Corbett talks education with a run for governor looking likely

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A month or so from now, barring some unforeseen book tour blunder or Rotarian fiasco, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett likely will be a Republican candidate for governor.

“I’m strongly leaning toward getting in,” Corbett told me Monday morning. “I don’t really see anything that would ultimately make me decide not to do it. All the signs are pointing in the right direction for me.”

Signs are piling up. Corbett has a new book, “Beyond Promises,” and is going out on tour to boost it. His Engage Iowa think tank has been thinking again, and Corbett outlined its new education proposals at a Downtown Cedar Rapids Rotary club luncheon Monday. It’s the first of 15 Rotary stops he’s planning around the state this spring. He spent much of the last year on a statewide tour talking taxes and water quality.

And in Monday’s speech, we saw some signs a Republican primary may not be boring.

Corbett took surprisingly sharp shots at dramatic changes in collective bargaining for K-12 teachers swiftly passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by Gov. Terry Branstad. Corbett focused on a complex provision in the new law barring arbitrators from awarding raises of more than 3 percent or beyond a level tied to the Consumer Price Index.

He contends that “formula” will hold down teacher pay and make Iowa less competitive in the hunt for teaching talent. If the law had been in place over the last decade, average Iowa teacher pay would rank 39th instead of the current 23rd, he insisted. Annual salaries would be $6,000 lower, Corbett said.

“Our battle cry shouldn’t be ‘Move over Mississippi, here we come,” Corbett said.

The mayor said he understands why Republicans sought to “disrupt” public bargaining, but argues they made no plan for its aftermath. Legislators, Corbett points out, built a CPI formula into the bargaining law but approved just a 1.1 percent increase in school aid, falling short of inflation.

He said Iowa needs a “pay-for-performance” fund to help level the playing field as districts compete for teaching talent under the new system. He wants more training for principals and a school innovation fund with grants for local efforts. The mayor appears skeptical of directing public dollars into vouchers for private and home-school families.

“We can’t throw in the towel on K-12 education,” he said. “We can’t take public resources and spread them so thin it undermines K-12 education.”

When he finished, an audience member asked if Corbett truly is a member of the same party controlling the Statehouse. “Yes, I am a Republican,” Corbett said.

Backers of the early GOP favorite, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, likely will dispute that. After all, you can’t possibly be a real Republican if you’re backing hefty public school investments or are questioning the wisdom of scrapping a 40-year-old bargaining structure in 10 days. Most birthday parties require more planning.

Far more Republican was Corbett’s critique of Reynolds and Branstad’s record on taxes. Iowa failed to “couple,” this year with federal tax changes, as it has done in the past, resulting in higher taxes for farmers, business owners and others. “I kind of blame this administration,” he said.

So a debate awaits, but after the book tour.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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