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Civic Skinny

Polk court tells johns: stay away from backpage.com.

1/27/2016

At least some of the 30 or so men picked up in those prostitution stings in August at the Ramada Inn on Army Post Road and the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites on Merle Hay pleaded guilty last month. They have been fined $625 and received deferred judgments — meaning the record will be expunged after a year if they stay away from hookers. Or at least hookers accompanied by undercover police.

One eyebrow-raising part of at least some of the sentences: “As a condition of probation, Defendant is ordered to refrain from visiting or advertising on the website Backpage.com. The Defendant shall refrain from posting or responding to any advertisements for prostitution, escort, massage, modeling or personal services in any forum.”

“Taking away First Amendment rights seems odd,” a lawyer told Cityview. It also makes you wonder exactly how they will monitor what websites these guys are visiting. And it makes you wonder, too, how they define “personal services.” Barbering? Manicures? Tanning? Psychiatry? Marriage counseling, perhaps? …

Kent Sorenson, onetime legislator and favorite of the evangelicals but more recently a convicted felon for taking money to switch allegiances in the 2012 elections, was supposed to go on trial this week for assaulting his wife and trying to beat up a policeman. That has been delayed. A new hearing is set for Feb. 24 in Warren County District Court. …

It wasn’t in the newspapers, but the Des Moines City Council this month gave the final go-ahead to saving the Jackson Street Bridge, the 118-year-old span that crosses the Raccoon River downtown and that was — and will be again — a vital link in the trail system. The bridge, closed to cars in 1993 and to hikers and bikers and everyone else in 2013, should be open to those hikers and bikers by late this year.

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The $2.3 million restoration is being paid for by public and private money — $750,000 from the city, which was going to spend that much to tear it down, $500,000 in a state grant, $225,000 from Polk County and more than $1 million from corporations and individuals. The Meredith Corp. and Mell Meredith were vital in coming to the rescue of the bridge, which crosses the Meredith Trail, and parks boss Ben Page fought valiantly to save it.

The bridge was first known as the Fifth Street Raccoon River Bridge, then just the Fifth Street Bridge. It is on the National Historic Register of Places as the S.W. Fifth Street Bridge, and it is known to a couple of generations of south-siders as the Jackson Street Bridge. In recent years, it has also been called the Green Bridge, but by city dictate it will be known officially in the future as the Fifth Street Bridge.

After the Fifth Street Bridge opens, the city will close and repair the First Street bridge — also a pedestrian bridge that is part of the Meredith Trail. …

Jennifer Konfrst, the Democrat who is trying to unseat House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow in Windsor Heights and adjacent suburbs, has her work cut out for her. Hagenow raised $131,842 in the latest period and had $137,109 in the till as of Jan. 19. Konfrst raised $21,644.

Hagenow, a lawyer who turned 44 the other day, has been in the House since 2008. He has had a couple of close races in the past, and the Republicans promoted him last session and are pouring money into the race to keep him in office. PACs, right and left, are flooding him with checks. The Iowa Health PAC sent in $10,000, Hy-Vee (where Hagenow’s wife is a dietitian) and Nationwide and Iowa Realtors pacs have put in $5,000 and Kum & Go’s pac $2,500. The Koch Brothers’ company’s pac has sent in $1,500. More than a score of others are in for at least $1,000. The biggest individual gift: $5,000 from Gary Kirke.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district, 7,500 to 6,700. There are about 6,000 independents. …

Sholom Rubashkin, the man who employed undocumented workers in a packing plant in Postville that was part of a controversial raid by federal agents in 2008 and who later was sentenced to 27 years in prison following a 163-count indictment listing charges ranging from bank fraud to illegally harboring immigrants for profit, is still arguing the case. Two years ago, he moved to have federal judge Linda Reade recuse herself and, in effect, invalidate all of her actions, arguing that she unconstitutionally inserted herself into some of the planning on the raid.

Rubashkin or his lawyers clearly seem to have gotten under Reade’s skin. She got a lot of bad press for her role in meeting secretly with prosecutors before the raid, and in a highly unusual move some well-known former judges — as well as two former attorneys general and two former FBI directors — asked the United States Supreme Court to review the ruling. It declined. Earlier, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Reade. “Rampant rumors and innuendo stemming from the arrest and prosecution of almost 400 employees spurred some erroneous perception,” Reade writes in a decision handed down last week. The 33-page decision says “much, if not all, of [Rubashkin’s] motion…is based on fallacious reasoning.”  She then rejected his motion.

Rubashkin is serving his time in the federal prison in Otisville, N.Y. …

Let’s see, now: Gov. Terry Branstad has come out against Sen. Ted Cruz, who is supported by, among others, Rep. Steve King. Branstad’s son works for the group promoting ethanol. Cruz doesn’t like ethanol. King’s son works for a political action committee supporting Cruz. Onetime gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats has had some nice things to say about ethanol. But never anything nice to say about Branstad. Vander Plaats last month endorsed Cruz.

What does all this mean? Ethanol is as thick as blood; political hatred is thicker than ethanol. CV

Huh?

Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio have as much in common as zebras and zucchini.

They differ on the economy, on immigration, on women’s rights, on guns and on almost everything else.

Yet The Des Moines Register on Sunday endorsed both for president.

An endorsement is supposed to tell readers which candidate comes closest to measuring up to the newspaper’s own yardstick of what’s good and bad for the nation. It presumably helps a reader who doesn’t have the time or opportunity to explore issues with all the candidates.

But how is it helpful to endorse two people of starkly differing views?

That would be like endorsing Tom Harkin and Steve King.

Oh, wait a minute. The Register did that in 2002. CV

— Michael Gartner

ISU and Speech

Federal Judge Jim Gritzner last week told Iowa State University it was out of line when it barred the student chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws from using ISU trademarks on the group’s T-shirts.

The university pulled its approval after someone in the governor’s office complained to the office of ISU President Steve Leath. Two students sued the university, Leath and three other officials.

“These circumstances show that [Iowa State] took action specifically directed at NORML ISU based on their views and the political reaction to those views so that [the ISU leaders] could maintain favor with Iowa political figures,” Judge Gritzner ruled.

“As such, the Court must conclude Defendants’ conduct amounts to discrimination on the basis of [the students’] viewpoint.”  ISU, he concluded, has “not demonstrated a compelling state interest for engaging in viewpoint discrimination.” He ordered the university to allow NORML to use the trademarks, and he told the students to submit their costs of the lawsuit — indicating he plans to make ISU pay the students’ legal fees, which could be hefty.

The issue is not new. For decades, the university has acted as if the First Amendment doesn’t apply on campus. Perhaps the whole issue of free speech should be debated there — in one of the school’s two “free speech zones.”

Free speech is not condoned elsewhere on campus. CV

— Michael Gartner

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