April 7, 2014
Military’s tools of war ending up in Iowa police departments

Some of the military vehicles coming home from war are showing up in in eastern Iowa.

The Washington, Iowa police department’s new MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle isn’t called a tank, but that’s what it looks like to a civilian like me. The Des Moines Register reports Washington City Council members had mixed feelings about the deal and the police chief says ”I hope it’s not used a lot.”

But Washington, less than an hour south of Iowa City, has just 10 full-time cops and there are only about 20,000 people in the whole county. As Register columnist Kyle Munson points out, “Washington isn’t Kandahar City circa 2011.”

Police departments across the country are gearing up as equipment returns home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Law enforcement agencies in Mason City, Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Jasper County, Scott County and Story County also have mine-resistant trucks and a long list of agencies have received military weapons and other items.

The rise of the warrior cop is inevitable and I’m concerned that state and local government’s don’t have sufficient checks in place to govern this type of policing.

The equipment isn’t only being used in extreme events like shooting sprees and bomb threats. Beuna Vista County officers have used their smaller mine-resistant truck twice to make arrests. And military-style assault rifles are commonplace among Iowa cops now. After Ankeny, Iowa police used military tactics to pursue non-violent criminals in a private home earlier this year, officials there said they don’t even have rules for when it’s appropriate to use that equipment.

April 4, 2014
Iowa City residents have a chance to help shape local government

Iowa City’s decennial review of its city charter begins next week.

I’m on a 9-member Charter Review Commission, charged with reviewing and possibly recommending changes to the document which establishes the city’s form of government. Some community members are expected to call for changes in the way city council members are elected and a look at the way petitions and referendums work.

The first meeting is next week, Tuesday, April 8, and here’s the agenda. Commission meetings are of course open to the public and the first meeting next week will be a great chance to get up to speed about how our charter works. The commission’s work could have a huge impact on our local government, so I hope the process draws strong public interest.

5:45pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZyRpHt1C6XIYv
Filed under: iowa city iowa 
March 31, 2014
New Iowa GOP co-chairman: “our party will take the lead in being a good example in minority outreach.”

Republican Party officers in Iowa over the weekend elected Gopal Krishna, an Asian-American conservative activist, to co-chair the state party. Krishna — who replaces Danny Carroll, who was elected chairman, to replace chairman A.J. Spiker, who left to work for Rand Paul — says he’ll focus on minority outreach during his time in party leadership. From his email to Iowa Republicans over the weekend:

In order to be successful we must reach out to new voters, especially those who may not look or sound like those who we have reached out to before.

As one of the only Asian-American Republican Party Chairmen or Co-Chairmen in the entire nation, I know I have a a role to play.

I have already reached out to the RNC and its Chairman Reince Priebus about Iowa taking the lead to reach out to minority voters.

I pledge that as long as I am Co-Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, our party will take the lead in being a good example in minority outreach.

From now until November I will make sure the Republican Party of Iowa is seen as a party that wants to reach out to minorities and will treat them with respect.

As long as I am Co-Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, our state will be known across the country as a state that deeply values all people, and will work to help people realize why all people, regardless of skin color, should vote Republican.

I will also work hard to travel across the state of Iowa, talk with all of our counties, and raise monies for our excellent candidates.

While sometimes there will be different groups or factions within the party, I believe we must get past that and work hard to election Republicans.

March 31, 2014
Tobacco shop closes instead of waiting to be outlawed

Iowa City’s popular tobacco destination The Tobacco Bowl is closing soon.

Iowa’s smoking ban has just a couple exceptions - casinos and businesses where most of the revenue is tobacco sales. Tobacco Bowl leaves an already short list of Iowa businesses where it’s legal to smoke inside.

Management at the Tobacco Bowl - which is located near a few well-connected business-owners’ storefronts - says the shop is closing due to complaints from neighbors. They also say they figure their business could well be outlawed in coming years if smoking laws are made stricter.

“I think we wanted to have a successful and viable business, and I think eventually, within the next few years, we would be unable to conduct business in the way we conduct it now, so I’d rather be ahead of the curve than behind the curve,” the owner, Tommy Connolly told Little Village Magazine.

March 25, 2014
Why is Iowa City a notable people machine?

Johnson County, Iowa has produced the third-highest rate of notable people, according to a study of Wikipedia entries.

A New York Times contributor did the research and found people born in Boston, San Francisco, and Iowa City between 1946 and 1965 are most likely to have Wikipedia entries. The author, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, admits “there are certainly limitations” to a study like this — but there’s nothing we Iowa Citians love more than Iowa City, so I’m going to write about it.

Other college towns also dot the leaderboard, which Stephens-Davidowitz attributes to their having academic genes and exposure to nice things: “Early exposure to innovation. One of the fields where college towns are most successful in producing top dogs is music. A kid in a college town will be exposed to unique concerts, unusual radio stations and even record stores. College towns also incubate more than their expected share of notable businesspeople.”

Interestingly, spending on education didn’t appear in this study to have much to do with producing notable people: ”In states with similar percentages of the population living in urban areas, education spending did not correlate with rates of producing notable writers, artists or business leaders.”

Some of the small print, from The Gazette:

One in 862 people born in Johnson County from 1946-1964 went on to become “notable,” or profiled in Wikipedia, which is the third highest rate in the nation behind Boston (in Suffolk County, Mass.) and San Francisco (San Francisco County, Calif.). … Stephens-Davidowitz matched birth counties of the 150,000 people with profiles in Wikipedia, and focused on the baby boomer generation from 1946 to 1964. Those findings were compared to birthrates by county to determine the rate people from different locations become notable. Only counties with at least 20,000 births in that time period were included in the analysis.

March 25, 2014
Johnson County attorney race highlights criminal justice issues

The two Democrats running for Johnson County attorney appeared together at what’s likely to be the only forum of the race on Tuesday night.

County Attorney Janet Lyness faces a primary challenge from John Zimmerman, a recent law school graduate who’s pushing a more progressive platform for local criminal justice. Tuesday’s event was held in a residence hall basement and announced on Facebook just hours prior to the start as an “impromptu” forum. About a dozen people showed up, mostly students.

Lyness touted her emphasis on sexual abuse and domestic violence cases. She also preempted Zimmerman’s criticism about the drug war, pointing out she’s implemented education programs for many first-time marijuana offenders and that she meets with the sheriff weekly to cut the jail population.

"We go through everyone who’s in jail and see who can get out of jail … We’ve really decreased the number of people in jail on a daily basis," Lyness said.

Zimmerman is running on a platform of heavier discretion over which cases to prosecute. He handed out a list of standards from the Iowa County Attorneys Association and explained how he would refuse to move forward with charges he thinks are “petty” or the result of racist policing.

Zimmerman’s campaign focuses in particular on public intoxication and marijuana possession charges. He reasons that since you can’t prosecute everyone who’s breaking those laws and since there are demographic disparities in the arrests, the charges should just be dropped.
"If you arrested everyone today who was guilty of violating that law, you could fill the basketball stadium. That would of course be impossible," Zimmerman said. " … It tends to be folks who are poor and of color and often folks who are younger and so not surprisingly, the system is full of folks who fit those categories who get charged with possession of marijuana."

March 23, 2014
Iowa’s marijuana reform showdown could come in 2015

The prospect of marijuana reform in Iowa is becoming realer.

Five Republicans and five Democrats are requesting a study on the feasibility of medical marijuana in Iowa. If the request wins approval from the full Iowa Senate and the heads of the two legislative chambers — Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha — state analysts will conduct a study on the topic in the legislative interim.

What’s more, the outgoing chairman of the Iowa Republican Party published a Des Moines Register guest-op this weekend calling for medical marijuana legalization: “Quite simply, it’s time to allow doctors and patients to use medical marijuana if they determine it is the best course of treatment.”

And new polling data show the issue is hardly at question among Iowa voters: 81 percent support allowing doctors to prescribe the substance to patients.

Gov. Terry Branstad still opposes reform, but he doesn’t seem like he couldn’t change his mind. The biggest roadblock to reform is actually Iowa Rep. Clel Baudler, a Republican who leads an important House committee and who so hates the idea of medical marijuana that he illegally lied to a Colorado doctor and got a phony pot prescription just to prove the system can be gamed.

Baudler, by the way, is up for re-election this fall in a district where no-party voters outnumber Republicans and Democrats, according to fellow Iowa blogger John Deeth’s 2014 run-down.

March 18, 2014
Poll: Iowans overwhelmingly support medical marijuana, skeptical of recreational use

81 percent of Iowa voters support allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana, according to a poll released this week by Quinnipiac University. The same data say just 41 percent of Iowans support allowing personal marijuana use.

That’s way out of line with a poll from the Des Moines Register released two weeks ago, which said just 59 percent of Iowa adults are on board with medical pot and 28 percent supporting recreational marijuana. The Quinnipiac poll interviewed twice as many people, but the numbers are still way outside the margins of error.

The Quinnipiac numbers might be a little high, but they’re closer in line with data from other states: “Opposition to personal marijuana is higher in Iowa than in any state we’ve surveyed so far on this subject. Support for medical marijuana is comparable to other states,” assistant poll director Peter Brown said.

March 18, 2014
Senior citizens arrested at protest over Iowa drone operation

A handful of activists were arrested this week as they protested plans to pilot lethal drones from a base in Des Moines. They included an 85-year-old and three activists in their 60’s.

The fighter jet program at the Air National Guard base there was discontinued last year so some of the personnel there are shifting to piloting unmanned aerial vehicles. It’s difficult to say for certain who the drones are killing, but it likely includes dozens of civilians each year.

The anti-war demonstration organized by Catholic Workers and Veterans for Peace at the base over the weekend reportedly drew more than 100 people. A handful of protesters showed up again this week to get too close and be arrested.

Here’s a portion of the statement the protesters released: “We recognize that the slaughter of war always requires war makers to dehumanize the victims.  Reliance on drones exacerbates the dehumanization because the technology allows war makers to kill a target without identifying clearly who the person is or what the person has done or is doing.”

The Des Moines drone operation was also the target of a days-long march this past summer.

March 15, 2014
Unlike Branstad, some Republican governors are opening up to marijuana reform

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad isn’t budging on his opposition to loosening marijuana laws, but that isn’t the uniform position among Republican governors.

Here in Iowa, a few Democrats have been pushing the last couple years to make way for medical marijuana in the state. Branstad has consistently made clear he’s not interested, and iterated as much last week as Iowa’s legislative session begins to end.

"The abuse of prescription drugs is a big problem in this state and I don’t want to do something that’s going to exacerbate that," Branstad said.

The Branstad administration has made opposition to marijuana a priority. His drug control bureau produced this lengthy presentation about how marijuana is a “dangerous drug” and a “public safety hazard.”

That’s in contrast to at least two other Republican governors, who are rethinking marijuana as a criminal justice issue.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said during the SXSW festival in Austin last week that he’s open to decriminalizing pot: “You don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint.”

Another Southern Republican, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, said the same earlier this year on CNN: ”We don’t need to be locking up people who aren’t the dealers, who aren’t committing other crimes, especially who aren’t committing other violent crimes. I think there are better uses of our dollars.”

Republican leaders at large are not rushing to support marijuana reform, but Jindal and Perry are well-respected and seen as conservative among Republicans. Their endorsements matter.

The factual debate over marijuana is basically over and I suspect laxer laws are inevitable. Still, neither party has been a leader on the issue. It’s ripe for political picking.