# Sioux City

Let's not change the definition of local control

Bruce Lear: Instead of allowing elected school boards to make decisions for a school district, Iowa’s governor now defines local control as parents deciding what’s best for their own children.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, especially since Governor Kim Reynolds has altered the definition of local control to justify signing a mask mandate ban for schools. There’s a reason “Community” is the middle name for almost every public school district in Iowa. 

Public schools are often a town’s largest employer as well as the community center. On Friday nights, the school’s fields or gyms can be the center of the universe for young athletes and their parents.

In fact, the relationship is symbiotic. The community helps the school thrive, and the school helps a community survive.

Too bad Reynolds distrusts Iowa communities so much she won’t allow local control over safety decisions fitting the community. Instead she is appealing a federal court decision that put the mask mandate ban on hold. 

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Iowa City recognized for strong LGBT equality policies

Iowa City received a perfect score and four other Iowa cities above-average scores in Human Rights Campaign’s new Municipal Equality Index. The LGBT advocacy group evaluated 353 cities across the country to see how inclusive their “laws, policies, and services” were for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “who live and work there.” You can read more about the ratings criteria here. According to KCRG, the national average score was 59.

Iowa City was one of 38 municipalities to receive a perfect score of 100. Human Rights Campaign awarded scores of 86 to Davenport, 85 to Des Moines, 68 to Cedar Rapids, and 61 to Sioux City. Council Bluffs was not rated, but just across the Missouri River, Omaha received a score of 51.

KCRG noted in its report,

Iowa City did lose points in several areas, including not having transgender-inclusive health benefits or an ordinance requiring equal benefits from city contractors. However, the city also scored well in the bonus point system that was also part of the Human Rights Campaign’s rating.

You can view the detailed Municipal Equality Index ratings on Iowa City here, Davenport here, Des Moines here, Cedar Rapids here, and Sioux City here.

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FAA closing Dubuque air traffic control; Waterloo, Sioux City spared for now

The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday that beginning on April 7, it will close 149 air traffic control towers across the country. The Dubuque Regional Airport tower is the only Iowa facility on the list (pdf). An airport official told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald that service in and out of the airport will continue. I haven’t seen any reports confirming which facility will route air traffic in and out of Dubuque after April 7.

The cuts are related to the “sequester” of federal budget funds, which began last month. Originally the FAA had planned to close more air traffic control towers, including those in Waterloo and Sioux City. However, a press release stated that the agency decided “to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.” Another salient fact is that Dubuque “hires privately contracted employees,” whereas “Waterloo and Sioux City employees are unionized FAA workers.”

I’ve posted the whole statement from the FAA after the jump, as well as Representative Bruce Braley’s comment. The first Congressional district includes Dubuque and Waterloo. Braley voted against a continuing spending resolution on Thursday, in part because it did not reverse the “sequester” cuts.

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Sequester could shut down Waterloo, Dubuque, Sioux City air traffic control (corrected)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned yesterday that air traffic control across the country may be severely disrupted if the “sequester” goes into effect. Budget cuts may prompt the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down air traffic control towers at three Iowa airports as early as April.

CORRECTION: Closing the air traffic control towers would not necessarily shut down all traffic at the affected airports. On the other hand, “many corporations won’t fly into airports that don’t have an active tower.”

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Fertilizer company plans $1.7 billion expansion in Woodbury County

After landing significant state and local tax incentives, a large corporation confirmed plans yesterday to expand its fertilizer plant in Port Neal (Woodbury County). Officials hailed the “single largest capital investment” in Iowa history, eclipsing the $1.4 billion fertilizer plant project announced in September for Lee County.

More details and reaction to the CF Industries project are after the jump.

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We have a new candidate in Iowa House district 1

Bret Hayworth has the story at his Politically Speaking blog: David Dawson, a former prosecutor in the Woodbury County Attorney Office, will be the Democratic candidate in Iowa House district 1. He sounds like a great candidate for that Sioux City district. He will face Republican high school teacher Jeremy Taylor, who almost beat retiring State Representative Wes Whitead in 2008.

Our previously declared candidate in House district 1, local business owner Rick Mullin, switched to the Iowa Senate district 1 race after Steve Warnstadt announced his retirement. Mullin’s campaign website is here.

With the filing deadline only a week away, Democrats still lack an announced candidate in House district 2, which contains most of the east side of Sioux City. Recruiting a good candidate for that race should be a higher priority than finding someone to run in Iowa Senate district 27, which is also open and contains southern parts of Sioux City. Not only are Democrats more likely to hold House district 2 than pick up Senate district 27, we are at greater risk of losing the Iowa House than the Iowa Senate.

Once we have a candidate in House district 2, it shouldn’t take long to collect the 50 signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

In related news, there may be a brutal Republican primary in Senate district 27.

Steve King idiocy of the week

These unbelievable comments from Representative Steve King come to you courtesy of KTIV in Sioux City, who asked the congressman about the upcoming closure of the John Morrell plant in April:

King doesn’t support a suggestion, by Iowa governor Chet Culver, to extend federal unemployment benefits to 39-weeks after a worker loses his, or her, job.

The republican worries some Morrell workers won’t start looking for a new job until that 39th week when benefits are about to run out.

King says the 26-weeks workers get, right now, is enough. Rep. Steve King, (R) Iowa says “We shouldn’t turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock. It should actually be a ‘safety net’.”

The John Morrell plant currently employs about 1,450 workers. The unemployment rate in Woodbury County is above 6 percent, so it won’t be easy for all of the displaced workers to find new jobs quickly. The Iowa Democratic Party slammed King’s “absurd” comments:

“Calling the extension to unemployment benefits a ‘hammock’ is insulting. Sioux City is suffering with the blow of the Morrell plant closing. This is the worst recession in 80 years. But, Congressman King believes that we should be worried about these workers being too lazy,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan. […]

“Iowans believe in working hard and playing by the rules, and I know that many affected by the Morrell plant closing are already looking for work to provide for their families after the plant closes. Steve King should stop insulting his constituents and get to work helping them get through this difficult time.”

Not only is King insensitive, he appears to be ignorant about how unemployment benefits relate to the broader economy. Last year Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moodys.com, calculated the stimulus “bang for the buck” of various forms of tax cuts and government spending. The table he created is on page 9 of this pdf document, or you can view it here. Of everything Zandi examined, extending unemployment benefits had the second-highest bang for the buck, generating $1.63 in economic activity for every $1 spent by the federal government. That was more than three times the bang for the buck of any permanent tax cut. Even the best tax cut for economic stimulus (a temporary payroll tax holiday) generates only an estimated $1.28 in economic activity for every $1 in revenue the federal government doesn’t collect.

In other words, extending unemployment benefits to former John Morrell workers wouldn’t just give them a safety net, it would produce more revenue for businesses in the Sioux City area. Last year’s stimulus bill extended federal unemployment benefits, but that provision may expire at the end of this month. Meanwhile, long-term unemployment has reached its highest level in decades. According to KTIV, King has talked with Smithfield Foods about giving Sioux City workers jobs at plants Smithfield owns in other communities, but I question how realistic that is when 44 other states have higher unemployment rates than Iowa. Nor would it help Sioux City businesses and property values to have hundreds of families leave the area.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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"Best Performing Cities" index sees improvement for most Iowa metros

The Des Moines Register brought to my attention a new report ranking 200 large metropolitan areas and 124 smaller metropolitan areas:

The 2009 Milken Institute/Greenstreet Real Estate Partners Best-Performing Cities Index ranks U.S. metropolitan areas by how well they are creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.  The components include job, wage and salary and technology growth.

The list of smaller cities includes eight Iowa metros, and you can view the details here. My short take is after the jump.

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ACTION: Help protect air quality in northwest Iowa

An oil refinery proposed for a South Dakota site near Sioux City poses a threat to air quality in northwest Iowa, I recently learned from Dr. Jim Redmond, chair of the Sierra Club’s Northwest Iowa Group. The Hyperion Energy Center would be the sixth-largest oil refinery in the country. It would emit large quantities of several pollutants, including particulate matter 2.5, which is hazardous to human health.

The South Dakota Department of Natural Resources (DENR) and the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment have issued a preconstruction air permit to the Hyperion Energy Center. Unfortunately, the permit omits relevant information. For instance, instead of using five years of data on ambient air conditions in Sioux Falls and Sioux City, only one year of information for Sioux Falls was used. The environmental impact on Sioux City (25 miles downwind from the proposed facility) will certainly be greater than on Sioux Falls (50 miles upwind).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticized the draft air permit for the Hyperion project, but South Dakota’s DENR did not incorporate their suggestions.

Because the Hyperion project will adversely affect air quality in and around Sioux City, Iowans should contact the EPA administrator in Region 7 (containing Iowa). South Dakota lies in the EPA’s Region 8.

Redmond sent me extensive background information on this matter and sample letters to the EPA, which I’ve posted after the jump.

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Get ready to make the case for gay marriage

In December the Sioux City Council tabled a resolution defining marriage as between a man and a woman in order to seek an opinion from the Iowa Attorney General’s office on the legality of such a measure.

On Monday night, however, three of the five City Council members got tired of waiting for the opinion and passed the resolution in a packed room. The other two council members voted no because local authorities lack legal standing on this issue, but according to the Sioux City Journal, they emphasized that they do not support same-sex marriage.

The resolution has no legal force, and I find it ironic that the self-styled crusaders against “judicial activism” want to use local government to weigh in on a matter outside its jurisdiction. Supporters of the resolution note that it asks the state legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to oppose same-sex marriage. City councils have often requested legislative action on this or that issue.

Those who support same-sex marriage need to be ready for a lot more battles like this if the Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the Varnum v Brien case later this year. The religious right will lean hard on local officials and state legislators to demand a constitutional amendment. We will need to persuade not only elected officials, but also our friends and relatives who may eventually vote on the matter.

One Iowa executive director Carolyn Jenison is absolutely right to call the Sioux City Council’s resolution “divisive, demeaning, and shameful” as well as “mean-spirited.”

I also think ridicule can be a potent weapon, as Sioux City resident Brian Vakulskas demonstrated with a comment posted on the front page of the Sioux City Journal’s website:  

Every time I swerve to miss a pothole in Sioux City, I take solace in the fact that the City Council has defined marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman.

Daily Kos user Lava20 recently posted some tips on how to talk with opponents of gay marriage.

You can get involved with One Iowa or one of the PFLAG chapters in Iowa if this issue is important to you.

There are of course no guarantees that the Iowa Supreme Court will permit same-sex marriage, but I am hopeful that the ruling will be favorable. Even if the religious right and their allies manage to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot, I am hopeful that the effort can be defeated. Once people realize that the sky didn’t fall because some couples made their lifetime commitments official, the public backlash against gay marriage will be limited.

For your times they are a-changin’ file, I offer this story. A couple of weeks ago I ran into two women who recently became engaged, anticipating a favorable outcome in Varnum v Brien. (They have been together for a long time.) They have started looking at wedding dresses, and while shopping around they stopped in a store in a relatively small city (population under 30,000, and not a liberal college town).  Apparently the main reaction of the shop owner there was, “Cha-ching! Two dresses!”

I believe the majority of Iowans will accept gay marriage within a few years if it becomes legal.

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New thread on Varnum v Brien and gay marriage

It’s been a week since the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Varnum v Brien. You can view the video of the proceedings here (scroll down the page). For three different analyses of the legal issues in this case, see the legal primers that jpmassar and Osorio wrote before the Supreme Court hearing, or this piece Chase Martyn published today.

Grant Schulte of the Des Moines Register summarized the key points raised by each side in this article. Assistant Polk County Attorney Roger Kuhle argued that:

*the district court judge erroneously threw out expert testimony;

*the Polk County recorder being sued had no choice but to follow the Defense of Marriage Act;

*allowing same-sex marriage could lead to polygamy becoming legal;

*allowing same-sex marriage could hurt children being raised by heterosexual parents;

*allowing same-sex marriage could hurt the institution of marriage, because future generations would know marriage is no longer about procreation;

*the Iowa legislature (not courts) should decide this matter.

Dennis Johnson, the attorney for the six couples seeking marriage rights, argued that:

*Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act violates the equal protection and due process provisions of Iowa’s Constitution;

*arguments about potential damage to the institution of marriage are “highly speculative”;

*the district court judge was right to reject the expert testimony concerning the benefits of having a mother and a father;

*marriage is not about procreation, because Iowa issues marriage licenses to many people who cannot have children or who would be bad parents (e.g. sex offenders);

*Iowa already permits same-sex couples to be foster parents and adopt children;

*gay marriage would not lead to legalizing marriages between more than two people.

Drake University Law Professor Sally Frank wrote a brief play-by-play of the arguments, which she observed from the courtroom. (Side note: Iowans may not be aware that Frank is well-known for filing the lawsuit that ended gender discrimination at Princeton University’s eating clubs.) I agree with Frank’s comments about the weakest point for plaintiffs’ attorney Johnson:

The lawyer for the Plaintiffs’ (six couples seeking marriage) […] had a little trouble distinguishing his argument that marriage was a fundamental right that could not be limited to heterosexuals from the question of polygamists also having a fundamental right to marry. At one point though, he pointed out that no other Iowa laws that deal with marriage in any way would need to be changed if same sex couples were allowed to marry. This would not be the case with polygamy.

When questioned about whether Iowa would be forced to permit polygamy if the court allowed gay marriage, Johnson’s first response was to say that marriage had always been about two individuals–not strong turf when the rest of your case holds that the tradition of marriage being between a man and a woman is not sufficient grounds to deny same-sex couples those rights. He was correct to point out shortly thereafter that certain laws (e.g. related to custody or inheritance) would have to be changed if Iowa allowed polygamy.

Several people I’ve spoken with felt that Kuhle, who is an excellent attorney, was not at the top of his game last Tuesday while being questioned by the judges. They speculated that either he did not prepare enough or did not believe all of the arguments he was making.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen editorial board said watching the arguments made them

even more confused as to what compelling interest the state has in denying otherwise qualifying same-sex partners from applying for and receiving a state marriage license.

The Des Moines Register editorial board also felt many of Kuhle’s arguments were weak:

If the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately upholds Iowa’s law limiting marriage to a man and a woman, it will have to have a better reason than the one offered by defenders of the law at Tuesday’s oral argument.

Legal experts quoted in this article by Jason Hancock said they could not tell how the court will rule on this case from observing the oral arguments.

As a non-lawyer, I found it difficult to follow some of the discussion during the hearing. At Iowa Independent, Lynda Waddington wrote a good piece explaining the significance of all that talk over whether the court should apply a “rational basis” or a “strict scrutiny” standard in this case. She interviewed former Iowa Supreme Court judge Mark McCormick:

“The Court has decided quite a number of equal protection clause cases,” said McCormick. “A good deal of what the court does in [those] cases depends on what the test or standard is.”

When a case involves a routine economic issue, the court typically applies a rational basis test, he said. That means the judges seek to decide if the Legislature could have had any reasonable basis for making the classification that it did. If the judges conclude that the state had a rational reason for the law, the court won’t interfere with it, but will defer to the Legislature.

“Strict scrutiny” is a more demanding standard, he said.

“Where you are dealing with an issue like race or citizenship or something that is considered a fundamental constitutional right, the burden is on the government to prove a compelling need for the classification,” he explained.

Some prominent social conservatives in Iowa expect the court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, clearing a path to same-sex marriage in this state.

University of Iowa law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that she also expects the state law to be overturned. The same article noted that while the legal arguments made in this case resemble those made in other states, the attorneys for the plaintiffs also relied on legal precedents specific to Iowa:

Camilla Taylor, a senior staff attorney with Lambda Legal and lead counsel for the plaintiffs, foresees several possible outcomes of the hearing.

She said there could be an outright win or loss, the case could be remanded back to trial court to hear from more witnesses, or the court could duplicate rulings on similar cases in New Jersey and Vermont.

In those states, the courts granted civil unions but did not rule on the issue of gay marriage. Taylor said she expected the Legislatures in Vermont and New Jersey to draft legislation supporting same-sex marriage, thus taking it out of the court’s hands.

Taylor said she doubted the Iowa Supreme Court would use the last two options.

“Most likely it will be an outright win because of constitutional precedent. The cases we are relying on are very strong,” she said. “I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I am optimistic because of the Iowa cases we are relying on.”

Meanwhile, Kate and Trish Varnum, whose name has become famous because of this case, just want to get married.

Whatever the state Supreme Court decides, gay marriage is not going away as a political issue anytime soon in Iowa.

Yesterday the Sioux City Council tabled a resolution that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman:

Instead, the council will seek an attorney general’s opinion about whether a city council can legally pass such a resolution and whether doing so would open the city up to litigation.

The Iowa branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has already come out against the Sioux City proposal, so the idea of litigation against the city is not far-fetched.

Arguments about gay parenting and whether homosexuality should be “normalized” in public schools will likely be prominent in next year’s school board elections. By a 6-1 vote on Monday, the Ankeny school board

denied a request by parents who said “And Tango Makes Three,” a children’s book about two male penguins that raise a chick together, should be off-limits to elementary school students.

Looking beyond Iowa, I imagine that Newsweek’s mailroom is having a busy week after the magazine published a cover story on gay marriage by religion editor Lisa Miller. The opening passage is sure to anger many:

Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel-all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments-especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple-who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love-turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

This is an open thread for any comments about the politics or the legal issues surrounding the marriage equality debate.

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