Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Onion v. Iowa

For Gay Couple, Fulfilling Lifelong Dream Of Marriage Not Worth Moving To Iowa

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Today’s Column – Thanks for Nothing

State lawmakers who stumbled, bleary-eyed, out of the Statehouse early Sunday morning once again left open government legislation on the scrap heap.Surprise, surprise.

It’s been two years since a panel of experts appointed by lawmakers made a series of thoughtful recommendations on how best to tighten and toughen Iowa’s open records and open meetings laws. But during the last two legislative sessions, our leaders decided it would be better to let those ideas gather dust.

Transparency isn’t a priority in a place where major legislation is crafted in closed-door working groups, massive bills are voted on before most members have a chance to read them and legislators put the finishing touches on their 2009 work product in the middle of the night. Go figure.

It was another triumph for the Iowa League of Cities and allied groups representing local government officials, who want the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, slap-onthe-wrist status quo to continue unchanged. Tougher laws would be inconvenient.

And actually, it’s a good thing lawmakers jettisoned this year’s final version of sunshine “reform.” A bill that passed the House was little more than watereddown window dressing.

Real enforcement would be too expensive, say the folks who just crafted a $6.3 billion state budget.

Passage of that House bill probably would have set back openness efforts. So, thanks for nothing, Legislature.

The excuse for all this watering and shelving is that no real Iowans, other than pesky journalists, care about this stuff.

No one in the Marion Community or Benton Community school districts really wants a direct, public explanation from their school board members on why superintendents are out the door or under fire. And I bet nobody in Iowa City would appreciate a full public explanation of why the city manager got the ax.

Nope, we’re all content to be told it’s a private “personnel” issue and leave it at that. Same goes for when they set out to hire a replacement. After all, these are only the well-paid, top executives running important taxpayer-funded institutions in our communities.

But you see, the struggle for more openness has no effect on real Iowans whatsoever.

Whether it’s a hometown superintendent search or CIA memos on torture techniques, we’re told there are plenty of good reasons why we should be uninformed and uninvolved. The right to know is so much less important than comfort and safety.

And yet, I hear politicians lament that everything has become so politicized, that the extremes are dominating the debate on so many important issues.

But when government institutions become less responsive and less open, when they’re perceived as shady clubs for career politicos and their cronies, what do you expect?

Average folks shrug and walk away. Ideologues take their place in the public square.

I’m certainly not saying a legislative bill can solve everything, but it could send an important signal to Iowans that public servants still serve the public. Call it a civic stimulus package.

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Gross Calls a Meeting

Over at The Iowa Republican, news for Republicans by Republicans, blogicon Krusty Konservative discusses a meeting of GOP“establishment” types in Des Moines today called by Doug Gross. Gross, a former candidate for governor and longtime Republican player, is  sharing some polling data on the party’s future direction.

Krusty is skeptical of what these squishy “moderates” are up to. I don’t agree with everything he says, but it’s a good read on what’s happening inside the Republican ranks these days.

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Thursday Reads — H1N1 v. Iowa

So, how about that outbreak/epidemic/imminent pandemic?

Well, it’s become an Iowa story now, and about people, not just pigs. Gov. Chet Culver and our state’s top health experts gathered before cameras yesterday to trouble us while urging us not to be too troubled just yet.

And unless you’ve already sealed yourself up in a hilltop hideaway, you’ve probably heard some of what they had to say.

The Register: Iowa has 2 probable swine flu cases.

Probable is also the key word over at The Gazette. Radio Iowa has potential and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier focuses on the fact that a local is among 159 cases being tested for H1N1 or Swine Flu or New Pandemic or whatever.

Now that it’s here, health offiicials say it will spread. But officials say plans are in place, supplies are rolling in and neither of the “probable” cases required hospitalization.

Still, once the cases are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control, state officials will declare what they call a “Public Health Disaster.” That sounds sort of alarmy. The Register explains:

Gov. Chet Culver said more exact tests should be completed on the two cases by today. If either case is confirmed, he said, he would declare a public health disaster. That would allow for aggressive action to slow the spread of the disease, he said.

Such measures could include mandatory quarantines for infected patients, although state leaders said they hoped people would isolate themselves voluntarily. The measures also could include cancellation of group events, and the closing of schools where the disease appears.

Lots of coulds hanging around, making people jumpy.

So far, this looks a lot like the start of a normal flu season, and by “normal” I mean the annual outbreak that usually kills about 30,000 Americans and 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide. That’s a baseline to keep in perspective while lots of hype swirls around us.

Still, some people aren’t taking any chances. Radio Iowa reports on a Davenport firm, Kelly’s Medical Supply Company, that’s seen a run on surgical masks. I’ve been told I look very handsome in a surgical mask, so good news.

To the west, the Omaha World-Herald says local businesses have plans on place to deal with a possible health emergency.

So this could be something, or it could be less than something, or it could be nothing to worry about. Could be that we’ll be hearing a lot about this for quite a while.

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It’s Probably Here – Culver Flu Release

Here’s what our governor has to say this hour about H1N1:

TWO PROBABLE CASES OF H1N1 INFLUENZA REPORTED IN IOWA

DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver and the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) today reported two probable cases of H1N1 influenza in the state. The initial testing, performed by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory, is expected to be confirmed tomorrow by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The first case, an adult California resident, came to Iowa late last week. The individual traveled through Scott and Clinton counties. The second case, a southeast Iowa adult female, became ill last week after returning from Mexico. She traveled through Johnson, Des Moines and Muscatine counties.

“I have instructed Director Tom Newton to take the necessary steps to declare a public health disaster in Iowa if these cases are in fact confirmed,” said Governor Culver. “I want to be clear: this is a reasonable, precautionary measure with one goal in mind -keeping Iowans safe.”

A public health disaster declaration gives the state additional flexibility that may be needed to carry out the work of protecting the health of Iowans by allowing for several provisions, including:

• The purchase, storage and distribution of additional antivirals and other medical supplies.
• The deployment of public health response teams to supplement and support overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals and resources.
• The adoption of reasonable measures, as necessary, to prevent the transmission of infectious disease and to ensure that all identified cases are properly controlled and treated.
• Possible isolation of individuals or groups of individuals if necessary.

In addition to preparing a public health disaster declaration, Governor Culver and the Iowa Department of Public Health have taken a number of actions in response to these latest developments:

• The department’s emergency coordination center in the Lucas Building has been activated. If necessary, Governor Culver has given clearance to activating the State Emergency Operations Center.
• IDPH is sharing information regularly with local public health officials, health care providers, other state agencies, and private partners.
• IDPH has received a shipment of federal assets, which included anti-viral medications and personal protective equipment.

“The Iowa Department of Public Health has been working round the clock since last Friday, when the potential for the spread of influenza began to become apparent,” said Tom Newton, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Now that we have two probable cases of swine flu in Iowa, it’s especially important to remind Iowans of those prevention messages to help contain the spread of the illness.”

“It’s important to note that both of these cases had recently visited areas where outbreaks of swine flu are occurring,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “However, now that the virus has been introduced in the state, it’s even more important for Iowans to help prevent the spread of the disease.” There are important actions Iowans can take to protect the health of themselves and their family:

• Wash your hands frequently, and always wash your hands after coughing or sneezing.
• Cough or sneeze into a tissue, or your sleeve or elbow.
• If you feel ill, even if you think you could ‘tough it out’ at work, stay home! Don’t send your children to school if they feel ill.
• If you have an illness in which your temperature rises above 100 F, along with other symptoms, including a cough, sore throat, and extreme tiredness, contact your health care provider to be seen and tested in a way that will not endanger the health of others.

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Tricky Culver uses the Switcheroo

Gov. Chet Culver has pulled the old switcheroo.

Today, he’s appointed Shearon Elderkin to the Iowa Power Fund Board and Carrie La Seur to the Environmental Protection Commission. or EPC.  Just days ago, Senate Republicans scuttled Elderkin’s nomination to the EPC and La Seur’s nomination to the Power Fund Board.

So now he switches the appointments after lawmakers go home for the year. Tricky. Here’s the guv’s release:

GOVERNOR CULVER MAKES 4 KEY APPOINTMENTS

DES MOINES – Today, Governor Chet Culver named four individuals to serve in key positions throughout state government. The Governor appointed Shearon Elderkin to the Iowa Power Fund Board, Carrie La Seur to the Environmental Protection Commission, John Mathes as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home, and Tomas Rodriguez as Iowa’s State Public Defender.

“As Governor, I am committed to appointing qualified, dedicated individuals to positions throughout state government,” said Governor Culver. “These four individuals have shown throughout their careers their commitment to Iowans and moving this state forward. I look forward to working with Shearon, Carrie, John and Tomas as together we build a stronger, safer Iowa.”

Shearon Elderkin, of Cedar Rapids, is a former elementary school teacher and graduate of the University of Iowa who serves on the Friends of the Linn County Conservation Board and served on the Environmental Protection Commission. As one of the 18-members of the Iowa Power Fund Board, she will consider and approve incentives from the state’s fund to help grow and support Iowa’s energy independence and alternative energy efforts. Her term begins on May 1st, and she will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.

Carrie La Seur, of Mt. Vernon, is president and founder of Plains Justice, a public interest environmental law center. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. She also served on the Iowa Power Fund Board. As a member of the 9-person Environmental Protection Commission, she will provide policy oversight over the state’s environmental protection efforts. Her term begins on May 1st, and she will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.

John Mathes will serve for a second time as the Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. Mathes is stepping down as Superintendent of the Mt. Pleasant Treatment Facility, where he has served since 2007. He previously served as Interim Commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in 2004. Mathes will serve for one year, in which time Governor Culver will conduct a search and name a permanent Commandant.

Tomas Rodriguez, as the State Public Defender, will be responsible for coordinating the provision of legal representation to indigent persons under arrest or charged with a crime, in juvenile cases, and on appeal in criminal and post-conviction relief cases. Rodriguez is the current Chief Public Defender in Marshalltown, where he has served since 2006. Rodriguez received his bachelor’s degree from St. Ambrose College in Davenport before earning his Juris Doctorate in 1981 from the University of Iowa’s College of Law. Rodriguez taught for 14 years in the Department of Management at the University of Northern Iowa and has over 24 years of experience of general law practice. Rodriguez begins his new position on May 15, and will stand for confirmation before the Iowa Senate next year.

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Where are They Now — Jim Nussle

The former Republican congressman, White House budget director and the candidate who couldn’t stop the Big Lug juggernaut is now a high-powered Virginia-based consultant, says The Register.

Radio Iowa also has coverage of “The Nussle Group,”  which is, according to its innaugural press release, “a multi-disciplined government relations and strategic consulting firm serving a wide range of clients across multiple sectors.”

 I don’t know exactly what that means. But I know one thing for sure. They will never be mistaken for The Spencer Davis Group.

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