Iowa lawmakers are still in session, their per diem payments expired, working to close up shop for 2018. When they finally adjourn, their record will show business both finished and unfinished, controversial and non-controversial.
When they aren’t passing budgets or rewriting tax law, legislators take up bunches of routine, ceremonial and symbolic items, such as resolutions extending congratulations for this achievement or that.
For example, state senators this two-year General Assembly officially congratulated rodeo professional Tim O’Connell, a native of Zwingle and alumnus of Maquoketa High School, for winning a world championship; Iowa wrestler Cory Clark for his NCAA title; and musician and Iowa Public Radio host Bob Dorr for his “uncommon impact on the cultural landscape and history” of the state.
You might think that winning the Pulitzer Prize, the foremost award in American journalism, would be a commensurate (if not superior) achievement to those honors. You might think that would be especially true, considering that the recipient was a courageous journalist who literally risks the family business —his small-town newspaper — to hold powerful interests to account for the health and welfare of his readers and other Iowans.
You might think that, but, in the eyes of the Iowa Senate, you would be wrong.
Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times, received last year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, surpassing nominees from big-city papers across the country, including New York, Washington and Chicago.
Cullen at the time was only the sixth Iowan to earn a Pulitzer. (Andie Dominick of The Des Moines Register this year made it back-to-back Iowans to win in editorial writing.) But, unlike the bareback rider, wrestling star or music icon, Cullen received no official congratulations from the Iowa Senate.
Why not? Cullen, in his unapologetic, unwavering and opinionated manner, pushed — and pushed hard — for public information and for the interests of the Little Guy. As it concerned environmental issues in general and water quality in particular, Cullen used, in the words of the Pulitzer judges, “tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing” to successfully take on governmental and Big Agriculture interests.
In the eyes of the Republicans running the Iowa Senate, that’s an offense that can’t be forgiven. Senate Resolution 108 was introduced by Democrat Liz Mathis and Republican-turned-independent David Johnson, both former journalists. Republican leadership bottled up the resolution of congratulations for Cullen and prevented it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote.
So much for Iowa pride, taking the high road and the courageous exercise of one’s free-speech rights.
This makes Republican leaders look petty. And they are.
In typical Cullen fashion, not only could he not care less about the snub, he seemed to relish it. An unabashed liberal, Cullen has enjoyed maintaining more than an arm’s-length relationship with government and corporate entities. He epitomizes the call for a journalist to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Still, one group of senators did pass a resolution congratulating Cullen. They are in Ireland.
Sen. Mark Daly put forward this motion: “That Seanad Eireann (Senate of Ireland) recognizes the outstanding achievement of the Storm Lake Times Newspaper, Storm Lake, Iowa, winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing by its editor Mr. Art Cullen, whose ancestors came from Ireland.” The resolution received approval.
The only principals looking bad in this episode are the Republican leaders of the Iowa Senate, who put pettiness and politics ahead of celebrating the free-speech rights upon which our country was founded.
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