Monthly Archives: May 2009

Be The Poll – Duuuude

As I noted yesterday, the Illinois Senate approved legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use. Minnesota’s governor vetoed a similar bill last week.

During the last Iowa legislative session. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, floated the idea but eventually dropped it.

Officials in several states have talked about it, especially the idea of taxing legal pot to raise much-needed revenue. And the Obama administration has said it doesn’t plan to crack down on pot use legalized by states.

So, what do you think? Should Iowa open the door to legal pot?

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Salier v. King

U.S. Rep. Steve King disagrees with the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling and wants Iowans to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex unions. But he’s smart enough to know that government officials still must abide by court rulings.

But conservative “activist” Bill Salier says King has gone lefty soft. It may take a primary to set his mind right.  

He went after that liberal Grassley. Now he’s after King. And Iowa Independent showcases Salier’s theory on how judicial review should work in a democracy:

“When the governor stands up and says ‘I will not enforce this order.’ When the statehouse stands up and says this [law] is still on the books, and county recorders will abide by the law that is still on the books. That is the end game,” Salier said Wednesday on Steve Deace’s WHO-AM radio program. “So what if the court comes up and says ‘Uh uh.’ That’s all they can do. They don’t have any authority in this matter. They don’t have the guns, they don’t have the money. The statehouse and the governor control the law. We control them.”

He’s taking shots at an unarmed court! Well, I guess the Supreme Court should’ve  armed itself.

It will be a  truly great day when Gov. Vander Plaats orders the National Guard to occupy the Judicial Building. Then we can have the kind of Venezuelan justice system Iowans have been yearning for.

Viva the revolution.

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Thursday Column — Swastikas

The swastika just won’t die.

There they were again Sunday morning, this time painted on 80 cars and some houses in Cedar Rapids. They were hastily drawn, judging by photos I saw, but unmistakable. “Springtime for Hitler,” without the music and laughs.

I know what some of you are thinking. It was probably just stupid kids or some other punks trying to get attention, and now I’m giving it to them. Most of these Nazi calling cards were easy to wash off. No big deal. Very dumb. Let’s move on.

I have no idea what the painter/painters thought about as they toiled away in the darkness, but the message of racial hatred being sent through this vandalism shouldn’t be blown off so lightly.

That message alone is plenty maddening. But it’s the timing that really grabbed me.

On a Memorial Day weekend that offered one of the dwindling chances to honor real Americans who fought the Nazis and remember the sacrifices made by a generation who stood up to fascist evil, someone is out scrawling swastikas.

Anonymous cowards sneak around in the night before our fallen heroes received recognition in the sunshine.

Did the vandals think for one second about it?

“I really don’t believe they know,” said Leroy Lenoch, 85, of Coralville.

“They don’t know what the symbol is.” Lenoch certainly knows.

His Army unit was thrown into action in 1944 when the Nazis threatened to break allied lines during the Battle of the Bulge. Soldiers illequipped and battered by endless snow and bitter cold. Lenoch’s hands and feet were frozen. He spent six weeks in a hospital in England, unable to walk.

So he remembers but also concedes the war is fading history for many.

I suppose that’s not surprising in our whatam-I-doing-now world, where 20 minutes ago is old news. And Memorial Day has become just a three-day weekend to most of us, with barbecues and mattress sales.

So when kids see a swastika, maybe they don’t fully understand the cruelties perpetrated under Nazi banners or the massive, miraculous effort it took to stop that tyranny.

But let’s not go too easy on our swastika-painters.

No free passes. We can’t afford to give any.

Because 64 years after the Nazis fell, one thing that still endures in infamy with the swastika is a search for scapegoats to blame and punish for our problems. Racism and fanaticism did not go out with the Nazis. Misguided anger and rage remain in the world, along with the politicians who are eager to stoke it and exploit it.

Hate is still out there in the dark. We simply can’t wash it away.

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What are the Neighbors Up To?

The Illinois Senate approved legislation yesterday that would legalize marijuana for medical uses. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The measure would allow people suffering from unrelenting pain or nausea due to a narrow list of conditions — including cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease — to use marijuana if prescribed by a doctor.

Physicians who prescribe the drug would have to have an established relationship with the patient.

Patients or their primary caregiver then would be allowed to grow marijuana in their home or visit a licensed dispensary to obtain their supply.

Opponents, of course, say this is madness, reefer madness. It still has to pass the Illinois House.

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County Bonding Update

Linn County Supervisor Lu Barron and county staffers visited The Gazette’s editorial board this afternoon to discuss issues surrounding the possibility of floating bonds to expanded the county’s Administrative Office Building, or AOB.

Last week, supervisors talked about using new powers granted by the Iowa Legislature allowing counties and cities hit by disasters to sell bonds without first seeking voter approval. That sparked some controversy, because the $11 million AOB project being discussed includes costs that go beyond simply repairing flood damage. 

One piece of the project involves adding a new floor to the building to house offices, including new digs for the supervisors. I wrote about the issue last week.

Now, Barron says disaster bonds are just one of several options being considered.

“Our intentions are good in the fact that we want to come back better after the flood,” Barron said.

First, the county plans to seek a state grant for the AOB through Gov. Chet Culver’s shiny new I-Jobs bonding program. Linn County will be competing against scores of communities for a slice of $118 million in state bucks for local infrastructure projects.

If that doesn’t work, the county has three bonding options.

One is the disaster bonding power discussed above.

If supervisors take that route, residents could still seek a public vote through a “reverse referendum.” But they’d need to gather signatures equal to 20 percent of the turnout for the last presidential election. That’s more than 20,000 voters.

Second, because the AOB is in an “Urban Renewal Area,” the supervisors can issue bonds for repairs and improvements without a public vote.  This was a new one to me, but very much in play, according to Finance Director Steve Tucker.

Again, a reverse referendum is possible with urban renewal bonds, and this time it would take 10 percent of the last general election’s turnout. That’s 10,000 signatures.

Third, they could use good old general obligation bonds and have a public vote, first. It would take a 60 percent vote for passage.

So does the county really have a chance of landing an I-Jobs grant?

 Sure, although the competition will be fierce. The state is already spending $46.5 million from the program on public facilities in Linn County. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to needs, I know, but it means that an AOB grant could face tougher sledding.

And if you believe that I-Jobs money should be spent on projects that both create jobs now and help the state build an economic infrastructure foundation for the future, like upgrading the power grid, then forking over millions of dollars to fix up the AOB is probably not on your priority list.

It’s also not on you list if you want to see flood mitigation or watershed management projects get bucks. Or public housing. Or mass transit. Or rail. Or any number of things on shovel-ready wish lists.

So if the I-Jobs bid fails, it’s back to bonding. And Barron said the board will not commit to any option now.

FEMA is willing to kick in at least $2.2 million and perhaps more to repair the building. But it won’t pay for the whole expansion project. The gap is what’s at issue.

Also new today, Garth Fagerbakke, county construction director, said that buying and remodeling the county’s current temporary home, the former Steve & Barry’s store at Westdale, would cost in the neighborhood of $14 million. He bases that on a $3 million purchase price and $100 per-quare-foot remodeling costs for the 110,000 sq. ft. building.

That’s not a definitive estimate, however. No comprehensive assessment has been done.

So, bottom line – voterless bonds are only one option being considered. And there’s a chance the Big Lug’s big program will solve the debate for us.

If it doesn’t, we’ll be back to the pivotal question — if expanding the AOB is such a great idea, why not let the people vote on it?

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While You Were Sleeping

Gov. Chet Culver wielded his veto pen just before a midnight deadline last night to take final actions on the work product of the 2009 legislative session. The press release popped on my BlackBerry around midnight.

I can’t remember a governor wrapping up his work in the dark of night like this.

The Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa have coverage.

One item that Culver vetoed would have provided more transparency into how state tax credits for businesses are being used and whether we’re getting any bang for our bucks. We would have gotten a list of companies that receive $500,000 in research and development credits.We could have followed our money.

But Culver says that would prompt a court challenge from companies that want to remain secret recipients.

The governor also signed legislation that will slice nursing home fines for facilities that self-report errors and make changes. Advocates for the elderly opposed the legislation.

Again, not sure why Culver couldn’t announce this stuff during the considerable daytime hours we have this time of year. But I guess it’s fitting considering the legislative session also ended in a groggy stumble.

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Iowa SCOTUS Reax

So what are Iowa politicos saying about President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States?

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mike Kiernan. He likes her:

“Today President Obama delivered on his promise with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor’s stirring life story and outstanding career – at nearly every level of our judicial system – makes her qualified to serve as America’s next Supreme Court Justice. Throughout her career on the bench, she has been lauded as a fearless jurist, with an independent mind and a deep commitment to the rule of law and our constitution.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron. He likes her, not:

“President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor is another victory for the radical judicial activism movement. Judge Sotomayor will put her liberal policy preferences above neutral application of the law. This nomination is a setback for defenders of the Constitution and a victory for liberal special interest groups.”

But please, judge, don’t take it personally. Rep. King just doesn’t like the Supreme Court, period:

“Supreme Court decisions have effectively amended our Constitution regularly and with impunity for decades. Nearly all of the social conflict in this country stems from the Court’s extra-constitutional interference with the voice of the people. The very last people in America who should be amending the Constitution are the Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court is charged with interpreting the Constitution, but instead its recent activism has amended it.”

Yes, of course. If only the courts had left all our nice, traditional walls and barriers and divisions in place, everything would be swell and conflict-free. Interesting read on American history.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a  Democrat. He likes her:

Judge Sotomayor has proved herself as an excellent jurist. She believes in the rule of law, and she has the background and experience to understand how the law affects ordinary people, business, and government. She is a woman and Hispanic with a diversity of life experience that will contribute much to the Court.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a Judiciary Committee member. He likes the process:

“The Judiciary Committee should take time to ensure that the nominee will be true to the Constitution and apply the law, not personal politics, feelings or preferences. We need to ask tough questions to learn how this individual views the role of a Supreme Court justice. The last 25 years of Senate review of nominees has been entirely different than the first 200 years, and today the Senate can’t just be a rubber stamp for President Obama’s nominees.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. He likes her, and ordinary Americans:

“Judge Sotomayor is extremely qualified. She has the intellect and experiences necessary to serve on our nation’s highest Court. In addition to her nearly 17 years on the federal bench – having been appointed by both Presidents Bush and Clinton – she has unique life experiences that I believe are critical to ensure that the Court truly embodies the diversity of our country and understands how the law impacts ordinary Americans.”

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