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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 17, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Nov 29, 2013

The Des Moines Register, Nov. 24

Tinkers still inspire in speaking for free speech

 

It must have been sweet for Mary Beth Tinker and brother John to revisit the scene of the First Amendment battle that resulted in a famous U.S. Supreme Court case bearing their names.

The Tinkers were in Des Moines last week to visit the city schools they attended nearly 50 years ago and to carry a message to current students about their constitutional right of free expression.

Forty-eight years ago, the Tinkers were kicked out of school for violating school district policy by wearing black armbands to protest the war in Vietnam. Last week, a plaque and locker were dedicated to Mary Beth at Harding Middle School. At a North High School event, Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart spoke about how young people have the power to bring change.

That’s not how school officials saw it in December 1965, when the nation was roiled by the debate over the war in Vietnam. The Tinkers and a third student, Christopher Eckhardt, who attended Roosevelt High School, fought their suspensions, and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in a 1969 decision that serves as a metaphor of the First Amendment rights of students.

But the memorable line by Abe Fortas that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” is rarely put in the context of the court’s qualification in that decision. The court left open a big loophole that allowed regulation of student expression that “substantially disrupt(s) the work and discipline of the school.”

The Supreme Court has since sailed through that loophole to rule against student expression, including a 1986 student newspaper censorship case in St. Louis. And, in 2007, the court ruled against a Juneau, Alaska, student who was expelled for holding a banner labeled “Bong HiTS 4 Jesus” across the street from the high school.

There was no evidence of a “substantial disruption” of the school since the students were all outside watching a parade. In the court’s 6-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts referred approvingly to the schoolhouse gate quote, but added: “At the same time, we have held that the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.”

In other words, students shed some of their rights at the schoolhouse gate.

The Tinkers were also honored recently in another historic setting — the Supreme Court’s chamber in Washington. The occasion was a meeting of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and the topic was the Tinker case. When the speaker announced that Mary Beth and John Tinker were in the audience, they stood and were reportedly greeted by a “burst of applause from several hundred spectators.”

Among those in attendance was Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who has an interest in the Tinker case. Although he joined the majority in the “Bong HiTS 4 Jesus” case, he filed a separate opinion warning against courts going too far in restricting student speech. It would have been better had he joined the dissent, but his point is right.

If John and Mary Beth Tinker had done nothing else but appeal their suspensions to the nation’s highest court, they would have a firm place in history. By continuing to advocate on behalf of student speech rights today, they bring a human perspective to this important court case. All students and friends of the First Amendment should thank the Tinkers for that.

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Quad-City Times, Nov. 24

Interstate power line needs your feedback

 

Iowa’s future as a wind power leader relies on more utility customers than the state can provide. The state ranks 3rd nationally in wind energy production, with 3,198 turbines generating 25 percent of the state’s energy, as well as some reliable income for landowners who negotiated their place on the state’s alternative power grid.

The next big step requires extending the power grid, and that’s the goal of the Rock Island Clean Line, a cross-country transmission line to take Iowa’s wind power eastward to more customers. Wind energy cannot be stored. So to get the maximum value of the state’s existing turbine network, it makes sense to connect to more customers.

That connection, just like the countless transmission lines and thousands of turbines before it, will require extensive negotiations with landowners willing to profit on this expansion. Those are the people essential to the public hearing process underway along the proposed path of the transmission line. The Iowa Utilities Board is in the process of hosting nine forums in counties touched by the Rock Island Clean Line. The meetings culminate Dec. 4 and 5 in our community. The IUB meets 3 p.m., Dec. 4 at the Cedar County Fairgrounds in Tipton, and 9 a.m., Dec. 5 at the Clarion Hotel in Davenport.

If these hearings are like the others, expect serious, passionate discussion. Rock Island Clean Line is trying to chart a half-mile wide corridor to accommodate a 200-foot-wide series of towers. Under regulation of the Iowa Utilities Board, the firm is negotiating with individual landowners. The process is essential to rule out any use of eminent domain to seize land for the project, a tactic we adamantly oppose.

So we encourage supporters, detractors and those uncertain to study this issue and attend the forums. We believe the feedback is essential to negotiating the best deal for the partner landowners, Iowa utility rate payers and Iowa’s business community, all of whom benefit from diverse energy sources.

But we’re not among those against every effort to export Iowa wind energy. Here’s why:

The state has extensive experience negotiating transmission line and turbine right of way with thousands of landowners. Rock Island Clean Line isn’t proposing something new. It’s just a 21st century application of time-tested utility development.

Fortifying Iowa’s energy diversity is in everyone’s best interest, even as that power is sold out-of-state. Building excess capacity accommodates growth and helps further reduce Iowa’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Utilities further east will continue to develop diverse power sources. So it’s quite likely they’ll be buying alternative power from somewhere. Count us among those eager to see Iowa continue to elevate its wind energy dominance, and all the manufacturing, engineering and logistics that go with it.

That’s why these forums need maximum input from landowners and customers, not just those adamantly opposed to energy diversification. Iowa already enjoys an outsized role in American wind energy development, manufacturing and engineering. Consider these hearings as an opportunity to conscientiously grow this important Iowa business with informed landowners who choose to be part of the state’s nation-leading expansion of wind power.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Nov. 21

Supporting the local food industry

 

Locally grown food is becoming a major contributor to the state’s economy, and the Cedar Valley is a great example.

A report made by the Leopold Center for Agriculture shows 74 buyers, including grocery stores, hospitals, colleges and schools, purchased food from 103 area farmers. Purchases of local food added nearly $9 million to the Iowa economy last year.

The University of Northern Iowa’s leadership in purchasing food from local resources sets a great example for the rest of the community.

The report highlights UNI’s Buy Fresh Buy Local program, which began in 1997. UNI now spends nearly 30 percent of its food purchasing dollars on fruit, vegetables, honey, meat, poultry and dairy products within 250 miles of the university.

“I hope it helps farmers think about other specialty crops that can be grown on part of the land that are items consumers can eat right away,” said Lisa Krausman, purchasing manager for UNI’s residence administration.

We’re impressed with their strategies. For example, to help market local foods to students, UNI started a project called “Faces of our Farmers” over the summer. Rachel Wobeter, the local food program manager at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education, and a student photographer traveled throughout the Cedar Valley over the summer collecting stories of local farmers who sell their products to UNI.

UNI students now see photos and can read the stories of the farmers who produce the items they eat in campus dining facilities.

UNI also makes an effort to reduce surplus waste by purchasing items like sweet corn, available in large quantities for short periods of time. It also buys hard-to-sell items like blemished but otherwise edible produce.

“Once a student gets educated about where their food is coming from they might demand to see more of that,” Wobeter said. “That just encourages UNI to continue their commitment to local food.”

We realize that the university is one part of the overall picture. Area restaurants, schools and other institutions have made great strides over the past decade in efforts to buy from nearby resources. That helps ensure that local money stays put. That is good news as it helps the overall community economy.

 

Over the years, we have been pleased to see the growing success of our local farmers markets. During the growing and harvest seasons they offer a variety of vegetable, fruits, herbs, meat, dairy items and other products. The public has responded.

We are fortunate to live in an area so rich in agriculture. Thanks to all the individuals, businesses and institutions in the Cedar Valley that are making the effort to buy their food from local sources.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Nov. 18

Vander Plaats again attacks Iowa judiciary

 

The group that successfully campaigned for the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices in 2010 after the court’s unanimous decision legalizing gay marriage is targeting another judge for what it calls judicial activism.

Bob Vander Plaats’ Family Leader recently blasted Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano’s ruling to temporarily suspend a state rule that would bar use of a video-conferencing method of dispensing abortion pills. Romano’s ruling — a common legal procedure — suspends enforcement of the law or rule in question until it can be tried. Romano, in fact, noted that the ruling did not “in any way decide the merits of petitioners’ constitutional and other claims.” That remains to be seen at trial.

But Vander Plaats’ group seized the opportunity. In the statement, the group referenced its role in leading the charge to oust the justices as a warning for Romano. “Apparently, Judge Romano has not learned a lesson from that vote. The Family Leader encourages Iowans to remember Judge Karen Romano’s activism when she is up for retention in November 2016.”

We encourage Iowans to remember that what makes our state legal system great is an independent judiciary.

Certainly it is not the role of Vander Plaats’ group or any other to “teach judges a lesson” after a ruling. When someone disagrees with the way a judge rules, the best method of recourse is to appeal that decision, not call for the ouster of the judge.

Even when we disagree with a court decision, citizens must remember that Iowa’s impartial system is preferable to one subject to the whims of popular opinion.

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