SHELL ROCK — In a protest whose unusual venue brought protestations of its own, dozens of demonstrators Saturday banged drums and carried signs on the snow-covered sidewalk outside the home of Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, objecting to what they said was his anti-family and anti-worker agenda.
About 100 activists picketed for nearly an hour in the below-freezing cold as local law enforcement agencies barricaded the street and a few neighbors watched from a nearby deck.
“Hey hey, ho, Bill Dix has got to go,” demonstrators chanted.
But Dix was not there to watch it unfold outside his window.
“It’s a good day to be inside watching my daughter play basketball in Webster City!” he tweeted, posting a photo to show he was at the basketball court.
During the last legislative session, hundreds of demonstrators repeatedly filled the steps, rotunda and galleries of the Capitol in Des Moines as Dix and the Republican majority passed measures to weaken collective bargaining rights for public unions, ensure no public money went to Planned Parenthood and forced counties like Johnson and Linn that were raising minimum wages on their own to backtrack.
This year as the Legislature concluded its first week of tackling what GOP leaders have described as a “big, bold agenda,” protesters decided to take their resistance not to the state’s most populous city but to one of its smaller communities — Shell Rock, a city northwest of Waterloo of about 1,300 residents, one of them being Dix.
“I think having a hundred people in front of Bill Dix’s house on a 5-degree day is a sign that people have had enough of Bill Dix,” said Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 238, which organized the event.
“We have people that carpooled locally,” he said. “We have people that drove from Des Moines, southern Iowa, Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids.”
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The Teamsters were supported by Butler County Democrats, who hosted a chili dinner at the nearby Boyd Community Center and planned to distribute fliers around the community later in the day.
Those at the picket criticized the Republican legislative agenda, which they called harmful to working families, veterans, education, health care and seniors.
“Stop the attack on Iowa families,” Case said. “It’s not acceptable to attack our veterans, our teachers. He’s cut funding for nursing home inspections. He’s cut funding for child abuse and elderly abuse.”
Many also voiced criticism of Dix because of a $1.75 million settlement from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Kirsten Anderson, who was fired as the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus communications director in 2013 after lodging a sexual harassment complaint against the Senate GOP caucus, which Dix leads.
Anderson attended the picket and spoke out against Dix and the GOP leadership.
“We’re tired, we’re fed up, we’re mad, we’re embarrassed at this so-called leadership in our state,” Anderson said. Dix “has taken a retaliatory approach for years. I reported four times. The fourth time, I was shoved out the door.”
Dan MacDonald, an Army veteran, blamed the GOP for cutting veterans benefits, adding that more than 36,000 veterans work in public-sector jobs that saw their bargaining rights cut in the last legislative session. He said cuts to mental health care also are harmful to veterans.
Toby Paone, a member of the Iowa State Education Association who traveled from Davenport, said the GOP was turning Iowa into a “Third World state.”
“The agenda Bill Dix and the majority party have in Des Moines is wrong for Iowans,” Paone said. “All they do is cut, cut, cut. They cut schools, they’ve cut hospitals, they’ve cut nursing programs. We need to turn that around.”
Dix previously told The Gazette that residents have a right to protest.
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“That’s why America is a great place to work and live and raise our families,” Dix said last Wednesday. “These are people that are just exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights.”
But Republicans of Black Hawk County issued a statement saying they were “outraged” by the unusual step of protesting at a lawmaker’s home.
“If you disagree with Sen. Dix or his policies or actions that is fine,” the group said. “Call his office, make an appointment at his office, send him an email or even visit him at the Statehouse. However, to bus people in from who knows where and to go to someone’s home and protest/picket outside their front door is beyond the pale.”
Dave Mansheim, chairman of the Butler County Democrats, said he felt the protest was appropriate, suggesting many neighbors in Shell Rock aren’t always hearing the truth about what Dix is doing in Des Moines.
“They don’t know that he’s voting against their interests,” Mansheim said. “Bill Dix’s agenda in Des Moines is not pro-working family.
“They have taken away rights of collective bargaining for employees. They have actually reduced the minimum wage for about 60,000 people. They’ve reduced Medicaid. They’re not supporting education.”