The race for president has captured most of the attention this election season, but there are other issues on Iowa ballots this November. Voters in Dallas, Madison and Warren Counties will be deciding whether they want a gambling enterprise in their county. Seventy-two judges around the state have their names on the ballot. Iowans can vote to let those judges keep their jobs; a ‘no’ vote boots the judge off the bench. One of those 72 judges is being targeted by conservative groups like the Iowa Family Policy Center. Chuck Hurley, the Center’s executive director, says Sioux City-based Judge Jeffrey Neary should go. Neary is the judge who granted a divorce to a lesbian couple who got a “civil union” in another state. That case has been appealed. “His ruling recognizes same-sex marriage, against the Iowa law,” Hurley says. “It’s important, in our opinion, to keep judges accountable to do their constitutional job and that is to interpret the law and not re-write it.” Hurley’s group has been running campaign ads against Neary in northwest Iowa. Hurley calls Neary a “rogue judge” who issued a “dangerous ruling.” Des Moines lawyer Dwight James sits on the Iowa Bar Association committee that evaluates the judiciary, and he says all Iowa judges, including Neary, are dedicated public servants who should keep their jobs. James says judges are carefully selected and the “judges in Iowa are amongst the most outstanding in the nation.” James says Neary is being “unfairly” targeted by a “smalll group of dissidents.””He’s a judge who’s enormously popular amongst the legal profession in his district,” James says. “He has no agenda. He’s a church person. He’s been attacked as though he’s carrying an agenda and I think it’s pretty clear that’s not the case,” Until the 1970s, Iowa judges ran for office just like other politicians. Now, a special commission recommends a list of nominees and the Governor chooses from that list. Then, every six years, a judge’s name is put on the ballot in a retention election. Also in Tuesday’s voting, three counties will decide whether to boost financing for emergency 9-1-1 service. Ninety-seven of Iowa’s 99 counties are collecting surcharges from residents to finance E-9-1-1 service. Scott County and Polk County are the only two counties in the state which aren’t, but Polk County voters are being asked to approve an E-9-1-1 surcharge. Black Hawk and Woodbury Counties already have a surcharge, but are asking voters to increase it. John Benson, the E-9-1-1 program manager for the state of Iowa, says under state law, the money is to be used to buy and maintain equipment that receives and routes 9-1-1 calls. “In layman’s terms, it helps that 9-1-1 call get in the door. It helps the dispatcher get it out the door to the appropriate emergency response resource,” Benson says. “It can’t go off, you know, and pay for lawnmowers or anything like that.” Benson says the three 9-1-1 referendums this time around are primarily focused on ensuring various agencies can communicate with one another during an emergency. Benson says on 9/11, the New York City fire and police departments had a hard time talking to each other. He says improving networks among departments and agencies will speed communications and cut down on response time. Benson says some of the money will also be used to improve tracking for 9-1-1 calls made from cell phones. Benson says the bottom line is to have the 9-1-1 call appear the same to the dispatcher taking the call — whether it came from a cell phone, on a land line or some other device. That means all calls would provide the dispatcher with an accurate location and a call-back number. Residents of Polk County are also deciding whether city and county governments should merge. Iowa State University professor Kurt Thurmaier has studied mergers across the country. “The vote to change the structure of government is a pretty unusual one if you consider the thousands of local governments that we have,” Thurmaier says. “At the same time, the number of attempts to consolidate cities and counties or cities and cities is increasing across the country.” Yet Thurmaier says most attempts at consolidation fail. Thurmaier says it’s a “pretty radical” change in governing, and backers have to present a convincing, compelling argument. Backers of the Polk/Des Moines merger say it will lead to a more efficient government and will save taxpayers money. Thurmaier studied 13 merger efforts that occured across the country since the 1970s and wrote a book. “Campaigns to consolidate based on convincing voters that it was going to be more efficient government are doomed to failure,” Thurmaier says. The ones that are successful, according to Thurmaier, are the merger movements based on a new economic view for the area that is supported by “elite” civic and business groups in the area as well as politicians. Thurmaier has been analyzing the debate in the Des Moines area about the proposed merger. Thurmaier says there’s been “so much bureaucrat bashing” in the past three decades that voters think government is wasteful even when it’s not. He says as a result, the merger backers — in his opinion — haven’t made a very compelling case. Former Governor Robert Ray, a republican, and former Des Moines Mayor Preston Daniels, a democrat, are among the chief proponents of the merger and argue if will benefit the area because it will help end duplication among levels of government.
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