All Politics Are National
Tip O’Neill famously said “All politics are local.” If the Iowa legislature is any indication, that is no longer the case. With the Republicans holding a trifecta in the Iowa House, Senate and Governor’s office, Iowa is just a pawn in the national Republican narrative.
In 2018, the Iowa Republicans passed the strictest abortion ban in the nation. Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court blocked the ban. Not only was every member of the Iowa Supreme Court nominated by a Republican Governor, Justice Waterman wrote this in his closing:
“We return to Wright to highlight one more point. It would be ironic and troubling for our court to become the first state supreme court in the nation to hold that trash set out in a garbage can for collection is entitled to more constitutional protection than a woman’s interest in autonomy and dominion over her own body.”
Within weeks of the Supreme Court decision, Governor Reynolds called for a special session to pass the next version of the abortion ban. The Republicans passed one of the most extreme abortion bans in less time than the minimum 24 hour waiting period they require of women prior to their abortion care.
Is this what the majority of Iowans want? Not at all. Recent polling suggests that more than 3 in 5 Iowans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases. True to form, Governor Reynolds plans to sign the abortion ban at a special interest group event. This group’s leader talks like their view is the majority of people but was called out for lying about this on CNN’s Jim Acosta last week and hasn’t even gotten the majority of his own party’s support in his failed three attempts to gain the Republican nominee for Governor.
Being a new member of the Iowa House, I had an experienced legislator tell me “Don’t worry, you’ll ease into it.” That wasn’t the case at all because the legislative session started off with a bang, school vouchers. Giving public money to private schools is something that Governor Reynolds was dead set on. Despite Iowa’s state quarter’s motto saying “Foundation in Education” or the fact that when I graduated high school we were “first in the nation in education,” the Republican trifecta continues to inadequately fund public education. In the last legislative session, school vouchers were on the table but failed to get enough support. The Governor went after 7 incumbents of her own party in the 2022 election, winning 7 new pro-voucher members.
Were school vouchers a grassroots movement in Iowa? Absolutely not. When I was posting on Twitter about not funding private schools with public money, I was bombarded by trolls originating from a guy in Texas named Corey DeAngelis who works for the American Federation for Children (AFC). When researching AFC, it doesn’t take long to see it’s a conservative 501(c)(4) dark money group that promotes the school privatization agenda organized and funded by the billionaire GOP donors, the DeVos family.
When I first heard about the Iowa Child Labor bill that was being proposed in the Iowa Senate, I was dumbfounded by who would want to relax the laws to allow kids to work in dangerous industries and situations? Then in February, the U.S. Department of Labor came out with an investigation that found over 100 children, ages 13–17, illegally working in hazardous jobs!
It didn’t take much research to see that this bill and similar ones in other states were being pushed by Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), a “nonprofit think tank” focusing on reducing the welfare state, reducing restrictions on teenage workers, and blocking the expansion of Medicaid at both the state and federal levels in the name of “free trade.” The FGA is mostly funded by right-wing billionaire Richard Uihlein through his tax exempt nonprofit.
These three bills, along with every other controversial bill that made headlines this legislative session, all have a few things in common: 1) like previously mentioned, these are not the will of the majority of Iowans, 2) They came from out of state, mostly billionaire funded, entities, and 3) they all had bipartisan opposition while solely being passed by Republicans.
I hope there are political repercussions for what they did, but only time will tell. We have over 15 months until the 2024 elections, including a major Presidential Caucus to get through.
J.D. Scholten is a fifth generation Iowan and member of the Iowa House of Representatives representing District 1. He also serves on the board of the One Country Project, an organization focused on addressing the needs and concerns of rural America.