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The Conservative Reader: Iowa Interview with Representative Kevin Koester (Part 1 of 2)

The Conservative Reader: Iowa Interview with Representative Kevin Koester (Part 1 of 2)

After easily defeating a primary challenger in June, Iowa House member Kevin Koester was kind enough to sit down with The Conservative Reader: Iowa to discuss his upcoming general election in November, as well as the many issues he will be dealing with should he earn a third term in the Iowa Legislature.

The Primary, The General Election, and the Pulse of House District 38

The process of winning re-election for Rep. Koester began even before the legislative session ended, as the first order of business was winning a primary challenge by Saylor Township resident Brett Nelson.  As the session ran long, Koester made several hundred phone calls in his downtime and began getting acquainted with the voters in his newly re-drawn House District 38.

He handily defeated Nelson 456 to 80, and took many positives away from the effort this challenge required, “I’m very grateful for both the margin of victory and for the experience of the primary because it really helped energize my campaign for November, and gave me a great familiarity with the new territory in the district.”  In an interesting aside, after not meeting or speaking to each other throughout the primary, the two have since met and Nelson even took up an offer by Rep. Koester to join him in a weekly bible study—a great, albeit rare, good ending to a primary challenge.

Talking to voters throughout this process affirmed to Rep. Koester that the dominant issues for his November show-down with Democrat John Phoenix will include the state budget, government over-spending, and the economy.  Besides these economic issues, the background of the two candidates, combined with the issues still facing the legislature, serve to telegraph the subject matter that will be front and center in this race—education reform and public sector unions.

While Koester has decades of experience with education in Iowa, Phoenix was elected to the Des Moines School Board where he served for six years.  In addition to this, Phoenix also has been a long-time union steward, has already been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, and strongly believes that “unions help make our country stronger and improve the lives of all workers.”

Speaking to these differences, Rep. Koester believes that, “because of his role and his voice on collective bargaining issues and union viewpoints, there will be plenty of distance between us to give the voters a clear choice”.  Given the fact that Mr. Koester is a strong Conservative Republican and Phoenix is a pro-union, former school board member who featured Des Moines super-liberal Ako Abdul-Samad at his first fundraiser—the gulf between the two is likely to be enormous on a long list of issues.  Here is a look at two of these issues, and where Rep. Koester stands on them.

Education Reform

Like most Iowa Republicans, Mr. Koester was very disappointed in the progress made on education reform by the last General Assembly.  “The things we voted on last session were not reforms, they were Band-Aids.  We did not do surgery, and that is what is truly needed.”

After seeing countless specific and detailed proposals get torn apart by the opposing sides, he stands ready to work on a broad frame of reform that can be agreed on in principle and passed.  “What I have is a drive to dismantle the fluff, and no patience for the simple arguments that only serve to attack valid ideas.  We need to stop the nit picking and the warring, and come up with a product and move forward on it.”

Two realities in the current system that he sees as negatively affecting students are the lack of teachers being removed for poor performance and the practice of “last in first out”, which is the seniority structure that protects long-time teachers from being let go, in favor of removing less tenured teachers when staff sizes are cut.  This practice has long been under fire by Republicans because it refuses to take into account the skill level and effectiveness of each teacher.  “Last in first out is bad for kids.  We need to look at who is performing and have that be the prime focus, and not necessarily just who has the most experience.  A pay raise needs to be given for performing better, not just given out for coming back the next year and being a year older”.

In terms of the reforms needed to reverse our recent embarrassing trend in education, the crucial ingredient in Rep. Koester’s view is to quantify the performance of the employees in our education system.  He will not support any proposal without this component, and he concisely summed up his position on education by saying:

We will have meaningful and fundamental reform when we agree on how we are going to measure student learning, how we are going to measure each of our Principal’s leadership and influence in the classroom, and how we are going to measure teachers and instruction.  That is where the rubber meets the road on this issue.

Unions and Collective Bargaining

With Governor Branstad recently signaling a desire to look at their financial impact on the state, and John Phoenix’s close personal ties to them, there is little doubt that public sector unions and collective bargaining will be hotly debated in this race.

Rep. Koester has already taken several votes on this issue, all with the goal of bringing public sector unions more in line with the realities of the private sector, and attempting to prevent the payouts involved from breaking the bank as we have seen in several other states in recent years.

The votes he has taken include voting three times for employees of the Legislative branch, including himself, to pay a portion of their health insurance cost.  The first was for a contribution of $50 a month, the second for a $100 a month, and the third for $200 a month.  “I have gone on record every opportunity I have had insisting that Legislators are charged something, and I strongly believe that all state employees should help pay for the cost of their health insurance.”

He also voted in favor of the measure that went into effect July 1st, which changed the formula for calculating retirement benefits for state employees.  In the past payouts were figured using an average of an employee’s top three wage earning years, which has now been changed to take the average of the top five years.

In the larger picture, he supports having a policy ensuring that the number of government employees does not swell beyond what is needed and can be financially sustained in the long run.  To this end he favors implementing breaks on the growth of state government that ties the number of workers and salaries to the overall growth of our state economy, and prioritizes the issue the following way:

I want to start with how we plan for how many state jobs there will be.  You don’t grow the economy by growing the number of public jobs—that is socialism.  The second thing is then addressing the disproportions in the health insurance contributions and the retirement benefits.  The benefits are out of control compared to what the private sector is doing, and to what Iowa taxpayers are doing to take care of their families.  We need to get those things in line, and what is fair for the rest of Iowans should be fair for the public employees that they are paying for.

Next Stop: November

Anyone who talks issues with Rep. Koester immediately realizes that he has a deep grasp on nearly all of them, including all the moving parts involved with each.  On substance, he can go toe-to-toe with anyone and will shine in the public forums and debates with Mr. Phoenix.

As this contest slowly unfolds till November, the topics these two candidates debate along the way will be a roll call of every major issue facing the citizens of Iowa.  In particular, the colliding ideologies on taxes, education, and public sector unions will be a true foreshadowing of the debates that will consume the next General Assembly.

How strong a candidate John Phoenix will be remains to be seen, but Republicans throughout Iowa and HD 38 can be assured that Kevin Koester is up to the challenge—and will remain a strong Conservative voice for the Party in the coming years.



Wisconsin: Not Just Cheeseheads After All

Wisconsin: Not Just Cheeseheads After All

Who would have thought that the state with the first Socialist governor and subsequent Socialist Party candidate for President, Robert LaFollette, would be the first state to actively attempt to bring the public employee unions under control?  What’s next?  Vermont goes Conservative?

So much of life can be equated to the supply and demand theory of economics.  That is, there’s unlimited demand for things, but always a limited supply and when demand outstrips supply, there’s friction.  This concept can be applied to the present fiscal situation that Wisconsin, and all states for that matter, face.  They are out of money.  Tax revenues, that is, supply, have outstripped the demand for services.  The public unions, in fact all unions, have been feeding at the trough of the nation’s largesse for years.  Governors have conceded “rights” (also known as privileges in the real world) to them in an attempt to keep these spoiled brats, for lack of a better term, happy.

But state goverments are struggling to provide basic services, and in order to remain fiscally solvent, something has to give.  Credit Governor Walker with having the cajones (a Texas term for chutzpah), to admit to his state and the rest of the country that this has to stop.

The consequences of what’s playing out in Madison are significant.  Does a special interest group get to dictate how much of the fiscal pie they get to keep?  Or does the duly-elected governor decided how to run his state?  And if the unions fall in Wisconsin, what about all the other states that are stuggling to balance their budget and keep taxes down?  And at what point do the taxpayers, the customers, the folks actually paying the bills, get to decide how much they’re willing to pay for under-performance?  I don’t get to demand a raise if I don’t perform in my job.  How are the unions any different?

I know the union contracts were negotiated in good faith, but the times are different.  A job with fewer benefits is better than no job at all.  The supply of money is limited, and they don’t get to demand more than what there is available.  And the people who actually do the paying should get to call the shots.

I wish you the best, Governor Walker.  To quote Simon and Garfunkel, “…our nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you…”.

Anti-Right-To-Work Bill Public Forum Wrap-up

Anti-Right-To-Work Bill Public Forum Wrap-up

iowa-state-capitol-2I was given the opportunity to sit on the floor of the Iowa House (thanks to Erik Helland) during tonight’s public forum on House File 2420, which allows unions to collects fees from employees that work in the Executive Branch of the Iowa government to cover the costs of contract bargaining and grievance assistance. It became clear that the new selling title for this bill is “Reasonable Reimbursement”.

In the Iowa House chamber, there were 58 speakers today, 32 in favor and 28 against House File 2420.

Almost every speaker in favor of the bill had little more to say than “everyone benefits, so everyone should pay”. Not much explanation why someone who does not want to be represented by a union has to pay the union, and why people should be forced to pay to have a job. There was some attempt to explain why unions shouldn’t just drop representing non-members. If I had to sit and listen to just all of the speakers in favor of the bill, I probably would have fallen asleep by the time it was half over due to the redundancy. Mind you, I’m glad that all of those speakers took the time to come and speak, but the argument is pretty simple and not compelling (at least not to me).

Maggie Martin probably stated the supporter’s position best: “Basically we are putting unions in the position of providing services for free This bill rights that wrong.”

One union leader admitted that the ultimate goal is repeal of Right to Work even though such a repeal doesn’t “resonate with Iowans”.

Another supporter (John Neiderbach) said: “Read the bill. This is a very modest bill.” As if partly bad isn’t a problem.

Interesting were the number of people who opposed the bill that one would have expected to be in support of it. At least one democrat who is a business owner, one educator, and a retire union member.

The most compelling positions in opposition to the bill included:

  • (I am not sure of the name of the speaker) Many companies looking to come to Iowa will not due to this very bill because they will not even take the time to look at the code and understand that the bill only impacts the public sector (and only the Iowa State Executive Branch of Government).
  • Jason White later said that the bill has a “detrimental effect on Iowa business development”. Also explained that companies react even to the discussions of these bills.
  • Heather Stancil made a case for the bill being unconstitutional.
  • Matt Sexton (Iowa College Republicans) said that Democratic leaders are working against the will of the people of Iowa.
  • Dimitri Kesari (National Right To Work Committee) stated what was also tweeted earlier by Representative Nick Wagner: Unions negotiated their way into sole representation of all employees.
  • Richard Rogers said: “Most Iowans don’t believe in compulsory anything. This bill is not about fairness, but about power and will be used against the citizens of Iowa. Perhaps employees should be allowed to choose from multiple competing unions.”
  • Dave Funk (Republican Candidate for 3rd District US House), a retired union member and opponent of the bill, said “This bill is about liberty, about economic recovery.”

My biggest whine about tonight is that I had to listen to so many people refer to this as a “Small Fee”. This is a $5.3 Million windfall for labor unions, money essentially promised to the unions by Democrats. That’s the driver behind this, not fairness.

There is no legislative mandate for unions to represent everyone, and I agree that perhaps there could be multiple unions competing for employees. It’s a farce to think that unions are “stuck” representing non-members, and it’s just not right that anyone would be required to pay for the opportunity to have a job. But most importantly, we will undoubtedly hamper economic development, JOB development, by passing this bill.

Jason Clayworth captured several more sets of comments here.

For What It’s Worth… House Speaker’s Rules for Tonight’s Forum

Evidently anticipating a challenging public presence (although as of 5:10 PM there are only about 100 people in the Iowa House galleries), Speaker Murphy provided the following list of rules:

  1. Persons signing up to testify will be permitted on the House floor during a public hearing.
  2. To testify, members of the public will be required to enter the House chamber through the main entrance off the rotunda and will be required to sign-in.
  3. Testifiers on the House floor during a public hearing are restricted to the area in the rear of the chamber and may not sit at legislators’ desks or clerks’ desks.
  4. Testimony will be received at microphones located in the rear of the House chamber.
  5. Each legislator may bring no more than one guest onto the House floor during a public hearing. While on the House floor, the guest must be accompanied by the host legislator at all times.
  6. Members of the public who wish to observe the public hearing but not testify must observe from one of the galleries.
  7. Persons attending a public hearing on the House floor or in the House galleries must respect the rules of the House and must refrain from disruptive behavior.

Further explanation at the start by Representative Geri Huser (D-District 42) made it clear that any disruption may impact the opportunity for future public forms to be held in the House chamber.

I was fortunate to be the one guest of Representative Erik Helland (R-District 69).  I’m enjoying a seat between both Chris Hagenow (R-District 59) and Erik.

Public Forum Tonight on Right To Work

Public Forum Tonight on Right To Work

TreasuresI need to apologize that I have been unable, in recent weeks, to keep this blog current for you.  As most of you know, I have discontinued my radio show due to the time commitment, and hope to get more writing done as a result.  Your kind patience is appreciated.  And now…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

At 5:00 PM this afternoon a public forum is scheduled to hear comments on Democrats attempt to tear apart Iowa’s long history as a Right To Work state (House File 2420, formally HSB 702).  It will be held in the Iowa House Chamber (details provided by Shane Vander Hart last week).  I will be there and will provide updates via Twitter and an updated post later tonight.

This is potentially one of the last great attempts by power-gorged Democrats to rake Iowans over the coals.  True, this year’s bill only drops 18,000 Executive Branch employees into the lions’ den, but at a whopping $5.3 Million theft of personal income.  This is another example of how our left-thinking leaders (*sigh*) believe they are empowered to redistribute wealth.

Consider, my friends, the fact that the unions that state employees are members of (voluntarily today) exist under the guise of protecting those employees from the very government that is now handing them (the unions) the keys to the state treasury.

And this is YOUR MONEY that is being used to BUY THE VOTES of more “fairly” fund the labor unions.

Who needs the unions when the General Assembly is more than happy to throw your money away?  Let the poor government employees keep their dues!

If this passes, and if Democrats continue to hold power next year, the law will almost certainly be expanded to include the public sector.

Call your state House Member and Senator and tell them you do NOT want to see this bill (commonly referred to as “Fair Share”) become law.  And then you can just say “bye-bye” to any new major business development in Iowa.

I know I don’t have to worry about my Representative in the Iowa House, Peter Cownie (R-House District 60).  Here’s his update from today on this very topic:

Iowa has a proud history of being a “Right to Work” state since 1947 when it became law. This means an employee does not have to pay union dues if he or she so chooses. It is that simple: Iowans do not have to pay union dues if they are not a member of that union. I believe very strongly in this law and the economic freedoms it protects.

Being a ‘Right to Work’ state is a selling point that economic development groups use in attracting more businesses and jobs to Iowa. In the current economic climate, there is nothing more important than attracting new business and jobs to Iowa. Furthermore, the Legislature should always keep in mind how to ensure that the businesses and jobs we already have in Iowa remain in Iowa. Forced unionization is not the way to do either.

According to the Association of Business and Industry, a group that represents hundreds of businesses and 300,000 people in Iowa, “being a Right to Work state is a powerful tool that businesses look at when locating to Iowa. Any erosion of this would be a detriment to Iowa’s business climate and that is exactly what we don’t need today.”So, that brings us to a bill that is being floated around the Capitol today. “Fair Share” is what it is commonly known as in the news and among advocates. The current bill is narrowly written to apply only to Executive Branch public employees of the State of Iowa. This means that Executive Branch employees would be forced to pay dues to a union to which they have chosen not to join. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates this will generate an additional $5.3 million in revenue annually for the state employees unions. Eighteen thousand Iowans who currently choose not to join the union will be paying that $5.3 million.

I do not believe now is the time to force a $5.3 million burden on 18,000 Iowans. I will not be supporting this bill.

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