Staff Columnist

Validation has replaced explanation at Iowa's Statehouse

The Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

As Iowa gets redder, its state government is getting less transparent.

There’s the Department of Public Health’s Infectious Disease Advisory Panel, appointed to make recommendations on who should get the coronavirus vaccine and when. It’s making life-or-death public policy decisions but its meetings are closed to the public.

Why? So panelists can have “a free flow of conversation,” according to Interim Public Health Director Kelly Garcia. The panel’s comfort apparently trumps our right to know how our government is making critical calls. The legal argument for closure is as thin as it is dubious.

During the pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration has peddled misleading data, stonewalled reporters seeking answers and slow-walked requests for public information in violation of the law. It’s been a sad chapter in a state that once took pride in its public records and open meeting laws.

This week we learned, from the Des Moines Register, that Reynolds’ team will no longer ask for reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. They often highlighted the lousy job Iowa has done controlling the virus and called for mitigation steps we refuse to take.

Reynolds broke with decades of tradition and declined to do individual year-end interviews with reporters who cover the Statehouse. Instead, she’ll appear for 30 minutes on a video forum sponsored by the Iowa Capitol Press Association.

These aren’t cranky opinion columnists. These are respected, experienced journalists who work daily to clearly explain Statehouse decisions affecting all of us. These interviews gave them a chance to ask the governor about her plans for the upcoming legislative session.

But now it’s another tradition of transparency tossed by this governor. Add that to the demise of regularly scheduled weekly news conferences.

But who needs explanation when you have “validation?”

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Republicans who control the Golden Dome of Wisdom have been talking a lot about how voters validated their governing approach by keeping their trifecta strongly in place. And it’s true, Democrats took a drubbing.

But what’s also true is Republican candidates did everything they could to avoid any semblance of scrutiny. They skipped meeting with editorial boards and declined to attend candidate forums across the state. The League of Women Voters is now, apparently, too liberal. GOP hopefuls shunned situations where someone might ask them, in public, what they stand for and what they hoped to do if elected. Their substance-free campaigns were the sugary cherry on top.

So now we can only guess what the big winners have in store for us when the 2021 session gavels in. You might have noticed while perusing our Des Moines Bureau’s legislative previews this week that GOP leaders and the governor are giving us few details.

As in the past four years of total GOP control, we’ll just have to sit tight and listen closely for the sound of the bulldozers. Will it be our voting rights, our courts or maybe women’s reproductive rights? Will we get a week, a day or an hour’s notice?

These sorry trend lines leading us away from openness, years in the making, are clear. One party dominance has accelerated the decline in accountability.

What are our leaders really up to? Don’t ask. And never look behind the big red curtain.

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

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