GOP lawmakers create Saturday conflict

Iowa Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, participated in a February 18, 2017 League of Women Voters forum at Mercy Medical Center’s Hallagan Center in Cedar Rapids. Rizer’s comments about voter regulations and Planned Parenthood funding at that forum were frequently met with chants and boos from the audience. (KC McGinnis / The Gazette)
Iowa Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids, participated in a February 18, 2017 League of Women Voters forum at Mercy Medical Center’s Hallagan Center in Cedar Rapids. Rizer’s comments about voter regulations and Planned Parenthood funding at that forum were frequently met with chants and boos from the audience. (KC McGinnis / The Gazette)

Some Eastern Iowans hoping to hear from both of their state legislators this Saturday will need to figure out how to be in two places at once.

For decades the nonpartisan Linn County League of Women Voters has set aside one Saturday morning each month while the General Assembly is in session for a legislative forum. All area lawmakers are invited to come together, provide individual updates and answer questions from the public.

That tradition will be broken this Saturday.

Linn County’s Republican lawmakers — Rep. Ken Rizer, Rep. Ashley Hinson, Rep. Louis Zumbach and Sen. Dan Zumbach — have partnered with Farm Bureau to schedule a separate forum at the same date and time as the long-standing — and I cannot stress this enough — nonpartisan League forum.

Since this will specifically impact my ability to hear from both my state senator (Liz Mathis) and state representative (Rizer), I have several questions — and far fewer answers.

I’m curious, for instance, if the Farm Bureau was aware of the scheduling conflict, and if all lawmakers were invited. Requests for further information from the Farm Bureau have, thus far, gone unanswered.

Mathis’ staff confirmed that although the event is located in her district, she received an invitation late Wednesday after I asked questions and she requested information.

When Rizer announced the alternative event in Marion on social media, he was asked if this was “splitting off from the Democrats?” Rizer replied that it “makes most sense to actually meet with our constituents rather than sit on a panel in downtown Cedar Rapids.”

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I followed up with Rizer as well, asking if this was a one-time event, and what, if any, impact his ongoing disagreement with League President Myrna Loehrlein had. I wanted to know why both events couldn’t be part of his schedule. Chirping crickets have been the response from my elected official.

I reached out to Loehrlein too.* No one, it seems, wants to talk about it.

It makes me wonder if this is our new miserable reality — Democratic and Republican elected officials unable to stomach being in the same room, answering questions posed by the public they campaigned to represent.

Lawmakers seeking out only audiences perceived as “friendly” smacks of partisanship, and cowardice.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 339-3144, lynda.wadddington@thegazette.com

* Update, 2:45 p.m. on March 15: I spoke with League President Loehrlein by phone. Linn County’s GOP lawmakers responded to her organization’s RSVPs with regrets, but she had no further information. She labeled the situation as “unfortunate,” especially for voters who will have lawmakers speaking at the same time in different locations. She is interested in learning more about the Farm Bureau’s activities in this area, and hopeful that in the future it could lead to some collaborative efforts.

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