’d introduce the Bruce Lear Magic 8 Ball. My version is next generation, so there’s an explanation with each answer. 

Like all predictions, they may be flat wrong, and they sure aren’t inevitable, especially if the education community unites and acts.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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Iowa’s vision of the future: Down the barrel of a gun

Gun violence doesn’t originate at the schoolhouse door, and it won’t be solved there. Our policy making and political rhetoric urgently need to reflect this reality.

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.

Around 7:45 on the morning of January 4, I was headed home after dropping my daughter off at her elementary school when I thought nothing of pulling over for an Iowa Highway Patrol car, lights and sirens blaring, headed west. Hours later, as reports came in, I saw state troopers were among the first on the scene at Perry High School, at the edge of a small Iowa town about 30 minutes due west of my own. A 17-year old student had inaugurated another year of gun violence in American schools, killing a 6th grader and injuring five other students and two staff before taking his own life.

Those dopplered sirens were an unsettling connection between my ordinary morning drop-off routine and the nightmare that had visited families of a nearby community; another sign of the persistent and unique exposure to gun violence that only the United States allows. 

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Senate File 496: An educator's dilemma

Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Steve Peterson has been an educator for more than 20 years and currently teaches fifth grade at Decorah Middle School. He is a master teacher and the president of the Decorah Education Association. 

On December 29, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher blocked the state of Iowa from enforcing two parts of the wide-ranging education law Senate File 496: the ban on books depicting a sex act at all grade levels, and the prohibition on promotion or instruction relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The court’s preliminary injunction is good for the students I teach and for my colleagues in classrooms around the state. But the hold also comes at a great time for me, personally—because I was just about to report to the Iowa Department of Education that I may have broken the law.

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Nine new year's wishes for a better Iowa


Ralph Rosenberg of Ames is a retired attorney, former state legislator, former director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and former leader of statewide Iowa nonprofit organizations. He and Barbara Wheelock, also of Ames, signed this open letter on behalf of PRO Iowa 24, a group of concerned rural Iowans with progressive values from Greene, Guthrie, Boone, Story, and Dallas counties.

Now is a good time for the public to make their wishes known for 2024 state policies. Tell your legislators to act on behalf of all Iowans, create an economy that works for all Iowans, and use the government to protect the most vulnerable. Republicans can enact each and every one of these items on a bipartisan basis.

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The 23 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2023

Iowa’s Republican legislators, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Senator Chuck Grassley inspired the majority of Bleeding Heartland’s most-read posts during the year that just ended. But putting this list together was trickier than my previous efforts to highlight the site’s articles or commentaries that resonated most with readers.

For fifteen years, I primarily used Google Analytics to track site traffic. Google changed some things this year, prompting me to switch to Fathom Analytics (an “alternative that doesn’t compromise visitor privacy for data”) in July. As far as I could tell during the few days when those services overlapped, they reached similar counts for user visits, page views, and other metrics. But the numbers didn’t completely line up, which means the Google Analytics data I have for posts published during the first half of the year may not be the same numbers Fathom would have produced.

Further complicating this enterprise, I cross-post some of my original reporting and commentary on a free email newsletter, launched on Substack in the summer of 2022 as part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Some of those posts generated thousands of views that would not be tabulated as visits to Bleeding Heartland. I didn’t include Substack statistics while writing this piece; if I had, it would have changed the order of some posts listed below.

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Court blocks Iowa's "staggeringly broad" book bans, teaching restrictions

UPDATE: Attorney General Brenna Bird filed notice of appeal to the Eighth Circuit on January 12. Original post follows.

The state of Iowa cannot enforce key parts of a new law that sought to ban books depicting sex acts from schools and prohibit instruction “relating to gender identity and sexual orientation” from kindergarten through sixth grade.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher issued a preliminary injunction on December 29, putting what he called “staggeringly broad” provisions on hold while two federal lawsuits challenging Senate File 496 proceed. The judge found the book bans “unlikely to satisfy the First Amendment under any standard of scrutiny,” and the teaching restrictions “void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

However, the state may continue to enforce a provision requiring school administrators to inform parents or guardians if a student seeks an “accommodation that is intended to affirm the student’s gender identity.” Judge Locher found the LGBTQ students who are plaintiffs in one case lack standing to challenge that provision, since “they are all already ‘out’ to their families and therefore not affected in a concrete way” by it.

Governor Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird quickly criticized the court’s decision. But neither engaged with the legal issues at hand.

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A bad deal gets worse: Koch trying to buy Iowa fertilizer plant

Governor Kim Reynolds with her predecessor Terry Branstad in photo originally published on Reynolds’ official Facebook page in September 2020

Scott Syroka is a former Johnston city council member.

Antitrust regulators should block the proposed sale of OCI Global’s Iowa Fertilizer Co. plant in Wever (Lee County) to Koch Industries. The deal would be outrageous, but we must look back to fully understand why.

HOW IOWA TAXPAYERS HELPED FUND OCI’S FERTILIZER PLANT IN WEVER

Then-governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds offered nearly $550 million in tax giveaways to OCI’s predecessor, Orascom, to build the plant prior to its 2017 ribbon cutting.

That included $133 million in local giveaways such as Lee County property tax abatement over twenty years. Another $112 million in state giveaways like corporate tax credits and forgivable loans. And an estimated $300 million in federal tax giveaways from the get-go thanks to the Iowa Finance Authority approving Orascom for $1.2 billion in Midwestern Disaster Area bonds created by Congress after the 2008 floods.

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Ten possible reasons Kim Reynolds is the most unpopular governor

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

After being re-elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, I met newly elected State Senator Kim Reynolds in 2009 at an event where a bipartisan group of “veteran” legislators were giving advice to newly elected ones. My next interaction with Reynolds was when she was lieutenant governor, and Governor Terry Branstad appointed me to serve as Vice-Chair of the Iowa Board of Parole. After I was promoted to chair that board, I met frequently with Branstad and Reynolds, apprising them of the progressive measures the board was undertaking.

Two recent surveys by Morning Consult, released in late October and late November, identified Reynolds as the country’s governor with the highest disapproval rating. A summary of the October poll noted, “her unpopularity increased partly because of a surge in negative sentiment among independent and Republican voters during a year in which she signed a strict anti-abortion law and took a lashing from former President Donald Trump …”

What has happened to Iowa since Reynolds assumed the office of governor on May 24, 2017?

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Banning unpopular religious displays is not the solution

Satanic Temple display in the Iowa state capitol, photographed by Laura Belin

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

I really should not be surprised by some comments that represent what passes for civic dialogue in Iowa these days. 

The latest example leaves me shaking my head, not just at the events themselves but at the reactions. Mrs. Gentry, my history and government teacher in high school, would be dismayed by intelligent people misunderstanding one of the foundations upon which the United States was established — that foundation being the desire of people for intellectual freedom.

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Exclusive: After budget boost, Iowa governor gave senior staff big raises

Governor Kim Reynolds gave four of her top staffers raises ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent several months after Republican lawmakers approved a major boost to the governor’s office budget.

The large pay increases took effect in early September, according to salary records Bleeding Heartland obtained through a public records request. All staff in the governor’s office had already received a 3 percent raise at the beginning of fiscal year 2024 in July.

Public employees often receive a small bump in compensation at the start of a new fiscal year, but few are able to obtain raises of 10 percent or more without a promotion or a significant change to their job duties.

A spokesperson for Reynolds described the salary hikes as an “important investment” and asserted that “offering salaries commensurate with experience and job responsibilities is critical to ensuring optimal performance and continuity of state government.”

However, data the governor’s office provided to Bleeding Heartland did not support the claim that many of Reynolds’ staffers were previously underpaid compared to counterparts in similar states.

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Iowa GOP leaders refuse to investigate nursing home abuse and neglect

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com. An earlier version of this commentary appeared in the Des Moines Register and Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Twenty-seven years ago, the Quad-City Times published a six-part series on neglect and abuse in nursing homes. The articles told the stories of residents whose physical and mental health needs were not met, who were subjected to verbal or physical abuse by staff or other residents, and had been injured or had died.

The stories were tragedies. And sadly, tragic stories still regularly appear in Iowa Capital Dispatch and other Iowa media written by Clark Kauffman—the same journalist who authored the stories in 1996.

For more than 27 years, horrific stories of neglect and abuse have stemmed from far too many nursing facilities that have employed too few workers; failed to adequately compensate, train, and respect workers; routinely accepted exceptionally high levels of employee turnover; lobbied elected officials to increase annual appropriations of tax dollars but to also minimize oversight of their efforts; avoided criminal prosecution for their misdeeds; and have put the desire for profit ahead of the needs of the Iowans they exist to serve.

In 27 years, little has changed. At too many facilities, neglect, abuse and dehumanization of older Iowans continue.

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Downsizing AEAs would be another attack on Iowa schools

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.  

Governor Kim Reynolds’ attitude toward public education reminds me of a scene from an old movie called the Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds. There’s a 2005 Adam Sandler remake, but that’s more like a missed field goal.

Burt plays Paul Crewe, a wisecracking, pro quarterback who is convicted and sent to prison. The warden stages a game between the guards and prisoners.

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Religion in politics: the biggest threat to our liberties

Illustration by Jena Luksetich from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers is published with permission.

Jason Benell lives in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He is a combat veteran, former city council candidate, and president of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers.

Over the last dozen or so years in Iowa, we have seen a new assault on citizens’ rights, putting the future of our state in a precarious situation. It seems every other week there are reports and new sets of statistics tarnishing what was once a sterling record for Iowa on the well-being of its citizens. We have seen Iowa lose its destination status for those looking for an excellent public education as well as a dearth of coverage for mental health care. Iowa now ranks the worst in the country for OB/GYN coverage per capita and is consistently cited as an example of what not to do when it comes to stewardship of our waterways.

On top of these dire statistics, we are also seeing unprecedented assaults on the civil liberties of Iowans, from banning books in schools (and prompting at least two costly lawsuits because of it) to banning transgender Iowans from participating in sports to restricting the right to privacy and health care for half of the state’s population.

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Crisis in Iowa nursing homes demands our attention

Mary Weaver writes a regular column for the Jefferson Herald and Greene County News online, where this commentary first appeared. She is a former registered nurse and former public health nurse administrator, who currently chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus. Mary resides on a farm near Rippey.

I am saddened, as well as shocked by the horror stories erupting statewide about the deplorable, life-threatening situations occurring in Iowa nursing homes. Stories of gangrene resulting in amputations, a story of a person choking in their own saliva, a story of a person freezing in the winter of 2023 when the alarm door triggered was never given a response.

In complete transparency regarding this subject, in part of my former work life, I was a surveyor for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. That involved inspecting State Certified Home Care agencies as well as nursing homes.

The long-term care or nursing home survey team consisted of three or four people, and the team was usually in a facility for three or four days. Policies were reviewed, charts were audited, comparing orders written to implementation, interviews with residents were conducted, the ombudsman assigned to the facility was visited, staffing ratios for Registered Nurses and Certified Nurses Aids were reviewed using established formulas. Temperature checks of food served were done at mealtime.

It took one day for the team to write the report of the findings, usually a Friday, and the following Monday we were sent to the next facility. Facilities were visited once each year, but unannounced, and if a complaint was received regarding a facility, it was immediately visited.

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Exclusive: Agencies spent $1 million on Iowa governor's office costs last year

In March, Governor Kim Reynolds hailed passage of her state government reorganization plan, saying it would be “an important step” to “reduce the size and cost of government.”

The governor’s commitment to making government smaller and less costly hasn’t extended to her own staff.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, other agencies spent more than $1 million to cover operating costs in the governor’s office, documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show. Those funds allowed the governor’s office to spend nearly 50 percent more than its budget appropriation of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2023.

Reynolds’ chief of staff Taryn Frideres told state lawmakers in February that increasing the governor’s office allocation for the current fiscal year by about $500,000 (a 21 percent bump) would be “more transparent” and ensure that “our actual appropriation is closer to our expenses, so that we can budget in a more straightforward way.”

But records Bleeding Heartland reviewed indicate that the $2.8 million general fund appropriation Republicans approved for fiscal year 2024 will fall far short of what the governor’s office will spend on staff salaries and other expenses.

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A close look at the second lawsuit challenging Iowa's book bans

From left: Author Laurie Halse Anderson, author Malinda Lo, and Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek. Screenshots taken during the November 30 news conference announcing a new legal challenge to Senate File 496.

“The right to speak and the right to read are inextricably intertwined.”

So declare the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit filed challenging Iowa’s new ban on certain library books and classroom materials.

The new federal lawsuit focuses on two provisions of Senate File 496, which Republican lawmakers approved in April and Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. A separate federal lawsuit filed last week challenges SF 496 in its entirety, focusing on additional provisions targeting LGBTQ students as well as the book bans.

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LGBTQ plaintiffs make strong case against Iowa education law

Plaintiffs Puck Carlson (left) and Berry Stevens (right) in photos provided by the ACLU of Iowa and Lambda Legal

Iowa Republican lawmakers and Governor Kim Reynolds enacted several laws this year that discriminate against LGBTQ people. This week, seven Iowa families and the advocacy group Iowa Safe Schools filed the first lawsuit challenging one of those statutes: the wide-ranging education bill known as Senate File 496.

The plaintiffs, who include eight LGBTQ students attending public elementary, middle, or high schools across Iowa, have laid out a compelling case that SF 496 violates LGBTQ students’ First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights in several ways, as well as the federal Equal Access Act.

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Iowa's state government should face up to care center concerns

Photo by Jonathunder of Cornerstone Assisted Living in Mason City, available through the GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

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

A few months ago, I bumped into a former aide to Governor Robert Ray. As we reminisced about the governor, our conversation turned to his nearly daily meetings with journalists.

The aide said yes, those press conferences provided reporters with access to the governor and his comments on issues the state was handling and hearing about from Iowans.

But Ray believed the daily press gatherings had another important benefit, too: Ray could do his job more effectively by listening to the journalists’ questions, the aide said.

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Dependable schools require dependable maintenance

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. 

Dad loved to tell the story of the guy so lazy that when he had a flat tire, he sold the car instead of changing the tire. That story was accompanied by a PS: “If you want a dependable car, you have to provide dependable maintenance.” 

It’s also true for public schools.

It’s a lesson for Governor Kim Reynolds.

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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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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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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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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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Progressives win, book banners lose many Iowa school board races

Voters in Iowa’s large school districts overwhelmingly picked progressive candidates over conservatives on November 7. In many urban and suburban districts, candidates backed by local Democrats, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), and/or the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa Action ran the table, while candidates backed by activists on the religious right fell short.

The results are a rebuke to Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature, which enacted new laws in 2023 that undermined public schools and LGBTQ students, and restricted school library books and inclusive curriculum materials.

They also show the enduring strength of the state’s largest teachers union. For many years, Iowans elected school boards in September and city councils and mayors in November. The GOP trifecta changed state law so that beginning in 2019, school board and city elections would occur on the same day. The idea was to increase local election turnout and thereby diminish the ISEA’s influence over school boards. Nevertheless, candidates backed by public educators prevailed in many of this year’s most competitive races.

One city election also underscored how unpopular book banning is with Iowans. In the notoriously conservative town of Pella, voters rejected by 2,041 votes to 1,954 (51.1 percent to 48.9 percent) a ballot measure that would have empowered the city council to overrule the public library board.

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Cast your vote November 7 to keep Iowa a state of minds

Cheryl Tevis writes Unfinished Business, a weekly Substack newsletter for the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative, where this column first appeared. She is an editor emeritus with Successful Farming at DotDash Meredith, and a contributor to the Iowa History Journal. Cheryl is president of Iowa Women in Agriculture.

My stint on a rural Boone County school board from 1996 to 2005 was no picnic. It was punctuated by controversies over one-way vs. two-way sharing agreements, reorganization votes, and open enrollment petitions. Our board and our new administrator struggled to dig the school out of a financial hole created by a predatory sharing agreement and made worse by the erosion of farm families during the 1980s farm crisis. We worked hard to prevail against a relentless pounding from adverse rural demographic trends.

I’m certain some of the district’s constituents were sorry they ever had voted for me. And as my term ended, personal relationships within our board were strained, and cratering.

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Iowa governor tries to defend vague education law

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 a hearing, I always knew when the lawyer on the other side didn’t have a good case. Instead of focusing on facts, they shouted and pounded the table more in hopes the arbitrator might forget and get distracted by a loud passionate argument. 

That’s what Governor Kim Reynolds tried during her October 25 press conference, when asked about book banning in public schools.

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Iowa nice, except if you're blind

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance journalist from the American Midwest. She covers social justice stories, especially pertaining to disability. Her work has appeared in Parents, Mother Untitled, The Omaha World Herald, The Insider and elsewhere. You can follow her on X/Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Iowa is known for being nice. Old-fashioned values seem rooted in the ground, tracing back to 1846. An idyllic landscape, simple and plain, yet beautiful, as depicted in American Gothic. Stop in this fly-over state for a pork tenderloin sandwich, or a Maid Rite, and don’t forget, its state fair is the greatest state fair.

Set against this backdrop of American dreams is a Republican party introducing bill after bill that have altered Iowa in both subtle and blatant ways. The GOP-controlled legislature approved many controversial bills during the 2023 session. One with potentially great consequences for blind Iowans was Senate File 514, the state government realignment sought by Governor Kim Reynolds.

STREAMLINING, OR A “POWER GRAB”?

The state paid nearly one million dollars for Virginia-based Guidehouse to help develop a plan to streamline state government. Although the final Guidehouse report did not make any recommendations related to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), the bill the governor proposed to state lawmakers included one important change.

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MAGA nanny state thrives in Iowa

Joe Bolkcom represented Iowa City in the Iowa Senate from 1999 through 2022.

Iowans will soon elect city council and school board members. Hundreds of candidates have put themselves forward as they campaign on ideas to address unique local challenges and needs. 

These local elected officials are the backbone of making our small government democracy work. They make decisions for all of us about how our public schools operate, what roads get built and repaired, how public safety, water, sewer and library services are provided, and how to pay for it all.  

In a healthy democracy that’s how things are supposed to work. Unfortunately, we do not live in healthy democracy.

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Iowa political reaction to the crisis in Israel and Gaza

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association. Laura Belin contributed some reporting to this article.

Like all Iowans of good will, I was painfully alerted to the Hamas invasion of Israel on October 7. Many have compared the events to the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attack, in both its surprise and savagery. The scale of deaths and human loss is enormous; Israel’s total population is around 9 million.

The United States and European Union have designated Hamas a terrorist organization because of its armed resistance against Israel. Hamas has sponsored years of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel, claiming Jewish presence in Palestine is illegitimate, which is counter-historical and denied by the United States.

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Iowa Republicans couldn't have been more wrong about defunding Planned Parenthood

When Iowa Republicans gained the trifecta following the 2016 elections, defunding Planned Parenthood was near the top of their agenda. GOP legislators promised a new state-funded family planning program would increase access to reproductive health care and give women more options, especially in rural Iowa.

The latest official data, first reported by the Des Moines Register’s Michaela Ramm, show the program has flopped. In just five years, the number of Iowans receiving services such as contraception, pregnancy tests, Pap smears, and testing or treatment for some sexually transmitted infections dropped by 90 percent compared to the population served during the last year of the previous Medicaid waiver. The number of health care providers involved is down by a staggering 97 percent.

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services has done almost nothing to promote the program, even as enrollment crashed.

The reality could hardly be more different from the scenario Republicans described in 2017: “connecting folks with their home health care” for essential services by taking Planned Parenthood’s mostly urban clinics out of the equation.

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Public is poorer when leaders avoid news conferences

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

How long since you’ve read a story from an actual news conference with the United States president or the Iowa governor? Or since you’ve viewed one on TV?

Probably quite a while, and if you remember one, it probably took place quite a while after the one before that.

It used to be customary for a chief executive to hold regular press conferences, where reporters could ask questions, including followups. Not anymore. Today what passes for a “press conference” is usually a staged event where the executive reads a statement, maybe delivers a one-liner to one of the many shouted questions, and then exits stage right.

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Iowa attorney honored for half-century of civil rights advocacy

Russell Lovell was troubled by the segregation and discrimination he witnessed growing up in a small Nebraska town and resolved to work on civil rights while attending law school in his home state during the late 1960s. His passion for justice extended beyond his nearly 40-year career as a Drake Law School professor and recently earned Lovell an award from the Notre Dame Alumni Association “for his outstanding dedication to advancing civil rights and his commitment to providing experiential learning to the next generation of lawyers.”

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews nominated Lovell for the Rev. Louis J. Putz, C.S.C., Award, citing his “fifty years of exceptional NAACP pro bono civil rights advocacy.” As co-chairs of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and Des Moines Branch NAACP Legal Redress Committees, Lovell and fellow Drake Law Professor Emeritus David Walker have collaborated on eight amicus briefs submitted to the Iowa Supreme Court. They have also successfully pushed for systemic reforms to make Iowa juries more diverse.

The Iowa Chapter of the National Bar Association recognized Lovell’s civil rights work and advocacy for representative juries in 2020.

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Ron Reagan's message would surprise Linn County Republicans

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

The image at the top of this post comes from the Linn County Republicans’ graphic promoting their upcoming October fundraiser. The event is billed as a Reagan Breakfast starting at 7:00 AM. We all know Reagan won’t be there. The former president, never one to get up that early, has been dead for nearly 20 years. 

A Reagan impersonator, the self-described MAGA presidential candidate Larry Elder, is the guest speaker. 

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Laws that ban books run contrary to Iowa's history, legacy

Banned Book Week runs from October 1 to October 7, 2023. The following letter, released on September 14, was co-signed by The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Board of Directors, Mayor Bruce Teague on behalf of the City of Iowa City, The Iowa City Public Library Trustees, The Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, The Coralville Public Library, The North Liberty Library, Think Iowa City, Iowa Small Library Association executive board, Prairie Lights, One Iowa, The Tuesday Agency, Iowa City Poetry, the Iowa Library Association, and Corridor Community Action Network.

An open letter to Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa legislature:

Iowa is home to one of the most literary cities on earth. It is here where the Iowa Writers’ Workshop produced some of the greatest voices in American Literature: Frank Conroy, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove, Ayana Mathis, Flannery O’Connor, Ann Patchett, and so many others. Iowa is also home to contemporary writers producing works of fiction and non-fiction that are both bold in truth-telling and revolutionary in voice.

It’s because of this legacy and the dedication of Iowans to producing great writing, that Iowa City was declared a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Often called the “Athens of the Midwest,” Iowa City has a unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and  support writers. At the same time, it has long been, quite simply, a place for writers and for readers: a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. Iowa has a history and an identity in which its citizens take enormous pride, prizing a role in celebrating and honoring writers and good writing.

On May 26, Iowa’s governor signed into law legislation that runs counter to that legacy. Senate File 496 prohibits books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries. The legislation also bans written materials and instruction on “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” This law was passed under the pretense of protecting children, and yet what this law amounts to is a book ban that limits children’s freedom of expression and access to knowledge about the world around them.

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When are Iowa students old enough to read books?

Gerald Ott of Ankeny was a high school English teacher and for 30 years a school improvement consultant for the Iowa State Education Association. Top photo of Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking at Oregon State University on February 2, 2017 is by Theresa Hogue, available via Wikimedia Commons.

Steve Corbin made a solid point his latest column (published in Bleeding Heartland and later in the Cedar Rapids Gazette): “Many of today’s GOP-oriented governors and legislators, far rightwing groups, conservative media and Republican presidential candidates have either passed or supported book banning, anti-LGBTQIA and laws prohibiting teaching about racism.” 

“It’s a blatant attack on … the rights of students, parents, teachers, general public and book authors,” wrote Corbin. 

Corbin’s point is well-taken, and others have said the same, but action or litigation to blunt the attack is nonexistent. Where are the fair-minded parents, politicians, students, teachers, et al whose outrage could demand instructional integrity and curtail naive book bans? 

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Iowa House district 22 primary: Samantha Fett vs. Garrett Gobble

Education is shaping up to be a defining issue in an open-seat race for a strongly Republican Iowa House district.

State Representative Stan Gustafson, who currently represents House district 22, is planning to retire at the end of his current term. Samantha Fett, a former Carlisle school board member and chapter leader of Moms for Liberty, announced last month that she will seek the Republican nomination. Fett has spoken at several Iowa House or Senate meetings during the past two years, urging lawmakers to approve various education-related or anti-LGBTQ bills.

Garrett Gobble announced his candidacy for the same district in a September 8 Facebook post. He previously represented part of Ankeny in the Iowa House for one term. A recent guest commentary for the Des Moines Register indicated that Gobble hopes Governor Kim Reynolds and groups focused on school policies will stay out of his upcoming race.

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Iowa board review committee's "public input" was a farce

“It was a great day to hear from Iowans,” Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen told reporters on September 6. He was speaking in his role as chair of Iowa’s temporary Boards and Commissions Review Committee, after nearly 70 people had testified about proposed changes to more than 100 state boards and commissions.

The two-plus hour public hearing created the impression that affected Iowans had ample opportunities to provide feedback in person. The committee is also accepting comments submitted via email (BCRCcomments@iowa.gov) through September 17.

Although some testimony or written comments may prompt the committee to tweak its plans for certain boards, the reality is that in many ways, Paulsen and other committee members prevented Iowans from offering meaningful input on the proposed changes.

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Proposed cull of Iowa boards will reduce public access, input

Pam Mackey Taylor is the Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

This summer a new committee, mostly controlled by Governor Kim Reynolds, embarked on a project to review Iowa’s boards and commissions. The six members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee worked mostly in secrecy, using two-member subcommittees to avoid open meetings law requirements. Members announced their draft recommendations on August 29.

Some of those recommendations would have far-reaching impacts on everyday Iowans and how state government is able to respond to the problems and issues we face, such as clean water, healthy air, and government regulations that work for all of us.

The recommendations appear to reduce and restrict public access and input in the decision-making process, as well as public oversight of state government agencies. These recommendations appear to consolidate power within the governor’s office, where decisions are made behind closed doors with as little public input as possible, and where the only people who have input are the lobbyists and friends of the governor.

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They’re not coming for our kids, Governor

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

Michael Stahr of Boone recently asked in a letter to the Des Moines Register, “Why won’t teachers cooperate with parents?” Aside from assuming facts not in evidence, his question is worthy of comment.

Stahr was responding to a guest column by public school educator Matt Pries, entitled “Educators should be in schools’ driver’s seat.” Stahr counters with, “A teaching certificate doesn’t mean that kids are the teacher’s. Nor are they the community’s. They are the parent’s.”

Stahr is not alone in harboring the “who owns kids” nonsense. The best answer is that a child belongs to him/herself or their selves. Parents are their kid’s first teachers, but youngsters get guidance along the way from friends and every other person they meet, especially teachers.

Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds used the scary phrase “They’re coming for our kids” in her speech to Moms for Liberty last February. She wasn’t referring to the yellow buses that pick up kids each morning.

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Kim Reynolds and religion

John Kearney is a retired philosophy professor who taught at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has lived in Waterloo, Iowa for the past six years.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ position on the abortion issue seems to be inextricably linked to her religious beliefs. Prior to signing House File 732 at the Family Leadership Summit in July, she thanked the team at the Christian conservative organization The FAMiLY Leader: “You have lifted me up in prayer, grounded me in God’s word, and reminded me that He is always in control.”

Later in her prepared remarks for the bill signing, the governor said: “We read in Scripture that the Author of life wants to give ‘a future and a hope’ to all his children. Who are we to stand in his way?” 

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Debunking the talking points for Iowa's "school choice" program

Pat O’Donnell is a resident of Sioux Center and spent 37 years serving in Iowa public schools as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He may be reached at patnancy@zoho.com.

On August 18, the Iowa PBS program “Iowa Press” hosted Josh Bowar, Sioux Center Christian School Head of School, and Jennifer Raes, principal of St. Anthony School, a Catholic institution in Des Moines. The topic for discussion: Iowa’s Students First Act, the new program directing state tax dollars to support private school tuition for every kindergarten through 12th-grade student in the state.

The bill establishes a framework and financing for education savings accounts (ESAs), also known as vouchers, which eligible families may use to cover tuition, fees, and other qualified education expenses at Iowa’s accredited private schools.

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The slow assassination of public education in Iowa

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

The Iowa State Fair may be a good place for conspirators to say the quiet part out loud in public and hardly get noticed. People are far too busy eating food on sticks and taking pictures of the Butter Cow. 

If you happened to watch Governor Kim Reynolds’ “fair-side chats,” you may have seen the governor clap gleefully as GOP presidential candidate Perry Johnson spoke of wanting to do away with the U.S. Department of Education.

Rule 1: Put it out there, normalize the concept to avoid real thought about what that would mean for our future students.

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Attorney calls for Iowa Utilities Board investigation

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years. 

Late in the afternoon on Friday, August 18, attorney Anna Ryon filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings on behalf of Kerry Mulvania Hirth with the Iowa Utilities Board (Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC, IUB docket number HLP-2021-0001).

In the motion, Ryon asserts that Board staff “improperly coerced Ms. Hirth into relinquishing her right to participate in this proceeding that was granted by the Board on July 19, 2023.” Items 12 to 15 of the motion are reproduced in full below:

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Not every Iowa life is sacred

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

Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.

That is how she lived.

How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.

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Vivek Ramaswamy's "truths" are tailored to older voters—not youth

Photo of Vivek Ramaswamy at the Iowa State Fair by Greg Hauenstein, whose other Iowa political photography can be found here.

“Good things are going to happen in this country, and it just might take a different generation to help lead us there,” Vivek Ramaswamy said a few minutes into his “fair-side chat” with Governor Kim Reynolds on August 12. The youngest candidate in the GOP presidential field (he turned 38 last week) regularly reminds audiences that he is the first millennial to run for president as a Republican.

Speaking to reporters after the chat, Ramaswamy asserted, “it takes a person of a different generation to reach the next generation.” He expressed doubt that “an octogenarian can reinspire and reignite pride in the next generation,” and said his “fresh legs” can reach young voters by “leading us to something” instead of “running from something.”

But the candidate’s talking points—especially the “ten commandments” that typically cap his stump speech—are a better fit for an older demographic than for the young voters Republicans have been alienating for the past 20 years.

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Iowa court's use of qualified immunity threatens our rights

Sondra Feldstein is a farmer and business owner in Polk County and a plaintiff in the litigation discussed here. She took the photo above, showing the Geisler farm (the buildings in the distance) in the middle of farmland in eastern Polk County.

When the Iowa legislature debated the so-called “back the blue” law in 2021, a key component was the section adding qualified immunity to state code. At the time, public discussion focused on the impact this would have on law enforcement by providing protection from suits involving monetary damages. News stories, commentators, legislators, and Governor Kim Reynolds (when she signed the bill) all claimed qualified immunity would—depending on your point of view—either protect police officers no matter how egregious their conduct, or make it easier for officers to do their jobs without worrying about getting sued for a split-second decision.

Polk County District Court Judge Jeanie Vaudt recently applied the qualified immunity language to dismiss, with prejudice, a lawsuit plaintiffs (myself included) brought against the Polk County Supervisors over a zoning dispute. When a case is dismissed “with prejudice,” the only recourse is to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, rather than allowing the plaintiffs to amend their suit to address any issues of law or procedure the lower court may have found (which frequently happens).

If allowed to stand, this decision could be cited in denying any lawsuit brought against any Iowa governmental body, including the state itself. Goodbye efforts to hold governments accountable for their decisions, or for that matter, any effort to force Iowa governments to follow the law.

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Book ban? Whatever

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.


As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I’ve got a little list — I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!

—Gilbert and Sullivan, from The Mikado

All around the state of Iowa, and perhaps soon in the 34 other states where legislation is bubbling, school districts are making not so little lists — of books to be removed from school libraries and classrooms. In Iowa the reason is Senate File 496, which, by accident or diabolic design closely resembles the title of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, in which a future authoritarian American government has criminalized all books and burns any they find. (The title relates to the temperature at which paper catches fire.)

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Are Texas deployments an allowable use of Iowa's ARP funds?

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on August 2 that 109 Iowa National Guard soldiers were en route to Texas, where they will be deployed through September 1 “in support of Operation Lone Star to help secure the U.S. Southern Border following the end of Title 42.” In addition, the Department of Public Safety will send Iowa State Patrol officers to Texas from August 31 through October 2, to assist Texas state troopers with various law enforcement activities.

The governor’s news release confirmed that “federal funding allocated to Iowa from the American Rescue Plan” will cover “all costs” associated with these deployments. The statement went on to assert, “States are given flexibility in how this funding can be used provided it supports the provision of government services.”

Not so fast.

While the American Rescue Plan did give states more leeway than previous federal COVID-19 relief packages, ARP funds are still subject to detailed federal rules. A plain reading of those regulations suggests deploying Iowa National Guard and law enforcement to the U.S. border with Mexico does not fall under any eligible category.

Reynolds’ public statements about Operation Lone Star also confirm the mission is not related to the pandemic.

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Next Iowa Republican caucuses will be study in contrasts

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.

All the hoopla about next year’s Iowa Republican party caucus, now scheduled for January 15, suffers from at least two delusions.

One delusion is that former President Donald Trump, the current odds-on favorite to win the Iowa caucuses, is qualified to be president or, for that matter, hold any position of public trust and service.

The other delusion is that the rest of the nation should even care about the caucus outcome. We don’t warrant such status or consideration right now.

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Iowa's culture war: Pronouns, nicknames, and LGBTQ kids' rights

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.

On August 1, I got an email from my kids’ school district announcing a new required form I needed to fill out in response to Senate File 496, part of the slate of so-called Parents’ Rights provisions that Governor Kim Reynolds signed in May. The letter read in part:

Recently passed legislation, Senate File 496, requires that school districts receive written permission from parents and/or guardians regarding any request by a student to accommodate a gender identity, name or pronoun that is different from what was assigned to the student during the school registration process. This requirement also applies to all nicknames. (i.e. Sam instead of Samuel; Addy instead of Addison, etc.)

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Surprise Iowa DOT office move is voter suppression

Iowa City Council Member Shawn Harmsen represents Iowa City District B, which includes the east side of Iowa City and the recently closed DOT office.

In a move that will unevenly harm Black and other communities in the Iowa City area through lack of service and voting disenfranchisement, a major department of Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration executed a surprise move from an easily accessible location near several neighborhoods to a remote edge of another city.

The Iowa Department of Transportation sent out a press release on July 21 telling the public that after three more days in the Iowa City location it has inhabited for decades, that office would no longer be there. It was a classic Friday afternoon news dump before the start of RAGBRAI.

The press release claims the new location, out by Theisen’s and Costco on the very edge of Coralville, “was chosen after an extensive search for a space that could better accommodate the volume of customers in the area.”  Unsurprisingly, these claims of “needing more space” and providing better customer service don’t stand up under any kind of scrutiny. In fact, as I will explain, the relocation looks less like an inept move than attempt to conduct racial and partisan voter suppression.

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Stay WOKE to America

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

Before critical race theory (CRT) was named and studied in universities and used to frame legal arguments (and fell into disrepute among Republicans), I learned enough to qualify me as WOKE, at least on a scale with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds—a low bar, I admit. 

It’s a bold claim, one based mainly on the fortuitous experiences of my youth, all before Iowa’s governor was born. 

As we know, Reynolds was born and reared in Iowa. She graduated from I-35 High School in 1977, and entered a typical middle-class life of occasional college classes, marriage, children, parenthood, jobs, and local politics beginning in the Clarke County treasurer’s office during the 1990s. She was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2008.

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