State Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Milo) has been busy so far this session making an aggressive public push to have Iowa reinstate the death penalty.Â The main impetus for this was the horrifying double murder of two young cousins in Evansdale last yearâ€”an act that certainly justifies the punishment.Â Having said that, now is not the time to suck up energy and oxygen on something that even Sorenson himself agrees will not make it to the Governorâ€™s desk.
The Death Penalty As An Issue
The issue itself has two main facetsâ€”the morality of capital punishment and the legal system which weighs the evidence and carries out the sentence.Â The morality concerns in my view are simply ridiculous, as the idea in principal that someone guilty of taking lives is entitled to live because we are â€œbetter than thatâ€ just doesnâ€™t square.Â In essence what this argument says is that due to merely being born and drawing a breath we have a â€œrightâ€ to live regardless of our actions on this earth.Â Besides there being no rational basis for this â€œrightâ€, this principal forces one to say that men like Hitler or Pol Pot somehow should benefit from a social compact which, only because they were born, guarantees their continued existence.Â I canâ€™t imagine anyone winning that argumentâ€”or frankly even making it.
The concerns regarding wrongly executing innocent human beings is a far more valid one.Â Most people who spend their lives in the criminal justice system as lawyers and judges surprisingly will tell you that the system has too many inherent flaws to guarantee all those convicted of murder are in fact guilty.Â Perhaps this shouldnâ€™t be too surprising considering it is a human endeavor injected with strong emotions on all sides and occasional prejudices.Â Even with an exhaustive appeals process in place these concerns should not be ignored with the stakes so high.
Ironically, even in the states with the death penalty neither side is satisfied.Â Those who oppose it are incensed it exists, and those who support it rightly argue that sadistic killers routinely live on death row for 20 plus years.Â The trick for those who in principal support capital punishment is to delineate between cases of obvious guilt and the more â€œwho-done-itâ€ circumstantial cases.
A Possible Solution
If actual legislation were forwarded to return Iowa to a death penalty state, dealing with some of these legitimate concerns would be essential.Â My proposal for doing so would be to have the legal process play out much as it does now.Â Once a defendant is found guilty of murder, is sentenced to death, and loses a limited number of appeals (which are skipped to the front of all legal lines), the case would go before a panel of three judges.Â These judges would be appointed by either the Governor or the Legislature and would be tasked with reviewing the case.Â If all three judges agreed that the suspect is unquestionably guilty of the crime or crimes the death penalty would be carried out within a year of their ruling.
By putting in the extra safe-guard all reasonable concerns of a wrongfully accused person being put to death could be virtually eliminated.Â This would allow for proper justice to be administered in the very few cases where a murderer either confesses, is captured on video, or kills multiple people in a public shooting situation.Â There is no reason why separating out these rare situations canâ€™t be accomplished, and if those advocating for the death penalty are serious they need to focus on ways of ensuring that those executed are done so justly.Â In the current climate it will not be enough to just activate it again as a legal punishment.
Wrong Time, Wrong Priority
Though brining the death penalty back to Iowa would be a welcome development to me personally, at this moment in time it is a wasted effort.
Besides the fact that it will never see a vote in both chambers, the last several sessions have failed to produce tax reform, education reform, mental health reform, and the gas tax issue is still bubbling below the surface.Â Until these issues are dealt with permanently the death penalty debate should remain on the back burner.
Later this session the Iowa Legislature will debate various measures, namely the Governorâ€™s, designed to improve the performance of our stateâ€™s K-12 schools.Â There are three main components to the Governorâ€™s proposal and in a continuing series we will look at each separately.Â Today we start with the most expensiveâ€”the $160 million for increasing the base teacher salary from $28,000 to $35,000 over the next three years.
First things first here, before they appropriate an additional dime of taxpayer money to this system it is both fair and prudent that at least three simple questions be asked and answeredâ€”Who are the great teachers in Iowa? Who are the average teachers? and Who are the bad teachers?
To clarify, by â€œwhoâ€ I mean a literal list of names district by district categorizing each teacher as great, average, or poor in terms of classroom performance.Â Though this sounds simplistic I think most Iowans would be shocked to know how complicated a question this really isâ€”and even further shocked to find out that nobody in the education bureaucracy can currently answer these questions definitively.
All we hear from both political parties is we have great teachers in Iowa, and to both reward this greatness and make sure we have great teachers in the future we have to pay them more.Â Even though itâ€™s just as pertinent to fixing the problem, and because itâ€™s not pleasant or politically correct, we never hear about bad teachers in our classrooms.Â You would think the first step in solving this problem, as it would be in the private sector, would be determine which employees are not performing their jobs at a high level.
While there is no doubt I am skeptical of most of these individual proposals I will reserve judgment and keep an open mind as legislation is crafted and various amendments are added.Â I donâ€™t need to agree with all elements of the final product to support it, but do have to feel that it at least identifies the problem specifically.Â As with all issues there is both a policy and a political aspect that need examined.
From a policy perspective, to just approve a blanket increase in pay when a majority of our schools are functioning very well is sillyâ€”and to spend this money with no clear goal or way of measuring success is flat-out nonsensical.Â Common sense says that in order for anyone, especially a Republican, to support a final bill it would have to contain clear benchmarks and ways of actually proving results were being delivered for the extra pay. As it stands now the approach seems to be letâ€™s just pay teachers more money and in theory kids will learn moreâ€”which hasnâ€™t proven to be the case in the past.
To make the point beyond question that we have already tried theÂ increased funding approach, one needs only to consider the following three statistics: 1) since 2002 education appropriations to K-12 schools in Iowa has increased $650 million (+35.4%), 2) the average teacher salary in Iowa has increased from $36,480 in 2001 to $49,622 in 2010, and 3) 4% allowable growth was given every year from 2006 to 2010.Â In spite of all these amazing numbers, here we are again talking about more money.
What few seem willing to say is that when a school is failing there are only three actors involved to shoulder the blameâ€”the teachers, the parents, or the students.Â Simply put, one of the three, or a combination of all three, are at fault when a school is failing.Â When looking at the teachers one obvious element is missingâ€”a way to fairly evaluate how good each one is and how much money they deserve.Â Until this gets determined one senses that no amount of increased spending will do the trick.Â Here is what I propose.
While unsympathetic to their concerns regarding â€œteaching to a testâ€, Iâ€™m relatively sympathetic to teacherâ€™s arguments that there are many factors out of their control determining a classesâ€™ progress throughout a school year.Â Taking this into account my initial thought on a fair formula to evaluate our teachers (and hence dictate future pay) would look like this: 25%= credit for years on the job and the resulting experience (this would be automatic much like the step and lane increases in the current formula), 25%= based on student achievement using a baseline for the class coming in compared to their results going out, and 50%= determined by a yearly grading and evaluation by their direct superior (usually their principal).
From a political standpoint the construct of the increased pay proposal seems to be offering Democrats (the teachersâ€™ union) the following: we will increase teacher pay in exchange for allowing student achievement to be factored in to teacher evaluation.Â In my view Republicans shouldnâ€™t be bargaining for a student achievement metric in evaluationsâ€”they should be demanding it.Â This should be a reality both because it makes perfect sense, and because past reforms and increases in pay have not solved the problem.Â Republicans should be able to win on the political argument that, in order to fix the problem, Iowans need to know which teachers are adequately doing their jobs.
If there is a political trade to be made in exchange for increasing teacher pay it should be for a significant look at the benefits of true school choice for parents.Â In my mind this would be a four year pilot program in which parents at all failing and sub-standard schools in Des Moines would have the freedom to spend the per-pupil cost attached to their child at any school they chose (with transportation being the responsibility of each participating parent).Â All students involved would have their progress tracked, with reports being given to the legislature after years 2 and 4.Â This would be similar in principal to the Zaun study bill from last session without all the â€œextremeâ€ elements, like abolishing the Dept. of Education etc.
I would love to see baby-steps being taken in this direction, and would dare the teachersâ€™ union to make the argument to Iowans that the well-being of the teachers and their union trumps that of a student in a failing school which they staff.
Given the history of failure in select districts and the many fruitless past funding increases, in general I believe the Republican hand on education reform is stronger than the Governorâ€™s proposal recognizes.Â There is little reason the argument canâ€™t be made that we have tried the teachersâ€™ union way of never assigning blame and increasing spendingâ€”and it has not worked.Â If there is going to be reform, let us at least not try the same blanket increases in spending and hope for a different result.Â Instead we should identify the shortcomings in the flawed districts and fix them specifically.
First, some chemistry; iodine turns black when exposed to starch. So, a lighter ink which contains iodine will turn black when it comes into contact with starch, which is included in the manufacturing process of standard copy paper. When the ink is used on paper that doesnâ€™t contain starch (such as most paper made with cotton fiber instead of wood pulp) the ink will maintain a sort of brownish-yellow color.
If you pay for gasoline with a fifty dollar bill, chances are the cashier will make a mark on it with a counterfeit detector pen. American currency, made of cotton fiber and not including starch, will leave the ink that lighter color. Counterfeit currency printed on regular paper will make the ink turn black.
Interestingly enough, counterfeit currency made with cotton fiber parchment paper, available at every stationary supply store in the country, will pass as genuine under the ink test. The Secret Service, which investigates counterfeiting, doesnâ€™t include the detector pens in their list of recommendations for examining currency.
So, a counterfeit bill passes the test and is accepted by a cashier. Later, the bank where the money is deposited is able to detect that it is fake. The incident makes headlines, and every store in town attempts to take precautions – by buying counterfeit detector pens, which will give a passing grade to upscale resume stationary. A completely pointless test creates a new vulnerability and becomes utterly absurd.
It appears to me that just about everything sold as urgently necessary is, upon closer examination, completely pointless and utterly absurd.
Prairie Meadows Casino was billed as a way to revitalize the economy. It is owned by Polk County, and the revenue was supposed to fund education, roads, and economic development.
Much of the money is used to pay the interest on the tax-exempt bonds issued to build the Iowa Events Center – which, although a lovely facility, employs only a handful of people and isnâ€™t exactly the urban goldmine that developers always claim to have in their hip pocket.
I havenâ€™t been to a casino in years and donâ€™t intend to go back. Gambling used to be a risquÃ© vice; now it is nothing more than another way to feed the voracious wolves.
Speed cameras should go in this category as well because they donâ€˜t stop speeding nor do they protect the public. I was on the interstate in Cedar Rapids a while back, and everyone around me was driving above the speed limit. Upon approaching the sign indicating a traffic camera, they all slammed on the brakes very hard. After passing the camera, they sped up again.
Furthermore, I could drive down that stretch of highway drunk, while sending a text message, and using hallucinogenic drugs- but as long as I am not speeding, the camera is useless.
Government at all levels promises to build roads and develop your economy.Â What actually happens is that they tax you, fine you, and monitor you – and the roads are still terrible. Infrastructure projects have become the best Trojan Horse to sneak in a tax increase- actually go and take a look at the budget of your local government. How much of your tax money goes to bond interest for infrastructure projects?
Iowa Title Guaranty, a part of the Iowa Finance Authority, was created in 2001. You see, in Iowa, when you buy a house it is traditional to have a lawyer review a title abstract and write an opinion about it. In every other state, you just buy title insurance, and when the big investment banks started jamming mortgages together into mortgage-backed securities they got used to having a standardized title insurance policy along with their mortgages.
They simply didnâ€™t know how to deal with an attorneyâ€™s title opinion letter. Pity. It looked like Iowans might be denied the joy of subprime mortgages, and would have to make do with conforming loans.
But, not to worry! Here comes the state legislature with Iowa Title Guaranty, offering what the big investment banks were used to seeing. Oh, the joy of it; Iowans would have access after all to mortgages with bad terms, adjustable rates, and given without regard to lending standards. Being suckered into bad loans is practically a human right, after all. Title Guaranty – Completely pointless, and utterly absurd.
Even jobs can be completely pointless and utterly absurd. Anything involving the â€œgreen economyâ€ springs to mind. Being paid by the government to build solar panels that will never be installed, for instance. Sure, a few people earned a few paychecks before Solyndra folded, but they produced absolutely nothing of value for the economy as a whole.
The Federal Reserve was billed as a way to avoid economic crises and facilitate greater wealth. In the end, it facilitated the largest fiscal and trade deficits in human history. Since 1990, we have run aggregate trade deficits in excess of eight trillion dollars, which is interesting because back in 1990 the M2 supply was only three trillion dollars. Either we ran out of currency (three times) or we were paying for imports with inflation.
When the Byzantines wanted to buy Chinese silk, they had to sell glass and other wares, or else they would have run out of gold. (They ended up stealing silk worms and producing it themselves). We can buy foreign goods by doing nothing more complicated than printing money.
Politicians offer to solve this problem with government action – either stimulus spending or trade wars – but never with stable currency policy, making any of their efforts completely pointless and utterly absurd.
I believe that our future as a nation will come down to whether or not we can successfully identify the completely pointless and utterly absurd things swirling around in our government, our economy, our businesses, and our culture. This will involve a great deal of complaining, which fortunately is the only real talent I possess. Now, to find a way to earn tons of money while doing it.
Last night’s Polk County Central Committee meeting was a harbinger forÂ both good and bad things to come for the future of Republicans in Polk County.
Among the several speakers to address the committee were Polk County Sheriff candidate Dan Charleston and Senator Rick BertrandÂ (pictured at right).Â Charleston has been very active in his attempt to unseat his boss Bill McCarthy, who has once again doubled down on his support for spreading controversial traffic cameras throughout Iowa.Â His bid to remove McCarthy will not be easy, however, this is an outcome that becomes more possible with McCarthy supporting a hot-button policy that the majority of Iowans reject.Â While Conservatives throughout Polk County will be rightly focused on state and Congressional seats in the coming months, it would be a mistake to ignore this race for sheriff.Â It can be easily argued that the performance and priorities of law enforcement has an equal impact on citizens at the County level as legislative seats.Â All Conservatives who are unaware of this race would be well advised to visit Dan Charleston’s website, were he lays out his positions on several issues (including traffic cameras and illegal immigration).Â It is safe to say he would bring a far different mindset to the job–and there is much to like.
While Senator Rick Bertrand was not on the agenda to speak, all in attendance were glad he made the trip.Â Speaking for nearlyÂ 20 minutes, he got fired up covering topics ranging from his background, his victory in a legal slander case against Iowa Democrats, and the future agenda of Senate Republicans.
Beyond being a gifted and enthusiastic speaker, the real positive to take away from his presence in the Iowa Senate is his potential to bridge the divides that have recently been created by the emergence of a more Libertarian brand of Republican in the party.Â I have asked him personally about the prospects of real legislative results from the Conservative movement in the Iowa Legislature–and I assure you he has a plan and will be front and center in achieving it.Â In my view, he is one of a handful of current Republican legislators who can effortlessly bridge the gap between the old and new guards in the Republican Party.Â In the coming months The Conservative Reader:Iowa will be laying out exactly what this 7 issue action plan is, and will be looking at each in detail.
Having been in attendance at the last two Central Committee meetings, there is little doubt left that the drama surrounding last month’s meeting is not going away.Â The divide between Chairman McLaughlin (along withÂ other members ofÂ the leadership), and co-chair Dave Funk isÂ quickly approaching critical mass.Â Several times during the meeting there was open bickering and contention between the two.Â This was taking place not in the side or back during down time, butÂ actually during the meeting and at the front of the room.
As of this time I am not taking sides.Â FarÂ more important than taking sides is finding some way for this strained situation to be resolved.Â Besides risking several political objects that are certainly within reach, this feud is simply embarrassing for all of the new folks who have been energized during the caucus and have made the time consuming decision to get involved.Â At this rate the attendance of these meetings will swell only on the grounds of voyeurism, as people will start coming to view a live version of the Jerry Springer Show.Â Finding a way to make these meetings a little less bland would be a more than worthy endeavor, however, this is not exactly what I had in mind.
I will be in attendance at the next meeting, if it is plagued by these same issues than the report you read here following it will be of a far different tone.Â At that point critical mass will have unquestionably been reached and a movement to action will have to be initiated.Â With so much crucial work to be done in the coming months, continuing in this manner is simply not an option.
This is part 1 of a 2 part interview.Â Â Part 2Â dealsÂ with Obama care, education reform, illegal immigration, the Tea Party, and other topics.Â It can be linked to at the conclusion of this installment, or by clicking here.
With a 68% increase in population since 2000, and Bloomberg reporting it is now the fastest growing city in Iowa, there is no doubt that Ankeny is rapidly expanding.
As population over the last few years has shifted to Ankeny, so too has the ideological focus of the Republican Party shifted to the right.Â Just how far right this Des Moines suburb, and longtime Republican stronghold, has moved politically will go a long way in determining who wins the Republican primary to represent Iowaâ€™s House District 37.
This impending barometer has been put in play by the candidacy of Tea Party Republican Stacey Rogers, who will be one of at least four Republicans seeking this house districtâ€™s nomination.Â I recently sat down with Ms. Rogers to discuss her political resume, her ideology, and how she would like to influence the future of HD 37.
Though she was born in Colorado, Ms. Rogersâ€™ parents grew up on family farms down the road from each other near State Center, and in an ironic twist her mom actually attended high school with fellow HD 37 candidate John Landon.Â These roots caused her to return to Iowa during the summers as she was growing up, before eventually leading her to come back to our state for law school. After graduating in three years from Colorado State University she headed back for good and enrolled at the University of Iowa School of Law.
Her time attending law school at the University of Iowa pushed her into the world of politics, a push initialized by being exposed to and surrounded by a level of left wing ideology that took her by surprise.Â Having decided to politically engage, she applied and was granted the opportunity to spend a summer working in Arizona for one of the most esteemed Conservative think tanks in the Countryâ€”The Goldwater Institute.
In addition to this she has worked as a staffer for Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), became active in The Iowa Tea Party, and recently served as Republican Graig Blockâ€™s campaign manager in his successful re-election bid to the Ankeny City Council.Â She is currently practicing law for the Ankeny based firm Block, Lamberti & Gocke, P.C.
Paramount to gaining an understanding of a candidate is learning how they see their district, where they stand on local issues, and how they analyze their districtâ€™s role in the larger state-wide picture.Â Ms. Rogers has strong views on all three.
When asked about the districtâ€™s positive attributes, she pointed to its unique geographic make-up, â€œThis district has some of Ankeny in it but it also has some rural areas in it, it really is a great sample of Iowa.Â The good thing about Ankeny is that it is growing but it still has that extremely small town feel where everybody knows their neighbor.â€
On an economic level she commented that, â€œFor the most part, and compared to the way the economy is going overall, Ankeny is doing really, really well.â€Â Weighing in on the reason for the districtâ€™s Republican leanings and general weariness of ever-increasing taxes she noted, â€œEspecially in the northern part of Ankeny, the people are largely living in new housing developments and they clearly worked hard for that money, and they worked for it recently.â€
Also making her list of positives is the relative high quality of the school system, something she largely attributes to the areaâ€™s residents, â€œProbably the greatest difference between Ankeny schools and the schools in Des Moines is the amount of parental involvement.â€
The school district and community involvement are both things that have been front and center recently as the cityâ€™s school board has made the somewhat controversial decision to split the town by simultaneously building two brand new high schools.Â Though not under the jurisdiction of the seat she is running for, Ankeny residents would no doubt be curious as to where she stood on this hot-button issue:
â€œEventually two high schools were going to be a necessity; the questionable spending was that they somehow needed two identical high schools at the same time.Â I would have been against the second high school from the beginning but at this point you really canâ€™t un-ring that bell.Â That whole debacle just exposed this community to debt and the threat of more debt that could threaten its status as an engine of economic growth and development right now, because people are not necessarily going to want to continue moving to Ankeny if there is that threat of more bonding.â€
While noting the need to heal the rift between more moderate Republicans and the Tea Party, she views this seat as having a particular function in the larger statewide picture:
â€œWhoever gets elected to this seat is going to have the opportunity to use this seat as a bully pulpit.Â We need to make sure we elect a Conservative that understands the importance of this seat, and that they have a chance to be the voice of the true Conservative position.Â Somebody under the golden dome needs to draw the line in the sand about what that position really is, and I think too often what happens is that the Republicans who are interested in â€˜good governanceâ€™ offer the compromise solution up front and give up a lot of ground in that approach.â€
Issues From Last Session
Even though Republicans controlled two of the three segments of government last session, you can count Ms. Rogers among the large contingent of Conservatives unhappy with the resulting state budget.
At the heart of this displeasure is what she saw as a tactical error by the Governor in structuring our outlays, â€œI think our budget this year could have been much lower, and that we sacrificed a lot to the idea of two year budgeting.â€
Instead of insisting on a two year budget, and eventually bartering in order to achieve it, she would have taken an alternate approach:
Â â€œ0% allowable growth was still an increase in funding for schools because it was fully funded, something that the Democrats never didâ€”and we still gave up the 2% allowable growth in the second year in order to get the two year budget.Â I would much rather of had the fight about allowable growth again next year because I think people started waking up to the fact that we are actually giving the schools more money by fully funding them.â€
Commercial Property Taxes
The overwhelming evidence and the inescapable mushrooming nature of Iowaâ€™s commercial property tax code resulted in a political rarity last sessionâ€”partial bi-partisan agreement.Â The fact that nationally Iowa ranks in the top 10 in every type of property tax levied on commercial and industrial property, and that The Tax Foundation rated Iowa as the 45th worst business tax climate in the Country, led to all three players in our state government laying tax reform proposals on the table.
On the Republican side were competing proposals from the Governor and the House of Representatives.Â The Governorâ€™s plan would have ultimately taken a bigger bite out of the bill currently paid by Iowa businesses and would have been the one a Rep. Rogers would have embraced, â€œI would probably have supported the Governorâ€™s plan.Â It went deeper and I think that if you are going to do property tax reform then you need to do it all the way, and I think that his plan was a tougher stand than the House Republicans.â€
To read this articles conclusion, dealing with pending issues facing Iowa and analysis of this race, click here for part 2.
Photo Courtesy of Dave Davidson, whose work can be found at prezography.com