There’s a big birthday coming up in Iowa in about a month.This place we call home — these 55,800 square miles of farm fields, wooded land, and clusters of housing and commerce — joined the Union 175 years ago on Dec. 28.This should be cause for a celebration. But it probably won’t be. We have difficulty agreeing on much of anything these days, it seems — including libraries.The spotlight was on them last week during a committee meeting in the Johnston School District. The topic was whether two novels for teens, “The Hate U Give” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” should be available in the Johnston High School library for students to read.
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.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ message for Iowans has been consistent since the coronavirus pandemic arrived a year ago:
Yes, wearing masks is important, the governor has made clear, but government should leave it to people to do right thing. Reynolds has been under intense pressure, both for and against facial masks. Advocates for a mask mandate have said she could save countless lives and slow the spread of disease if she required masks to be worn whenever people are in public places or large groups. But government should not dictate people’s behavior, Reynolds insists. Randy Evans
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.