The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 15, 2014

Time to take the politics out of the juvenile home discussion

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Feb. 9
The Clinton Herald

---- — Whoa.

The partisan political horses may already be out of the barn regarding the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home. But we hope it’s not too late to rein them in.

Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg last week ordered the state to reopen the Toledo home, saying Gov. Terry Branstad overstepped his authority when he ordered the facility closed last month.

The Iowa Juvenile Home provided housing and schooling for children in the state’s legal system.

The state-run facility has been the subject of controversy since last summer when an advocacy group criticized the home’s practice of placing young girls in extended isolation.

The revelation led to investigations by other state agencies and a legislative oversight panel. A state task force recommended the home remain open if economically feasible.

Rosenberg’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed against the state by Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 and four state lawmakers.

One of those lawmakers is state Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to run against Branstad this fall.

“The judge is the latest in a long line of Iowans who have tried to get Terry Branstad to follow the law. The ruling is another example of how this governor operates above the law, without accountability or respect for the rule of law,” Hatch said in a statement released through his campaign.

Hatch may be referring to a 1992 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that Branstad, in his previous stint as governor, broke the law by withholding a pay raise unionized state workers won in binding arbitration under the collective bargaining process laid out in the state code. AFSCME-affiliated state workers were affected. Branstad complained at that time that the ruling led to a state sales tax increase.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers defended the juvenile home closing.

“Because the children weren’t receiving the education they deserve and their safety and treatment were being compromised, Gov. Branstad believed seeking alternative court-ordered placements in licensed and accredited facilities — or in their own homes — was in the best interest of the children,” he said.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and Waterloo attorney who grew up in Tama County and is working pro bono on behalf of the group “Save Our Home.”

“We have contact with some of the children who were displaced, and we’re hoping they can return to the home soon,” he said.

Nagle and Branstad also are political adversaries from way back. During his first run for governor in 1982, Branstad, then lieutenant governor, referred to Nagle as “a hatchet man” after one of Nagle’s rhetorical salvos against Branstad when Nagle headed the Iowa Democratic Party.

So suffice it to say, some of the antagonists in the juvenile home discussion have a little history.

We would respectfully suggest that those involved put the political baggage aside, keep the welfare of our young people at the top of their minds, engage in an honest dialogue and talk to each other instead of about each other.

And when the urge comes to unleash a cleverly turned political barb, well ...

Just say whoa.