The Prairie Progressive 2012 Honor Roll

Summertime Murmur:
Prairie Dog’s 2012 Honor Roll

Amanda Coyne launched a sizzling career in investigative journalism after moving from Iowa City to Alaska. With her husband Tony Hopfinger, Coyne plunged into the politics of Big Oil in Alaska, covering a bribery and tax scandal involving Sen. Ted Stevens. Coyne turned down an offer to write a biography of Sarah Palin, preferring instead to write Crude Awakening: Money, Mavericks, and Mayhem in Alaska. She and her husband founded Alaska Dispatch, an on-line only news site that quickly became the second-mosttrafficked news site in the state. Winners of numerous awards for investigative reporting and public service, the couple’s goal is to “take an unflinching look at the state, from its massive riches to its abject poverty, and tell these stories to Alaskans and to the world.”

Last year former Iowa State Senator Jeff Angelo of Creston started Iowa Republicans for Freedom to show support for marriage equality. He continues to promote the  conservative principle that government should stay out of the private lives of all Iowans, including gays and lesbians. Once the lead sponsor of a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, Angelo criticizes his fellow Republicans who “get lost in senseless debates that do nothing but demean our neighbors and threaten the rights of our fellow Iowans.”   Unfortunately, no information is currently available on how many members the group has enlisted.

Tom Vilsack has made his share of missteps over the years, including the signing of Iowa’s “English Only” bill as
Governor in 2002. As USDA Secretary in 2010, he again succumbed to rightwing pressure, forcing rural development
director Shirley Sherrod to resign after an out-of-context video appeared on a conservative web site. In both instances, Vilsack later apologized and publicly announced his regret. He’s earned his way on to this year’s Honor Roll by working hard “to ensure that the civil rights of USDA constituents and employees are respected and protected.” Vilsack has helped to implement the ‘black farmer’ lawsuit, conducted a disparity study of unfair treatment within the USDA, and – perhaps most remarkably – stated in a meeting with black farmers, “When I became Secretary I thought I knew something about racism, but I don’t. I’m learning every day.”

The June 2012 primary campaign was unusually nasty by Johnson County standards. The demonization of Auditor
Tom Slockett ranged from juvenile and scatological web sites to numerous charges filed against him with the state
campaign ethics board (of which only one — using a personal cell phone for political purposes in a public office –was found worthy of the board’s “least severe” reprimand). Some usually sensible Democrats and public officials fell victim to the nearly hysterical vilification of Slockett, feverishly latching on to every accusation and unattributed rumor that bubbled from the muck. Most appalling, though, was the performance of the Iowa City Press Citizen. Unsurprisingly, it editorialized against the incumbent auditor, as it had in the past, but it also allowed itself to be swept up in the vicious anti-Slockett tide when it should have cast a cool eye on the ugliness that seemed to grow exponentially as the primary went on. The only media person to publicly resist the blood-in-the-water vituperation was columnist Jennifer Hemmingsen of the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“We can expect some meaty debate in at least one local race. That is, if some Slockett-haters can get their over-the-top rhetoric under control… Voters must know how Slockett proposes to address these ethical and procedural concerns so they can decide for themselves if he’s still the right candidate for the job. But they also deserve an election that’s based on more than hidden detractors lobbing rotten tomatoes at the incumbent.”

Many Iowa City Community School District watchers believe that the School Board of the early 2000s was exceptionally effective, productive, and transparent. Much of the credit goes to Lauren Reece Flaum, who served two terms from 1999 to 2005 and as board president from 2001 to 2004. Her leadership helped pass a $39 million bond referendum that led to the expansion of classrooms and built a new high school, junior high, and elementary school across the district. The Prairie Progressive will miss Lauren’s friendship, her extraordinary ability to bring people together, and her clear and thoughtful writing. We offer a brief sample from her article Summertime Murmur in the August 2009 PP:

“I often wonder what it is that gets hold of fair, open-minded people once they join a school board. How quickly it’s forgotten that the board’s job is to lead the superintendent and not the other way around! But I do remember that courage is not revered in the climate of the board committee; conformity is. The complexities of school finance formulas in conjunction with the steep learning curve of other issues conspire to intimidate rather than embolden. People fall in line. I often did myself.”

— Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2012 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. 

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