LOWDEN, Iowa — Iowans are paying attention to government in a way they didn’t before 2017. Planning for the growing season is well underway in Iowa, yet we always make time for politics while the legislature is in session.
On Saturday a couple of farm friends and I attended a legislative listening post with State Representative Bobby Kaufmann.
Ten people arrived to hear our state representative and we held a wide-ranging discussion of issues connected to state government. It was the kind of forum that across the state is giving way to larger events, with hundreds of people. Large forums make it difficult to have any discussion, so I appreciated the intimacy of a small-town get-together where despite political differences, attendees made an effort to respectfully engage with each other.
Key discussion points included consolidation of mental health services, pesticide drift, IPERS (the state government employees retirement plan), and solar tax credits. My main issue was concern the legislature would disallow net-metering for people who install home solar panels. Kaufmann indicated a bill had been written, but didn’t have broad support, nor would he support it. He said a solid majority supported renewing the solar tax credit.
Last Tuesday the Iowa House of Representatives introduced House Study Bill 84 to revise Chapter 20 of Iowa Code which pertains to collective bargaining by government employees. Other states with Republican legislatures and governors have passed such a bill, but the Iowa version is a wish list of everything the Republican party seeks to nullify in public unions. It is much worse for government employees than in states like Wisconsin.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer is Iowa’s first woman to so serve. She is a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council which is widely believed to be author of the bill. The bill is expected to receive a final vote and be signed by Governor Terry Branstad within the next week. Because of Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature, moving quickly is possible. Kaufmann speculated a reason for rushing the bill was because Branstad wanted to personally sign it before going to China as U.S. Ambassador.
On Sunday thousands of people rallied against the bill at the state capitol in Des Moines. In Cedar Rapids a couple hundred people rallied. There is a public hearing later today. Bottom line is Republicans don’t need or want input from the community on this bill despite statements by Upmeyer and others. Here is how Upmeyer framed the bill in her legislative newsletter last week:
This week, the House introduced House Study Bill 84, which updates Iowa’s law regarding collective bargaining for public employees. The law, originally passed in 1974, has remained relatively untouched for four decades. Over the last 40 years, largely due to arbitration requirements, the scales have been tipped to favor government unions and put management and taxpayers at a disadvantage. House Republicans believe the law deserves a thoughtful review to rebalance the scales and ensure that Iowans have a fair and equitable system that works for public employers, employees, and taxpayers.
If one reads the 68-page bill it becomes clear this is one of the most hostile to union bills to come up in Iowa, Upmeyer’s buffering rhetoric notwithstanding.
Because of Republican success in many precincts around the second congressional district during the 2016 general election, incumbent Dave Loebsack’s seat is being targeted by Republicans. Kaufmann denied rumors of his challenging Loebsack in 2018. His father, Jeff Kaufmann, is chair of the Republican Party of Iowa and is publicly behind the campaign. Negative advertisements about Loebsack, funded by a political action committee, have already begun to air.
The 90 minutes of the forum went quickly. On the trip home we talked about farming.
Around Iowa farmers are assessing soil conditions, planning crops and capital expenditures, buying seeds, repairing equipment, and lambing. The last few days have been warmer than usual yet the ground is still frozen six inches below the surface. I start work at my friend’s farm Feb. 26.
Living in Iowa includes engagement in politics. It is a common thread in community life, something that helps us balance efforts to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.