Living in Society


Fall Colors

Going into the Nov. 3 election we hear a lot about “bipartisanship,” mostly from politicians wanting to get elected. I’m not sure what the word means any more.

A bill passed in the legislature with unanimous consent is technically bipartisan. Everyone realizes the technique is used to move daily business along rather than to more than cursorily agree on something such as the content of the bill.

There are clear divisions in our two-party political system. What is called “bipartisan” really isn’t more than an attempt to compromise our values. Compromise can be good in a democratic republic like ours. The trouble is we don’t share the same values and compromise that works toward complex solutions has recently been minimal and ineffective. Bipartisanship should be set aside so our elected officials can do what’s right. That’s a tall order.

When I was a township trustee we formed a 28E agreement to manage fire and emergency services for several townships and the nearby city. This is basic compromise. We formed a board of trustees with representation from the various governmental entities to formalize how we would approach services. It took more than two years from conception to signed agreement and in retrospect the increased public visibility of the public service, and better fiscal management, proved to be an effective solution. I’m no longer on the board of trustees yet I can read the minutes from their meetings in the newspaper. The new entity serves as an example of government doing what’s right.

Did trustees from the several townships and the city have political views? Of course they did. We were able to set that aside to work on a project that mattered to the entire community.

Our state and federal government should work more like our local townships do. The trouble is there are too many lobbyists with too much influence. In addition to lobbyists, there are the people behind them. I think it’s weird to have a page on the state legislature’s website that indicates how lobbyists view certain legislation. In Iowa, lobbyists have come to dominate the legislative process. The joke is the agriculture committees have to check with the Farm Bureau before doing anything. Lobbyists write bills that save legislators from doing their own thinking.

In the federal legislature the influence of lobbyists isn’t so obvious unless one walks the corridors of House or Senate office buildings. There lobbyists far outnumber regular people seeking their representative or senator. Going back to our 28E agreement, the only lobbyists for creation of the process were those who had a stake in its outcome, including the mayor, the fire chief and his deputies, the county attorney’s office, and other elected officials.

Our legislative process has been compromised by the influence of corporations and their lobbyists, including non-profit organizations. It takes so much money to run for office it is hard for candidates to decline their money. Those who do are handicapped out of the gate and risk being viewed as less than serious candidates because of the lack of fund-raising skills. Iowa’s 2020 Democratic U.S. Senate primary campaign was a case in point. The fact that Theresa Greenfield knew how to raise funds and did so played more of a role in her winning than policy positions embraced by so many. Money eclipsed politics every time and will for the foreseeable future.

Three weeks before the general election is not the best time to raise this. There is never a good time to raise it. Legislators deny contributions influence their votes yet it’s hard to believe them. We are so far from doing what’s right in so many areas of our governance it seems quaint to say it’s even possible any longer.

Let’s face it, our government is compromised and we need to do something about it.

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