From even-keeled to rightward legislative lurch

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Our right-lurching Legislature has lost its sense of balance.

And balance was a valuable trait of Iowa Statehouse politics for decades. Sure, there were hot issues and heated debates, but overall, a largely temperate climate prevailed.

Of course, balance often was inflicted by voters who picked divided governments, with Democratic governors putting the brakes on Republican legislatures, or legislatures controlled by both parties resisting rightward or leftward veering. Gov. Terry Branstad, governor for a record 22 years, dealt mostly with Democratic or split legislatures.

Still, even when parties scored rare electoral trifectas and ran the whole show, we didn’t get extremes.

When Republicans took over the Statehouse 20 years ago, they didn’t pull up public employee collective bargaining rights by the roots. Moderates and longtime lawmakers around when the law was crafted warned against it.

When Democrats took over in 2007, they found it difficult to get pieces of their pro-labor agenda past their own centrists. And when they did pass a major expansion of collective bargaining rights, Gov. Chet Culver, heeding outcry, vetoed it.

Our current majority Republicans have no such interest in applying any sort of brakes. They just knocked the stuffing out of collective bargaining rights in 10 days flat. They called it a big victory for taxpayers. In fact, it was such a triumph for the public that the governor signed the bill in private.

The minimum wage is another good example. It wasn’t all that long ago the political consensus here was that Iowa should have its own minimum wage rate. And it should be raised occasionally, although Ds and Rs might differ on how much.


Now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, says Iowa should not have its own wage floor and should, instead, simply match the federal wage. It’s always nice to see Republicans defer to the wisdom of the federal government.

And that’s not all. Republicans plan to nullify minimum wage increases already approved in a handful of Iowa counties, while barring local governments from taking any local actions on employment rules or civil rights protections that would exceed state rules. Defer to the feds and exert total state control. This is what currently passes as “conservative.”

You might have thought sustaining citizens’ ability to petition local city councils or boards of supervisors to address local problems was an important part of democracy. Turns out our greatest aspiration as a people is to make sure rules affecting businesses are uniform. That’s a letdown, but at least we might get legal fireworks and fantasy sports betting.

Dix says his party is trying to make the state more attractive to businesses. These, apparently, are businesses attracted to states with low, stagnant minimum wages, underfunded schools, bargain basement public services, contaminated water and much, much more. I can’t wait to greet them.

The good news is the session is almost half over, The bad news is the session is almost half over. I fear we’ve only begun to lurch.

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



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