Staff Columnist

The government cares about you, even if you don't care about it

Notes from my 2020 summer vacation

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is seen on a monitor as she updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a new
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is seen on a monitor as she updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

I wanted a vacation away from politics, but I didn’t get it.

I took last week off from writing columns for The Gazette in favor of a little “staycation.” I slept in, played a few of Eastern Iowa’s beautiful disc golf courses and drank more than a few cans of Busch Light. Most of all, I did my best to take a break from the soul-crushingly toxic politics that pervade Iowa life these days.

The extra sleep, the outdoor recreation and the light domestic beer were great. Ignoring politics proved more difficult. I remembered, as the Greek statesman Pericles observed more than 2,000 years ago, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”


Even on my vacation from my job writing about the government, the damn government seemed to be everywhere.


My girlfriend is a public school teacher, so despite my best efforts, I still caught a few minutes of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conference last week about returning to learning. I was taken aback to hear one of the governor’s explanations for demanding in-person education in every Iowa school district this fall: “We haven’t had eyes on those kids for quite some time now,” Reynolds said last week.

I don’t have children, but I do have three young nephews I’m close to. The boys and their parents would be surprised to learn that the governor doesn’t think they have had enough supervision this summer. I naively thought schools were for educating children, not conducting welfare surveillance on them.

When I left my home of Johnson County for a short (and socially distant) road trip, my local Board of Supervisors was still at work, passing a mandatory face covering policy. Since my girlfriend and I do not share a household, we would be forced to wear masks or shields if we wanted to take a walk together in a county park. How romantic.

The resolution unanimously approved by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors explicitly claims that the mandate is “not intended to be punitive or stigmatizing.” But that language is immediately followed by the very punitive consequences of violating the ban — a simple misdemeanor carrying a fine that starts at $105 and increases for subsequent offenses.

Then I thought I’d take a few minutes to fill out my absentee ballot request form for the November election, but that, too, was tainted by bitter partisanship: My local Democratic county auditor is mailing forms with some of the information already filled in, a convenient setup that the Republican Secretary of State’s Office says is illegal.

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Even on my vacation from my job writing about the government, the damn government seemed to be everywhere — the governor wants to keep eyes on my family, the local sheriff’s deputies and police officers will be keeping an eye on my face and election officials are in a tizzy about my ballot. So, I sought respite from some good old consumer electronics.

Bad news. The phone I recently purchased came loaded with the video editing service TikTok, which I was indifferent to until I found out President Donald Trump wants to ban it. The Chinese app does suffer from some security concerns, but the president ought to have no authority to dictate what software I can use on my own devices.

No matter how hard you try to forget about the government, the government will never forget about you. But at least the beer was cold.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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