Last summer, at a Cleveland brewery where Grand Old Pilsner was a featured pint, I asked Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer what Republicans would have on tap should they grab control of the whole state Legislature in the fall.
Iowa delegates to the Republican National Convention had received a rousing pep talk from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who told them, with a GOP majority, “there’s no end to the good you can do.” In Wisconsin, “good” included busting public sector unions.
Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, insisted Iowa is not Wisconsin. She said a GOP majority had no plans to do anything “outrageous.” When I asked how they might reshape bargaining, she gave no details.
“I don’t think we’re interested in doing extreme things,” Upmeyer said.
Republicans did win control of the Legislature. Now, contrary to the measured assessment of the speaker, GOP lawmakers are going after Iowa’s collective bargaining law like an outraged badger.
Under a massive gutting of Chapter 20 proposed by Republicans, teachers and thousands of other public employees will soon lose the right to bargain for anything other than pay. Retirement, health care, vacations, seniority and other benefits are off the table. Want to fire a public employee without cause? Feel free. Unions can no longer collect dues through payroll deductions.
I dislike “war on fill-in-the-blank” analogies. But Chapter 20 was essentially a bipartisan peace treaty between public employees and management. Unions agreed not to strike. Government agreed to negotiate a range of issues covering wages and working conditions. What else can you call ripping up a peace treaty?
Can treaties be renegotiated? Sure. But that’s not happening.
The new bill was hatched behind closed doors with no meaningful input from people it will most affect. It’s being fast-tracked into law without nearly enough time to measure and consider its massive potential consequences. It may be on the governor’s desk by week’s end. Straight-faced Republicans insist it will enhance “local control” by basically shutting down local bargaining. They also say many Iowans are for it, but are afraid to say so for fear of retribution. Please.
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So it’s a lousy, rapid process following an election campaign where Republicans were largely silent on what exactly they planned to do with bargaining rights. There was talk of tweaks and adjustments, but nothing of this scope was sold to voters.
Perhaps saddest of all is the realization, politically, Iowa is no longer anything special.
The spirit of cooperation, and doing what’s best for the state, that drove creation of the original law is long gone. Now, Iowa is just like all the other states where Republicans are enacting cookie-cutter, think-tank-crafted, dark-money-bankrolled public policy. Instead of checking with Iowans, legislators are checking off boxes on an ideological to-do list. Protests are falling on deaf ears.
And make no mistake, this is pure power politics. When Republicans insist they don’t fear a voter backlash, it’s because they’re confident, after defanging public unions that heavily support Democrats, their majority is secure. And they’re probably right.
So Iowans ordered up a big Grand Old Pilsner. Now comes the hangover.
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