GOP lawmakers hitting Iowans with "capitol punishment"

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

A bill that would bring back the death penalty for those who abduct, rape, and kill minors in Iowa is not likely to become law this year, but that does not mean the concept of capital punishment is off the legislature’s agenda.

Quite the contrary. Capitol punishment—the “ol” refers to the building in which lawmakers meet—is the theme of the 2023 legislative session and state government in general. Republicans are all but certain to inflict it upon us again a year from now.

The so-called public servants at the capitol deal harshly with Iowans who don't match their preferred qualities: well-to-do, supposedly Christian, white, and straight.

The avalanche of bad legislation Iowans are confronting this year is like facing a firing squad while being burned at a stake that is topped by a guillotine while you have to walk a plank above shark-infested waters, all the better for your electrocution.

If you don’t think it’s that bad, maybe you do not remember or are unfamiliar with the years when we had Robert Ray and Tom Vilsack as governors, and legislators accepted the challenge of working together. Back then it made some sense for the Iowa caucuses to have first-in-the-nation status.

That’s not the case today.

Consider just a few of the ways the capitol punishment crowd are making Iowans' lives worse.

First, Republicans rushed to pass Governor Kim Reynolds' plan to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars supporting private schools. They have proceeded to make life even more stressful for LGBTQ youth and their families. Did you read about how Deaf people were denied disability accommodation—an American Sign Language interpreter—when they tried to speak at an Iowa Senate subcommittee against the governor's state government restructuring plan?

Iowa might make it even more difficult for needy families to receive federal food assistance (the Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program), less than a year after Reynolds reduced the monthly benefits that hundreds of thousands of her constituents receive.

Then there’s the cruel law the governor already signed to cap non-economic damages for life-ruining medical malpractice at $1 million or $2 million, depending on where the medical error occurred.

There are many more travesties, including efforts to censor school curricula and restrict access to controversial books, as posts at Bleeding Heartland, Iowa Starting Line, and Iowa Capital Dispatch have described.

Why are public servants inflicting so much capitol punishment upon those they are supposed to serve? Iowa Capital Dispatch editor Kathie Obradovich made it clear. Republicans are doing this for one reason: Because they can.

We should be grateful for and support Iowa Safe Schools, One Iowa, the League of Women Voters, the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, the ACLU of Iowa, the Iowa Environmental Council, and others. They may be facing the most trying legislative session of their careers.

Perhaps those opposed to capitol punishment, as described above, should plan to return the favor come election day, November 5, 2024. Pray we can vote out of office those state senators and representatives hurting so many Iowans today and, sadly, in the months to come.

That would be a good start on dealing with Governor Reynolds in 2026.

Top photo of Iowa state capitol building by Paul Brady Photography, available via Shutterstock.

  • While we are supporting the Iowa organizations...

    ...that are fighting bad bills and/or trying hard to improve them, let's please not forget the Iowa Environmental Council. There are environment-related bills in the Statehouse, though those bills are generally not getting much media attention. That is very understandable, given the bad-bill avalanche, but the environmental bills do exist.

    The Council online news about what is going on under the Golden Dome is calm, objective, factual, and very reasonable. But some of the news still makes me want to scream and pound my head on the wall.

    • Amen

      The IEC and its online presence warrant more than our thanks and deserved recognition in my post.
      Herb Strentz.

      • Thank you, Herb Strentz

        I am pretty sure there are enough good Iowa organizations trying to fend off the avalanche that there is no reasonable way you could have listed them all. And yet the avalanche continues. Your extended metaphor is very apt. A friend and I agree that the avalanche is causing extra stress eating in our households, and I'll bet we're unfortunately not the only ones.

  • Terrifying

    Herb, you hit all the high points of our states’ demise. I am damn near unable to find words that describe my shock and hopeless feelings as I read every day about more legislation to reduce the quality of life for minorities and women. Just numbing ..

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