Colin Gordon: What’s The Matter With Iowa?

Gov. Branstad shakes hands with Drew Klein after Branstad signs union busting bill

U of Iowa Professor Colin Gordon wrote a story in Dissent Magazine that many of us have been wondering about out loud. That is simply “What’s The Matter With Iowa?”

Following perhaps the strangest election ever in Iowa, Republicans took control of both branches of the legislature thus giving them total control of Iowa’s government.

Despite not running on issues such as busting unions and voter suppression, those are the issues that the legislature immediately went to work on. As bills passed, Governor Branstad quickly signed them.

From Gordon’s article:

“Consider Iowa. In November, the Republicans gained two seats in the statehouse (increasing their majority to 59-41) and six seats in the state senate—flipping control from 25-23 Democratic to 29-20 Republican. In recent years, Republican aspirations and priorities in the state—the usual medley of tax cuts, privatization, and starvation of the public sector—have been clear enough, as has the role of the senate in blocking passage of the nastiest and craziest legislative proposals. But no one fully anticipated how quickly and dramatically the new trifecta would act. The battle in Wisconsin unfolded over months after Walker took office in 2011. In Iowa it was more like a bomb was dropped; three weeks into the legislative session, the damage was done.

The first blow was House File 291, a gutting of public-sector collective bargaining that was unveiled February 7 and signed by the governor ten days later. As in most states, Iowa’s public-sector bargaining law was a bipartisan bargain struck in the early 1970s, which raised pay and labor standards for public workers (especially teachers) in exchange for an effective no-strike pledge. The new public-employee relations code outdoes even Wisconsin in dismantling this bargain. Bargaining is now limited to “base wages,” with annual increases limited to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. All other contract details—health care, pensions, working conditions—are off the table. Public-sector unions must win a recertification vote before each new contract (every two to three years). To twist that knife, the law requires the union to win a majority of workers in the bargaining unit (not just those voting) and it requires for the union to pay for the election. And unions are now barred from collecting dues through payroll deduction, a practice that was already voluntary.

If the pace and scope of this legislative putsch is jaw-dropping, so too is the absence of any plausible connection between the challenges faced by the state and the solutions offered. Low commodity prices have trimmed state revenues over the last year, but the fiscal pressures animating attacks on the public sector, labor standards, and public education are almost entirely manufactured. A sweeping cut to commercial property taxes in 2013 slashed over $300 million from this year’s revenues. Business tax credits cost the state another $275 million—a large chunk of which are refundable credits paid out to the state’s largest corporations (the state paid defense contractor Rockwell Collins over $12 million for doing business in Iowa last year)”.

Gordon then notes that the laws that Republicans are enacting have nearly nothing to do with needs in Iowa. Instead almost all of the new laws are driven from outside by groups associated with the Koch brothers, especially ALEC. Gordon then concludes:

The ALEC/AFP fingerprints are not hard to discern. None of Iowa’s GOP legislators campaigned on this agenda. The ink was dry on the forty-two-page collective bargaining bill—a mash-up of longstanding ALEC language—before freshman legislators were given their codes to the copy machine. Public support for this and other measures (save a bit of astroturfing by AFP) was glaringly absent in charade of hearings that preceded their passage. And, tellingly, Governor Branstad put his pen to the collective bargaining bill not at a public event, but in a private ceremony for the benefit of the State’s AFP lobbyist.

This is a must read article for all serious scholars of just what is causing the phenomena of harsh anti-union, anti-women, anti-consumer legislation that is popping up across the country in state legislature after state legislature. Gordon notes that what happened in Kansas and what is happening here in Iowa is simply the old “bait-and-switch.” Campaign on issues that have popular support and then when power is achieved simply enact the legislation of those who paid to put your group in power.


About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
This entry was posted in 2016 Election Campaign, ALEC, Branstad, Iowa Legislature, Iowa legislature 2017, Republican hypocrisy, union busting, voter suppression and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Colin Gordon: What’s The Matter With Iowa?

  1. Cynthia Mercati says:

    Thank you for the article.

    I was taken by an ex-husband to Des Moines.

    My hometown is Chicago — not Chicagoland,the city.

    I found DSM nice but dull with insurance as it’s spark.(?)

    The people were peasant if bland.
    (I hadn’t found Iowa City yet.)

    When we arrived Robert Ray was here and for a Republican, he wasn’t bad — even good sometimes, in those long ago days of moderate Republicans.

    I used to think of Iowa as the last bastion before you hid the skids with Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas — now we’re right there in the mix.

    And I am trying to get back to the Emerald City.


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