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Is this the legislative session Iowa voters wanted?
So our Golden Dome of Wisdom, now redder than ever, may be entering the final week of the 2023 legislative session. Cross your fingers.
I’ve heard from a lot of people during this session who once lived in a purple state governed by rational leaders. They contend this is the worst session they’ve ever seen. I agree.
But I also hear from folks who argue this is what Iowans wanted when they gave nearly absolute power to Republicans. This is the sort of session Iowans had in mind when they cast ballots in November.
I’m more skeptical of that argument. So I ask you, voters, is this what you wanted?
Did Iowa voters really want the state to spend billions of dollars over the next decade to cover the costs of families sending their kids to private schools, without having to demonstrate financial need? Two weeks after Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed the idea, this massive change in Iowa’s educational landscape became law. And the law’s price tag will undoubtedly squeeze funding for public schools attended by the vast majority of Iowa kids.
Did Iowans want to ban every book from school libraries that contains a “graphic” depiction of sex? Did they want books removed because of a few paragraphs depicting sex, no matter how carefully, sensitively or discreetly it’s handled by the author, even if the entire work of literature has educational value? Most of the books being targeted are written by LGBTQ authors or people of color. Is this about sex or is it really about stopping kids from reading about a worldview Republicans don’t like?
Did Iowans really want the focus of this year’s big “education” bill to be centered on targeting transgender kids? A bill headed to the governor, who will certainly sign it into law, bans teaching anything related to LGBTQ people through sixth grade. Schools will be required to tell parents if a student is transgender and wants to use different pronouns, even if outing them could make them less safe at home. It likely will increase already high rates of bullying, abuse, homelessness and suicide among transgender students. Is this what voters wanted?
The names of adults who request the removal of books will be kept confidential. But transgender kids must be reported against their will. Does that seem fair?
This is all about “parents’ rights,” a mantra we heard often on the campaign trail. But this Legislature also banned gender-affirming health care for transgender kids even with the consent and assistance of their parents. It seems the only parents who have rights are the ones who agree with the narrow worldview of conservative Republicans. Is that what you voted for in 2022?
Did you want schools to be relieved of the requirement to tell students about the HPV vaccine, which could protect them from some deadly forms of cancer? Were you hoping that lawmakers wouldn’t even consider a bill expanding the availability of free school lunches?
Speaking of sick and hungry, lawmakers passed a set of new restrictions on families receiving food assistance and Medicaid health coverage. Thousands of children, elderly and disabled Iowans could lose help and the changes mean it will cost the state more to administer the programs. The changes were spearheaded by an out-of-state group that travels the country punching down at the poor. Is this what Iowans voted for?
Did Iowans vote for Republicans so they could weaken child labor protections and cap the damages that can be collected by people and families harmed by medical malpractice? Did we elect a Legislature hoping it would curtail the powers of the state auditor to investigate financial wrongdoing? Did voters hope GOP senators would do nothing to stop carbon pipelines from grabbing land through eminent domain?
Did Iowans vote for Reynolds hoping she would shove through a 1,600-page government reorganization that saves little money but gives the governor more power? Thanks to the bill and the Legislature’s dereliction of oversight duties, Reynolds is the most authoritarian governor in Iowa history. And she hasn’t held a formal news conference in months.
Did Iowans want a governor who would go to court to revive a law that bans abortion after six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant?
Did Iowans elect Attorney General Brenna Bird hoping she would cut off funding that pays for emergency contraception and abortion for rape victims?
Did Iowans elect a Republican Legislature so it could push budget bills with no numbers through the legislative process and refuse to candidly answer questions about bills during floor debate?
I’m not asking these questions just for fun. I genuinely want to know.
Voting, it seems, has been decoupled from policy issues. Elections are becoming more like sporting events, where we root for our team, right or wrong. Party identity is woven into our own sense of identity.
But the politicians we elect are going to wield power, govern our state and make policy that affects our lives. That’s what they should be evaluated on. What did they do, who did it affect and why. That should count more with voters than party affiliation.
Did Iowans shrug at civil rights, freedom of expression and responsible governance because they wanted a tax cut? I’m afraid of the answer. But I’d really like to know.
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