Staff Columnist

A GOP Iowa Legislature will not hold Kim Reynolds accountable

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds. R-Iowa, in the Oval Office of the White House, We
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds. R-Iowa, in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

I’ve heard from quite a few Iowans who wish Gov. Kim Reynolds was up for reelection this fall, so they could cast a strong vote of no confidence in her handling of the pandemic.

The numbers don’t lie. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have spiked, leaving health care providers worried about their ability to handle the onslaught. New cases and deaths are climbing with no ceiling in sight.

But the governor seems uninterested. She hasn’t held a televised news conference in weeks. She insists her administration is using “targeted” measures to fight the virus, but it appears the only actual targets are on our backs. Will we live with it, as the governor implores, or die with it?

No, Reynolds isn’t on the ballot. But many of her enablers in the Republican-controlled Legislature will face voters’ verdicts. Maybe you’ve noticed GOP lawmakers have been AWOL during much of the pandemic, leaving the whole response in the hands of Reynolds. It’s like an entire branch of government just disappeared at a time of crisis.

Sure, lawmakers did duck back into the Statehouse in June. From a pandemic standpoint they did very little. And what they did do made things worse.

Republicans made it easier for businesses to avoid liability for sick employees. They made it harder for Iowans to vote absentee. They took the authority to craft pandemic response plans out of the hands of local school officials and handed it to the governor. They made fun of Democrats who wore masks.

One GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Shipley of Fairfield, claimed the virus “isn’t even killing anybody.” More than 1,000 Iowans have died since Shipley spouted this nonsense.

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The Golden Dome of Wisdom has rarely been less wise, and that’s saying something. They adjourned, handing even more power over budgeting and other matters to the governor.

Speaking of budgeting, the governor went on to use $21 million in federal pandemic recovery funds to pay for a long-planned human resources computer system, from a company that employs her former chief of staff. Both State Auditor Rob Sand and the U.S. Treasury Department contend it was a misuse of recovery bucks. A second $16.9 million IT project paid for with federal aid is under scrutiny. The governor also used recovery funds to pay her staff. Meanwhile, Iowa isn’t recovering.

Legislative leaders have remained silent. No oversight hearings have been scheduled. The only thing they’re really interested in protecting are their own legislative seats.

And that’s how it’s going to stay if Republicans retain control of the Statehouse. There will be no questions asked or answered about Reynolds’ handling, or mishandling, of the pandemic.

Why did the governor give a no-bid $28 million testing contract to an ill-equipped Utah company, on the advice of Ashton Kutcher, and then refuse to disclose numbers allowing Iowans to judge Test Iowa’s true performance? Why did we fail to do the amount of testing and tracing needed to control the virus? Why has Reynolds ignored the White House Coronavirus Task Force, or health experts from the University of Iowa or many other experts warning that Iowa’s response was ineffective? Instead, she modeled an incompetent president.

Why is the administration refusing to report cases in schools? What was it about meatpacking plant workers that made them expendable? Why has the governor’s office stonewalled journalists asking for information, explanations and data, to the point of the governor’s spokesman unlawfully ordering a hold on a request for public records? What is it Reynolds doesn’t want Iowans to know?

Why were the state’s coronavirus case numbers so wrong for so long? Why did it take a numbers-crunching Iowa City nurse practitioner, Dana Jones, and the work of several journalists to finally prompt the state to come clean on its so-called “glitch?”

Why did we stumble blindly into the winter, like deer caught in the headlights, as a worsening pandemic barreled toward us? Who are you listening to?

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If Democrats can retake the Iowa House, the people responsible for this debacle will be called to sit in front of microphones and cameras to answer these and many, many more questions. The governor’s spokesman won’t be able to save them by cutting off questions or withholding information.

Sure, Reynolds isn’t on the ballot, but her ineffective policies, poor decisions and glaring omissions are. So is any hope for accountability. If you haven’t already, vote accordingly.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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