Discarding the old deal

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

It was a good bargain that held for generations: Farm country would support food stamps for the urban poor so long as urban interests would support commodity safety net programs. That bargain has been under steady attack for years as conservatives try to dismantle the food stamp program while red-state congressman try to defend crop insurance and marketing loans. The battle goes on this year, as the House Republicans want workfare imposed on food stamp recipients. It probably will drag on so long as to delay a new five-year farm bill for several years, like the last one that was held up over food stamps.

A reality check provides context. Most food aid program recipients are the elderly, the working poor and children. Setting up a sing-for-your-supper regime necessarily requires a whole new bureaucracy to provide education and job training, which nobody actually is proposing. Food stamps — vouchers — remain the most efficient way to provide welfare to the poor who, as the Bible reminds us, have and will always be among us. Even with food stamps, rural food pantries can’t keep up with demand. Food insecurity used to be an urban problem, mainly. Now it is a pervasive rural problem that is leading to a diabetes epidemic.

As usual, the Senate will prove to be a moderating force on the farm bill. To accommodate radicals in the House the Senate will have to give up something — conservation, food stamps, water quality, ethanol support — in a conference committee. Maybe a set-aside is required to get crop insurance. The urban interests and those not tied into the corn complex might view crop insurance or ethanol subsidies differently when you directly attack support programs for the marginalized.

It is not at all clear that a Farm Bill will pass before the November elections. The food stamp debate almost ensures that it will not. Given the short-sightedness of the House, the delay and dysfunction may come as a relief.

Hiding things

At first, Gov. Kim Reynolds said no documents existed regarding a harassment complaint filed against Iowa Finance Authority Director Bill Jamison, who was fired March 24. After further consideration, and another question from the Associated Press, Reynolds on Monday finally acknowledged that those documents in fact exist. But, she said, they will not be released although the Iowa Public Records Law says otherwise.

This will allow the public to speculate about what happened. Reynolds and Jamison have been friends for decades, starting as fellow county treasurers. They got along swimmingly until March 23, when somebody reportedly complained directly to the governor’s office and not to the office that is supposed to handle workplace harassment. That was it, Jamison was gone without explanation.

Reynolds said she wants to protect the victim’s privacy. But the law she supported regarding release of harassment discipline as public records does not employ to “at-will” employees, Reynolds said. Iowa Freedom of Information Council Director Randy Evans notes that the law makes no distinction of at-will versus other employees. Public records are public records. He said that the governor is disregarding the law. Evans does not make those charges lightly. He has read the law.

This battle will go on. Tongues will wag right into the fall election unless Reynolds comes clean with the facts.

The law directs her to do so. The Associated Press is sticking with the story, demanding the facts. The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is clear in its position. That should be a warning to the governor of an impending battle that she will lose. Reynolds can release the information without invading the privacy of the victim. There is something she does not want out there. She is willing to risk turning this into a major campaign issue questioning her management ability and, more important, the governor’s basic honesty. The governor should get rid of the story by telling the public what happened. The longer she will not, the longer the story hangs around. What does she have to hide?