Staff Columnist

Want to keep graduates in Iowa? Consider your agenda, lawmakers

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

There’s going to be a lot of talk at the Statehouse during the 2019 session about building the state’s workforce, including keeping our college graduates from skedaddling to the four winds.

Iowa has extremely low unemployment. That’s great. But numerous industries find themselves short of skilled workers.

“Everybody’s going to be competing for workforce. So I think the solution is to grow the workforce,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, argued in a story this past week by Statehouse reporter Erin Murphy. “We should be interviewing (college graduates), talking to those people about staying right here in the United States, staying right here in Iowa and working for one of our businesses.”

Stemming the so-called “brain drain” has been an issue in Iowa for as long as I can remember. Efforts have been made. Results have been mixed. In 2005, Republicans who then ran the Iowa Senate even proposed exempting all Iowans under 30 from state income taxes. They were serious.

But times have changed under the Golden Dome of Wisdom. Last year, when the Republican legislative majority passed a massive package of personal and corporate income tax cuts, it covered part of the cost by expanding sales taxes to include ride sharing services and online video streaming subscriptions. It’s almost like a special tax aimed directly at Iowans under 30.

And that’s part of the problem. Republicans who still run the joint in 2019 will be talking about jobs, job training and other incentives to keep young people here. But at the same time, they’ll continue to pursue a political agenda that screams “Get off my lawn!”

I am not young, sadly. But I can maneuver the onlines and use the Google. Out there, you’ll find endless polling on the political and policy appetites of the 18-to-34 or whatever set. They don’t match up so well with what the Iowa GOP’s been cooking up here in Iowa.

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Younger voters tend to believe immigration strengthens the United States, 74 percent said so in a Washington Post ABC News poll last year. Republicans here approved cynical legislation cracking down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” (Iowa has none) then used the issue in campaign ads last fall insisting Democrats would fill our streets with tattooed MS 13 gang members.

A poll last year by PRRI showed a solid majority of young Americans are supportive of abortion rights, with 25 percent saying they’ve become more supportive in recent years. Republican lawmakers here approved the nation’s strictest limits on abortion, defunded Planned Parenthood and dramatically curtailed access to women’s health services.

A generation that’s all too familiar with lockdowns and active shooter drills in schools has marched for sensible gun restrictions. Iowa GOP lawmakers are talking about getting rid of gun permits altogether.

Young people are more supportive of gay rights, civil rights and civil liberties. Legislative Republicans want to alter the way Iowa picks judges so it can get a Supreme Court that would turn back two decades of judicial progress on those fronts.

Young people care more about the environment. A Gallup Poll found 77 percent of Americans 18-34 are very or somewhat concerned about climate change. Not exactly a GOP priority. Millennials favor liberalized marijuana laws, but Iowa’s leaders can’t bring themselves to create even a meaningful medical marijuana program. They see value in unions, while lawmakers in Iowa gut collective bargaining for public employees and limit other labor rights.

An overdue minimum wage increase that might help some young workers? No way, Republicans say.

This is a majority that cuts taxes while also cutting university funding, leading to tuition increases, pay freezes and closed research centers.

It’s true, young voters deserve a fair amount of blame for all of this, because they fail to show up at the polls, unlike older voters. It’s a widely lamented fact, and yet, Republicans approved a voter ID law that won’t recognize college IDs as valid, tossing up a barrier to many students.

So Republicans want Iowa to be “future ready,” but their agenda pulls the state backward on several fronts.

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I’m not saying Republicans can’t pursue these issues at all. They won fair and square. But do they have to choose the most extreme, divisive policy prescriptions again and again? Can we have more scalpels and fewer bulldozers? Does it have to be dismantle, slash and burn? Iowa’s largely moderate political history strongly suggests it doesn’t.

If Republican lawmakers want to keep the next generation of Iowa’s workforce here, they may want to consider a forward-looking legislative agenda, one that appeals far more to the young and hopeful, not just to the outraged lawn patrol.

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

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