Getting organized

Only one prominent Iowa politician, Sen. Tom Harkin, has mustered the courage to advocate for the human rights of the homeless Latin American children stranded at the Texas border. The senator fully supports privacy for the children to keep them safe, and supports their due process rights to receive a hearing for permanent residency based on a 2008 law signed by President George W. Bush.

Harkin is not seeking re-election this fall.

The reason other Iowa politicians run away from the issue is because Latinos in Iowa have no voice since they are not organized. Labor unions in food processing are dead. Political parties treat them as a group to gin up before an election. Churches stand by and hold no one to account.

That might be starting to change.

The League of United Latin American Citizens has formed a council in Storm Lake, finally. City Councilwoman Sara Monroy Huddleston will serve as the first chairperson of the group. Its main goal is to register new voters in Buena Vista and surrounding counties.

LULAC is a well-respected organization founded in 1929 in Texas to promote civil rights for Mexican-Americans. Historically it has urged a program of assimilation and patriotism for the USA. More recently its efforts have been directed to immigration reform and advancing education for Latino children.

It remains a non-partisan organization, affiliated with no political party.

Except, the likes of Reps. Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert — who have made careers out of bashing immigrants — make LULAC’s non-partisanship difficult.

“If we could talk to him and set things straight, we could further the interests of Latino voters in Storm Lake and the Fourth District,” LULAC Iowa Director Joe Enriquez Henry told us on Monday.

But they apparently cannot get that conversation going.

This might help spark it. It also will help fill a big hole in Storm Lake — participation in the civic and cultural life of the community.

We need more people of color on the city council, school board, hospital board and county board of supervisors. We need more Latino involvement in Storm Lake United. And we especially need Latinos to add their voice to our politics by voting.

Henry notes that the national average for Latino voter registration is 45%. He wants to get 60% of eligible Latinos to register to vote in Buena Vista County.

That would be one of the biggest developments in the history of the community.

Storm Lake is majority Hispanic, or close to it. It should be reflected in our civic institutions and our politics. That takes political organization. The Republicans appear not to care about the brown vote. Democrats have largely written off the Fourth Congressional District. LULAC gives local Latinos a focus point.

Huddleston bears a heavy responsibility in getting the council organized. She can only be as effective as the response of the local Latino community dictates. Will it be que sera (whatever happens) or si se puede (yes we can)? We certainly hope it is the latter.

Lake Erie, meet Storm Lake

“These proposals are good ideas without the force of law. It’s time to crack down on farms and feeding operations — especially big factory-type enterprises — that refuse to use and dispose of fertilizer and manure responsibly. Voluntary actions taken by some area farmers to reduce runoff have been necessary, but clearly are not sufficient.” This is not a sentence pulled from an old editorial from The Storm Lake Times about the death of Pickerel or Lizard lakes in Iowa. It is from an editorial on Tuesday in the Toledo (Ohio) Blade after 500,000 people in the vicinity were told not to drink the water because of a toxic algae bloom fed by ag runoff.

Ohio has been playing the same game as Iowa with a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy. Cities are forced to clean up their sewage effluent before it hits the creek. Farmers can let tons upon tons of phosphorous-laden mud hit Storm Lake after a heavy spring rain with no penalty at all.

Unfortunately, we are not alone.

The problem will only get worse as spring rains become even more violent because of climate change.

Soil loss limits crop productivity and long-term agland value, wastes money on chemicals floating downstream, and eventually strangles water bodies and aquatic life. We see it all over Northwest Iowa as what were once lakes are converted to marshes to filter fertilizer-rich soil as it wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.

If Pickerel Lake dies, no one cares. But when all of Toledo can’t drink a glass of water next to a Great Lake, change will come. Already the EPA is said to be re-examining its approach to agriculture and surface water contamination. If that’s what it takes, so be it. We have had plenty of warning yet have been pretty lax in response.