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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The end of my one-year editorial fellowship with Gazette Insights has arrived. As I did at the halfway point back in November, I’m sharing some of my favorite feedback from community members who have humbled me with their readership.
Based on the responses I received after writing about the 2021 Cedar Rapids mayoral election. It was clear that readers of all political stripes were largely (and strongly) in agreement: Don’t inflame our municipal elections with partisan-themed attacks. That was the strategy of candidate Amara Andrews, who ran as a Democrat, and it failed.
Partisan baiting wasn’t the only thing readers disliked about that campaign. Most also disliked the Andrews campaign’s shady coordination with a then-unregistered group called Iowa Voter Info. The final chapter of that saga hasn’t been written yet. After a complaint was filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board by a supporter of now-mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, the board voted to pursue “further investigation and fact finding.” As of their last meeting, it was still pending.
Not all of the issues that matter to readers are political, thank God. Readers responded enthusiastically when I wrote about lifestyle issues such as dating and weight loss. When I wrote about a cringey date made worse by a yucky meal, more than one reader expressed disagreement with my stance on broccoli as a pizza topping. I was touched by the response to my story on weight loss. “I’m going to keep this article and read it every few days,” wrote Polly from Cedar Rapids. What a compliment!
Still, most of the topics explored in the Insight section are political, and at times, emotionally charged. My column approving of a new law restricting girls sports in Iowa to biological girls received more feedback than any other I’ve written, the majority of which concurred. Of the critical responses I received, all but one were written by middle-aged males. More than one cited Iowa women’s basketball player Caitlin Clark, who would “school me on the basketball court,” according to a reader named Jeff from Coralville.
If Caitlin Clark’s competitors were middle-aged folks who probably haven’t competed in decades, I’d see Jeff’s point. They aren’t. They’re elite athletes of similar age with dedicated training and conditioning. They’re the best of the best, which is what athletes strive to be. In my column, I went into detail about physiological inequalities that mostly favor males over females. Those differences are specifically why separate teams exist for each sex. No amount of empathy for those struggling with gender dysphoria changes that.
In March, I wrote about the importance of school choice, or allowing state education dollars to follow students to a school that meets their needs, even if that means a non-public one. Roger from Cedar Rapids disliked the mention of Cedar Rapids teacher Tammy Wawro’s salary, which I cited as an income that can pay for private school, as Wawro does for her children, while some other parents with far less income struggle to have their children’s needs met in public schools.
Roger was correct when stressing that most teachers don’t earn anything close to Wawro’s $137,777 salary. But some obviously do, and Wawro’s annual pay isn’t even the maximum on the salary schedule outlined in the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union. As long as its opposition centers around the claim that public schools are underfunded, how a district expends its dollars will always be pertinent to the issue of school choice.
“A public school activist sending her children to private school does seem to send a mixed message,” I wrote. So too does collecting such a generous salary from a system one claims is underfunded.
Speaking of school funding and teacher compensation, Neal from Buchanan County emailed me a valuable take when I opined that the world did not end after reforms to Iowa’s collecting bargaining laws five years ago. “I was long ago a school board member,” he wrote. “It always irked me that the board was portrayed as ‘bad guys’ by the union reps to their members. Unfavorable terms were presented to the members as ‘Look what they want to do to you.’ Concessions to the union were presented to the members as ‘Look what we got for you’ by the reps.”
Effects of a culture like that were unfortunate. “There was little regard for the students as opposed to senior union members,” Neal continued. “When presented with a choice between more teachers and smaller class sizes vs cutting teaching staff, leaving a bigger piece of the remaining pie to the seniority protected members, the membership always voted for cutting staff and having larger class size. It was disappointing. The younger teachers and the students were held in less regard.”
Naturally, unions didn’t find my article celebrating collective bargaining reform very pleasing. Rick Moyle, the executive director of the Hawkeye Area Labor Council, was so “sickened” that he wrote up a guest column as a response. I was more excited to show Moyle’s editorial to my friends and family than my own, because its existence — the first official rebuttal, but definitely not the last — embodies a philosophy that I hold dear: Discourse matters. That discourse is strengthened when contrasting viewpoints are shared in a respected arena.
One of the more curious pieces of feedback I have received cannot be attributed to a single response, for I have received it from a number of readers: “I’m glad The Gazette was willing to publish this.” It speaks to a widely-shared concern, however valid or not others find it to be, that certain viewpoints are not welcome in the legacy media.
On one hand, I understand where those concerns coming from, because I’ve felt them myself as a conservative Republican. A 2013 survey found that although relatively few journalists register with a political party, of those that do, Democrats outweigh Republicans by a 4-to-1 ratio. (And that survey was taken before the Trump era.)
On the other hand, I feel I must make it clear that never once have any of my contributions to this page been preempted, nor can I fathom a situation in which they ever would. No topic has been off-limits, no opinion too controversial. My perspective has not only been welcomed by the editors of this publication; it’s been embraced. The only condition placed upon me is that I do my very best: to be thoughtful in the formation of my opinions and authentic in sharing them. (And that I meet my deadlines and word count.)
But my opinions aren’t enough. Yours matter, too. Therefore, my plea to Gazette readers is that you also consider becoming Gazette contributors in the form of letters to the editor or guest columns. The Insight section is a “forum for discussion about and by Eastern Iowans, their communities and the world at large.” That forum is at its healthiest when everyone participates.
I’ve loved being a part of that forum. So much, in fact, that I’ve accepted an invitation to stick around for the time being in a temporary position with this newspaper, which I first started reading as a small child in my grandmother’s living room. I can’t wait to see what this new role brings over the coming months. While I continue to write, I hope you’ll continue to write back.
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