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Kavanaugh sworn to high court after rancorous confirmation

WASHINGTON — Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in Saturday night as the 114th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, after a wrenching debate over sexual misconduct and judicial temperament that shattered the Senate, captivated the nation and ushered in an acrimonious new level of polarization — now encroaching on the court that the 53-year-old judge may well swing rightward for decades to come.

Even as Kavanaugh took his oath of office in a quiet private ceremony, not long after the narrowest Senate confirmation in nearly a century and a half, protesters chanted outside the court building across the street from the Capitol.

The climactic 50-48 roll call capped a fight that seized the national conversation after claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago — allegations he emphatically denied. Those accusations transformed the clash from a routine struggle over judicial ideology into an angry jumble of questions about victims' rights, the presumption of innocence and personal attacks on nominees.

His confirmation provides a defining accomplishment for President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which found a unifying force in the cause of putting a new conservative majority on the court. Before the sexual accusations grabbed the Senate's and the nation's attention, Democrats had argued that Kavanaugh's rulings and writings as an appeals court judge had raised serious concerns about his views on abortion rights and a president's right to bat away legal probes.

Trump, flying to Kansas for a political rally, flashed a thumbs-up gesture when the tally was announced and praised Kavanaugh for being "able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats." He later telephoned his congratulations to the new justice, then at the rally returned to his own attack on the Democrats as "an angry left-wing mob."

Like Trump, senators at the Capitol predicted voters would react strongly by defeating the other party's candidates in next month's congressional elections.

"It's turned our base on fire," declared Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York forecast gains for his party instead: "Change must come from where change in America always begins: the ballot box."

The justices themselves made a quiet show of solidarity. Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts and the man he's replacing, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, as fellow Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan looked on — two conservatives and two liberals.

Still, Kagan noted the night before that Kennedy has been "a person who found the center" and 'it's not so clear we'll have that' now.

Noisy to the end, the Senate battle featured a call of the roll that was interrupted several times by protesters shouting in the spectators' gallery before Capitol Police removed them. Vice President Mike Pence presided, his potential tie-breaking vote unnecessary.

Trump has now put his stamp on the court with his second justice in as many years. Yet Kavanaugh is joining under a cloud. Accusations from several women remain under scrutiny, and House Democrats have pledged further investigation if they win the majority in November. Outside groups are culling an unusually long paper trail from his previous government and political work, with the National Archives and Records Administration expected to release a cache of millions of documents later this month.

Kavanaugh, a father of two, strenuously denied the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford, who says he sexually assaulted her when they were teens. An appellate court judge on the District of Columbia circuit for the past 12 years, he pushed for the Senate vote as hard as Republican leaders — not just to reach this capstone of his legal career, but in fighting to clear his name

After Ford's allegations, Democrats and their allies became engaged as seldom before, though there were obvious echoes of Thomas' combative confirmation over the sexual harassment accusations of Anita Hill, who worked for him at two federal agencies. Protesters began swarming Capitol Hill, creating a tense, confrontational atmosphere that put Capitol Police on edge.

As exhausted senators prepared for Saturday's vote, some were flanked by security guards. Hangers and worse have been delivered to their offices, a Roe v. Wade reference.

Some 164 people were arrested, most for demonstrating on the Capitol steps, 14 for disrupting the Senate's roll call vote.

McConnell told The Associated Press in an interview that the "mob" of opposition — confronting senators in the hallways and at their homes — united his narrowly divided GOP majority as Kavanaugh's confirmation teetered and will give momentum to his party chances this fall.

Beyond the sexual misconduct allegations, Democrats raised questions about Kavanaugh's temperament and impartiality after he delivered defiant, emotional, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he denounced their party.

The fight ended up less about judicial views than the sexual assault accusations that riveted the nation and are certain to continue a national debate and #MeToo reckoning that is yet to be resolved.

Republicans argued that a supplemental FBI investigation instigated by wavering GOP senators and ordered by the White House turned up no corroborating witnesses to the claims and that Kavanaugh had sterling credentials for the court. Democrats dismissed the truncated report as insufficient.

Riverssance flying high
Renaissance Fair attracts Sioux City crowd

SIOUX CITY -- Sioux City's only Renaissance fair, the Gathering of the Kingdom of Riverssance, returned for its 15th year at Riverside Park Saturday.

The yearly celebration of ye olden days features full-armored jousting, birds of prey, knights and princesses, kings and queens, peasants and wenches, pirates and scallywags, wizards and faeries, belly dancers, Renaissance recorder music and plenty to eat and drink. Day two runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. 

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Leaves are seen turning red in Sioux City on Sept. 29. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, peak autumn colors usually last from the end of September until the second week of October.

GALLAGHER: Making their mark

HINTON, Iowa -- Hinton High School Principal Betty Wendt walked into a education committee meeting at Morningside College in early August 2016. She met Dr. Thomas Paulsen, head of the college's ag department, as he departed a previous session.

"We chit-chatted for a bit and I told him how we'd (Hinton) like to hire an ag teacher," said Wendt. "We were set to do so in 2015, but we couldn't find one."

It would be Hinton's first such dedicated professional. The new hire would also get a new FFA chapter at Hinton off the ground.

Paulsen said he had the ideal candidate, an Iowa State University graduate he advised during her student-teaching assignment, Stephanie Bass, who was home in Colebrook, Connecticut, attempting to decide whether to teach or enter the private sector.

"I was raised in a small town in Connecticut, predominantly dairy and field corn," Bass said. "I came to Iowa State because I knew I'd major in something in agriculture and when I Googled 'top ag colleges in the U.S.,' it was Iowa State that always popped up."

Bass connected with Wendt. They Skyped an interview and Bass landed the job. She traveled to Iowa the following week, found a place to live and, that same day, began her teaching career, sowing seeds for the first Hinton High School FFA Chapter.

Bass isn't alone. Across Northwest Iowa there are more than 20 women piloting agriculture departments in their respective high schools. A number of them have also founded FFA chapters as participation in FFA rises across the state.

"There were 14 of us who graduated in the ag education department in 2016 at Iowa State and only one was a guy," said Sam Schroeder, who, like Bass, started the ag education and FFA chapter at MMCRU High School in nearby Marcus, Iowa, two years ago.

Schroeder listed the following as recent ISU grads, all women, who started FFA chapters at their high schools in recent years: Hannah Barnes at Washington High School in Cherokee, Kylie Miller at Western Christian High School in Hull; and Randi Koehler at Lawton-Bronson High School in Lawton.

Elsewhere, women direct these Northwest Iowa chapters: Shauna Kill, West Lyon; Betsy Harwood, Sioux Central; Betsy Schoelerman and Liz Naviaux, Clay Central-Everly; Danielle James, Le Mars Community; Paige Whitney, OABCIG; Molly Bomgaars, George-Little Rock; Michele Wagner, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn; Susan Groth and Larissa Rupnow, East Sac County; Molli Griffin, Kingsley-Pierson; Emily Lair, Estherville-Lincoln Central; Jamie Haugen, Alta-Aurelia; Crystal Nieland, Newell-Fonda; Caryn Robinson, Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire; Lisa Hurd, Storm Lake St. Marys; and Angie Joyce, Emmetsburg.

Ellen Doese, a 1983 Iowa State graduate, was named the National FFA Teacher of the Year when Bass and Schroeder graduated from Iowa State. When Doese was hired at Wapsie Valley High School, it was reported she was the seventh woman to be hired in that capacity in Iowa.

"Teaching (in this field) used to be mostly men," Bass said. "But, I've heard that most men are able to make more money working out in industry, that might be a reason."

Jon Wimmer, the FFA adviser serving MVAOCOU High School in Mapleton, said the reason for a growing number of women in the field might be directed to the high schools themselves. "It could be that more girls in high school are now involved in FFA and they're going up the pipeline," he said.

Nationally, the FFA reports females represent more than 45 percent of the organization's membership. It wasn't until 1969 that the FFA, which began in 1928, offered full membership privileges to girls.

"It's becoming more of a normal thing," said Schroeder, who indicated the more interesting aspect might be the prevalence of FFA chapters over who might be leading them.

"The FFA organization has become so well-known and presents so many opportunities for kids," said Schroeder. "It was hard no to have a program in such an ag-dominated area like this."

Schroeder, who participated in livestock judging and other activities while prepping at Hudson High School in eastern Iowa, said the old Meriden-Cleghorn and Remsen-Union school districts had FFA chapters years ago. One or both chapters ceased due to consolidation, budget cuts or dwindling interest in the wake of the 1980s Farm Crisis.

Schroeder learned of the interest in starting at program two years ago at newly consolidated MMCRU. She was asked to state her case for the implementation of agriculture classes and the starting of an FFA chapter when the school boards met that year. She was joined by community member Shirley Schroeder in making the case.

"I talked about why I think MMCRU needed an FFA chapter," Sam Schroeder said. "And then they ended up starting the program."

Schroeder applied for the new position and secured it weeks later. This week, she'll venture south of Marcus into a 5-acre soybean tract FFA students planted and monitored over the growing season. Students have sold half the crop already, learning how to track upward and downward trajectories of commodity prices.

"Half the crop was tilled and half was planted in no-till," Schroeder explained. "We also buried a couple of pairs of cotton underwear in the soil in both the no-till and the tilled areas. We're going to see if there are more micro-organisms in the no-till as they'll eat up a lot of that cotton."

Schroeder, who teaches eight classes, has also overseen the construction of a greenhouse at the high school for plant sciences classes and fundraisers. Last week, she and her students set up an Aquaponic system for a tilapia project, among others. "Kids are picking seeds and growing bedding plants they'll market and sell," she said.

Ultimately, Schroeder said she wants MMCRU students to hone their agricultural skills and curiosities while learning of ever-growing opportunities that arise across Northwest Iowa.

"We're trying to help kids find reasons to want to come back," she said. "This is our way of saying, 'Go to college and then come back. There are jobs around here.'"

Bass, the Hinton teacher who teetered on entering the railroad industry to work in marketing or dispatch, stepped out in front of the crowd gathered at the Blackhawks volleyball match on Thursday night. She accepted a grant award of $10,000 from Monsanto, money she'll earmark for supplies and the Curriculum in Ag Science Education (CASE). Her hands-on instruction, developed with CASE, has helped Bass boost her numbers from 40 students two years ago to 75 this fall.

"Private industry crossed my mind as it does for most young teachers," she said. "But then I ask myself: Where am I making the most impact? Where do I enjoy waking up most each day? Right now, those answers are in teaching. Ag class, for me, was the class that got me up and excited for school each morning. I'd love to take that type of student and help them pursue their passion for agriculture, helping them to see what it does in our world."