I had the chance this week to talk to some Republicans involved in the transition to Branstad administration and the significant changes that took place in the Iowa legislature. Though my friends were upbeat, they were also very serious about what might be expected in the next two years.
A lot of tactical issues will likely absorb most of the time for the Governor and the legislature, particularly with the Democrats still holding a majority in the Senate. Thus, all Iowans, particularly Republicans, need to manage expectations. Just how much constructive, positive change will take place is a matter of conjecture but managing expectations seems to be in order.
There are a lot of things taking place outside of Des Moines that will have influence on what goes on inside the legislative chambers, but the problems at home are not insignificant. Just how the legislature and Governor are going to make up for the shortfalls caused by the irresponsible acceptance of one-time funds from DC is likely to be the greatest challenge. Depending on who one talks to, that shortfall may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Given the state of the economy here at home, revenues are likely to be down for at least the next two years, so the problems are more serious than one might have thought. Given the seriousness of these shortfalls, not much else is going to be done. Getting at tax reform, education reform, immigration legislation and government reorganization are not likely to get top billing—at least this year.
Another factor that surprised me a bit was that there seems to be a disturbing comfort level for incumbents from both parties, so expect to see friction occur when the new, fresh faces in both the House and Senate run headlong into the “old boy” network that has the expectation that the perks of office outweigh the costs of standing on principles.
Like the cartoon that displays the coyote and the sheepdog, party disagreements might be confined to the limited time legislators on the floor debating issues and voting. After the deals have been made, such activity is merely theater. One wonders how the interests of the citizens of Iowa are being served if the way things are now remains the way things will be in the future.
Like the movement in the nation to ban earmarks in the US Congress, the Iowa legislature ought to take up defunding lobbyists as the first order of business. Next, the freshmen in the legislature should make it clear that establishment, machine politics is not what the people in Iowa want—certainly not on the Republican side (maybe the Dems still see it that way). Business as usual will not cut it through another election cycle, particularly with the likely activism that will occur during a presidential election year.
Iowans are expecting courage, hard decisions and accountability in the legislature. To think that fellow citizens will accept a sop here and there is folly and an extremely risky strategy for anyone thinking they are going to cruise to election again in 2012.
With reapportionment taking place at the state and national level, a lot of politicians feeling safe and comfortable might need to reassess their career choices in a couple of years. For those who might have trouble giving up comfort for responsible leadership, Iowans are ready to help with the calculus. If one needs evidence, look no further than the judge retention vote.
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