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Iowa’s supersonic Statehouse election bill process oozes accountability
Gov. Kim Reynolds says we have a model elections system in Iowa, but some people believe nonsense, so changes might be needed.
I'm paraphrasing. Here's the quote.
'I think we do it well in Iowa. I'm proud of our system. I think we're a role model for other states. We should always be looking for ways we can enhance and improve,” Reynolds told reporters on Thursday after lawmakers sent her a major rewrite of election laws.
'But the fact of the matter is there are Americans across this state who have some concerns about what happened in this last election. Again I think it's imperative that it's not just understood but that they feel there's integrity in the election process and they feel that it's fair and it's done in an equitable manner.”
She didn't say how shortening the time Iowans have to cast absentee ballots and vote on Election Day, among other new barriers and restrictions, would 'enhance” Iowa's model system. Or how making it harder for us to vote would ease the troubled minds of Iowans who believe the big lie that Joe Biden stole the presidential election. Apparently, this was a main objective of the bill.
'Most of us in my caucus, in the Republican caucus, believe the election was stolen,” said Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, during Senate debate on the bill.
Reynolds also wouldn't say, deploying her signature dodge, whether she would sign the bill.
'I haven't had a chance, we're reviewing it right now,” Reynolds said. 'So I'll probably give you the same perspective that I give when you all ask where I weigh in on a bill. It goes through the process ... And once that makes it through both chambers with the same language, it's sent to my office. My team does a thorough review of the bill and then we sit down pros, cons.
'So we'll be in the process of doing that and we'll take a lot of the conversation that happened during the legislative process into account. So we'll weigh all of those issues and make a decision going forward,” Reynolds said.
We know what's in the bill. And we know she'll probably sign it. But ducking the question means not having to answer more questions about the bill's harmful provisions. And by the time she signs it, what's the point of asking?
A few moments later Reynolds was asked about a bill that would pull economic development incentives from 'Big Tech” companies GOP lawmakers say are censoring conservative wisdom on social media.
'Actually, the same comment applies. This is part of the legislative process. The bill has just been filed,” Reynolds said.
'I do understand their frustration with what is censorship on social media, some of the issues that we're seeing,” she said.
Some people think our American elections lack integrity because their presidential candidate lost. Some people think conservatives are the victim of censorship by private tech companies, as if that could be a real thing. Some people worry transgender kids will ruin women's sports and invade bathrooms. Some people think the 1619 project is anti-American.
This has been a big legislative session for some people.
About the only person who doesn't have much of an opinion about this stuff is the governor.
'It's a long ways from working through the process,” Reynolds said earlier this month when asked about a bill that would eliminate tenure at state universities. 'We'll see what happens with that bill as it moves forward.”
She could nip these lousy ideas in the bud with a few well-placed words. But no dice. Check your inboxes late on some future Friday for more information.
This is a frustrating feature of the executive branch. Governors can sit on the sidelines and duck commenting on pressing public policy issues, passing the buck to the Legislature. But Reynolds has raised this tactic to a high art. She ducks almost every question regarding her views on legislation, basically arguing the process is more important than letting Iowans know where the most important person in the lawmaking process stands.
The Legislature is working just upstairs from the governor's office. But listening to Reynolds, it just as well be on Mars. We'll have to wait until the Perseverance Rover completes its analysis and then we'll make a decision going forward.
It's one more fun aspect of single party rule. Republicans shoved through a hefty, far reaching elections bill in just more than a week, and during a pandemic which kept opposition at Zoom's length. No one campaigned on it or talked about it before the session. Now the governor won't say publicly what she thinks of the bill. Watch for a bill signing, maybe in private.
It's a process that just oozes accountability.
Having the trifecta means never having to explain much of anything, it seems. Or at least make a case that isn't laughable, like supporters of the elections bill who argued an abbreviated early voting period will make campaigns shorter. And if we don't pass this, auditors may go rogue and help citizens vote. Never mind that auditors in both parties think this is a bad bill.
Under divided government, governors are far more likely to weigh in on bills proposed by the other party. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack once warned the Republican Legislature to abandon a bill restricting abortions. During debate and before final passage, his veto message was handed out to lawmakers and media.
But Vilsack also signed a bill making English Iowa's official language late on a Friday. Former Gov. Terry Branstad tap danced endlessly around questions about his support for a gas tax increase. He ultimately signed it into law.
We'd be far better off with governors unafraid to tell us where they stand and publicly weigh in on the legislative process long before the bill-signing pens are unboxed. Playing it straight and open is always preferable to playing political games with issues that affect people's lives. Unfortunately, lawmakers just made it harder for voters to elect such a governor.
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