Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.
In college, I worked as a security guard at a window factory. My job was to make rounds ensuring there were no intruders or fires. Usually there were two guards working in two connected factories.
The factory was dark; guards were alone.
Most nights I read and dozed. The guards hired were either college students or people who couldn’t find another job, since $2.20 an hour was a lousy wage, even in 1978.
One of the guards was a failed undertaker who tried to entertain us with mortuary horror stories. He also frequently left his building to jump out and scare the other guard on duty. Most nights, it was a joke.
But one night, things changed.
I was making rounds focused on a Shakespeare final. He jumped out from behind a double pane window. Adrenaline surged. Instantly, both hands clutched his windpipe as his feet left the floor. My hands wouldn’t let go.
I was embarrassed; he was shocked.
But after that, he never jumped out again. I’d apparently choked the chaos from the graveyard shift.
That incident reminds me of our politics now. A few loud political vandals are creating chaos, and it will stop only when leaders and voters of their own party step up and figuratively choke it off.
Both parties have fringe legislators. The difference is those on the far left are still interested in governing. Those on the far right don’t want to govern. They’re puffed up by loud, right-wing media and they represent safe political districts.
In effect, there are two Republican parties in the U.S. House: a governing party, and the “chaos caucus.” The second group has infected the body. A small of members was able to paralyze meaningful work while they ousted a speaker and then searched for someone who could satisfy their extreme requirements and get Donald Trump’s blessing.
They found him in “MAGA Mike Johnson.” The new House speaker is an election denier and crusader against LGBTQ people and women’s rights. If he compromises on anything, he’ll be deposed by the same caucus that recruited him.
The Senate has a few chaos agents of its own. The most deliberative body in the world can’t affirm senior military promotions because Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama put a hold on them. He doesn’t like the Pentagon policy reimbursing travel expenses for military service members needing reproductive care while stationed in a state that restricts abortion. It’s dangerous and irresponsible in the face of two wars.
Iowa has typically been a center-right state. Leaders of both parties kept the fringes from unraveling real governing. For example, the parties protected public schools in different ways: Democrats fought for more financial support, while Republicans fought against school district consolidation. Both parties knew their towns would dry up and blow away without a public school.
That’s gone now.
Chaos caucus members feel free to accuse teachers of distributing pornography and grooming children. They try to sanitize history to avoid admitting an ugly racist past and present.
It sends the message to the rest of the country that Iowa is not welcoming.
This chaos attempted to trickle down to school board races, one of the last nonpartisan elections in Iowa. Thankfully, through the work of many, chaos candidates for school board suffered major defeats in the Iowa suburbs and cities, and even some rural districts.
So, how can the chaos be controlled? This week’s election results showed chaos can be controlled with common sense and voters who listen carefully, rewarding the middle instead of the extremes.
School board members certainly may disagree, but they don’t need to be disagreeable. I understand compromise doesn’t get the blood boiling. But that’s how governing works.