In Iowa’s Hands

#OccupyIowaCity Initial General Assembly

#OccupyIowaCity Initial General Assembly

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors set a public forum Aug. 12 to collect information regarding its proposal to increase the county-wide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in three stages by 2017.

Something bigger than incremental hourly wage increases is at stake.

There are legal hurdles for the supervisors to jump in passing an ordinance, but to a person they are smart people and a vocal minority of the community has been supportive. State Senator Bob Dvorsky, who represents part of Johnson County, Cedar County and the City of Wilton weighed in favoring the proposal this week.

This action is indicative of local frustration with failure to act on the part of state and federal government. This is the third such prominent case where local authorities have taken things into their own hands absent governance.

The most familiar is the lawsuit initiated by the Des Moines Water Works over its increased costs of removing nitrates, mostly generated from farming operations, from the capitol city’s drinking water. Governor Branstad asked the public utility to “tone it down and start cooperating” in its criticism of the agricultural community. The water works is planning to spend $183 million for new nitrate treatment equipment because of increased levels in the Raccoon River resulting mostly from farm runoff.

Art Tate, superintendent of Davenport public schools, said he was going to break state law after the state legislature failed to provide adequate resources to his district during the most recent legislative session.

These examples present a dim picture for state governance, as each problem could be governed by the state with more effectiveness and broader impact.

Taking things into our own hands is a native impulse and very American. It is the same kind that gets small scale entrepreneurs to start businesses and community groups to form to solve local problems.

When in western Iowa a couple years back, a group of us stopped at a small diner attached to a truck stop in Missouri Valley, hoping to grab a quick breakfast before our scheduled event in Des Moines. The place was packed, but we placed our order, mindful of the time.

After about 20 minutes, a woman came from the kitchen and made an announcement, “Our cook just quit, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do about it.”

A regular patron stood up and said, “Hell, I can cook eggs, and rushed to the kitchen before anyone cold stop him.”

After ten more minutes, we tipped our server and said we had to go without eating.

The native impulse to take things into our own hands is part of what’s good about living in Iowa. What would be better is if people would connect the dots between the problems we all share and the purpose of government.

There are minimum wage earners who would spend extra money in their paycheck. Urban dwellers don’t deserve to pay for an unrecognized cost of agriculture. School children deserve the best education possible, and it’s possible to do much more than we are. Importantly, we deserve better governance.

Until people take matters into their own hands and elect men and women who will serve the electorate more than moneyed interests, we will be stuck. It is possible, using the same hands with which our country was built, we will engender democracy again by using the ballot box. It’s something sorely needed in Iowa.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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