DES MOINES — Republican state lawmakers, with their newfound control of the Iowa Capitol, have taken their first steps toward implementing myriad conservative policies.
What remains to be seen is how much Republicans are willing to test their new authority, and how those new conservative policies will be perceived by Iowa voters.
Protests last week at the Capitol showed significant pushback to some Republican proposals, but the real feedback does not come until the November 2018 elections.
Republican state legislators, who as a result of this past November’s elections have majorities in the Iowa House and Senate to go with their control of the governor’s office, have introduced a number of bills that would change Iowa law with little to no bipartisan support.
That’s a change from the past six years, when Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans the House, meaning any bill that reached the governor’s desk had to have support from both political parties.
Now, Republicans can pass laws without any help from Democrats. That means any number of conservative proposals that have spent the past two decades — Republicans have not controlled all three legs of the state’s lawmaking tripod since 1997 and 1998 — are now ripe for passage.
Less than a month into the session, Republicans have introduced or said they plan to introduce legislation that would change the state’s collective bargaining laws, stop all public funding to Planned Parenthood, divert funding from public schools to programs that allow parents to use state funding for private education, and loosen firearm regulations, among others. If passed, these bills will have little to no support from Democrats.
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What will be more revealing is the reaction to any new policies by the state’s less partisan voters — no-party voters still outnumber registered Republicans and Democrats in Iowa.
There are early signals that many people are not pleased with some of the proposals. When a committee meeting was held Tuesday to discuss a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, protesters overwhelmed the hearing room and the adjacent hallways and stairwells. That kind of crowd is rare for even the most controversial legislative proposals.
And that protest came on the heels of the “Women’s March,” which drew more than 20,000 people to the Iowa Capitol.
But protests are one thing, and elections quite another. The real reaction to any new Iowa Republican policies will be measured in November 2018 at the ballot boxes.
Wisconsin is a prime example. When the Badger State’s Republicans won complete lawmaking control in the 2010 election, they immediately implemented dramatic changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws, severely weakening unions’ membership and influence. Protests overwhelmed the Wisconsin Capitol for months, with thousands flooding the building daily. Republicans also passed a bill requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, although that one wound up mired in the courts.
But despite all those protests, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall election and was re-elected in 2014, and the state legislature remains under Republican control.
Not everyone is so lucky.
In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback shepherded dramatic income tax cuts, which he said would spur economic growth. That growth has not materialized, and Kansas’ state budget is in disrepair, experiencing a shortfall of more than $900 million over 18 months, according to the Kansas City Star.
And in North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in November lost re-election after he approved and defended a law that directs people which bathroom to use. The law was heavily criticized by advocates for transgender individuals, and the NCAA moved all postseason events out of the state, including NCAA men’s basketball tournament games.
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Those examples in other states show the thin line lawmakers walk when given unfettered authority, said multiple Iowa Republican leaders during the 1997 and 1998 legislative sessions.
“You have to guard against (doing too much), and that’s kind of hard to do because, as I said, there’s that pent-up energy,” said Brent Siegrist, the House Majority Leader at the time. “You have people that may have some ideas that maybe are a little too far right or left, depending on who’s in control. And you have to kind of manage that, too. ...
“That’s a challenge, to kind of tamp down some of the more a-little-too-far-from-the-center ideas.”
• Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee newspapers and The Gazette. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org