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Few, subtle differences between Democratic candidates

DAVENPORT — Iowans who remain undecided on which of a half-dozen Democrats to vote for in next month’s gubernatorial primary got their first look at the candidates on a debate stage on Sunday.

Voters who have been following the race may not have learned much new about Nate Boulton, Cathy Glasson, Fred Hubbell, Andy McGuire, John Norris or Ross Wilburn, the six Democrats vying to be their party’s nominee for Iowa governor.

Voters who are just now tuning into the race were introduced to the candidates, who stressed their professional experiences and differed on a precious few policy topics.

“We have great candidates. I would tell you any one of us would be better than Kim Reynolds is right now in that governor’s office,” McGuire said in her closing comments.

The six Democratic candidates fielded questions on mental health care, sexual harassment, collective bargaining laws, rural Iowa issues, immigration and abortion.

By and large, the candidates did not diverge much on the issues, although there were subtle differences.

Glasson, a registered nurse and local labor leader, continued to call for a state-run universal, single-payer health care program. She is the only of the six candidates to take that stance, and made the pitch in her opening comments and again in responding to a question of whether the state can afford returning Medicaid management back to the state, which all six candidates support.

“I support Medicare for all on a federal level to cover all Americans. But we can’t count on Washington to get that done. So we need a universal, single-payer plan right here in Iowa, and we wouldn’t have to deal with this mess that’s been created by this governor and her predecessor,” Glasson said. “And that’s the clear difference from my Democratic colleagues here, is transitioning to single payer so we don’t have to continue to go down this path and Iowans get the care they need, we reduce costs and it covers everyone.”

The candidates agreed the state should devote more funding to mental health care services, but only Glasson and Boulton, a labor attorney and state senator, suggested state-run mental health care facilities that were closed in 2015 by former Gov. Terry Branstad should be re-opened. The other candidates stressed a focus on community-based services and a need for mental health care beds.

Hubbell, a businessman, said six years ago he worked with a coalition to help increase the number of mental health care beds and psychiatrists at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines.

“That’s what leaders do: They step up, bring people together, address problems and get results,” Hubbell said. “That’s what we need in our state.”

Each Democratic candidate reiterated their opposition to the collective bargaining changes implemented in 2017 by the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature and Branstad, but few offered detailed responses to how they would work with what is likely to be at best a split-control Legislature to undo some of those changes.

“If we use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office, that will help us to get people from both sides, Republicans and Democrats, to sit down and talk about how we don’t want to hurt our teachers, we don’t want to hurt our public service employees,” said McGuire, a physician and former state party chairwoman.

Glasson said she would use her executive authority to appoint labor-friendly Iowans to state boards and commissions.

Sunday’s debate was hosted by KWQC-TV in Davenport and the Quad City Times.

The six candidates are scheduled to debate again Wednesday on Iowa Public Television.

Dike shows off its new sports complex (PHOTOS)

DIKE — The idea for a 25-acre sports complex dedicated Saturday started with an off-the-cuff remark between friends getting their mail.

“I ran into Dennis (Kruger) in the post office,” recalled Kevin Hemmen. Kruger was holding a news clipping about a neighboring community’s efforts to build ball fields. Hemmen said he asked, “Why can’t we get something like that going in Dike?”

Soon Kruger and Hemmen — presidents of Kruger Seeds in Dike and Waterloo Warehousing and Service Co., respectively — were working with a group of community members on the idea. Less than four years later, the $1.6 million Kruger-Hemmen Sports Complex is a reality, thanks to their lead gifts as well as donations of dozens of residents and organizations plus countless volunteer hours.

The site is located along U.S. Highway 20 and features four baseball/softball diamonds, football fields and soccer fields. A playground, shelter and a concession stand with restrooms are also part of the grounds along with courts for horseshoes, shuffleboard and ladder ball toss. A one-mile fitness path links to existing city and county trails.

“It goes to show you what a small community can do,” said Hemmen, speaking during the dedication ceremony.

Despite the overcast skies and a chilly wind, a crowd turned out for the event, where free pork sandwiches were served from the new concession stand. Morning soccer matches occurred before the event while baseball and softball games followed it.

“It’s not our best day out here, but we’re going to have many, many great days out here,” said Mike Soppe, Dike’s mayor. He said volunteers had completed a lot of the labor at the complex including construction of the concession stand and public address tower, concrete work and planting of trees. “Basically, the community of Dike came together and that’s why we’re here with this great facility.”

Summer youth baseball and softball games began at the complex a year ago while the project was still being worked on. Soccer matches started prior to that after the fields were tiled and reseeded.

The project began in August 2014 when Kruger and Hemmen presented their proposal to the city of Dike. Kruger owned the property, part of which was already used for youth soccer games. He sold the land to the city for $438,000.

Kruger then donated $200,000 to the project and Hemmen matched the amount with his own gift. The Vision Iowa Board donated a little more than $100,000 through its Community Attraction and Tourism grants. Bob Hellman and his nonprofit group Build Our Ballpark have also been major contributors to the project.

Hellman recalled the town meeting about the project and remarked on the “25 marvelous acres of green space” chosen for the complex. He said it was a “very, very rare opportunity” to be able to build on such pristine land.

Build Our Ballpark has worked on 49 playing fields in nine communities across two states in the last 10 years, but Hellman said Dike’s complex is a “crown jewel” among its efforts. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

A sign near the the ball diamonds lists dozens of other financial contributors to the complex, from those who donated $25,000 and more to those who gave $250 and more.

The nonprofit organization Fields2Fields, which grew from a steering committee of Dike residents, spearheaded development of the complex.

“Without their leadership, the work they put into grants (and) fundraising, it would probably still be a good idea,” said Hemmen, rather than a reality.

Justin Stockdale, president of Fields2Fields, spoke of the pride he had in the complex and suggested it would help to keep Dike a viable community. Noting its visibility from the highway, he added, “This is our brand, this is what we’re all about.”

Stockdale said the complex is an important addition to the community, which had limited facilities for its summer youth program. For this summer, the program has more than 300 children signed up, which is similar to past years.

“We had one field to play ball on,” he said. “The need was there.

“The next step is considering if we want to install lights,” said Stockdale, for the ball diamonds. He envisions the complex eventually as a venue that will host tournaments and be an asset for the entire Cedar Valley.

Election sparked 2-year quest to ban abortion

DES MOINES — While many Iowans still were sleeping off the late-night surprises of the November 2016 election, former state legislator and abortion rights opponent Chuck Hurley was prowling the cavernous halls of the Iowa Capitol like an emissary on a calculated mission.

The 2017 legislative session, said Hurley, “begins today.”

Thus was launched an 18-month quest — for some a religious crusade — to enact tougher, maybe the toughest, restrictions on abortions now that Iowa Republicans had broken the Democratic grip on the Iowa Senate and taken full control of the Statehouse and governorship.

Included in the GOP night of upsets on Nov. 8, 2016, was the defeat of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat who was the bane of the Terry Branstad-Kim Reynolds gubernatorial administration and main roadblock for many GOP initiatives in the split-control Legislature.

With Gronstal out of the way, abortion rights opponents saw a two-year opening to reshape the political landscape starting with Senate File 2, a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and additional measures to impose a three-day waiting period and define “personhood” as life beginning at conception — effectively banning abortions in Iowa.

Another development that Iowa Family Leader head Bob Vander Plaats called “huge” was a decision by advocacy groups with a history of factionalism to set aside their difference and unite as the Coalition of Pro-life Leaders.

“I think it was significant if not precipitous,” said Hurley, a Family Leader attorney who was among a group of lobbyists who formed a daily cadre of voices for protection of the unborn in the Capitol rotunda, committee rooms and private consultations with key legislators. “I think some life legislation would have passed, but nothing this strong.”

The desire among Iowa’s religious and social conservatives to do more “has been penned up for decades, so the dam busted in November 2016 for Iowa,” said Hurley. The success in ”moving the ball down the field” but not yet reaching the goal of a total ban on abortion was accomplished through coordination, determination and a late surge of 67,000 emails from “prayer warriors” that “turned the tide” in the House, added Vander Plaats, Family Leader president and chief executive officer.

Erin Davison-Rippey of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, who was on the losing end of most legislative battles the past two sessions, said the tactics to enlist legislative support went far beyond that to gain final support for the “fetal heartbeat” bill — legislation to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant.

“We understand there were many House Republicans who did not support this bill. They were strong-armed, they were threatened, they were told that they could not leave the building until they voted for this bill,” said Rippey.

Beginning in January 2017, the Statehouse became a hot bed of partisan demonstrations for both sides of the abortion issue as changes were proposed to Iowa laws that had operated for years under an uneasy compromise.

“I think after the election we knew that reproductive rights and sexual health would be under attack and we’re seeing that manifested in legislation that is harmful to women, dangerous to our state and infringes on our rights,” said Rippey.

The 2017 session ended with then-Gov. Branstad signing a bill that bans most abortions after 20 weeks and requires a three-day waiting period for abortions — a provision being challenged in the Iowa Supreme Court by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

GOP lawmakers also blocked public money for family planning services to abortion providers, but many left the Statehouse disappointed and vowing to make another run at tougher abortion restrictions in 2018.

Heading into the final year of the 87th General Assembly, abortion rights opponents made it clear they expected GOP legislators to deliver on campaign promises to approve a “personhood” bill that would be a vehicle to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, or face election-year consequences from groups who supported and funded their campaigns.

The breakthrough for them came early in the 2018 session, said Danny Carroll, a former legislative leader and ex-Iowa GOP chairman who lobbies for the Family Leader, when Republican senators said they had the votes to pass the “fetal heartbeat” bill.

The bill won Senate approval 30-20 in February but stalled in the House, where legislators opposed to abortion rights were split over whether the tougher restrictions would pass constitutional muster.

“I’ve been fighting for life at conception and last year we had to settle for a 20-week bill,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel. “But you keep making progress when and where you can, and here we are with a heartbeat bill.”

The final compromise on the heartbeat bill (Senate File 359) was reached when a band of GOP senators threatened to shut down the budget process by withholding their support until the heartbeat bill was passed. House Republicans negotiated three exceptions for rape, incest and fetal abnormality that enabled supporters to secure the 51 votes needed to get the bill to Gov. Reynolds.

The bill does not specify criminal or civil penalties for those breaking the law. Earlier versions had called for felony charges against doctors.

Critics argued the bill was poorly written with vague language creating uncertainty for doctors making medical decisions — and rather was only a vehicle for getting the abortion issue before the Supreme Court.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa chapter of the ACLU say they will file a court challenge to the new law, which takes effect July 1.

Both sides of the issue say the judicial process could take two to three years, cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars and ultimately depend on shifting tides of public opinion and the judicial makeup.

“I think what we’ve seen is that some folks have been emboldened by the Trump-Pence administration and seem to think that they can trample on the rights of Iowans and Americans,” said Suzanna de Baca, president and chief executive for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “What they’re going to find out is that Iowans and Americans will not stand for it.”

Reynolds signed SF 359 into law, saying she is “100 percent pro-life” and that as governor she would “do everything I could to protect the life of the unborn.” She would not, though, directly answer when asked if she supported the effort to legislate that life begins at conception.

“Our gold standard is life at conception, so we’re moving that way. We are not done yet. This is not a time to celebrate and say, ‘OK, we’re done.’ This is a time to double down,” said Vander Plaats. “We’re winning hearts and minds in the cultural transformation. I think what this shows is a sign of revival and where Iowa can lead the way in the country.”

Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said some people were surprised the fetal heartbeat bill was approved in Iowa “but Iowa’s politics are always a little different. Iowa kind of bounces back and forth between different ideas and so this will definitely put Iowa on the map in terms of the pro-life movement, no doubt about that no matter how this is resolved.”

He said there is some trepidation how the issue may play out in court, which prompted Iowa’s four Catholic bishops to issue a joint call for the judiciary to recognize “that all life should be protected from the moment of conception to natural death.”

Hurley agreed the response from outside Iowa was one of “major surprise.” But he predicted it would have “a ripple effect” in red states he predicts will “do something similar or stronger.”

“I really think as more states speak about the sanctity of life, that ultimately is going to have an effect in Washington.”

CRYSTAL BERCHE, Courier Lee News Service 

Rev, a 1 1/2-year-old German shepherd, has joined the Mitchell County Sheriff's Office.

Black Hawk County veteran cookout starts Thursday

WATERLOO — The veterans who served the United States will be served lunch Thursdays in Waterloo.

What started out as way to provide housing for homeless veterans has turned into an annual event for Black Hawk County veterans.

“So we could feed them and then find out who they are; get them some benefits,” said Kevin Dill, executive director of the Black Hawk County Veteran Affairs Commission. “It evolved from that to just all veterans coming down whether you’re homeless or not.”

Starting this Thursday for 17 consecutive Thursdays, any veteran can come have lunch at Lincoln Park from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“This is our third summer, and typically we see a minimum of 50 to as high as 100 veterans show up,” Dill said. “You don’t have to call us to tell us you’re coming; you just show up.”

The meal and sponsor for the event changes from week to week.

“Sometimes that meal is us cooking brats on a grill or it’s different restaurants providing the catering for it, or we might get sub sandwiches from Walmart or something from Texas Roadhouse,” Dill said.

The lunch provides a chance for veterans to have fellowship and camaraderie, Dill said.

The lunch is free to veterans and veterans’ dependents.

Veterans who have never received any Veterans Affairs benefits are encouraged to get signed up if they qualify.

“It’s just a way to do outreach for veterans who never sought they’re benefits,” Dill said.

Anytime Dill encounters a homeless veteran at one of the lunches, that veteran is immediately housed, he said.

The Black Hawk County VA doesn’t just have cook-outs for veterans; recently it held a put-put tournament that raised $1,600.

“We raised over $1,200 just on entries,” said Charlie Aldrich, president of the Waterloo Eagles chapter 764. “In addition to that we had door prizes donated by many generous people to be raffled off.”

This was the first year for the put-put tournament.