Staff Editorials

Bobby Kaufmann missed the memo on postelection unity

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann

In the days since last Tuesday’s contentious national election, we’ve been heartened to see so many Iowans call for greater discussion and empathy in an effort to bridge our great political divide.

Everyday citizens of every political persuasion are searching for ways to be kinder to each other, to better listen to each other and find common ground for the common good.

And then, there’s Bobby Kaufmann.

President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama held a sustained, civil discussion and pledged a smooth transition of power. Hillary Clinton urged her supporters to give the new president a chance. This editorial board called on the people of our communities to work together. Rep. Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is focusing his energies elsewhere.

As the Des Moines Register first reported, Kaufmann — a champion of property rights whose signature issue to date has been pushing for reasonable limits on the use of eminent domain — has announced that he is working on a bill he calls “suck it up, buttercup.”

Details are vague, but the gist is that Iowa’s three public universities should not spend one public dime on what Kaufmann calls over-the-top hysteria about the results of last week’s election.

We called Kaufmann for more details. He confirmed what university spokespeople have said — that hasn’t happened in Iowa. He has no reason to believe that taxpayer money has gone to fund “cry zones,” or to buy Play-Dough or coloring books or therapeutic animals — “absurd” and “annoying” offerings he says have been made in other states to help stressed-out students calm down in order to focus on their studies.

“This has nothing to do with people who are victims of abuse or sexual assault,” he told us. It’s about “over-the-top” reactions to last week’s results.

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“Life isn’t sensitive,” he told us. If we aren’t preparing children for that reality, then who will?

But it was Kaufmann who declared himself offended when we asked basic, practical questions about how such a bill might be crafted and enforced, and whether a state Legislature was the best judge of the difference between legitimate mental health concerns and “hysteria.”

As for the title “suck it up, buttercup” — a phrase favored by coaches counseling players to shake off a setback — he denied trying to ruffle feathers, while acknowledging that some might find it offensive.

Kaufmann ought to know better. His announcement comes at a time when Iowans need leadership in both parties to de-escalate emotions which continue to run high from the election. The state’s universities are international communities and students may have legitimate concerns about their safety and their future. Talking things through is one of the most affordable and effective de-escalation techniques available. It reduces public risk and saves the resources that would be spent mitigating situations that reach a boiling point. Kaufmann, instead of bringing people together, has offered up a corrosive and inflammatory proposal that will only drive them further apart.

And on a purely practical level, it’s not for a single legislator to decide what constitutes an appropriate university response to students who are upset. Thank God we live in a society that values freedom over the avoidance of discomfort, which might tempt lawmakers to outlaw every little thing some might find annoying or absurd.

A second part of Kaufmann’s proposal would enhance penalties for protesters who block public roadways — a reaction to an incident late last week when dozens of protesters briefly impeded traffic on Interstate 80, just outside his district. Here, too, the details are vague. Laws already in place prohibit such dangerous behavior, but Kaufmann told us he understands that it’s a “weak charge.”

Here, again, Kaufmann is offering a solution in search of a problem, sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. Any officer will tell you that managing a protest is a delicate operation. For our part, we were proud of the way local law enforcement and state troopers handled last week’s event, de-escalating the situation safely and in a controlled way in about the amount of time it takes to clean up a crash.

Arresting such a large group would have taken significantly more time and resources, and would only have heightened the tension, putting officers and others at risk.

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Whether or not Kaufmann actually introduces a bill when the Legislature convenes in January, and regardless of whether it would gain any traction, Kaufmann, whose own legislative salary is paid by taxpayers, would do well to remember that voters expect more than ill-conceived, irrelevant and provocatively titled legislation based on some stuff that he read about on the internet.

“All I’m committing to do is ask the questions,” Kaufmann told us. “I’m trying to do this now to start a conversation.”

He’s certainly got people talking. He’s also got us missing some of the greats in his party, such as former Iowa Gov. Bob Ray, who spent years championing the character counts initiative. Kaufmann should take a page from Ray, and others like him, and avoid future unsportsmanlike conduct.

Nobody likes a sore winner.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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