Monday, June 26, 2006

June 26, 2006 Delivering Newspapers

Consider This for June 26, 2006--Delivering Newspapers

My sister Janet in Iowa sent me an e-mail this past week about how the newspaper in Fort Dodge was going to do a series celebrating the 150 years of publication. 150 years? My goodness, that is a long time. They had already been in business for 96 years when I was born.

They had asked if there were any former paper carriers with interesting stories about doing their paper routes over the years.

I responded with a couple of paragraphs and then was contacted by the person who is writing a book on the subject.

I will share it with you first, but don’t mention it to anyone in Iowa.

On my Schwinn bicycle, I delivered the Fort Dodge Messenger in Rockwell City when I was nine and ten years old. I had about forty customers and was one of about five carriers.

When I was in a journalism class in college many years later, the textbook had the front page of the Messenger as an example of a good layout.

The Messenger covered several counties in northwest Iowa and was the sole source of local, state, and national news. It published every day but Sunday.

I remember riding my bike in snowstorms and coming home with frozen pants and coat. My mother would have to thaw them and me out. I had a problem losing the "extra" paper that I was expected to sell to non-subscribers. I finally caught a man taking it out of my bag in front of the local tavern. Apparently he had done that for a long time. I think I made a few cents per paper, so losing one a day was a great loss.

I also remember that I actually put the paper in the mail slot or opened the screen door to place it on the sill or on the floor. Today my paper normally ends up in the middle of the road in front of my house. The carrier drives by at a high rate of speed and throws it out the window. When it snows I often never find it.

I learned a lot from my carrier route. I have been a public servant and an elected official for the past 46 years and know that the lessons I learned then are still relevant to me today.

One was rejection. When there were contests to get new subscribers, I would ask people to subscribe, and most found it very easy to tell me no without qualification. I was a police officer for many years, and I think that I never had any problem speaking to people because of the early rejection as a carrier.

Collecting money provided a big lesson. Many times customers would not answer the knock at their door on collection day. They would string me out as long as they could. I would change the day and the time of day to "catch" them at home.

I don't remember the name of my boss from Fort Dodge, but I do remember that he would pile everyone in his car to talk to us. He chain-smoked, and I still remember having trouble breathing during those impromptu meetings. It was not his fault, but I went on to smoke for almost forty years. When I quit and then was around someone else who was smoking, I remembered his car and the very thin air I had to breathe.

In 1952, during the Stevenson-Eisenhower presidential election, I put signs on the sides of my paper bag with the word "vote" on them. I was not asked to do that by any adult but thought it was important that people vote. I have been an elected official for the past 29 years as a town council member, county coroner, county commissioner, and state representative. I tell that story a lot as I talk about the importance of voting.

My hometown did not have a daily paper. There was and still is a weekly paper called the Rockwell City Advocate. It was mailed and not delivered, but it had a lot of local news in it. You could even find out what people had to eat at their Sunday dinner.

Our competition was the Des Moines Register, the morning paper, and the Des Moines Tribune, the evening paper. We all picked up our papers at the town square at about the same time. The boys and girls carrying the Des Moines papers were elitist, while we were all common and middle class (at least in my mind).

In my office at the state capitol I have a photo taken by my mother of me and my Schwinn bike with the canvas paper bags on the back. It gets a lot of comments, especially from people who know good bikes.

I remember specifically that there was a front-page item on every paper called the “Daily Chuckle.” What a nice way to start my paper route each day.

Running a paper route was like having my own business. A lot of responsibility for someone so young. But then look how I turned out.

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 19, 2006 Owens vs. the Colorado Supreme Court

Consider This for June 19, 2006--Owens vs. the Colorado Supreme Court

Just when I thought it would be safe to go back into the water, Governor Owens decides to threaten the Colorado Supreme Court with calling a special session of the legislature.

What’s a mother to do?

I teach this stuff, and I don’t understand it most of the time.

We have a balance of power in our federal government and our state government. We have three separate and distinct branches of government.
The legislative, the executive, and the judiciary.

That is the way we have designed the process and the balance of power for over 211 years. It works very well.

The issue is a ballot proposal to take a question to the voters this fall concerning what state benefits should be provided to undocumented workers. Considering the perceived crisis in immigration, it is probably not a bad question.

The constitution of the State of Colorado was amended in 1995 to prohibit more than one subject in any ballot question. It is actually found in three places in the State Constitution but this is it in summary, "no measure proposing an amendment or amendments to this constitution shall be submitted to the registered electors of the state containing more than one subject.”

Again, to avoid confusion. Each subject had to have its own ballot question. Another great law. How nice to know you are not voting for fifty things with one yes or no on your ballot.

Under state statute there must be the inclusion of a description that a no vote is against the change and a yes vote is for the change. This is the “yes means yes and no means no” law. How nice.

On the immigration benefit ballot question, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled it included more than one subject and was unconstitutional.

That, in effect, killed the question for the next couple of years.

The Republican minority and our Republican governor thought the Supreme Court was wrong and have threatened the court with a special session to pass a referendum to put the issue on the ballot anyway.

The operative word is threatened.

Since when does the governor have the right to threaten the court with a special session? What would the governor do if the court threatened the governor? There would be hell to pay, I am sure.

I had a few bills vetoed last year by the governor. I did not like it, but that is the right of the governor. He did not call a press conference to announce that he was threatening me that he would veto my bills. He just did it.

But he does not have the right to threaten the courts. He does have the right to call a special session. If that is what he wants to do, then he should do it. No press conference. No ultimatum. No threats. Just call a special session and get on with it.

The real issue is the constitution.

A special session will not remove the one-subject rule. A special session will just take more time and money, and we will all arrive in the same place again when all is said and done.

I am sure he knows that if there is more than one subject on the ballot question, then the legislature will not pass his referendum either.

The Democrat majority is now considering a call for a special session. It will require the same numbers and the same single subject. It will take nine Republican members to agree with the Democrats before it could move forward. I am not sure what the topics might be but I am sure that it will include a Democrat view of solutions to the immigration problem.

I am sure that when the women and men of the legislature are called to Denver this summer, they are going to be very enthusiastic about passing the governor’s referendum on immigration. Yeah, right.

Another thing to consider is that it takes a super majority to pass a referendum in the house. That is 44 votes vs. the usual 33 for a majority.

It will be a cold day in July when that happens.

Monday, June 12, 2006

June 12, 2006 It is about fear

Consider This for June 12, 2006—It Is About Fear

It is about fear.

My mother was into object lessons. About sixty years ago she taught me a good one. So good that I still remember it after all these years.

I grew up in Rockwell City, Iowa. It was a very small town in northwest Iowa. In the 1940s, right after the war, it was probably one of the safest towns on the planet. There was always a sheriff but no police department until the 1950s, just about the time they needed protection against young teenagers like me.

You have all heard the story before. The town was so safe that parents could let their kids go out to play unsupervised in the early morning. They would return when the town whistle blew at 12:00 noon. After lunch the kids would disappear again until the whistle blew again around 5:00 in the afternoon.

No Amber Alerts. No kidnappings. No sexual predators. Just growing up in Iowa after the war.

We had a town park about two blocks from my house, and there was a pond, a grandstand, playground equipment, and the Scout cabin.

The Scout cabin just about proved to be my downfall. It was a true log cabin built at the edge of the park. It smelled like mold and rotting vegetation. Not somewhere you would want to be for very long. The Scouts had used it for meetings, I guess, although when I was a Boy Scout we never met there.

One summer I went to the cabin and found a Boy Scout neckerchief hanging from a peg on the wall. Of course it fascinated me, and I decided to take it home.

Being a future police officer and state representative, I immediately showed what I had found to my mother. Of course she asked me where I found it, and when I told her she immediately took me by the hand and escorted me back to the cabin so I could put it back on the peg in the cabin.

She explained to me that it belonged to someone, and I should not have taken it. It was wrong, and it was stealing.

My heart went into my throat, and I started crying. First of all, it was upsetting to me that I had done something wrong, and secondly it was upsetting that my mother had to find out about my criminal behavior.

At that stage of my life I had an immediate understanding of right and wrong. That understanding has never left me.

This became obvious again this past session at the state legislature when some criminal law legislation was being discussed.

Some legislators believe that laws by themselves change behavior. That if you pass a law the entire society will immediately change its behavior. Some people would call it social engineering. I call it stupidity.

People will do the right thing or the wrong thing based on their consciences and not because of a law. The law simply defines the crime and the punishment. It was never meant to prevent crime.

Crime is prevented by the parent who will take the time and energy to take her young son back to the cabin to hang up the stolen neckerchief. It is a learned behavior and is not brought about by the passage of new laws.

The role of law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts is to assist in this learning process. It is their role to make sure that violators are sought out, arrested, prosecuted, and punished. That too is a learning process that most of us never experience because we had caring parents, and we learned the difference between right and wrong at an early age.

I have spent a good portion of my life with criminals. Criminals on the streets, in the jails, and in prisons all over the United States. To a person, none of them even considered the punishment when they committed the crime. To a person, they all thought that they would get away with it, up to and including murder.

It is about fear. It is the fear that somehow, even though they have passed on, my parents will somehow find out that I had done something wrong.

Monday, June 5, 2006

June 5, 2006 It's About the People

Consider This for June 5, 2006--It’s About the People

It’s about the people.

It is not about the buildings, the roads, and the tax revenues. It’s about the people.

Take care of the people, and everything else will follow.

On the first day of the 2006 hurricane season last Thursday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sworn into office again. He had defeated Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu in the election held last month.

I wish Mayor Nagin Godspeed in his efforts to continue to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but I would like to give him some advice. It is not about the building but about the people. Ray, take care of the people, and all your dreams and desires for the city will come true. Ignore the people and you will fail.

After the August 29th hurricane, I wrote a column about how badly the disaster had been handled by President Bush, Governor Blanco, and Mayor Nagin. All of the investigations since have affirmed my comments. It remains the biggest failure of government to respond in the history of the United States.

I was confronted by a friend shortly after the column appeared. She did not think New Orleans should be rebuilt and that it would be a mistake to do anything other than scrape it off the face of the earth and let it return to being a swamp.

I told my friend I disagreed, and I felt strongly that the city should be rebuilt. Where there is vision there is hope. I could still see a major city being re-created on that site, and it would, once again, become a major industrial and cultural center in the South.

Then I began to cross my fingers and to read everything I could find about the renewal of the community.

I was in Austin, Texas, last fall and heard that there was a community of New Orleans jazz musicians who had literally taken over a club there to keep their music alive.

I read about a large community of expatriates who had settled in Seattle and how well they were getting along.

This spring there was a college graduation held in the Superdome. The same Superdome that was considered destroyed by the storm and then by the people who found shelter in its innards. I have followed the stories about the New Orleans Saints planning to move to Texas who are now going to come back to New Orleans.

Mardi Gras was held this year on a scaled-back basis.

The heart of the city is beating ever so slightly.

The discouraging reports are about how few of the permanent year-round residents are coming back. How few of the people who lived in the Ninth Ward want to come back.

I truly wish I knew the answer to why the revitalization has not included the people.

Someone has missed the point.

Lots of money was poured into rebuilding, which is good, but the rebuilding ignored the most important factor. The people who lived in New Orleans before Katrina. Where have they gone, and why haven’t they come back?

The answer might be in the news reports that as the homes in the Ninth Ward are finally torn down, bodies are found inside.

Hard to believe that no one checked the homes after the hurricane. Someone did not put the people first. Someone did not do the job. Someone needs an attitude adjustment.

One of the classes that I teach at Colorado Mountain College is Sociology. Sociology is the science of society, social institutions, and social relationships: How people relate to each other as individuals and as part of a group.

Governments cannot exist without communities of people to serve. Schools need to have students. Economic development needs to have income created by workers.

Our community is not the ski companies or recreation or the resort industry. It is the people who work and live here. It is the people who come to visit and drive our economy. I think we understand this very basic principle.

Let’s hope that New Orleans comes to the same conclusion before it is too late.