House votes down prevailing wage bill: now what?

The “prevailing wage” bill fiasco finally ended on Monday:

In what officials called the longest vote in Iowa Statehouse history, House Speaker Pat Murphy at 1:09 p.m. today closed the voting machine on the prevailing wage bill after 2 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes, declaring the bill had lost.

The vote was 50-48, one vote short of passage. But then House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, switched his vote to “no” — a procedural move that will allow him to bring the bill up for reconsideration later this session. So the final vote stood at 49-49.

After the jump I consider the two eternal political questions: “What is to be done?” and “Who is to blame?”

As Iowa Politics reported, McCarthy’s vote-switch will allow the leadership to bring this bill up later in the session, if they can find 51 supporters.

The logical thing would be for one of the holdout Democrats who represents a safe district to switch his or her vote, but Geri Huser and Brian Quirk have made clear that they are not team players and for whatever reason don’t see the benefit to helping local workers earn an extra dollar or two an hour. (It’s not only the worker’s household who benefits. Two-thirds of our economy depends on consumer spending, and workers who earn a little more income have more to spend on goods and services from local businesses.)

Another possibility would be to amend the bill to exempt more projects, such as those funded by community colleges, from the prevailing wage requirement. McKinley Bailey’s support was riding on an amendment that was ruled out of order during Friday’s debate. Perhaps he would come on board if the bill were rewritten to include his amendment. On the other hand, Bailey seems to have gotten a lot of affirmation over the weekend:

But Bailey, who is serving his second term in the House and said he didn’t get a whole lot of backing from labor unions in his re-election last year, received a warm reception when he attended a forum Saturday in Webster City.

“People were very, very happy,” Bailey said. “I got applause when I went in. I didn’t have a single person ask me to change my vote. I feel like I represented my district. While I feel bad about letting so many of my caucus members down, I think at the end of the day, I have to represent Wright and Hamilton and Webster county. … My constituents seem to be happy with my decision.”

At this point changing his stance on the prevailing wage bill might do more political damage than if he had just voted for the original version.

Another possibility would be to drop prevailing wage for this year and push harder on a different legislative priority for organized labor, such as a new version of the collective bargaining bill Governor Chet Culver vetoed last year. The veto created a lot of hard feelings. Since the collective bargaining bill passed when Democrats only held 53 seats in the Iowa House, the leadership should be able to find enough votes in our larger caucus. I believe the governor would sign this bill if it were approved through the normal legislative process, as opposed to what happened last year. That said, Republicans have clearly been emboldened by recent events and will make the most of opposing any labor bill.

I suspect it would be difficult for Democrats to find 51 votes in favor of a “fair share” bill that would force individuals represented by unions to stop being “free riders.” However, if the leadership could get fair share through the House, the Senate would approve it and Culver would sign it.

Although statehouse Democrats need to move forward and not dwell on the bad feelings from the past few days, the people who caused this train wreck should make sure nothing like it happens again.

Obviously, the buck has to stop with House Speaker Pat Murphy and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. David Yepsen explains why:

– House leaders failed to have a solid vote count before they called the measure up for a vote. Now, they look inept. This episode will make it more difficult for them to amass votes or strong-arm members on other controversial and important pieces of legislation.

– While much has been said about the rebel Democrats, there are Democratic members from marginal districts who sided with labor on this bill and by doing so have now created a political problem for themselves back home. It’s stupid to expose troops to hostile fire for no good reason.

– There are bad feelings and tensions inside the Democratic caucus. That will make cooperation on other issues more difficult. In recent years, such pressures and tactics forced one Democratic lawmaker to become a Republican.

I agree with all of the above except for the last sentence about Dawn Pettengill being “forced” to become a Republican. Sure, it takes a real hero to use one political party’s resources to get elected, then run to the other side a few months later.

Holding the prevailing wage vote open over the weekend looks like a bad call. Not only did Murphy and McCarthy make a media spectacle out of an embarrassing situation for Democrats, they gave Iowa Republicans a real morale booster.

There appears to have been a communication problem between the leadership and Representative Bailey last week. While both sides may have contributed to the misunderstanding over what kind of compromise Bailey would accept, ultimately it’s the leaders’ job to have a firm vote count before bringing a contentious bill to the floor. I feel bad for the representatives who may now take heat for supporting a bill that didn’t pass.

Not all the blame should rest with the leadership, though. It’s disappointing that a few Democrats in safe districts were among the “no” votes on the prevailing wage bill. When Democrats have 56 votes in the chamber, the 51st vote on a labor bill should not have to come from Bailey or Larry Marek. Let someone in a safe seat get the caucus out of a jam.

Yepsen thinks threatening a primary challenge is a waste of time, but I disagree. Sometimes a serious challenger can move an incumbent’s voting record in a good direction. A Blue Dog member of Congress from Florida flipped his vote on the stimulus bill this month after another Democrat declared his intention to contest the primary.

This thread is for any ideas about how Democrats should move forward on prevailing wage and other labor issues this session.

  • Well Marek has said many time He is against fairshare.

    They might as well not bother him on this one.  I think the only thing he’ll vote for is the dr. shopper bill.  You are right on one thing.  If there is a good canidate to oppose the current office holder,  the current office holder votes more like the district he/she represents wants them to vote. (Marek vs Greiner)  Maybe thats why Marek kept his word last week?  Marek is boxed in on his labor votes until he wins another election.  

    Marek will pay back the party with votes to increase taxes and spending.  He has to give them something for the $300,000 they gave him last fall.  I wonder how they like the return on their investment so far.

    Question: Why hasn’t the disclosure reports been posted yet?  They were due over 3 weeks ago.  Is there a red herring in this reporting cycle?

    • there's nothing wrong with being a good fit

      for your district. If the Republicans still understood that, they wouldn’t have chased away the Joy Cornings and Jim Leaches of the world, and they’d be sitting at more than 44 seats in the House.

      I understand why you are very focused on Marek, but in my mind he’s not the issue. We shouldn’t need his vote to pass any of these labor bills, and I am fine with him voting against them all.

      The path to a 51st vote in favor of prevailing wage and other bills is better Democrats from blue districts, not more Democrats from red districts.

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