Monday, January 8, 2018

Why Oprah Winfrey for President may not be such a crazy idea

Sunday night, the entertainment elite gathered to celebrate themselves. Again.

They do this often because a broad swath of the public is always willing to tune in – apparently pretty people saying pretty things is an easy sell.

The gala du jour was the Golden Globes, the one where the Hollywood Foreign Press hands out trophies to television and movie types during a swanky dinner at a glitzy hotel. Events such as the Globes, the Oscars, the Grammys, and the Tonys don't vary much from year to year or from each other. However, occasionally, an award recipient or presenter has been known to add something relevant to a national discussion by veering from the usual script.

The 2018 Golden Globes may be remembered for something more significant; it may have served as the launching stage of a presidential candidate.

Depending on the climate of the times, many stars use award broadcasts to protest or show support for something. Some go it alone as Bette Davis did in 1936, wearing a dowdy costume from the set of “Housewife” instead of a ball gown to make a statement about the objectification of women. Katharine Hepburn followed Davis’ lead by appearing at the 1974 Oscars ceremony clad in dirty gardening clothes and clogs.

More often, the stars align. They coordinate the message, wearing red ribbons to bring attention to AIDS, blue ribbons to support civil rights and the ACLU, or pink ones to raise awareness for breast cancer. This year's Golden Globes attendees shunned colorful garb and wore black to speak out against the sexual harassment our country, at long last, has begun to find the courage to confront.

Women were front and center at the Beverly Hilton soiree last night. Barbara Streisand, the only woman to receive a Golden Globe for directing, was there. She won for directing “Yentl” in 1984. The often-unvarnished Frances McDormand accepted her globe for acting by standing up for women and saying, “Trust me: The women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We are here for the work.”

But the most poignant speech was delivered by industry icon Oprah Winfrey.

(Photo: Paul Drinkwater/AP)
Oprah (does she need a last name?) began her acceptance of the 2018 Cecil B. DeMille award for a lifetime of contributions by recalling how she felt watching Sidney Poitier receive his Oscar in 1964. Oprah told us how as a young girl sprawled on her mother’s linoleum kitchen floor in Milwaukee she watched a black man be the first to break through this particular wall of racism. We could sense this moment was one of the many that made Oprah the woman she is today.

Oprah spoke of women who stood firm to bring change in the world. She talked of unsung heroes and those who have taken their place in history books. Oprah addressed the importance of free speech and the crucial role of an independent and vigorous media. She challenged her listeners to be better people. Most significant, she oozed confidence and control. Oprah wanted us to see she could be trusted to hold the light high and that she was capable of pointing the way forward.

Oprah was not just performing; she was leading. She elevated her audience, revealing a new perspective of our nation’s horizon. She wanted people to feel a part of something larger than themselves. Oprah did not mention a candidacy, but few who watched could deny there was more to this than Hollywood showmanship.

At a time when the current occupant of the White House is so preoccupied with self, tweeting things such as “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” Oprah reminded us America can be and should be something more than it is today. Our charge isn’t to make America Great again; our charge is to make America live up to the ideals we have yet to achieve.

It is possible the leader who will show the way to that bright new day may have taken the first steps walking to a podium in Hollywood last night. Crazier things have happened.

First published by The Des Moines Register

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Water Works bill would hurt Des Moines residents; why is city supporting it?

House File 316, drafted by Rep. Jarad Klein from Keota, a town 100 miles away from Des Moines, would dismantle Des Moines Water Works by making it a department of the city of Des Moines and reassign some DMWW assets to other area municipalities. Klein and his backers are laughably arguing that this bill, introduced in the House Committee on Agriculture, has something to do with regional governance. The bill’s real aim is to scuttle the lawsuit DMWW filed over agriculture pollution against drainage districts in three north-central Iowa counties.

Klein has received support for and, possibly, help to draft this vindictive bill from a group of lobbyists/attorneys who represent both the Iowa drainage districts and the city of Des Moines. While it can be argued such a glaring conflict of interest would prevent a group of attorneys from representing entities serving people on opposite sides of a federal court case, the support Klein is receiving from the Des Moines City Council is even more dubious.

Des Moines City Council Member Christine Hensley has been a vocal critic of the DMWW lawsuit. Now, Hensley’s city council has made the decision to support HF 316 outside of the public meeting process. The public does not know which council members support dismantling DMWW, although Mayor Frank Cownie told me he would remain neutral, and council member Skip Moore has stated his opposition.

If the Des Moines City Council had wished to expand DMWW board representation, it could have moved to do so on its own and long ago without this action by the General Assembly. The city could have authorized a referendum. Voters may have opted against giving up their assets and control in return for nothing, but the city could have asked.

The mayor, with the approval of the city council, appoints the board of DMWW, a responsibility the mayor appears to place low on his priority list. One member of the DMWW board, Dave Carlson, was appointed to a six-year term in 2003 when George W. Bush was a new president and Barack Obama was still an Illinois state senator. Carlson’s term expired in 2009, but the mayor could not be bothered to fill the seat until last week, nearly eight years or one full term plus two years after Carlson’s term expired. Other than deciding behind closed doors to back HF 316, the city council has never discussed the need or acted on regional governance. The council’s previous lack of interest and public action is suspect and should concern the people of this city.

Had the Des Moines City Council met in public to discuss HF 316, council members could have been asked if they would continue the lawsuit when the stripped DMWW became a department of the city. Avoiding this question is likely part of the reason the council ducked public debate.

The June DMWW trial will most likely be canceled should HF 316 become law — it will be argued the pending change in ownership of DMWW leaves the case without the filing party.

The dismantling of DMWW will give away assets owned by the people of Des Moines, and throw water management into disarray. Water rates will increase. Those advancing HF 316 wish to stop a lawsuit that might help curb water pollution, which harms public health and causes environmental damage from Iowa to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Klein, Hensley, Farm Bureau and company's goal is to circumvent the lawsuit instead of arguing the merits of a case they will likely lose.

The Des Moines City Council and those in the General Assembly who support HF 316 are working against the people of Des Moines and are standing in the way of efforts to protect Iowa’s water. The only ones who stand to benefit from HF 316 are the agriculture industry and the politicians they fund.

This entry was first published in the print edition of the Des Moines Register . 
Graham Gillette can be reached at 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Let’s set politics aside and work to protect Iowa’s water

On Election Day, President Barack Obama reminded Americans, “No matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning and America will still be the greatest nation on Earth.” He was, of course, correct. The morning revealed a people united in the pursuit of a more perfect union. We may occasionally disagree on which path to take, but we are bound by a shared belief that a government by the people is a government for the people. In trying times, we must rededicate ourselves to finding common ground. The obstacles in our way will not be overcome if we are distracted by political power struggles. Such conflict does nothing to solve the problems our nation, state and communities face.

Few issues are more vital to the future of Iowa and its people than Iowa’s increasingly polluted water. As chairman of the board of Des Moines Water Works, I am acutely aware that the political forces in our state have yet to find common ground on how to stem agriculture pollution. The federal lawsuit DMWW filed 18 months ago continues to wind its way through the legal process, but most Iowans agree, regardless of the outcome of this case, the solution will not come entirely from the court. Iowa must adopt reasonable measures to keep pollution from reaching waterways in the first place, which is why the DMWW board and many leaders involved in government, academia, business and the agriculture industry continue to seek reasonable plans to protect water cooperatively. However, some who are more interested in political retribution than adopting policies and programs to protect Iowa’s water are attempting to derail such cooperation.

Shortly after DMWW filed a lawsuit arguing drainage districts in three northern Iowa counties should be responsible for the quality of water they release, an agriculture industry-funded group began paying for television ads attacking DMWW’s leaders. Politicians in the General Assembly filed bills to penalize Des Moines for what Gov. Terry Branstad said was DMWW’s "war on rural Iowa." These ads, statements and political machinations were initiated to punish DMWW for raising the water pollution issue. No one can reasonably argue any of these actions forwarded constructive discussion.

The change in the balance of power at Iowa’s Statehouse has re-energized some who wish to protect narrow interests by thwarting DMWW’s lawsuit and its efforts to protect our most precious shared natural resource, water. One such punitive measure being revived by obstructionists is a bill aimed at effectively dismantling DMWW. This bill passed the Iowa House last year but died in the Senate. Those pushing a bill to rewrite Iowa Code Section 388.1 and other similar bills are doing so to halt the federal water pollution lawsuit, not to address any other matter.

DMWW is the regional supplier of safe, affordable drinking water for central Iowa. Established nearly 150 years ago, the people of Des Moines are both DMWW's primary customers and its owners. Today, water systems throughout the region are supplied by DMWW, meaning most every person in the area’s suburban communities, cities and counties drink DMWW water. We are committed to continuing to seek ways to collaborate, manage more efficiently and equitably govern. But don’t be fooled. The bill mentioned above is not an effort to govern better, it is a questionable maneuver designed to strip an asset from the people of Des Moines. Should it pass, it too will land in court. This bill is vindictive politics at its worst.

The issue is Iowa’s water quality. A few supported by narrow interests are trying to use the politics of division to distract. I love Iowa, and I firmly believe it and we are better than this. What we face is not a war between urban and rural interests. We are all on the same side as Iowans and as Americans. Let us agree to work together to protect water. We should argue about what path to take and then agree to use science and facts to help us decide together which route to take. Now is not the time for political retribution and obstruction. Now is the time to find common ground. Now is the time for progress.
This entry was first published in the print edition of the Des Moines Register and The Gazette in Cedar Rapids. This link, The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, is an editorial that followed my essay. 
Graham Gillette can be reached at