Iowa's double whammy won't go away on its own

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.

Iowa suffers from a self-inflicted double whammy: (1) the 2023 legislative session and (2) the delusion that the rest of the nation would take the 2024 Iowa caucuses seriously.

With regard to (1), Governor Kim Reynolds and her GOP puppets in the legislature did more damage to the public schools and public education than had been done—collectively—in the last 50 years of state governance.

The signature piece of the destruction is a likely $1 billion commitment (over the next four years alone) to subsidizing private schools at the expense of better funding for public schools and a range of special needs.

(2) Meantime, the legislative mayhem came as the press and political parties seemed more obsessed than is warranted with where and when Iowa caucuses would be held.

Not a pretty scene.

Yes, certainly, the caucuses had deserved merit with the emergence of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. And who among us did not enjoy the kitchen conversations with presidential candidates in those and other years? But, as evidenced by the past legislative session, we can only offer or support bad ideas on public policy to the nation—joining several other states in throes of divisiveness and fear.

Fact is, Iowa now has little if nothing to offer the rest of the nation in the caucuses ballyhooed by the Iowa press as making Iowa “the center of the political universe.” Certainly not when the Iowa choice of Republican presidential candidates is covered in the media as a choice between a misogynist found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in a civil lawsuit and a Florida governor who sees Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as “woke” culture menaces.

Is this what we’ve come to?

In 1940, in England’s most perilous time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told his nation he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”

Of course, Iowa woes can’t compare with that outlook of 83 years ago.

But you’d think the governor and legislature could still offer us more than their threats of “loss, cost, fears and dread.”

The “loss” includes the damage to public education, less support of the needy, and having less confidence than ever in state government. The “cost” includes the suffering by teens and family seeking to cope with gender and sexual identity issues as well as special needs children having less access to programs offered by Area Educational Agencies.

Iowans who are not straight white conservatives have plenty of ”fears,” well-stoked by legislators and the governor.

The “dread,” in part, is that these same perpetrators will be back for the 2024 legislative session to wreak more damage.

The Republican senators and representatives who dutifully followed Reynolds’ orders did so only because Iowans elected them to serve in the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions.

The problems won’t go away until many legislators do. It will be up to voters to remedy the problems and again allow Iowa to help national policies and politics instead of reflecting right-wing lunacy. Those of us who created the 2023 legislative session need to be held as accountable as those we elected.

Unfortunately, if you think I’ve exaggerated the perils facing Iowa, you’re in good company with leaders of the Iowa business community. A headline in The Business Record summarized their delight with this year’s legislative session: “Business community says results of ’23 session enhance state’s economic vitality.”

The Business Record reported, “The business community is celebrating key wins for its agenda during the recent legislative session, issues that leaders say will help make Iowa more competitive…” and “In a newsletter to its members, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said the session resulted in ‘favorable outcome’ for the organization’s legislative priorities and was ‘Another Great Legislative Session for Business and Industry.’”

Among the actions making it so “Great” were caps on the amount of money that could be recovered in non-economic damages for medical malpractice (House File 161) and for injuries suffered in trucking accidents where a business was found to be at fault. (Senate File 228). Also heralded was a measure that will slightly expand access to child care, while increasing work requirements for parents in need of child care assistance (House File 707).

Democratic State Representative John Forbes of Urbandale offered a good perspective in his latest newsletter. He notes that—despite Republican sabotage of parliamentary procedures in throttling Democrats—several bipartisan measures were passed, salvaging some measure of accomplishment. He also addresses the woes listed above, including the private school vouchers. All worth a look.

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  • The political dreadfulness in Iowa has been clearly described and on display in Iowa media...

    …but specific ideas about what to do to change it, not so much. I’m grateful there are Iowans who have far more knowledge about how to improve state election results than I do.

    Unfortunately, the John Forbes newsletter linked in this post was mostly, for me, another reminder that Iowa Democratic leaders have apparently assessed that most Iowa voters are indifferent to environmental concerns. Even water quality, let alone climate change, is not mentioned in the Focus on People versus All Politics comparison document.

    I can’t argue with that assessment of Iowans in 2023. I just really hope it will change. I used to assume it would change, but I just heard about another young conservation-minded Iowan who is leaving the state. I hope Iowa isn’t now selecting for young Iowans who will perpetuate the current dominant political value system.