Evans: This wasn’t one of the court’s finest moments

Through the long arc of history, the Iowa Supreme Court has developed a reputation for judicial courage that often puts it ahead of many other courts when crafting groundbreaking decisions before important legal concepts become widely accepted. The issues have been meaty, and controversial, especially here in the middle of America. Iowa has been a leader with landmark rulings on slavery, school desegregation and gay marriage. But Friday, the Supreme Court passed up the opportunity to add to its legacy. In time, history will tell us just how far reaching this latest decision turns out to be, legally and environmentally.

Evans: Government needs room for common sense

People like to talk about what the law says. And in Iowa, the law has a lot to say. Just look at the Iowa Code. It now fills eight volumes and costs $295 for a complete set. But common sense costs nothing — although the 18th century thinker Voltaire once observed, “Common sense is not so common.”

Two examples involving government in Iowa in recent weeks clearly show the Frenchman was on to something. For about 13 months, most state and local government boards and councils have held “virtual” meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Where, oh where, are today’s Bob Rays?

It’s hard for those of us of a certain vintage to realize it has been 39 years since Robert Ray was Iowa’s governor. In spite of the passage of so much time, his name was on the minds of many people last week. What triggered the Bob Ray memories was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ interview with WHO Radio on Thursday. Reynolds was asked about the thousands of children, mostly from Central America, who are showing up this year at our border with Mexico without their parents. They arrive hoping to be allowed to live in the United States with relatives or sponsors, freeing them from the deadly violence and the grip of poverty so common where they came from.

Evans: How you can still lose while winning in court

Many years ago, during a conversation with an old lawyer, he made a comment I still remember: “You can sue the bishop of Boston for bastardy, but that doesn’t mean you are going to collect.”

It was Frank Karpan’s way of reminding a young editor that merely filing a lawsuit is not the most important occurrence in a dispute. The outcome is. My friend’s Frank-isms have been quoted in these columns before. My favorite is the rarely wrong observation, “I never had a client listen himself into trouble, but I’ve had plenty who talked themselves into trouble.”

Frank’s comment about the bishop occurred back when it was easier to figure out winners and losers in court fights. These days, however, someone can win in court but ultimately lose, because the cost of a skilled legal defense can be staggering.

Evans: Iowa should stop keeping police discipline secret

The actions of journalists and police officers were in the spotlight last week in a Des Moines courtroom. The scrutiny came at the trial of Andrea Sahouri, a Des Moines Register reporter. She was arrested while covering a chaotic protest last May 31, six days after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The jury sorted through questions and allegations about the actions of Sahouri, who has worked for the Register since 2019, and Officer Luke Wilson, a Des Moines Police Department employee for 18 years. In the end, jurors believed Sahouri, not Wilson. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone made an interesting comment in defending his decision to charge Sahouri: “No one is above the law,” he said. 

The jurors who decided Sahouri did not overstep her rights as a journalist announced their decision in open court.

Evans: There’s more at stake than new road signs

Tucked away among hundreds of bills being considered this year by the Iowa Legislature is one people might have quickly embraced in a different era.But times have changed. It has been 38 years since Robert Ray left the governor’s office. State government today is far messier than it was back then.Compounding the reaction to Senate File 404 has been the social and political upheaval in Iowa in recent years — enough to bring out pundits with their potshots.The seemingly innocuous piece of legislation appropriates $350,000 for the Iowa Department of Transportation to replace the 68 “Welcome” signs along Iowa’s borders. The bill also contains a requirement that the new signs incorporate what it calls a “different and distinct” design and message for travelers.The current signs say, “The People of Iowa Welcome You,” with the secondary message, “Iowa, Field of Opportunities.”The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Carrie Koelker of Dyersville, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “This is something that I think is important, that we make sure as a state that we upgrade our image.”The “Field of Opportunities” slogan was adopted in 1999 when Tom Vilsack was governor. Iowa’s current marketing slogan — “This is Iowa” — seems more like something intended for lost motorists.The bill opened the spigot to a stream of creative juices at Raygun, the Des Moines company that sells smarty-pants T-shirts with a Midwest political and cultural flavor. Owner Mike Draper’s Facebook post produced a flood of suggestions for slogans for those new “Welcome” signs.Among them:“Iowa.

Evans: These changes won’t improve election security

Iowa’s 2020 election was one for the record books — with 1.7 million people marking ballots. It was an impressive turnout in Iowa — with 76 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters taking part. There were no allegations of election fraud or polling place shenanigans in Iowa. No one suggested people from cemeteries were casting ballots in our state. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS

Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.