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.

It Could Be Worse. In Iowa Nice Praise of Test Iowa

There have been a lot of complaints about Test Iowa and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response to COVID-19. Those complaints do not feel very Iowa nice. It could be worse.

So I wanted to offer some overdue praise.

Since Test Iowa’s launch, I had been dutifully submitting my personal information to the state via its opaque website. It’s easy for me, since I have a cell phone, email address, ready access to the internet and my health.

I was tested on Aug. 10 in Cedar Rapids, and I can honestly say that my Test Iowa test was the best thing to happen to me that day.

Each week, I received a personalized link and encouragement to “crush the curve.” I would follow that link, reenter my name, email address (twice for confirmation), cell phone number (twice for confirmation), date of birth, street address, city, state, ZIP code, gender, height (in inches), weight, underlying conditions, demographics of my household, and job. I was glad they were being so careful to make sure it was me.

In May, testing became available to anyone could get an appointment regardless of symptoms who after two months and a $28 million no-bid contract to help us crush the curve. And we did, as Iowans undertook serious group study to get ahead and help set the grading curve here in the Midwest.

As the school year crept up on us, even though we’d been super careful and hadn’t set foot inside a grocery store, restaurant or movie theater since before spring break, my family wanted to get tested. Scheduling our tests was four simple steps. Our process was:

  1. Plan some vacation time, since we couldn’t guarantee testing on a specific day and no testing is done on weekends or evenings.
  2. Check each morning in the days leading up to our time off to see if we could schedule a test.
  3. Schedule a test. Then log in as my wife and schedule another test. Then log in as my daughter and schedule a third test.
  4. Print our QR codes on actual paper to be ready to go for our test.

While we live in the fourth most populated county in the state, and minutes from the state’s hygienic laboratory, we had got to travel to Linn County for testing. Since we’re not transportation dependent and own the required hardtop vehicle (no walk ups!), we had no problems getting to the test site, as it had good signage from the interstate.

The test took just minutes, and the care worker who shoved an incredibly long swab up my nose twice for 10 seconds each could not have been kinder and more professional.

I received my results — negative — about 24 hours later (once I could find a place with enough LTE data to load the website).


This week was our summer vacation, originally set for hiking the Colorado Rockies; we stuck closer to home amid the pandemic. 

And so, as Monday’s derecho storm rolled in, we were at Palisades-Kepler State Park, just east of  Cedar Rapids. We sheltered first in our car, buffeted by 100+ mph winds, and then in the park ranger’s basement.

After the storm passed, we abandoned our car and hiked the quarter mile out, over broken trees, downed power lines and dying wildlife. We were fortunate to get a ride home with my parents, who had downed trees and no power at home.

We returned home to find no power, a terrified dog and at least two large tree limbs had gone through our roof and ceilings. Our damage was much less than many.

Thanks to the kindness of neighbors and friends, we got cleaned up, kept our phones charged and our coolers full of ice. Many others offered help, because that’s what Iowans do. Thank you.

Power was restored this morning, thanks to overnight work by linemen and foresters, 108 hours later. 

Dismantle Our Current Structures

Redefining what public safety means for the University of Iowa will require the campus community to think differently and to dismantle our current structures in order to build a better future.

Everyone has a right to be skeptical that real actions and change follows, but when that quote follows “in order to truly reimagine public safety on our campus, we must approach the issue as though we are starting from scratch” in the press release from our big public university?

This moment is different.

Or maybe not. Skepticism is OK.

One-track Minds

We’re in the midst of a moment: police brutality, the long-time callous disregard for Black lives, has come to the fore with opportunity for rapid change and reform.


We’re in the midst of a moment: a global pandemic infecting millions of Americans, and killing thousands without an end — or leadership — in sight.


We’re in the midst of a moment: an incompetent wanna authoritarian for whom cruelty seems to be the point stands for election.


We’re in the midst of a moment: the point-of-no-return for our climate.

And so on and so forth.

Humans are so bad at focusing on more than a single rage-inducing issue at a time, our wannabe authoritarian has (inadvertently?) weaponized it against us.

In short: you can stay mad, but you can’t stay mad at the same thing if more horrors keep popping up. There’s so much coming at us and the rapidly-dying media that we can’t keep our focus long enough to make the case that is obvious.

It’s so easy to forget. To forget the compounding weight.

We humans like to chuckle about how goldfish forget something once they hit the other side of their bowl. Or about how dogs only think in the present tense. Or how birds can’t count above three. Gosh, they’re so simple.

And here we are, stuck on our one track.

Hindsight: Best Pandemic Moves

Making a few stock-up purchases two months ago.

Planning my spring break to a cabin in an isolated state park five months ago.

Refinishing the basement and building an addition to provide spaces to work, read, sunbathe, puzzle two years ago.

Moving to careers that pay well and allow us to work from home 12 years ago.

Buying a chest freezer 13 years ago.

Becoming a parent and stopping after one child 15 years ago.

Being born a white, cis, hetero male to educated, well-to-do parents who have been supportive of me my entire life, allowing me an incredibly large safety net so when a global pandemic hits I’ll be just fine, thanks, 40 years ago.

(Did you “make” good pandemic moves, too? There are people you should help.)

Last Meal

On March 13, I consumed one of my last meals in a restaurant for the foreseeable future. I found myself on North State Street in Chicago, surrounded by employees munching on Hot Cheetos and kale salads before the lunch rush.

Nina Elkadi, Life Without Restaurants, Little Village

This piece, which, coincidentally, includes a photo of my family eating at Pullman’s Mission Creek dinner a couple years ago, has had me thinking about my last restaurant meal.

It was for my birthday in early March, and the food, prepared with care and creativity by Rodina‘s team, was excellent, as was the company of Evelyn, Laura, Sam, Erek, Kelly, David and Lisa.

Such meals aren’t ancillary to my social life. As a homebody and an introvert (of which I’m even more certain now than before), they’re often the necessary social lubricant.

I miss (in-person) meals with family, and I miss meals with friends. I miss the magical experiences — surprising, novel and transportive — that restaurants can offer.

When we travel (when will that happen again?), it often centers on food, and we seek out those places we hope will offer a thoughtful meal and then figure out what else we’ll do and where we’ll stay from there.

When we’re home and our kid is off with friends (when will that happen again?), we’ll venture somewhere locally, and simply watch people while we enjoy good drinks and good food.

None of that comes in a to-go box.

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.