He cannot lead a legislative agenda from his seat in Iowa Senate’s minority party. But Nate Boulton isn’t short on policy ideas, especially if he’s elected governor.
Boulton, a Democratic state senator from Des Moines and gubernatorial candidate, recently talked to the bureau about the highlights of his legislative platform, which includes raising Iowa workers’ wages, protecting their retirement savings and requiring employers to offer paid family leave.
“We think it’s time to start talking about the things that could be done as positive initiatives for Iowa,” Boulton said. “We’ve seen an aggressive (Republican) agenda, but it’s really been focused on taking back and holding back, and really not an agenda that’s fixated on improving the quality of life, but really kind of threatening our quality of life long-term ...”
“There are a lot of things that we could do for a positive vision forward for the state if we shift the conversation,” Boulton added.
Boulton, a labor lawyer, is one of six candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in the June 5 primary election. The others are businessman Fred Hubbell, nurse and labor leader Cathy Glasson, former Tom Vilsack and Tom Harkin aide John Norris, physician and former state party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, and former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn.
Gov. Kim Reynolds is, at least at this time, the lone Republican candidate after former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett’s candidacy was rejected by a state panel for a lack of sufficient nominating signatures. But he is appealing that decision in court.
Boulton said he wants to help raise Iowans’ wages by boosting the number of skilled workers and investing in sectors of the economy with a long-term view, like renewable energy.
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He noted Iowa’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is lower than five of the six states that border Iowa, and his staff added that Iowa’s job growth in February also lagged behind five of the six neighboring states, according to federal data.
“We’ve got to start focusing on initiatives that actually raise wages, and it takes more than just a few corporate coupons to do that,” Boulton said, referring to the state’s myriad tax incentive programs for businesses.
Boulton said he also wants to protect public workers’ retirement savings. Democrats have sounded alarms on that, alleging Republicans want to make significant changes to the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, the retirement program for the state’s public employees.
Republican Statehouse leaders said this year they have no such plans. Bills making changes to IPERS have been introduced in recent sessions, but did not advance in the lawmaking process.
Boulton has proposed legislation that would create a state-managed public fund available to private employees who work for companies that do not offer a retirement savings program.
“Not only should we be protecting IPERS as a benefit for those answering the sacred call of public service, but we should also be looking for more ways for more Iowans” to bolster their retirement savings, Boulton said.
Boulton said bipartisan support for paid family leave is growing. He said Iowa should create a state program in part because it will help draw young people to live here, and that the program could be funded through payroll deductions.
“We do that by having a quality of life here that young Iowans want to stay and be a part of, and new Iowans want to come and be a part of,” Boulton said. “Paid family leave is going to be a decision-maker for the next generation of our workforce. ... That’s going to be a difference-maker for families.”
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The Republican Party of Iowa countered by criticizing Boulton for votes this legislative session against Republicans’ proposed tax cuts — which would provide most middle-class families with some tax relief but would cost the state budget more than $1 billion annually — and a program that would allow Iowa Farm Bureau to provide for its members health care plans that would not be subject to insurance regulations.
“Nate Boulton is pretending his priorities align with middle-class families when his actions in Des Moines have showed otherwise,” GOP spokesman Jesse Dougherty said in an email. “If there’s one thing we know about Nate Boulton, he has it all backwards.”
Boulton insists it’s quite the opposite: that he wants to move the state forward.
“I want to offer a positive vision,” he said. “I want to get Iowans thinking about how our state could look in the next 20 years.”
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.