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    Ever since I wrote a story in June about the painting of a mural called "The Mississippi Mermaid" in Bettendorf, I've wanted to talk to the young artist whose talented hand drew the mermaid's face.

      I caught wind of the possibility sometime during the winter: our son was thinking of competing in an Ironman triathlon. I pretended I didn’t hear.

        Every so often I'd wonder whatever happened to Beth M. Howard, the author who gained fame several years ago while living in Grant Wood's "American Gothic" house in Eldon, Iowa, and traveling the country teaching people how to make pie.

          I was driving to work one recent morning when I glanced over toward Martha's Point in Bettendorf and noticed — oh my gosh! — "Swoop" was missing.

          A bill sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker would lift restrictions on Illinois residents who can’t change their names because of past crimes. Supporters say the legislation would especially help people who are transgender or have been victims of human trafficking. Under current law, there’s a lifetime ban on name changes for people who have been convicted of identity theft or are on state registries for certain crimes. Others convicted of crimes can face a 10-year waiting period to change a name. A judge would make the final decision on a name change with input from a local prosecutor under a bill that has cleared the General Assembly.

          Authorities have identified the three young children and one adult who died in a rollover crash in northern Iowa that also injured the nine other passengers Friday morning. The Iowa State Patrol said 1-year-old Marlin Borntreger, 2-year-old Rebecca Borntreger, 4-year-old Emma Borntreger and 22-year-old Ervin Borntreger all died. None of the occupants of the van were using seatbelts or child car seats. Iowa State Patrol spokesman Alex Dinkla said the driver lost control of the van on a snow-covered stretch of U.S. Highway 20 near Wellsburg. Four passengers were ejected when the van entered the median and rolled over. Dinkla said he didn't have updated conditions on the six adults and three young children who were injured.

          Iowa Democrats chose a failed Congressional candidate to lead their state party as they grapple with a series of election losses and an effort from the national party to take away its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential race. Rita Hart, the former state senator who lost a 2020 U.S. House race by just a handful of votes, was chosen Saturday over two other candidates. Hart said her focus is on helping Democrats start winning elections again. But she'll also have to help the state party decide how to respond to the national Democratic Party's decision to put the South Carolina primary ahead of Iowa's caucuses on the presidential election calendar.

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          A proposed new steering committee would help lay out a plan for how Iowa Democrats reverse their fortunes over the next election cycle following steep election losses in the state in November.

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