Gov. Kim Reynolds’ message for Iowans has been consistent since the coronavirus pandemic arrived a year ago:
Yes, wearing masks is important, the governor has made clear, but government should leave it to people to do right thing. Reynolds has been under intense pressure, both for and against facial masks. Advocates for a mask mandate have said she could save countless lives and slow the spread of disease if she required masks to be worn whenever people are in public places or large groups. But government should not dictate people’s behavior, Reynolds insists. Randy Evans
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
Iowa’s state park rangers — certified peace officers who safeguard the state’s premier outdoor recreational areas — are having to confront an increasingly endangered species: themselves. Budget cuts have severely thinned the ranks of state park rangers over years — to 35 this year from between 45 and 55 in the late 1990s, State Parks Bureau data show. As a result, far fewer park rangers are now serving far more visitors to state parks. An IowaWatch review of state historical data shows that the ratio of park rangers to annual park visits has gone from one ranger per 217,700 visits in 1995 to one ranger per 422,269 visits in 2019. The shortage has gotten more severe this year — the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s state park system — as thousands more visitors flocked to state parks to relieve their COVID-19 isolation.
Early in 2020, a movement picked up pace at the Iowa State Capitol to provide more money to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented the Invest in Iowa Act, which would increase the state sales tax by a penny to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. It was a move 10 years in the making. In 2010, Iowans voted to create the trust fund through a constitutional amendment, but the fund has never been funded. The governor’s plan would have tweaked the original formula to finance not only water quality and conservation programs but also mental health programs, while cutting income and property taxes.
When the Iowa Legislature wrote the state’s public records law 50 years ago, lawmakers wanted to guarantee that anyone could obtain copies of state and local government records that are not designated by statute to be kept confidential. There is no asterisk in the law. There is no exemption saying the governor can ignore the statute. But there is evidence Gov. Kim Reynolds believes otherwise. Lawyers representing the governor made a troubling admission this month in a Polk County District Court lawsuit.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
In 2015, the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy lacked training on implicit bias. As a cadet there then, Natasha Greene sought discussions on her own about some of the mistaken beliefs officers might hold of others, such as expecting a black person to be dangerous or more crime prone from stereotypes, ideas that could come from television or passed from family and friends. Now an Iowa State Police Department officer, Greene said these conversations were uncomfortable, as awkward as telling someone the zipper on their pants is down but you still do it.
“If I’m talking to somebody I care about and their fly’s down, of course I’m going to tell them their fly’s down because it would be more harmful for me to just let them carry on without knowing,” Greene said. Today those discussions are more serious and more uncomfortable as the May 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police brought the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for defunding police. Implicit bias and training officers became part of the national conversation.
Farmers market managers and vendors are still waiting for guidance from state officials, even as the outdoor season approaches, causing some to postpone their seasons. Jam-packed lines, and even live entertainment during the markets, will be relegated to the past — at least for now — in light of changes underway in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “It’s a whole new world,” said Bob Shepherd, the market manager in Washington. He also serves on the board of the Iowa Farmers Market Association. While the Washington market plans changes for its upcoming season, others remain in limbo.
Iowans take considerable pleasure in enumerating the various ways our state stands apart from the other 49 states – beyond our endangered first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. For many years, we pointed with pride to the fact that Iowa’s high school graduation rate was tops in the United States. We like to remind friends from other states that Iowa farmers
produce more corn, hogs and eggs than farmers anywhere else. Sports fans beamed over the University of Iowa wrestling team’s success from 1978 to 1986, when the Hawkeyes won the NCAA title a record nine consecutive times. That is a longer string of NCAA team championships than any other Division I university in any other sport.