Of Mandates and Messaging

Facing rampant viral spread, 2,000 dead Iowans with more surely on the way and hospitals packed to capacity, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued — finally — a sort of statewide mask mandate.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this,” she said, “we lose.”

Unfortunately, she’s spent the summer and fall helping Iowans buy into the importance of masks, distancing and avoiding gatherings at rallies like the one she appeared at in a Des Moines with Donald Trump.

Gov. Reynolds helping Iowans buy into the importance of masks, distancing and avoiding gatherings in Des Moines with Donald Trump.

Mandates from the state certainly matter. Prohibiting group fitness classes will lead to classes being canceled, which will mitigate spread, even if it’s not enough to save our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Requiring masks at indoor public places will lead a segment of Iowans who weren’t to finally wear masks.

But Reynolds has taken away, or at least severely undercut, her other, best tool: messaging.

That’s critical to getting that buy in because, as she admitted in her address undercutting her message, the state doesn’t have the enforcement capabilities to police everywhere.

So, while there’s a lot of photos of her out in her Iowa flag mask (modeling good behavior!), her other actions (modeling bad behavior!) and continued, vocal resistance to issuing a mask mandate coupled with weak statements about trusting Iowans to do the right thing, sent a different message: mask wearing was a choice like a scarf in winter not a requirement like a seatbelt in a car.

Her own press releases were missed opportunities, always touting the continuation of State Public Health Emergency Declaration and never highlighting the mitigation efforts they contained. In the age of social media, the headline matters most.

Her own department of public health, responsible for her ballyhooed public awareness campaign for those segments that are still unaware we’re in the midst of a raging, deadly pandemic, fumbled with an idiotic, now-deleted post.

In Reynolds’ press conferences and other remarks, she always seemed to focus on the loopholes and exceptions to her mitigation efforts, instead of focusing on the requirements. I’ve spent the last eight months re-writing her press releases to emphasize the mitigation parts.

Even in her address, she made a point of acknowledging there wasn’t a real way to enforce any of the mandates or measures.

And so, while Iowans brace (or don’t) for a rapidly worsening state of the pandemic, instead of clear messages, we’re left to wonder: do we have a mask mandate?

Some scorecards say yes. Ultimately I’m not sure how much it matters either way.

If Reynolds hadn’t spent her time, effort and political attention undermining mitigation efforts by muddying her message and doing another, Iowans would be much more likely to “buy into this.”

A version of this post was republished by The Gazette on Sunday, Nov. 22.

Big Press Conference at the Four Seasons

I can’t get over this photo of the Trump campaign’s press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.

Donald John Trump owns (heavily leveraged) real estate and, presumably, has connections with folks who have, well, nicer options.

Donald John Trump has tastes that run so far past upscale to gaudy that he launched his first campaign on a golden escalator.

Donald John Trump illegally held political events, including his nomination acceptance speech, at the White House which, after four years, still conveys seriousness, authority and power.

But, no, his “legal team” is holding a slap-dash (look at that mess of power cords and microphone cables in the lower left corner) press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping offices.

I mean, how does this happen? Even knowing that Donald John Trump has shown total disinterest in planning anything, HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

I’m particularly tickled by this setup because, when my wife ran for Iowa City city council, our friend Sean let us use his space at his landscaping place to build her homecoming parade float.

But in her case it wasn’t in desperation. And she won.

Seriously. I can’t get over this photo.


Massachusetts’s Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, “cannot support Donald Trump for president” but doesn’t say who he will support.

Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, didn’t vote for Trump, instead saying he “voted for Ronald Reagan.”

Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican, slammed Trump on a constituent call, noting his strong disagreements are “why I didn’t agree to be on his re-election committee, and it’s why I’m not campaigning for him.

These are cowardly positions and do not take a stand against Trump’s real harm or against greater Trumpism. Say what you will about The Lincoln Project, but that group of former Republicans seem to understand the need — and be willing to — blow up Republicanism to defeat Trumpism.

No, Baker’s and Hogan’s and Sasse’s stances are all cowardly attempts to retain political power for Republicans.

The tell in all of this, whether it’s a voting for a dead man who, even if resurrected, is ineligible to serve as president or an unwillingness to openly endorse the only other presidential candidate who has a chance of beating Trump, is that Sasse’s concern that the president’s recklessness could lead to a “Republican blood bath.”

Democrats need sane conservative opposition to keep them honest, and they haven’t had that in a long time. Republicans haven’t, apparently, needed to be sane to win and wield power.

But Republicans are clinging to this fantasy that they can defeat Trumpism and save conservativism. But they miss that, right now, they can’t defeat former without burning down the latter.

In the run up to the election we can expect other Republicans to jump ship. Here are some who are open about not supporting Trump, but squeamish about offer support to Joe Biden, who is, you’ll recall, the only candidate on the ballot who can defeat Trump.

Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, did not vote for Trump, but says who he did vote for is “something I’m keeping private at this stage.

Shut Up and Grapple

Dan Gable on Wednesday, lured to President Donald Trump’s Des Moines super-spreader event, hosted against the backdrop of the state’s COVID-19 cases passing 100,000 and hospitalizations at their highest point since the pandemic began, with the promise of a Presidential Medal of Freedom:

This guy’s already a one-time champion. But because he’s open for learning, and he’s already very competent, he’s going to be a multi-champion president of the United States of America.

Waiting for the backlash of conservative pundits telling to Gable to “stick to sports.”

Public Service, Compassion and Empathy are on My 2020 Ballot

Iowans start voting on Monday, Oct. 5, in person and at home by mail.

I’m voting for people who value public service. Who see government as help not as a hinderance. Who have compassion and empathy. I vote for these values because our system and the people we elect are imperfect. Public leaders face difficult decisions, and public leaders without these core values wield power selfishly, diminish our public institutions and enact heartless policy.

Here’s how my ballot, voted in Iowa City precinct 12, will look. 


Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president; Theresa Greenfield for US Senate; Rita Hart for US Representative, 2nd District

Each of these folks will back better access to healthcare, public education and science-based solutions to climate change, the raging pandemic and gun violence.


Mary Mascher for State Representative, District 86

You don’t have to talk with Mary Mascher long to get how much she cares, trust that she will return to Des Moines and fight for public education, choice, and working families.

(If I was in another district, I’d be proud to vote for Lonny Pulkrabek, Dave Jacoby, Amy Nielsen or Christina Bohannan)


Lisa Green-Douglass, Royceann Porter, Rod Sullivan for Board of Supervisors, Brad Kunkel for Sheriff, Travis Weipert for County Auditor

With a governor and legislature looking to restrict county and city governments and school boards, it’s a tough time to be a local leader in Iowa. These supervisors have done well with the tools they’ve been allowed.

It’s a tough time to be in law enforcement, and we are rightfully asking tough questions. But Brad Kunkel is the right person to do this for Johnson County. He knows we ask too much of law enforcement and that the traditional tools are too often inadequate. He will continue to advocate for diversion programs and alternatives to jail.

Travis Weipert is running unopposed, but I will proudly cast my vote for him because I know he values his role in empowering voters to exercise that right. Time and again, Weipert has gone to bat for voters in Johnson Country, whether at the state house or the court house.


Yes for retention

I know how I felt when Iowa Supreme Court justices Ternus, Baker and Streit, who along with their colleagues had unanimously decided in Varnum that our state constitution guaranteed marriage equality, weren’t retained following a campaign from the right.

Iowa doesn’t elect judges, and our non-partisan process for selecting them has been eroded with recent changes. Retaining judges unless they make decisions outside of the law or violate ethical rules is how we resist a partisan judiciary.

Memory Problems

Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s octogenarian senator, still has a good memory. Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the rush of those who are bringing our democracy to its knees to install a conservative majority on the highest court that will last a generation, Sen. Grassley seems to have taken the high road, acknowledging his role in undermining the Constitution and enabling a wannabe dictator who lost the popular vote, and suggesting we need to proceed carefully.

Under the headline “Grassley joins call to delay Supreme Court nomination,” The Des Moines Register quotes the good gentleman from Iowa as saying:

The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year. Given the huge divide in the country, and the fact that this President, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda, it only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.

Wait, sorry, didn’t check the dateline. That’s from 2016.

He has since performed some amazing acrobatics for a 87-year-old man to explain his complete reversal. He’s done everything short of suggesting he said all those things with his fingers crossed on Opposite Day, and if we just used the right decoder ring we could understand how this time is different.

In conclusion, United States Senator Charles Ernest Grassley is a lying hypocritical liar.

24 Hours After Caucusing, Nevada’s Results are Coming Slower Than Iowa’s Were. Why Won’t Nevada be a Punchline?

As some folks are pointing out, the results from the Nevada caucuses (results currently show 60% reported 24 hours later) are behind where Iowa’s were (about 62% reported after 24 hours) after a day, even with Nevada’s four-day early voting head start, but we’re not getting rending of cloth from the press. The Nevada Caucuses, even with a challenge from Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, won’t be labeled a disaster, debacle or worse.


I think it’s pretty simple.

Democrats in Nevada did a better job setting expectations than we did in Iowa.

When the Iowa Democratic Party said it would have results rolling out starting in the evening of the caucuses, media laid its plans, including live coverage. When, unexpectedly, there weren’t results to report, all the press had to report was the lack of results.

So it did.

In Nevada, they made no such promise.

Having failed to set realistic expectations, the IDP failed to fill the information gap so it was filled with freaking out and conjecture.

When a space exists between what people want to know and what knowledge is publicly available, there’s what I call an information gap. And that gap creates a vacuum that will be filled, if not with real information, then with conjecture.

The political press calls this punditry.

Remember how the IDP phone lines were being clogged by media asking for updates (and a bunch of 4chan assholes)? In a crisis, staying quiet and hoping it will blow over is always attractive to the people who have to talk to the press, but it rarely works out well.

Iowa’s results were supposed to be primetime programming. Nevada’s weren’t.

There’s a huge difference between what the press will do on a Monday night in primetime and what it wants in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

Weekends are when you’ve got the B team on the anchor desk. The big Sunday stories were filed on Friday. The press and its audiences are out to dinner, watching sports or drinking.

Late Friday is the traditional time to dump news you don’t want covered. Saturday afternoon is a good day for voting, but a bad time for news coverage.

Monday night, in primetime, is high-viability, especially when you’ve got your A team all ready to talk about results from the first-in-the-nation contest.

Nevada has a clear winner and thus a story.

This is the most important one. “Media bias” isn’t left or right. It’s a bias towards narrative and conflict.

Bernie Sanders won first in Nevada and the AP called it pretty early. The story is now “Sanders is the true frontrunner for the nomination” while other campaigns fight it out for second place.

And the conflict piece has been nicely filled in, too, with anti-Bernie and pro-Bernie and anti-anti-Bernie factions fighting over if he can or can’t beat Trump and what needs to happen next for a non-Sanders candidate to get the nomination.

Media needs a narrative. Without a clear winner, Iowa’s was “disaster”. With a winner, which is kinda the point of these nominating contests, Nevada has a narrative.

“The door for real change has opened a crack. Put down your shoulder and hit it as hard as you can.”

Amid the world’s chaos — which is exactly why this is the right time to talk about this — I’d like to step back and talk about why I’m all in for Elizabeth Warren

Last night, we had our local Warren organizer, Zoe, who is great, over for dinner.

We talked about things we care about: reproductive justice, racial justice. Social justice. Debt-free education. Climate change. Healthcare. And so on. 

There’s a lot of things to care about — worry about — right now. I bet you care about a lot of these things because a lot of people do.

A lot of people whan to see something different. They want to see meaningful change. 

“The door for real change has opened a crack.” Real change. Big, structural change.

This morning, I woke up to The New York Timesprofile of Elizabeth Warren, listening during my morning run through the darkness.

It focused on the time, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when a door was open a crack. Through that opening Warren pushed the establishment of a consumer safety agency for financial products. 

You know it today as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

The CFBP is good for people. Big bank folks kinda hate it because it means regulation and accountability. Some politicians kinda hate it because people in big banks kinda hate it.

But accountability and regulation is good. Not ruining lives because of bad financial products is good. 

Warren’s able to push these things because she has the ability a good teacher has to explain complex issues clearly, and she can do it to big audiences. That’s her super power.

That and empathy. She cares. 

Anyway, Warren’s moment starts with her puking before going on The Daily Show

It ends with her offering a masterfully clear vision of where we go “after we pull the bus out of the ditch.” 

So she’s got plans. Green New Deal. Blue New Deal. Plans to farmers and workers. Plans to address immigration and our climate crisis and transition to Medicare for All. Lots of plans. 

Progressive plans. 

And you can go and read them

But what runs through them all of her plans is accountability and empathy. Lost in the talk about her progressive stands is that they are centered on anti-corruption.

We don’t make progress on issues we care about because the system isn’t set up for most of us. Our current administration is corrupt and abhorrent and our president should be impeached. But our problems didn’t start — and won’t end — with Trump. 

We’ve nibbled around the edges for years. I’m tired of trying to start in the middle and getting steamrolled. So is Elizabeth. 

“You don’t start out by saying there are people who are going to oppose this, so let’s just ask for 2 percent.” 

Elizabeth Warren can compromise, but we’re going to have to fight for even moderate changes, so why only ask for a little? 

We want to get the money out of politics, but when I get calls from folks who are running for office asking for money, the ask always starts this way: “Gosh, we gotta get the money out of politics. But until then, can you write me a check?” 

Elizabeth is walking the walk. She knows we’re not going to get the money out of politics by keeping money in politics. Or that we’re going to get transparency from our politicians unless we get transparency our political leaders.

 She keeps asking why things that are popular with voters don’t get traction in Washington. And the answer she keeps coming to is corruption. Power and influence and money and access. Systemic, built-in corruption. And it’s been here. 

“It’s about having a vision about who you want to work for.” 

Elizabeth Warren knows who she wants to work for, and she’s doing the work to show she’s legit. 

The door is open a crack. Don’t be afraid to put your shoulder down and push hard.


All In on Big, Structural Change

With local elections now passed, my attention turns to the Iowa Caucuses and the vital work of 2020.

The field of Democratic presidential candidates is deep and diverse, and people I respect are committed to many of them. We all want someone who can win.

Our country faces myriad serious issues: racial inequity, a climate crisis, income inequality, mass incarceration, Go Fund Me for healthcare debt, out-of-reach housing, childcare deserts, tax-free corporate profits, crumbling infrastructure, bought-and-paid-for politics, a hallowed-out safety net, disenfranchisement, forced childbirth, gun violence, and a world unraveled and leaders indifferent to the pain they’re inflicting on humans.

Lots of our candidates care about these issues. But that’s just table stakes.

The Iowa Caucuses, whatever their faults, operate outside of the usual choose-one-of-two of elections. It’s our chance to follow our hearts.

And my heart says Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has the skills and the plans for the desperately needed — say it with me — big, structural change.

She’s a big thinker who designed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, then ran it. She’s a hard fighter who isn’t afraid to stand up against big banks, big tech and big energy. And she’s an inspiration and a teacher who can clearly explain the plan, how it works, and why it’s important, and then lead the way.

But can she win? Yes, of course she can. If we don’t let ourselves get tied up in I-like-her-but… knots outthinking ourselves.

I hope you’ll allow yourself to dream big, follow your heart and join me in supporting Elizabeth Warren.