by Jason Frerichs
Since 2008, Iowa has turned from a blue state into a red state. Republicans control the state house, senate, and the governorship. There are a myriad number of reasons for this. Former Governor Chet Culver vetoed a 2008 bill that would have given public-employee unions a stronger hand in negotiating their contracts. It was a slap in the face to many labor groups. This was especially galling because it happened at the very beginning of the Obama administration that ran on a message of hope and change. Senate Democrats played a role in helping Republicans give tax cuts to large corporations. This did not help the image of Democrats within the state. These tax cuts have starved our schools of the necessary funding to deliver top-quality education. The role the previous IDP Chair played in creating division within the state party did not help the political climate in the state of Iowa. The purpose of this is not to drudge up old wounds or relitigate past events. It’s merely to paint a picture of why we are in the situation we are in. Complaining without offering solutions is just whining so here are some solutions to get the state back on track.
The first thing we must do is restore collective bargaining rights for our public-employee union members. Republicans have effectively destroyed collective bargaining for 184,000 state employees. “In my 25 years, I’ve never seen anything like this — ever,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who said Republicans used a “mean-spirited, rigged system” to circumvent the legislative process. “This is absolute drunk on power.” In addition to restoring these collective bargaining rights for existing unions, we must expand unions to other private sectors. Healthcare workers, retail workers, and restaurant workers should be allowed to form unions to advocate for their groups. Employers like Walmart and McDonalds should not be allowed to bully their employees into accepting starvation wages and leaving the taxpayers on the hook for food stamps, rental assistance, and Medicaid. The bosses are not going to willing hand us our fair share. We must take it.
It is imperative that Iowa raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour and it must be tied to the cost of living index. In order to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the state of Iowa, a person needs to earn $14.03 per hour. In order to afford a modest one bedroom apartment, a minimum wage worker in Iowa would need to work 60 hours per week. According to the United Way ALICE Report, 31% of Iowans do not earn enough to cover the basic costs of living. A family of four needs to earn $50,196 per year just to cover basic living expenses. Nearly half of all jobs in Iowa pay between $10 to $15 per hour. The days of taxpayers subsidizing low wages so wealthy Iowans can hoard more money must end. No one should have to make the choice between paying for groceries or paying for health care.
Healthcare is a human right. Let me repeat that. Healthcare is a human right. Instead of a worthless system of MCOs and private insurance companies, all Iowans should be put into the same single payer system, similar to how the Canadian provinces organize health care. Kick out the insurance companies and the MCOs. These organizations exist solely to steal money and don’t serve any useful purpose. Countries with universal coverage have lower costs and better outcomes. The reasons why are obvious. You are more likely to get a minor problem checked out if you don’t have to worry about high deductible and out of pocket costs. This will prevent it from becoming a bigger and more expensive problem down the road. The CBO recently stated that the AHCA would leave 14 million more people uninsured than the ACA currently does. This means that thousands of children in Iowa will lose their insurance. If children are not healthy, they will not do well in school.
When I was a child, Iowa’s schools were the envy of the nation. The last time Iowa ranked number one in education was in 1992. Programs like No Child Left Behind have harmed Iowa’s schools. It seems like Iowa is moving towards a statewide educational system instead of a loose confederation of school districts. Giving tax breaks to large corporations has starved schools of funding to deliver top quality education. Massive corporate property tax cuts will cause the state to face a $740 million shortfall over the next 10 years. Why are Republicans doing this? It’s because an educated populace is harder to control. The more education a person has, the less likely they are to believe in conservative values. People with advanced degrees have learned how to research and critically evaluate data. They’ve trained themselves to be critical thinkers. Education exposes people to new ideas and forces them to evaluate previously held opinions. An educated mind is the best weapon in the fight against fascism. It is imperative that we elect populist progressives who have the courage to void all previous contracts regarding tax cuts. Funding must be restored to previous levels. We must also make Iowa’s public colleges and universities tuition free. Young people taking on mortgage-sized student loan debt is not healthy for our economy.
These are just a few of the ideas that we can pursue in order to turn Iowa blue again. In the coming months, PVI will explore each of these ideas in more depth. Since 2008, Iowa has gone from blue to purple to red. What worked in the past does not work anymore. Progressives must take the lead and we must be prepared to fight. The only thing that can stop a bad person with a bad policy, is a good person with a good policy.
Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus