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Iowa Dems take strength from win in Alabama

CEDAR RAPIDS | A long shot win by an Alabama Democrat is good news for the nation and Iowa Democrats hoping to flip control of the Iowa House in 2018, according to a legislative leader.

“I think this is good news for our country,” House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said about Doug Jones’ victory over Alabama Republican Roy Moore. It was the first time since 1992 that Alabamians have elected a Democrat to the senate — and that senator, Richard Shelby, became a Republican after going to Washington. “I think it’s a demonstration that common sense rules the day.”

Smith is predicting similar outcomes in Iowa House races next year.

“We’ll go into this election with the intention of taking the majority,” Smith said, adding that picking up 10 seats needed to become majority leader in 2019 has been done in one election cycle in the past.

Democrats had a trifecta — control the governor’s office, the House and Senate starting in 2007. In 2010, control of the House flipped from 56-44 in favor of Democrats to a 60-40 Republican majority.

The GOP has a 59-41 advantage in the House. One GOP member is expected to resign because he has been elected to the state Senate.

Miller’s optimism stems from Democratic wins in Iowa special elections as well as others around the country. Win or lose, he added, Democrats have “overperformed.”

“We had a great win in Fairfield in a district that Donald Trump won with 58 percent of the vote and (Democrat) Phil Miller won with 54 percent of the vote,” he said. That election to fill a vacancy created by the death of Democratic Rep. Curt Hanson. In 2014, the last time he had a challenger, Hanson won 52 percent to 48 percent.

Republican Party of Iowa spokesman Carlos Cruz was not as impressed.

“After years of losing elections under Mark Smith’s leadership, I can appreciate that Democrats don’t know how to react to winning a Fairfield House seat that’s been held by a Democrat since 1996,” Cruz said.

Tuesday, a Democrat running in a special election in Plymouth and Woodbury counties, lost 54 percent to 46 percent despite Republicans having about twice as many registered voters in the northwest Iowa district.

Similarly, Democrats have held seats in special elections in the Quad Cities.

Smith chalks that up to hard work.

“We knocked the doors. We pounded the pavement. We conveyed the message of being pragmatic and solving Iowa’s problems,” he said. “That’s what we will do across the state in 2018.”

It’s not that simple, according to the GOP’s Cruz.

“Iowa’s always been a purple state,” he said. “Our success at the ballot box has always been reflection that Republicans have been better at recruiting good candidates with a vision for a better Iowa.”

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Cerro Gordo County Courthouse 

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Former Mason City day care operator accused of sex abuse requests closed sentencing after uproar

MASON CITY | A former Mason City day care operator accused of sex abuse is requesting a closed sentencing hearing after North Iowans coordinated a protest over a plea deal, which dropped more serious charges against her. 

Tawny Marie Symonds, 31, of Charles City, was initially charged with assault and felony second-degree sexual abuse for allegedly victimizing one of the children at her home-run day care, 696 13th St. S.E., Mason City, according to court documents.

Shelli Wierck, a human resources assistant for Exceptional Persons Inc. (EPI), told the Globe Gazette by phone Thursday that Symonds also worked as a child care consultant for EPI's child care resource and referral program, from Nov. 20, 2013, to Aug. 14, 2015.

Wierck added that Symonds worked out of EPI's Mason City office.

Symonds submitted an Alford plea earlier this week, which said she would plead guilty to a lesser charge of child endangerment, in exchange for the sex abuse and assault charges being dismissed.

Cerro Gordo County District Court accepted the plea, according to court documents. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 29, 2018, at the Cerro Gordo County Courthouse. 

Symonds sentencing hearing

There has been immense backlash about the court's decision on social media, notably on Facebook.

According to Symonds' request to close the sentencing hearing to the public, protests have been scheduled by members of the "Mason City Police Scanner" Facebook page outside the courthouse and inside the courtroom during the sentencing.

Members have also asked for Cerro Gordo County Attorney Carlyle Dalen to be removed from office. Dalen could not be immediately reached for comment by phone Thursday afternoon. 

Dalen, an incumbent Democrat, ran unopposed for a second, four-year term in 2014. He was first elected in 2010 after 17 years with the Cerro Gordo County Attorney's Office. 

Symonds' attorneys, court-appointed public defenders Nellie O'Mara and Steven Kloberdanz, also argued the sentencing should be closed for "not only the Defendant's safety, but also of the Court and all parties involved." Court documents note screenshots of Symonds' personal page and address have been listed in the group "in an effort to intimidate and condemn the Defendant."

The page is not associated with the city, court documents say. 

The moderator of the Mason City Police Scanner, who did not publicly identify themself or themselves, reiterated in a statement Thursday afternoon the page represents the citizens of Mason City, not the police "or any other state department."

It was also noted by the moderator that "no one in control of this page planned a protest inside the courtroom" and that the outcry is about holding elected officials accountable for their jobs. 

"You can close a courtroom," the moderator wrote. "You can't close the voting booths when the residents of Cerro Gordo are this upset they vote out every judge and attorney that refuses to consider public risk before handing out a ridiculous plea bargain such as this."

The court has not decided on whether to close the sentencing hearing.

Second Judicial District Court Administrator Scott Hand said he doesn't know of any sentencing hearings being closed to the public in the 16 years he has worked for the North Iowa court system. However, Hand said it's possible it's happened because that decision is at the judge's discretion. 

“That would be the judge’s decision … and it goes in front of the court if there is a disagreement (between parties)," Hand said via phone Thursday. 

Judge Rustin Davenport is presiding over the case. 

Mason City woman grappling with medical bills requests help from Cheer Fund (with Dec. 14 donations)

A Mason City woman who is struggling to pay her monthly bills and steep medical expenses is hoping the Christmas Cheer Fund can assist her this season.

The 55-year-old woman, who describes herself as “disabled” and “homebound,” said she has several medical disorders, including cerebral palsy, breast cancer, osteoarthritis, asthma, GERD and others.

In January, the woman will be responsible for her own health insurance.

She is unemployed and doesn’t receive disability, food stamps or other social service supports to help with her “high medical costs” that cost about $40,000, according to her application.

“I would like money from you for a Xmas meal food and a few gifts for my 94-year-old mother & 2 great nephews age 6 & 3,” the woman wrote. “I will also buy perhaps some warm winter wear. Thank you for any assistance you can provide.”

Since the Cheer Fund began in 1927, more than $3 million has been raised.

This year’s goal is $125,000.

The Christmas Cheer Fund was established by Globe Gazette Publisher Lee Loomis in 1927 so every child could have a present on Christmas morning. In the years since it has come to mean a little help at Christmastime to people of all ages.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to the Globe Gazette office, 300 N. Washington Ave., Mason City, IA 50402-0271.

Any remaining funds not distributed for the holidays will be given to local nonprofits. The Christmas Cheer Fund balance will return to $100 in January to maintain the checking account.

Those in need can apply for help from the Cheer Fund at the Globe Gazette between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. Applicants must use the 2017 request form. Applications will close at noon Dec. 21.

Cheer Fund donations: Thursday, Dec. 14


TO-DATE TOTAL: $63,199.42

TO REACH GOAL: $61,800.58

Marian Urbatch, $50

Ima, Gma and Poopah — Merry Christmas and God Bless, $100

For family, $50

Becky and Dennis Thoms, in honor of our grandsons Deklan, Drew and Davis, $50

Jane Reynolds, thanks for the memories HQ, $50

Becky Murray, in memory of Chris Murray, $25

Chad and Jon, in memory of Dad, $25

Lois Rayhons, in memory of my husband Francis, my son Steve and Tara Beshey, $50

Gregory and Deanna Johnson, $100

Attorneys of the law firm Pappajohn, Shriver, Eide and Nielsen PC, $450

Larry and Carmen Madson, in memory of our parents, $100

Duane and Robin Tabbert — Merry Christmas, $50

Anonymous, $200

Tim and Kay Turek, $40

Paul and Millie Horstman, $35

Shirley Faaborg, given in memory of Jack Faaborg, $50

Anonymously with love, $200

David and Margaret Pfannes, in memory of Connor Burke and Hugh, Iva and Michael Flaherty, $75

Vern Mondry and Karen Muth, in memory of our loved ones, $50

Jerry and Loni Siefken, $100

Arlene Engh, in memory of my husband Willis and son Arnold Engh and our parents Ed and Nellie Anderson and William and Grace Engh, $50

Marie Formanek, in memory of my husband Leonard and Rose, John and Bob Jakoubek, $50

Dianne Jarosh, in memory of Ray Cooper and Charles Jarosh, $20

Robert and Joann Bowers, in loving memory of our parents Everett and Hazel Harrison and Loren and Genevieve Bowers, $50

Mark and Doreen, in memory of our son Nic Marzen, $250

Gene and Rosemary Tannahill, in memory of Randy, $20

Brenda Miller, $25

Dennis and Carolyn Thada, $25

Anonymous, $100

Patricia Schultz, in memory of Tom Schultz, $100

Anne Wallace, $25

Luverne and Mary Ann Schmidt, in memory of loved ones, $50

Phillip Hoyne, $50

Ruth Blazek, in memory of Darold, $100

Gene and Dar — Merry Christmas, $25

Joni McGee Gilbert, in memory of parents Alta and Ernest Tjarks, four brothers Everette, Richard, Gary and Ernest Ray, sister Bonnie and loved ones, $75

Roxann and Jerry Young, in loving memory of parents and brother, $50

Mason City Noon Kiwanis, $161

Ron and Tami Dougherty, in memory of Berger and Dougherty family, $20

Kenneth and Bettie Huntley, for the Huntley and Patton family, $50

Alice Ruby, $40

Beverly Torgeson, in memory of Richard, Karen, Susan, Janice and Shannon, $50

Carmen Loveland, $25

Raymond and Elizabeth Gogel, $25

Bookmeyer family, $500

Mike and Wendy Hegtvedt, in loving memory of family and friends, $50

Karl and Jean Laudner, in loving memory of Marlys and Gerry, $25

Rose Pappas, in loving memory of husband John and son Mark, $25

Helping hand, $200

Harold and Sandra Pippert, $100