“Hot air” and “lawmakers were left to fritter away their time on non-sense bills” is how the editorial board of this paper saw the just adjourned session of the Iowa legislature. No doubt because this newspaper’s priorities were not addressed. But one tax hike a year is probably all this legislature, let alone the taxpayer, can stomach.
Side note – I cannot understand how this paper can editorialize about Americans living on the edge financially, and on the exact same day advocate for a sales tax increase to fund a Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. But maybe I’m alone believing low income folks paying more in sales tax to support fish and fowl would have less in their pockets to pay for doctors visits or fixing a broken furnace. But I digress….
One of the things that frustrated me during my time in the legislature was the filter by which Iowans learned about what was happening in their state house. The ratio between actual activity and words in the paper never does either the legislators credit or the public justice. Days could be spent working on an issue without so much as a mention in a blog, but five minutes of discussion might unleash a series of editorial comments. Like beauty, good legislation is in the eye of the beholder. And every Iowan is a beholder for whom something is of interest. There is a reason bills are introduced by legislators – because someone asked them to. That is often forgotten by the press. Oh sure, if there is a tearful story, or a response to a tragedy that results in “Johnny’s Law” or “Susie’s Bill” the paper will elucidate on how citizen input can turn the gears of government. But if a citizen contacts their legislator about something not in favor among the press; well then legislators were just frittering away their time.
One of my most vivid examples, and I suppose biggest mistakes, was my decision to bring to a vote a bill legalizing dove hunting as one of the first bills of the session. As majority leader I was embroiled in working out the details on an education issue, but it wasn’t ready to go. In the meantime, my phone and other legislators phones were ringing off the hook (no ubiquitous cell phone ringtones then) from Iowa hunters. Why not, I figured. It’s a relatively simple bill. One of those gut issues people either favor or oppose, without a lot of nuance and technical challenges. Let’s vote on it. It had the votes to pass, and didn’t require me spending any political capital. Little did I know I was about to be characterized as being more interested in satiating my lust for blood than I was about the well being of school children, of which I had two at home at the time. It made headlines. None of them good. While it was not this paper’s, or frankly even my priority, it was the priority of a lot of folks in this state.
Great irony here – some, but not all, of the advocates for the above sales tax are the same people who asked for dove hunting.
What didn’t make headlines this year, that was just frittering away time? (That was sarcasm for those readers who haven’t understood my sense of humor yet.) In his session closing speech, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal talked about passing the “Safe At Home” program to protect the identities of victims of domestic violence. It was bi-partisan, so not terribly interesting (again, sarcasm) and probably didn’t merit more than five paragraphs of ink. But maybe it saves a life, so headline grabbing or not, probably not a waste of time.
Across the rotunda just before the gavel dropped House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer was bringing her chamber’s attention to their bi-partisan work on Medicaid asset verification. As Upmeyer explained “Medicaid is in a collision course with other priorities” like education because it’s annual growth rate is over 11% while general fund revenues have grown at less than half that rate. This year in a bi-partisan bi-cameral fashion legislators worked to ensure those scarce dollars go to those truly deserving.
In both chambers there were attaboys and attagirls, as the President of the Senate and House Majority Leader are both women, for a tuition freeze at the regents universities. That’s something any parent of a college bound student would gratefully call a major accomplishment.
Now none of this is to say that the legislative session was perfect. I have my own list of grievances long enough to fill a Festivus celebration. But where I saw things not go my way I’d like to believe it was because of an honest disagreement of opinion or philosophy. I’d bet they’d heard from a constituent. The press likes to bemoan that lawmakers shouldn’t be beholden to special interests, but the press forgets that back home in their districts, every legislator’s constituent is a special interest. Their interest may just not be the same as yours, mine, or even the Register’s.