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Top stories of the 2010s: Decade saw Republicans 'kick in the door' at Statehouse

GOP control of state government reshapes Iowa

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, shake hands May 5, 2018, minutes
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, and Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, shake hands May 5, 2018, minutes after the Iowa Legislature adjourned its 2018 session. Republicans, who gained control of the state lawmaking agenda in the 2016 election, have pursued an aggressive conservative agenda in the past three years. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
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The eve of a new decade presents a perfect time to reflect on the past 10 years, to look at the changes in our lives and in our state and nation. For Iowa, The Gazette chose 10 storylines of the decade that have changed or will change the state’s trajectory. This is one of those stories. See the full list and read them here.

In the 2016 election, Republicans — for the first time in 18 years — gained control of all levers of Iowa government when they won control of the Iowa Senate and retained control of the Iowa House and the governor’s office.

In January 2017, the GOP Statehouse majority began an aggressive conservative agenda — to “kick in the door," one GOP lawmaker said — intent on reshaping Iowa as a business-friendly state, with a right turn on social issues.

“Look,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said, “people can disagree with some of the policies that we’ve put forward, but what you can’t disagree with is the results that we’ve gotten for the state of Iowa. Nonpartisan, third-party people are looking at Iowa, saying you guys are doing things right, and the overall No. 1 ranking by U.S. News & World Report is an indication of that.”

Whitver was referring to the magazine’s “best state” designation in 2018. The state’s ranking dropped to No. 14 this year, rekindling debate about the changes.

But there’s no arguing the changes have reshaped Iowa. To review:

Lawmakers stripped Iowa’s 40-year-old collective bargaining law, limiting public employee unions to negotiating only on wages unless both sides of the table agree otherwise.

They restricted the ability of counties, including Johnson and Linn, which had already started, to set minimum wages higher than the state’s $7.25 per hour.

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They cut off funding to Planned Parenthood clinics and passed laws sharply limiting abortion rights, though courts blocked a “fetal heartbeat” bill and three-day waiting period.

They cut funding to higher education, though they added back $7 million in state aid to the three public universities this year.

They adopted a “stand-your-ground” gun rights bill. They ended the ban on fireworks and expanded a medical marijuana program.

They supported then-GOP Gov. Terry Branstad’s privatization of Iowa’s $5 billion Medicaid health insurance program, despite a chaotic changeover and pressure from people who pointed to a cut in health services to low-income Iowans.

They enacted a Voter ID law requires voters to show a picture ID before casting a ballot.

They changed the judicial nominating process, in place for more than 50 years, giving the governor more sway in appointments to the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals.

They revamped Iowa’s tax code, lowering income tax rates and beginning the phase out of the state’s federal-deductibility provisions if state revenue collections meet certain “triggers” in future years. In 2018, they passed a six-year, $2.86 billion income tax cut, the largest in state history.

The cut was helped along by some “bonus” dollars relating to federal tax cuts, but state tax revenue has held up and is expected to top $8 billion for the first time this fiscal year.

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