DES MOINES — Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith is old enough to remember a poster of President Richard Nixon with the caption: “He kept us out of Northern Ireland.”
In a way, the Marshalltown Democrat said Saturday, that sums up Democrats’ influence on the 118-day legislative session, which wrapped up Saturday.
“We kept them out of Northern Ireland,” Smith said about the Republican House and Senate majorities. “They did considerable damage in a lot of areas. But if we hadn’t fought as hard as we did, they would have done more damage to everyday Iowans.”
As it was, Republicans who control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature did more than enough damage in the minority leader’s view. It could have been worse, Smith said.
“You can say a lot about the Iowa House Democrats. But one thing you can’t say about us is that we don’t have a backbone and we don’t have the ability to stand up and fight for what we think is right. And we did that.”
That led to small victories on Smith’s scorecard.
“We caused pause on several issues that then weren’t brought up,” such as Republican plans to create educational savings accounts, or vouchers, he said. “Clearly, there was intent to further destroy public education by putting forth vouchers, and we were able to stop that.”
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, described the session as “Round 2 of kicking the door in on Iowa families, Iowa workers, Iowa kids.”
It was former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, who said the new Senate Republican majority was going to kick down the door. Petersen said that’s what Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP legislators did, and “they’ve done a lot of bad things to good Iowans.”
Overall, Smith said the session didn’t helped “everyday Iowans.”
Although the state enjoys low unemployment — 2.8 percent in March, most Iowa families need income from at least two jobs to meet basic needs, he said.
“We didn’t see any kind of thing that raised wages here in the state,” Smith said. “We’ve seen tremendous cuts to public education and other activities that create jobs here in the state. These have not been two years that have helped Iowans have more money in their pocketbook and more quality of life.”
Petersen also was disappointed that “we couldn’t come together to work on initiatives to improve job training, giving kids and families access to higher education and community colleges.”
Smith and Petersen now will shift their efforts from stopping bad legislation to electing good legislators. Smith’s goal is to retake control of the House “so we can do the right things for the good people of Iowa.”
Republicans have “sold out the state to out-of-state corporate interests,” Petersen added.
“I’m seeing Iowans interested in seeing this be the people’s chamber again, so I’m hopeful we’ll see blue skies and a much bluer Senate next session,” she said.
Regaining control won’t be easy because “Democrats never have the wind at our backs. Because when you are presenting progressive causes, that’s never easy,” Smith said.
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“So the wind won’t be at our back, but clearly people are engaged, involved, reading, paying attention to what’s going on,” Smith said. “That always helps the Democratic Party and the progressive causes we believe in.”