Friday, October 31, 2014


Civic Skinny

Huh? Party of Branstad, Grassley wants term limits. New platform would ban gay marriage, kill Obamacare

7/9/2014

Terry Branstad has been governor of Iowa for nearly 20 years. He was elected to four terms, sat out for a bit, was re-elected in 2010 and now is seeking his sixth term.

Chuck Grassley has been in the United States Senate for nearly 34 years. He has been elected to six consecutive six-year terms and has said he will seek a seventh in 2016.

Terry Branstad and Chuck Grassley are Republicans.

So it seems a bit odd that the platform adopted the other day by the state Republican Party calls for term limits for state and federal elected officials. It’s even odder in that the platform was written after a Branstad-backed purge that ousted the Tea Party and Libertarian types who had taken over the party apparatus.

And it’s even odder still that the new platform calls for the repeal of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s the one, ratified in 1913, that calls for the direct election of United States Senators. Before then, senators were chosen by the legislatures of their home states. (Sen. Grassley, who is OK with term limits on a national basis, “supports democratically elected Senators, by the people,” a spokeswoman says.)

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What does all this mean?

                  a. Republicans want Branstad and Grassley to move aside to make room for younger people.

                  b. The purge didn’t work.

                  c. No one was paying attention when the platform was written and ratified.

                  d. No one really cares because nobody pays attention to platforms, anyway.

                  e. All of the above.

The answer probably is “d,” though each of the others is a possibility.

Of course, the platform doesn’t define “term limits.” Maybe the limit the writers had in mind was eight terms.

The platform is a mere shadow of platforms past. The 2012 platform has 27 sections and 400 planks. The new one has six sections and 51 planks. Gone are such statements as “health care is a privilege and not a right,” and gone are the planks calling for the elimination of the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Energy, Interior, Labor and Commerce as well as the TSA, FDA, ATF, EPA, National Endowment for the Arts, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

None of those things seem to have happened.

But the new platform does call for amendments to the U.S. and Iowa constitutions defining marriage “as the legal union between one natural man and one natural woman.” It calls for repeal of Obamacare, for aid to private and parochial schools as well as public schools, for the addition of “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” in the gun laws and the elimination of “gun free zones.”

The platform would eliminate inheritance taxes — known to platform writers as “death taxes” — and would eliminate the income tax and replace it with sales taxes or excise taxes or value-added taxes, taxes that generally hit the poor the hardest. It is against granting citizenship to babies born in to the U.S. to illegal immigrants, and it is for voter-ID laws.

Finally, it supports laws making English the official language of the U.S., repeal of various laws that regulate business, and “legislation that would eliminate all public sector unions.”

None of these things is going to happen.

One plank that remains in the platform: “We support the definition of manure as a natural fertilizer.” …

Job watch: Nonfarm employment for May was 1,568,100, up almost 70,000 since Branstad became governor three-and-a-half years ago. He promised to create 200,000 jobs in five years. With 18 months to go, he is 130,000 short ….

The Des Moines Register reported Saturday that a man has sued the state for not letting him preach his religious messages on state property outside the fairgrounds. That was news to anyone who didn’t read Cityview two weeks ago. …

Andy Anderson, the 97-year-old man who started Vista Kennels and who was senselessly beaten to death the other day, was a lovely and kind human being. So is his 94-year-old widow, Harriet, who was beaten into critical condition. Most humans and all dogs would agree. …

After-thought: Do the Republicans who want to repeal the 17th Amendment think a state senate controlled by Democrats and led by Mike Gronstal would vote to send Chuck Grassley to Washington? CV

Speech at ISU

Iowa State University has never really grasped the concept of free speech.

In the 1940s, the university caved to the Farm Bureau and the Dairy Association and reshaped and suppressed research on the merits of oleomargarine. This led to the decimation of its world-class Department of Economics — two professors went on to win Nobel Prizes after leaving Iowa State — and was an open sore at the university for a generation or more.

In the 1990s, when I was in Ames every day as the editor and co-owner of the Daily Tribune, I saw the university try to transfer a cafeteria worker because his two tattoos were offensive to some. I listened as students complained to President Martin Jischke that they were not allowed to put posters or cartoons on their dorm-room doors if others found the postings offensive. I watched as the administration tried to enforce “free speech zones” — restricting speech and protests in most areas of the campus.

I read the minutes of a meeting where a university official said tenured faculty “have more free speech than others do” at Iowa State. I reported on how the library refused to keep accepting an anti-abortion newsletter — and threw out back copies from its stacks. I read a memo from a university official threatening to cut aid to the student newspaper if it kept accepting ads from real-estate firms trying to entice students out of dorms and into apartments.

For the past couple of years, they have been at it again.

The university drove out the Harkin Institute — which was to house and make available to everyone the papers of Iowa State graduate and retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin — after saying in effect that it had to approve any research produced by scholars using those papers. The university “wants to make sure that they’re able to have one voice and one mission in terms of agricultural research,” Gov. Terry Branstad said. During the controversy, the president of the Board of Regents was the long-time head of the Iowa Farm Bureau. The deputy head — and current president — is a wealthy ag entrepreneur and big giver to Republican politicians.

Around the same time, in the fall of 2012, the university’s trademark licensing office approved a T-shirt design submitted by the university’s 496-member chapter of NORML, a nationwide organization that advocates for the legalization of safe, convenient and affordable marijuana. The back of the T-shirt said “Freedom is NORML at ISU,” and it had the small image of a cannabis leaf. The front said “NORML ISU,” with the O in NORMAL represented by the head of Cy, the school’s trademarked mascot.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, legislators and others — read “others” as “givers” — complained about the T-shirt. The university quickly rescinded its approval. University officials “admitted…that they feared that the t-shirt posed a financial threat to ISU, either through loss of state funding or alumni donations,” the lawsuit says.

At any rate, the university then altered its guidelines. They now bar the use of the trademarks on any items that promote “dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions, or behaviors,” the lawsuit says. This includes “drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful.”

The new restriction was clearly aimed at NORML. Cy continues to adorn the helmets of ISU football players, for instance, even though football is clearly a dangerous activity. (Last season, on just the offensive line, six ISU players missed games due to injuries.) And, the lawsuit notes, the university continues to approve trademarked insignia for other groups whose activities might be considered dangerous, illegal or unhealthy. One such group: ISU Cuffs, “an educational group for people who want to learn more about alternative sexuality, such as kink, fetish, BDSM, and other expressions of safe, consensual and non-exploitative human sexuality.” (“Bondage is by far the most common kinky practice, but it is also among the most difficult things to do without causing harm,” the group’s website says.)

The lawsuit, filed by two members of ISU NORML, says the new rules are vague and overbroad. They want the court to declare the licensing policy unconstitutional, to restrain enforcement of it and to rule that the refusal to authorize the T-shirt design violated their First Amendment right of free speech.

An ISU spokesman says the university will “file our response with the court,” but adds that “Iowa State has the right to manage the use of our university trademarks.”

The university officials sued in the lawsuit, presumably, are awaiting instruction from legislators and donors on how to respond. CV

— Michael Gartner

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