Quad-City Times. Dec. 5, 2014.
A GOP pledge for crediblity
We've heard Iowa's political party leaders tout the importance of the presidential caucuses. Now Iowa's Republican Party chairman is offering more than lip service.
Jeff Kaufmann, of Wilton, led the party's leadership in signing pledges to stay neutral in next year's caucus campaigns.
"No member of the Republican Party of Iowa state central committee, its officers, or its staff shall publicly endorse a U.S. presidential candidate during the 2016 Iowa caucuses."
Seems obvious. But last go-round, seven GOP committee members formally endorsed caucus contenders. Others worked for caucus campaigns. Former Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson — not a committee member — tried to hide payments he accepted from the Michelle Bachmann campaign, then the Ron Paul campaign.
Add that to the GOP straw poll practice of essentially extorting contributions from the caucus campaigns, and it's easy for the rest of America — and some Iowans — to dismiss the caucuses.
Kaufmann sets an example at the party's highest level that we hope all Republican — and Democrat — office holders follow.
Let the caucuses be about Iowa voters, not Iowa political careers and campaign coffers.
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Dec. 5, 2014.
Showing up for jury duty matters
Most folks probably groan, at least a bit, when summoned for jury duty. A rare few relish the prospect of setting aside personal plans to deal with someone else's problems.
Typical courtroom confrontations are, in fact, mundane events, disputes about property and contracts or prosecutions for relatively ordinary offenses. Forget about surprise witnesses and dramatic confessions on the witness stand extracted from sweaty suspects by determined attorneys.
Actual trials can be tedious affairs presented in excruciating detail.
Despite that reality, a majority of eligible residents nevertheless do show up at the courthouse when called. Yes, they may be driven by concern for potential legal consequences for ignoring their invitation. But hopefully at least a few also understand the importance of participating.
Events in Tama County this week highlighted the issue. The clerk of court's office summoned 105 potential jurors at the start of Dustin Jefferson's trial for first-degree murder. Authorities allege he helped or encouraged his mother, Ginger Jefferson, in killing his wife, Kerry O'Clair Jefferson.
Only 86 showed up, meaning 19 did not.
Jefferson is a member of the Meskwaki tribe. His attorney, Thomas Gaul, subsequently questioned whether the jury pool provided adequate representation of Jefferson's distinct group.
Judge Stephen Jackson Jr. granted Gaul's request to stop the proceedings. So every agency and official who prepared for what will likely be a two-week trial wasted their time and resources. So did the residents who responded. And there are family members waiting for resolution, too.
And here's the rub. According to Jackson's and Gaul's calculations, had the missing 19 shown up, the reason for delay probably would not have developed.
At the opening of the selection process, Jackson described jury duty as a vital responsibility of every citizen on par with voting. The American Bar Association offers a concise explanation of why.
"The right to trial by a jury of one's peers is a cornerstone of the individual freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. In a criminal case, trial by jury places 12 citizens between the power of the government and the rights of the accused," according to the organization.
"The government cannot take away someone's right to life, liberty or property until it has convinced those 12 citizens of that person's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the jury represents the community's conscience and common sense in resolving disputes."
The opportunity to face a jury is one reason the United States even exists. Because American colonists sometimes refused to find colleagues guilty of what they perceived as unjust laws, the British set up special courts.
"This became one of the major complaints of the colonists against the British as America moved toward revolution. In the Declaration of Independence, we see this complaint appear as a charge against the British king 'for depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury,'" according to the American Bar Association.
Without exaggeration, many patriots died to secure a right available today. Surely, if called, we can all make the effort to participate.
The Hawk Eye. Dec. 6, 2014.
Civics lesson: States tie diplomas to citizenship test.
Who makes a better American citizen? Those born to citizenship or immigrants who must earn it?
One does not necessarily exclude the other from being a good citizen, of course. But the fact is citizens who are given the benefits of citizenship at birth have no responsibility — nor feel much obligation — to prove they understand their country's history or the value the precious gift called citizenship plays in a democracy.
To underscore and rectify that disconnect, North Dakota is the eighth U.S. state proposing legislation requiring high schoolers to pass a citizenship test before they graduate.
The others are Missouri, South Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Oklahoma.
The idea is pushed by the Joe Foss Institute. Foss was a World War II fighter pilot awarded the Medal of Honor. He later became governor of South Dakota and died in 2003.
Sam Stone, JFI spokesman, said the goal is to have every state require passage of a 100question civics test by 2017, the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
"We want this test to be a first step in the rebirth of civics education. The more young people know, the more they vote, engage in government and take responsibility about their future," Stone said.
That may be true, or maybe it's just a hope. Stone is correct that most teenagers have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and video games but have significantly less understanding of, or interest in, the forces and institutions that govern their lives as children or adults.
The written civics test for high schools would cover the same material immigrants are required to know.
To earn citizenship, immigrants are expected to get six of 10 answers correct from a list of 100 possible questions about civics, U.S. history and geography.
Naturalborn Americans would have to answer all 100 questions, although how many correct answers will constitute a passing grade hasn't been explained. Presumably, it will be at least 60 percent, the same as for immigrants.
The idea of requiring a test for a diploma has hefty support in some legislatures. But it's not that easy to achieve.
Implementation will require school districts to teach the material. And students will have to care about it.
There is, however, one thing more problematic for a democracy than a citizen ignorant of his or her country's history and institutions, and that is a citizen without a high school diploma.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Dec. 5, 2014.
Congress has some vital work to do
Time is running out for Congress to act on critical pieces of legislation. Lawmakers have only a short time left in their current session to act on measures ranging from those to protect millions of Americans from tax increases to pressing matters such as battling Islamic State terrorists.
But the narrow time frame has more complex — and very political — ramifications, too.
The current Congress is politically split. Republicans control the House of Representatives, while Democrats run the Senate. But because of the Nov. 4 elections, that will change when Congress convenes in early January. Then, both chambers will have GOP majorities.
Rest assured that on issues Democratic leaders consider important, Reid and Obama will use the pressure of the last days of this congressional session to their advantage. Almost certainly, they will attempt to portray Republican lawmakers as villains.
That might be possible through tactics such as threatening government shutdowns if GOP lawmakers do not go along with the White House.
Republicans should not stand for it. Voters should not fall for it. Congress can and must get the important business done. A shutdown would be bad for the country and should not be considered by either party.