Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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December 19, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     12/16/14

In this edition:

*Hard Times
*Diversity Policy
*Free Speech Issues, Part 1
*Free Speech Issues, Part 2
*Income Tax Cuts
*Did You Know?

*Hard Times
         Do you feel it? I do. The world feels as though it is spinning out of control. Everyone is on edge. No one feels good about things.

         The easy thing to do is blame President Obama. (I happen to believe that is wrong.) The hard thing to do is for each of us to look at our own behaviors. What do we do (or fail to do) that might be contributing to the angst that we all feel? Can each of us be a little better? Can each of us do a little more?

         I am going to try. I hope you will join me.

*Diversity Policy
         The ICCSD Diversity Policy (DP) has been quite the story. Written and passed through unusual circumstances, undermined at every turn – the DP has shone a light on the ICCSD. Unfortunately, what we see in that light is quite unflattering.

         Now the US Department of Agriculture has determined that the ICCSD may not use free and reduced lunch (FRL) rates as a measure in the DP. This despite the fact that many other districts do so, State law expressly allows such an action, and the ICCSD’s own attorney felt the policy complied with all applicable laws.

         So where do we go from here? Proponents of the DP are crying foul. Opponents of the DP are clicking their wine glasses. Neither reaction helps the poorest kids in our District.

         I ask every ICCSD Board member and every ICCSD administrator – what action do you suggest we take? I do not care what you oppose. I want to know what you are FOR. I do not accept doing nothing. It is time to act! The poorest kids in our District deserve action!

*Free Speech Issues, Part 1:
         A local artist created a piece of work that used old newspaper reports of racial wrongdoing, and fashioned it into a life-sized replica of a hooded KKK member. This piece of art was then displayed on the Pentacrest (without UI permission) and later removed.

         Let me be clear – this “artist” clearly doesn’t get it. He says he was well intentioned, and there is no reason to doubt him. But his piece traumatized many people. This was dumb, dumb, dumb. Then he exacerbated the situation by claiming HIS “feelings were hurt.” There are no words to describe the lack of awareness demonstrated by this guy!

         My biggest problem, however, was with the response of the UI. The UI removed the installation, noting that the artist lacked a permit. That is fine; the UI has the right to set those terms. But the response gave the impression that the UI would have otherwise censored the piece based on content. I have trouble with that.

         As for the head of the Journalism School endorsing laws that prohibit “offensive” speech? Well, he succeeded in offending me deeply! His comments trouble me greatly, and cause me to fear for the young people educated at my alma mater.

         It is not that far a stretch to the place where all protests are banned on the UI campus because they lack permits. Did you realize that is ALREADY the case in the Iowa City Ped Mall? You heard that correctly! You need a “permit” to peaceably gather in the Ped Mall! That should give us all pause.

         If you read Salvos, you know that I recently received a piece of hate mail. I recognize that my own feelings do not even begin to compare to those of an African American young person confronted by the KKK image. I can only speak for myself – a white guy who benefits from white privilege. But you know what? I would hate to see the guy that wrote to me lose his right to speak.

         Don’t get me wrong – I think the anonymous letter writer is an ass. And there is a part of me that wants to punch him in the nose. But the world would be a worse place if his speech were muzzled. I would much rather win the battle in the marketplace of free ideas.

         Yes, inequities in power exist. How are those inequities best addressed? Through freedom of speech! If oppressed groups do not have free speech, they cannot fight back. There is NO more important tool for marginalized groups!

I take freedom of speech seriously. We all should. If you expect it to be there when you need it, you must fight for it every day.

*Free Speech Issues, Part 2:
         You may recall that back in 2007, members of the Westboro Baptist Church trampled, burned, and spat upon American flags as part of demonstrations at the funerals of two Iowa soldiers.

A federal judge in Des Moines recently upheld the right of the church members to do these things, noting the actions were protected free speech. State Representative Bobby Kauffman has stated that he plans to lead the charge for a state law to prohibit this act.

         Kauffman notes that, “the magnitude of disgust and anger I feel about this cannot be put into words.” I am in 100% agreement with Representative Kauffman’s feelings. And I could not disagree more with his proposal.

         The First Amendment protects flag desecration. Many courts have ruled on this many times. It does not matter that we find the behavior abhorrent; it is protected.

         I am not an “absolutist”. For one, I have found that being an absolutist on ANY issue is typically unwise. But more importantly, I recognize that there are rare instances where words can do very real harm. Protests of this type have never been viewed as rising to this level of harm. And maintaining that standard of harm is important…if the government decides one type of protest is illegal, but not harmful, what about the next type of protest? What about YOUR type of protest?

         Representative Kauffman noted that “100%” of his constituents who had corresponded with him on the issue felt a change to the law was in order. To me, that only serves to reinforce the First Amendment. We do not decide what speech is legal based upon popularity.

         And I know I am losing the political battle. Using your weekly newsletter to defend the KKK and flag burners is not a winning political strategy. But this is not about politics. It is about the Constitution.

         Representative Kauffman and I agree on many things; we disagree on several others. I know I would not like having anyone deciding what I can say or do. My guess is that he would not appreciate it, either.

*Income Tax Cuts
Less than a year after selling out local governments by supporting the biggest property tax cut in Iowa history, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has told the Iowa Taxpayers Association that he favors cuts to Iowa’s income taxes.

This man MUST go! Democrats statewide heard a lot about the importance of keeping the Senate in Democratic hands. Why? So Gronstal can gut state government?

K-12 schools need money. The court system needs money. Medicaid needs money. Human Services needs money. Our universities and community colleges need money. Public safety needs money. Public health needs money. The mental health system needs money. State government is in jeopardy of failing its citizens – particularly its most vulnerable citizens. Iowa cannot afford greater disinvestment in government!

As commodity prices have slipped, farm incomes are down. The state is not going to meet its projected income targets. And if you make this cut, it WILL BE PERMANENT! No future Legislature will ever be able to raise taxes to make it up.

There is no way to support this cut AND support the UI. There is no way to support this cut AND support AFSCME. There is no way to support this cut AND support better mental health care. This proposal HURTS IOWANS!

Mike Gronstal has chosen to put his personal love of “deal making” ahead of the needs of Iowans. He has forgotten that government is not the enemy. He has forgotten about the most vulnerable Iowans. It is time for new leadership! Gronstal must go!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The text of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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