Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. April 1, 2021.

Editorial: How can Iowa become a telework destination? Make it a place people want to live

Gov. Kim Reynolds said recently she hopes Iowa can attract more teleworkers.

That is a good goal.

The proportion of Americans who worked from home increased from 20% before the COVID-19 pandemic to 71% in October, according to a Pew Research survey.

A larger share of remote work may be here to stay, and Iowa should try to get in on the action.

“You can work from anywhere,” Reynolds said during a new state-facilitated “Mission Employable” podcast. “We have a great story to tell in the state of Iowa.”

She touted the state’s low cost of living, low crime rates and its record of keeping businesses and schools open during the pandemic.

We differ on the wisdom of that last point. But if what people are looking for in the shadow of a pandemic is space to spread out, Iowa has that, even in its cities. New York City has 28,211 people per square mile. Chicago has 11,883. Omaha has 3,517. Those cities offer good options for theater, arts, dining and recreation. So does Des Moines, with only 2,664 people per square mile.

(Cedar Rapids has 1,852; Ankeny has 1,999; and Council Bluffs has 1,526).

If you want to see a Broadway show, you can park your car two blocks from the Civic Center. You can ride your bike on trails or walk in downtown and not share air with others. Even the most densely populated neighborhoods in Iowa have plenty of space.

Reynolds could also try to capitalize on the latest back-to-the-land movement. Current and prospective Iowans should know they can enjoy an urban job through teleworking but actually live in the country, in tune with nature, close to the earth. (This could be a boon for small communities desperate for new residents to pay property taxes and shop on main street.)

Or live in the city, where many yards are big enough for gardening, a hobby that has drawn new fans during the pandemic. Iowa helps feed the world. You can feed your family with a garden.

In many states, people must build raised beds and haul in decent soil to make plants happy. Iowa boasts some of the world’s richest soil. Here, you can just grab a pitchfork or tiller.

Of course, if we want to sell people on our outdoor opportunities, we need to preserve and protect the outdoors. We need to clean up our filthy waterways.

That means demanding the Iowa Legislature finally raise the sales tax a fraction of a penny to fund a trust dedicated to conservation and recreation. Voters amended the state constitution more than a decade ago to create this trust. Thanks to anti-tax lawmakers, not a single penny has been deposited.

Making it possible for people to successfully work from home also requires a more robust infrastructure of in-person workers, particularly in rural areas.

These include law enforcement officers, emergency room nurses, roofers, food production workers, delivery drivers, internet repair people, child care staff and many others who show up in the flesh to keep our economy and daily lives humming along.

The bottom line: Like many other states, we need more working-age people. But it’s not as if a bunch of younger and middle-aged adults are going to fall from the sky.

Given the state’s low birth rate, Iowa will need to attract immigrants and refugees, which offers another reminder that Iowa’s Republican elected leaders should halt anti-immigrant messaging and measures. While they’re at it, they can stop targeting racial and ethnic minorities, transgender persons and women’s reproductive rights, too.

Because, whether people work in an office, at a factory or at home, the key to attracting new workers is making Iowa a welcoming place where people want to live.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 2, 2021.

Editorial: Beware of candidates who won’t tell voters their views

Tuesday is Election Day for residents of Wisconsin and Illinois, where ballots will include candidates running in municipal and school board races.

Over the past two weeks, the Telegraph Herald has previewed key races in our coverage area, talking to dozens of candidates about their positions on local issues and goals for the future. Contenders let voters know about their past experience, what motivated them to run for public office and their priorities if elected. It’s key reading for informed voters.

What’s troubling is that in several area races, one or two candidates have declined to speak to a TH reporter. Reporters try calling and emailing and are sometimes rebuffed by candidates who refuse to “speak to the media.”

That should tell voters something. If a candidate is unwilling to share his or her basic information and reasons for running for public office, how forthcoming with the public will that person be once elected? When a candidate says, “I don’t listen to voicemails or answer calls if I don’t know the number,” how does that bode for a constituent trying to reach his or her elected representative?

Elected officials are called upon to work collaboratively with all kinds of people and businesses. Is one who won’t speak to the local paper likely to be someone who can easily collaborate with others?

What about when it comes time to vote on a contentious issue? That’s bound to happen in local government. Don’t we expect our elected officials to explain why they voted the way they did?

Voters might think twice about candidates who aren’t willing to publicly state what they stand for.

While there might be fewer tri-state-area residents living on farms today, this area’s agricultural roots are strong.

Many, if not most, people from the area are just a generation or two removed from the farm. Plenty of locals grew up with a grandparent or aunt and uncle who lived on a farm. Today, fewer youngsters are getting that exposure to farm life and caring for animals.

That’s a trend that Mitch and Angie Peyton decided to do something about. The Manchester couple built Legacy Cattle Co., a cow/calf barn south of Manchester on Iowa 13. The facility will offer kids a chance to raise and show cattle, learning the lessons taught in the show ring and the barn.

Along with their own four children, the Peytons’ facility will provide an opportunity for area kids — whether or not they have farming roots — to learn the basics of working with cattle.

It’s encouraging to see this young couple giving back to their community by providing an experience in agriculture for kids. As Mitch Peyton said:

“I believe there is a huge opportunity for young people to be involved in agriculture moving forward. If we can be a small catalyst for any of that, we will feel really good about what we are doing.”

Wisconsin is poised to get rid of an arcane law only a handful of states have on the books.

Dodgeville Rep. Todd Novak is working on eliminating the state’s prohibition on remarriage for the first six months following a divorce.

That’s the right move.

People get divorced. It isn’t an easy thing to go through for most people, but it’s a fact of life. State government need not insert itself into the personal decision of when it’s been long enough to consider remarriage after divorce.

Folks in Iowa, Illinois and 41 other states manage to make that decision on their own without state lawmakers’ help. Surely, Wisconsin residents can do the same.

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Quad-City Times. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: The Maxwell question

Last week, a district court judge sided with Scott County Supervisor John Maxwell and overturned a three-person panel’s decision to declare his spot on the county board vacant because of his membership on the North Scott School Board.

If there is no appeal, this should end a saga that threw into doubt not just Maxwell’s membership on the county board but also whether Republicans or Democrats would control the five-person panel. For the voters’ sake, we hope this goes no further.

For those who missed it, a three-person Vacancy Panel, made up of Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, Recorder Rita Vargas, both Democrats, and Treasurer Mike Fennelly, a Republican, voted, 2-1, to declare the Maxwell position vacant.

Vargas and Moritz voted to declare the vacancy; Fennelly voted against it. Maxwell is a Republican.

Critics of the vacancy panel’s decision see politics at work here. Moritz says that’s not the case; that she had doubts, given what she saw as conflicting legal opinions about whether the school board and supervisor offices were incompatible because both are members of the Davenport City Conference Board. The conference board has duties related to the office of city assessor. The conference board has three voting units, the city, county and the school boards.

If politics were at play, they were no less so in Des Moines, where lawmakers quietly slipped a provision into the new elections bill to make sure that whatever incompatibility existed because of Maxwell’s dual membership would go away.

Like Moritz, we saw a range of legal opinions on this. Taken as a whole, the bulk of them seemed to suggest to us that Maxwell’s dual service could continue. And one of the most salient opinions, to us anyway, was the view of the Scott County Attorney’s office that the elections bill that was just passed by the Legislature put this matter to rest; that it made clear that Maxwell could serve on both panels.

Obviously, the petitioners who went to the vacancy panel took a different view. And the Vacancy Panel didn’t find that convincing enough not to declare a vacancy.

We respect the views of all involved, but we hope this issue doesn’t go any further. Some may believe there are legal arguments worth pursuing, but we believe the greater good is to put this issue to bed. We prefer that, whenever possible, courts don’t decide who serves in elective offices; that should be left to the voters.

Having said that, we would quibble with the notion that Maxwell’s membership on both the school board and county board is of little real consequence.

It is true that the City Conference Board is one of the lesser-known local government bodies in Iowa. However, there are times when this board has played a substantive role that could raise conflict considerations.

Consider what happened in Scott County in 1996.

Then, the city assessor at the time, Nick Doenges, was under fire by some members of the county board, which wanted to see him removed.

The supervisors had complaints about the progress of a citywide reevaluation of residential property. And while Doenges defended himself, there was a split among the members of the conference board about whether he should remain in his job.

In the end, the City of Davenport and the North Scott, Bettendorf and Davenport school boards, acting collectively as one unit, voted to keep him. The county board was on the losing end of the 2-1 vote.

At the time, it was a pretty divisive matter within local government, and it got to the heart of who would serve in a pretty important job.

It is true that Maxwell could recuse himself if such a controversy were to arise again. This is a point that a judge made in his ruling last week. But these are the kinds of considerations that happen in the day-to-day workings of government, and they shouldn’t be cavalierly brushed aside.

We have no complaint with Maxwell. This editorial board endorsed him, but we also understand the issues that concerned the Vacancy Panel. And we find it unfortunate the costs of the court case were assessed to the people who petitioned the vacancy panel and filed as intervenors in the court case. We hope the judge reverses course on this.

At the end of the day, though, we believe the judge made a reasonable decision on the core question, and we hope that is the end of it. If this question should arise again, it is the voters who should have the final say.

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