We must take action now on Iowa's failed COVID-19 response

Tanya Keith is an activist and small business owner in Des Moines. -promoted by Laura Belin

At the beginning of the pandemic, I called my parents and sister in Massachusetts and pleaded with them to move to Iowa. At the time, Massachusetts was having what we considered a raging outbreak, and central Iowa had no confirmed cases. My thinking was they would be so much safer here, because by the time the pandemic reached Iowa, we would know better and therefore do better. I thought my family would be safest here.

But now the tables have turned. Massachusetts has taken science-based action to control the pandemic, and Iowa maintains one of the worst COVID-19 responses in the U.S. (and therefore the world). I haven’t seen my family in over a year, and I can’t imagine how I would safely get to them even if Massachusetts allowed travel from Iowa. Rampant disease spread causes a strain on my business as I try to protect people I hire from working with each other. The school year I most looked forward to: our eldest’s senior year, our middle’s 8th grade, and our youngest’s kindergarten year are all happening remotely.

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Six themes from the Iowa legislature's opening day in 2021

The Iowa legislature’s 2021 session began on January 11 with the usual appeals to work together for the good of Iowans. But potential for bipartisan work on high-profile issues appears limited, as the Republicans who enjoy large majorities in the state House and Senate have quite different priorities from their Democratic counterparts.

At the end of this post, I’ve posted the substantive portions of all opening remarks from legislative leaders, as prepared for delivery. The speakers focused on the following matters:

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year.

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Top Iowa Republicans won't rule out gerrymandering next political map

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and House Speaker Pat Grassley declined on January 7 to rule out any partisan amendment to Iowa’s next map of political boundaries.

During a forum organized by the Iowa Capitol Press Association, both GOP leaders promised to follow the law that has governed Iowa’s redistricting process since 1980. Under that law, the state House and Senate cannot amend the first map of Congressional and legislative boundaries produced by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, or the second map if the first is rejected.

However, the third map is subject to amendment, sparking fears among many Democrats that Republicans could vote down the first two proposals, then change the nonpartisan third map to a gerrymander. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls highlighted that “loophole” during the forum and asked the GOP leaders to commit to not amending a third map.

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How many Iowa candidates "won" under rules Republicans forced on unions?

Sixth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad set out to cripple public sector unions in 2017 by enacting a law that eviscerated bargaining rights and established new barriers to union representation. Under that law, public employees must vote to recertify their union in each contract period (in most cases, every two or three years). Anyone not participating in the election is considered to have voted against the union. So a successful recertification requires yes votes from a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit.

The law hasn’t accomplished its goal of destroying large unions that typically support Democratic candidates. The vast majority of bargaining units have voted to recertify in each of the past four years. This fall, all 64 locals affiliated with the Iowa State Education Association voted to keep having that union negotiate their contracts. AFSCME Council 61, which represents most Iowa state and local government workers, was nearly as successful, with 64 out of 67 units voting to recertify.

I decided to return to a question Bleeding Heartland first pondered in 2017: how many candidates for other Iowa offices could declare victory under the system Republicans forced on labor unions?

I found that even after Iowa’s highest-turnout election in decades, our state would have no representation in Congress if contenders needed a majority vote among all constituents. “Winners” could be declared in about a third of state legislative races.

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U.S. census delay should not derail Iowa redistricting

The U.S. Census Bureau is unlikely to deliver state population totals on its usual timetable, Michael Wines and Emily Bazelon reported for the New York Times on November 19. The news was encouraging for those who support an accurate, complete census, because a delay beyond January 20 would stop the Trump administration’s unconstitutional plan “to remove unauthorized immigrants from the count for the first time in history, leaving an older and whiter population as the basis for divvying up [U.S.] House seats […].”

I wondered how an adjusted timetable could affect Iowa’s redistricting. Could Republicans who retained control of the Iowa House and Senate use a delay as a pretext for bypassing our state’s current nonpartisan process?

Not without changing state law.

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