Three weeks removed from ending the third longest legislative session in Iowa history, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with District 35â€™s representative in the Iowa Senateâ€”Republican Jack Whitver. The main focus of our conversation was the results of the 172 day session and the political clouds already forming on the horizon for next yearâ€™s Senatorial get together.
In the interest of adding perspective, here is a brief overview of Senator Whitverâ€™s political and business careers: He joined the Iowa Senate this year by virtue of winning a special election to fill the seat of Larry Noble, first beating five other Republicans in a truncated primary and then defeating Democrat John Calhoun (63%-36%). The district covers most of the northern half of Polk County including the Des Moines suburbs of Ankeny and Johnston, as well as Grimes, Polk City, Alleman, and Elkhart.
He is a former wide receiver for the Iowa State Cyclones and, in addition to being in the Senate, owns a three-location athletic training business called Acceleration Iowa, was the Offensive Coordinator for the Iowa Barnstormers last season, and is a law student at Drake University (no this is not a misprintâ€¦ this is all in the same year).
Â The Interview
At a glance it would be easy to say that the 2011 Iowa legislative session was a disappointment, as it saw high ranking agenda items from both political parties ultimately produce no legislation. As usual, however, the real story lies a few layers beneath the surface and, especially from a Conservative Republican viewpoint, is found by looking at and answering the question of why these things didnâ€™t get done.
Without a doubt, commercial and residential property tax relief was one of the few issues to truly burn white-hot during the session. All three legislative players had a plan on the table prescribing varying levels of aggressiveness in lowering Iowanâ€™s taxes. The Governorâ€™s plan was the most robust, followed by a more temperate approach from House Republicans, while the Senate Democratsâ€™ plan was far tamer than the other two.
Reflecting just how high profile and high priority this issue was, Sen. Whitver regards his â€œnoâ€ vote as the most important one he cast in the session.
â€œI think the vote I am most proud of, and probably the toughest one I took, was on property taxes. That is something I campaigned on and something that needs to be done to help small businesses. The Senate Democrats brought forth a plan that I felt was not a good plan. It wasnâ€™t nearly strong enough to do anything and was a long way away from what the House Republicans and the Governor were proposing. So itâ€™s easy to sit down there and say â€˜Well, itâ€™s on property taxes so I am just going to vote yes and pass it.â€™ I was one of four Republicans that voted no, because I felt it wasnâ€™t good enough, and I donâ€™t want to put my name on a bill, even if it has the right title, if it wasnâ€™t good enough. Because once you pass property tax reform, and itâ€™s not a good bill, then it would be off the table next year, and the year after. So you donâ€™t want to pass it for the sake of passing it.â€
Beyond it being too small, he also saw the Democrat plan as a vehicle to allow local towns and counties to avoid tightening their belts and reducing their property taxes. â€œItâ€™s basically taking our State income tax and our State sales tax and giving it to businesses in the form of a tax creditâ€”as opposed to actually lowering taxes. I wasnâ€™t a big fan of that tax shift.â€
Sharing his philosophy of not settling on this issue, and certainly providing some welcome company, was Governor Branstad.
â€œTo me the Governor showed a lot of confidence and leadership on this issue. Most governors, especially ones that donâ€™t have the experience and the confidence he has would say, â€˜Well, I said I wanted a property tax bill and Iâ€™ll take what I can get.â€™ Instead he said, â€˜You know what, itâ€™s not the one I want. Weâ€™ll come back and either do it in a special session or next year, but Iâ€™m not just going to try and save face and take whatever I can get.â€™ So I was happy about that.â€
Mental Health Reform
Another issue that remained unresolved by the session was reforming the stateâ€™s mental health care system, otherwise known as SF 525. To the casual observer this amounted to a mere failureâ€”true in the sense that no reform got passed but, once again, a look at why this was the case unearths undeniable evidence that a strong Conservative presence is asserting itself at the State House.
More than any other issue, this bill split the Senate Republican caucus, with ten voting in favor, nine voting against, and five not voting at all. The eventual fate ofÂ the billÂ was thatÂ itÂ was assigned to a committee for further study. When asked about this divide in the Party and the debate in general, Sen. Whitver laid out the issue like this:
â€œPart of it is a rural-urban divide. There is a lot of agreement that redesigning the mental health care system needs to be done. The difference is, do we want the state to take control of it, or can we let the counties keep control. Being from Polk County, we offer a lot of services that maybe Adams County does not, because they have 4,000 people. If they want to design a system where every county has to offer the same services they are not going to take every county down to Adams County levels, they are going to bring all other counties up to Polk County levels. And at the end of the day it just looks like something thatâ€™s going to greatly expand the cost and scope of government, and I think a lot of us werenâ€™t comfortable with that.â€
The insight that this answer provides into the thought process of at least a sizeable chunk of Senate Republicans should bolster the resolve of Conservatives state-wide. It is hard to imagine a more positive indicator that Iowa Republicans are serious about actually achieving a smaller governmentâ€”and not just talking about it.
Realize, especially on an emotionally sensitive topic like this one, what the specific logic they approached this issue with provesâ€”they get it. They are viewing all things through a prism of justified skepticism, asking themselves, â€œDoes this bill have the potential to explode into an over costly, ever expanding leviathan?â€ This type of foresight, had it been displayed by the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson administrations, could have sparred us much of the pain we are currently feeling at the Federal level.
The Reality of the Minority
In short, the reality of the minority is that you are forced to judge success differently. A look at the 293 votes Sen. Whitver cast reveals a splintered wasteland of votes cast in vain. As the roll calls of losing 26-24, 24-23, 26-21 began to pile up during the session, one has to wonder if the Senator would rather have been back running 5 yard drag routes into 240-pound Big 12 linebackersâ€¦minus his pads.
Making matters worse for this particular minority was being under the thumb of Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), who is renowned for both his liberalism and his penchant for using parliamentary maneuvers to avoid votes on hot-button issues. It didnâ€™t take long for Sen. Whitver to experience this approach, â€œThe first thing I saw when I got there was him changing the rules to not allow a majority of the Senators to bring up a bill.â€ When asked his thoughts on these tactics he joined the near unanimous chorus of Republican anger towards Gronstal, saying, â€œThe ones that I really had a problem with were the ones that had the votes to pass. On same sex marriage, I think we had the votes to bring it up with a majority, and then to get it passed.â€
Despite these circumstances, Sen. Whitver deploys a perspective that allows him to take it all in stride:
â€œYeah itâ€™s frustrating in the short term, but I have taken a longer view about being in the Senate. Itâ€™s a four year term and if I was just looking at the next election I could say, â€˜Ok, Iâ€™ll vote for that property tax bill,â€™ but Iâ€™m going to look at the big picture. A lot of those 26-24 votes draw a line in the sand and say, â€˜This is what Democrats want and this is what Republicans want, and this is our agenda going forward.â€™ So yeah, it is frustrating to go in there every day and vote no and see something pass, but in the long term I think we are setting up our agenda and what we are trying to accomplish pretty nicely.â€
In a political minority, this is what success looks like.
In a state that President Obama carried by 9.5 points, and without a majority in both chambers, fully implementing a Conservative agenda was simply not realistic. In this scenario much of your work is done around the edges and in ensuring bad bills donâ€™t pass. Sen. Whitver summed up the inroads the Party made, and how he sees the political landscape going forward, the following way:
â€œI think we accomplished three major things, though bills didnâ€™t necessarily get passed out of it. The Democrats admitted that we needed commercial property tax relief and were passing bills talking about it. They admitted we needed the late term abortion bill, they didnâ€™t pass the bill we wanted, but they were on record saying that we need to do something about it, and they agreed we need to limit spending. So three of our major priorities, they agreed with. We didnâ€™t get the exact bills we wanted, but I think that shows that our message is the right message.â€
Not only is it the right message, more importantly, a look inside the reasoning behind the votes shows it is a genuine message backed by principal and strong will.
The real story for Conservative Iowans is found in uncovering the reason why more bills failed to pass on major issues. In the case of tax reform, â€œnot good enoughâ€ was the why. In the case of SF 525, apprehension to expansive government and cautious foresight were the why.
I think that all concerned Republicans would agree that if the fight is waged on the principals of lower taxes and smaller government, we will gladly take a drawâ€¦for now.
Part 2 of this interview will publish Monday August 8th.Â Among the issues it will cover are: the battles looming once the next session is gavaled in, the state of public education in Iowa, the politics of Medicaid, and Iowaâ€™s illegal immigration problem.
Click Here To Read Part 2
The following is the second installment of a two part piece. The first is entitled â€œThe Stench of Impropriety: Tom Harkin, Al Franken, Herbalife International, and The F.R.E.E.D Actâ€, and can be viewed below.
In part one of this piece, I introduced you to the relationship between Tom Harkin and his largest campaign contributor, Herbalife International. A partnership that demonstrates the perils of an incestuous system of politics and money, and ultimately played a part in Harkinâ€™s introduction of the F.R.E.E.D. Act in the U.S. Senate. As bad as that looks, what the bill actually proposes to do is just as bad.
The act itself is only impressive in that it manages to hit the Liberal trifectaâ€”it is completely devoid of any traditionally rational Constitutional basis, it increases and empowers an unelected bureaucracy to spend our money, and is a blatant attempt to further grow the entitlement base (which we canâ€™t afford as it is now).
As the name suggests the stated mission of the bill is â€œto enhance and further research into the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, and for other purposesâ€. The bill opens with an assortment of claims and statistics meant to spur the reader into supporting its â€œheroicâ€ intentions. Included here is that, â€œestimates, based on current research, indicate that at least 5,000,000 people in the U.S suffer from eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specifiedâ€ and â€œanecdotal evidence suggests that as many as 11,000,000 people in the U.S, including 1,000,000 males, may also suffer from these disordersâ€.
Naturally, the way this legislation would solve this problem is to create more agencies, throw an undisclosed amount of money around, and as mentioned above, amend and expand the Social Security Act of 1935 to ensure that we as taxpayers pay as much as possible in curing our fellow citizensâ€™ ills.
The additional bureaucracy it proposes creating would exist inside The Department of Health and Human Services and be namedâ€”I kid you notâ€”â€œThe Interagency Eating Disorder Councilâ€, and be funded from 2012 through 2016. To run this Council and to award grants (i.e. our tax dollars) would be the Director of The National Institute of Health, Francis S. Collins. His job would be to hand out money, as he saw fit, to various non-profits, colleges, State or local health departments, and community based organizations.
The bill states that the grant money is to be awarded for, among other things, the following reasons: to conduct a study regarding the economic costs of eating disorders that would â€œexamine years of productive life lost, missed days of work, reduced work productivity, costs of mental health treatment, costs to family, and costs to society as a result of eating disordersâ€. In addition, money would also be required to go to â€œpromoting positive body image development, positive self-esteem development, life skills that take into account cultural and developmental issues and the role of family, school, communities and the connection between emotional and physical health, and the prevention of bullying based on body size, shape, and weight.â€
In short it is an embodiment of the kind of financially irresponsible, Constitution-shredding, emotionally-driven, nanny-state legislation that modern day American liberals have become synonymous with.
When it comes to co-sponsor Sen. Franken, though Herbalife did throw him $250, my sense is that he is in it for the pure ideological benefit of expanding the entitlement baseâ€¦otherwise known as Section 938 of the F.R.E.E.D Act.
Section 938 is entitled â€œGrants to Support Patient Advocacyâ€, and would essentially require an unspecified amount of our tax dollars to be spent â€œdiagnosingâ€ people with eating disorders and enrolling them in Federal programs. In the bills words, the funds would be spent to â€œprovide education and outreach in community settings regarding eating disorders and associated health problems, especially among low-income, minority, and medically underserved populationsâ€, (Sect. 938(c)(1)); â€œproviding education and outreach regarding enrollment in health insurance, including enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Childrenâ€™s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)â€, (Sect. 938(c)(6)); and for, â€œIdentifying, referring, and enrolling underserved populations in the appropriate Health Care agencies and community based programs and organizations in order to increase access to high quality health care servicesâ€, (Sect. 938(c)(6)).
It has long been believed by liberals that the surest way to get to a single payer health care system is to get enough people dependent on the government for this service that the private insurance sector can no longer exist. My view is that Sen. Franken (and probably Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Harkin) wrote this part of the bill to hasten this process by further adding to the 16 million people that Obamacare is already slated to dump into Medicaid in the coming years.
Indeed this bill has a little something for everyone. The citizens among us deemed to have an eating disorder would get free medical attention, Herbalife International would be eligible to bill the Federal government for weight loss and eating disorder â€œtreatmentsâ€, Al Franken could successfully move us one step closer to socialized medicine, and Harkin, well he has already gained $137,916 in campaign contributions (no matter the ultimate fate of the bill).
Those left among us who still respect the Constitution and its clear vision of the role of Federal government know that somewhere along the way we have failed it. Every single element of this bill, from the spirit inÂ which it was offered, the language it contains, and the system it arose from is the epitome of this failure. I would argue that not only does this bill need to be stopped, but the institutionalized system of political donations from private companies needs to be abolished. Until such reform comes there will be no reprieve to the endless wave of disastrous special interest legislation that this bill represents.
It is we the American people that need to be F.R.E.E.D.
The Following piece is the 2nd installment of an ongoing series here at The Conservative Reader. â€œAmerican Gladiatorsâ€ is a recurring feature focusing on the defining political issue of our generation: the crucial battle over Federal spending and the debt and deficit it creates.
A favorite saying of both political parties these days is that â€œelections have consequencesâ€â€”2010 proved that so do primaries. For Republicans no past event has had a bigger impact on the eventual major players and the shape of the fiscal debateâ€™s battlefield than the primaries preceding the 2010 mid-term elections.
Though history now, you may recall at that time an internal debate was raging amongst Republicans. Many influential Conservative thinkers, including Charles Krauthammer, joined a large number of high ranking members of the Republican establishment in warning against selecting â€œunconventionalâ€, mostly Tea Party backed, candidates to compete against Democrats in liberal leaning districts.
Though admittedly unappealing, this camp made the case that in selected states it would be wiser to support more moderate Republicans who had a greater chance of winning in traditional Democratic strong holds. They particularly took issue with Christine Oâ€™ Donnell in Delaware, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, and Sharon Angle in Nevada, all of whom went on to win their primaries but lose in the general election.
While the stand was principled, harnessing a populist movement is difficult, and there is no guarantee a more main stream Republican would have won, it is fair to at least consider this rejection of political pragmatism as an over reach by the Tea Partyâ€¦ and one that had painful consequences.
Working without anesthesia, Dr. Hindsight unmercifully reopens the wounds when one considers how much better Republicans would be positioned with just four more Senate seats. Having a majority in this body to go along with the one already had in the House would have provided Republicans a massive strategic advantage. Specifically, it would have allowed them to not only pass unified bills on spending cuts and the budget, but to bypass the Senate buffer the President currently enjoys and send the bills directly to his desk. Removing this Senate buffer would have enabled Republicans to repeatedly, and at will, draw him out on targeted issues. Imagine a scenario in which every week he was forced to either agree and sign a bill, or veto it and go on record resisting specific cuts.
Any Democratic strategist would tell you that either of these actions would be vastly damaging to his re-election bid. Should he sign, his base would trample themselves in disgusted exodus, while a veto would leave him constantly defending unpopular expenditures, and require him to personally counter-offer with specific proposals (not his strong suit). Such extended exposure on vulnerable ground would have in essence reworded the old political axiom â€œsunlight is the best disinfectantâ€ into â€œsunlight is the best infectantâ€.
In spite of these lost opportunities, snapping out of the past and returning to the present finds Republicans still in very good shape. Though it includes a few head scratchers, the polling data on long term budget issues strongly favors the GOP position. The best news is provided by the findings on the debateâ€™s two most fundamental questions: Are budget deficits and the National debt widely perceived as problems? And, do people feel that success from Republican plans is fundamentally possible?
As to the first, a CBS News Poll (March 18-21,2011-m.o.e=+-3) found that 68% of respondents felt that the budget deficit was a â€œserious problemâ€, while another 26% termed it â€œsomewhat seriousâ€. Only 5% thought it was â€œnot too seriousâ€.
While beyond promising, perhaps the better news comes from a Bloomberg National Poll (March 4-7, 2011-m.o.e=+-3.1) which asked â€œDo you think it is, or is not possible to bring down the deficit substantially without raising taxes?â€ The results reveal a clear path to victory. 61% felt that it is possible, while only 37% thought it was not. This is critical because not raising taxes is both the exact approach taken by all the Republican plans, as well as one of the main criticisms leveled against them by opponents.
While it is true historically that the particulars of a proposal are less popular than its concept, starting with numbers this high leaves room for weathering the inevitable loss of points forthcoming now that specifics of the plans have been revealed. If the caustic attacks on the plans as being â€œextremeâ€ are able to be zeroed out by the number of converted skeptics, there likely would still be ample room to compromise with Democrats on some points, which for passage in 2012 is an absolute must.
While looking back at what could have been is painful, the opportunity to win is still very much within reach. Given that the Tea Party is solely responsible for the fact that we are even having this debate, it is hard to criticize it. That being said, it is wise to note the times that the movementâ€™s fierce purism creates a double-edged sword.
We will never know if different Republican primary candidates would have resulted in a Senate majority, but we do know that winning on an issue this big will require both strategy and some compromise. Going forward it will be fascinating to see to what extent the Tea Party tolerates each to be in play, if at all.
Sometimes the most nuanced political analysis is worthless and the whole issue comes down to a simple question. This appears to be just such an issue and the question that victory hinges on is: â€œDo the American people believe that remaining on the current path will end in a financial disaster?â€
For the reasons given above, if I was looking at this and was a gambling manâ€”that faint sound you hear would be my chipsâ€¦smoothly sliding across felt.
Retired editor of the Des Moines Register, Richard Doak, is concerned about the welfare of the GOP.Â He says to restore the GOPs greatness donâ€™t look to Reagan, instead look further in the past to Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
Thanks for the history lesson Mr. Doak, upon reading your column I began to wonder if you think that todayâ€™s GOP wouldnâ€™t care about slavery?Â While you donâ€™t come right out and say it, that does seem to be implied.
Also implied is the same tired mantra that the GOP doesnâ€™t care about â€œthe common folk.â€Â What I fail to understand is how increasing taxes on businesses that employ â€œthe common folk,â€ diminishing the quality of health care which â€œthe common folkâ€ benefit from, and seeing products and energy bills of â€œthe common folkâ€ increase somehow benefits â€œthe common folkâ€?
You write at the end, and I swear the Democratic Party is feeding you its talking points, this:
It has no sense of caring for the common folk. It knows no problem that can’t be solved with another tax break for the rich. It knows no infrastructure projects that are better than tax cuts. It believes any curb on the rapaciousness of corporations is un-American.
It believes preserving the principle of private-sector health insurance is more important than letting people choose a cheaper, government-run option. It is hostile to public education, the one American invention that has done more for the common people than any other.
The philosophy of this modern Republican Party prevailed in America for the last quarter century – and it produced epic disaster.
Now the party is in the wilderness, and its partisans cry out that the only way out is to stick with the philosophy that produced the disaster.
Wouldn’t it be better to acknowledge failure and think again, start over again?
I know youâ€™d rather see the party look to dependence on government programs rather than personal responsibility and voluntary charity.Â Youâ€™d love to see a health care system like what Canada and the United Kingdom experience.Â I know you believe that public education is the salvation of mankind, but when will you recognize that it is hopelessly broken and needs competition?
With the wild spending going on at our statehouse and in Washington we wonâ€™t have to worry about â€œtax cuts for the rich,â€ as weâ€™ll soon experience tax increases for everybody in order to pay for this spending spree government has going on.Â Weâ€™ll see how well increasing taxes on business will help increase employment as well.Â But, I know, privately created jobs wonâ€™t help â€œthe common folkâ€ nearly as much as a taxpayer-funded government program.
To you Iâ€™m sure that this would seem like it would restore the health of a two-party system, but it would destroy it.Â We would have instead Democrats and Democrat-Lite.Â What we need right now is fiscal discipline, smaller government, lower taxesâ€¦ the people seem to get it right now even if you donâ€™t.
Originally posted at Caffeinated Thoughts