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Iowa GOP lawmakers adopt new power-tripping mantra: ‘Because we won.’


Iowa GOP lawmakers adopt new power-tripping mantra: ‘Because we won.’

Feb 06, 2023 | 9:00 am ET
By Kathie Obradovich
Iowa GOP lawmakers adopt new power-tripping mantra: ‘Because we won.’
GOP lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol are flexing their power instead of crafting public policy. (Photo illustration via Canva)

“Because I said so,” has to be one of the most infuriating responses someone can give to a reasonable question.

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have come up with a similar default answer to any question they can’t – or don’t want to – answer: “Because we won.”

We heard it just last week during Iowa Senate debate of legislation providing a 3% increase in per-pupil state aid to K-12 public schools. Democrats asked why the majority Republicans were hoarding nearly $2 billion in reserve funds while schools are struggling to hire teachers, keep class sizes manageable and cope with inflation.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, pointed out that Iowans keep reelecting them, so why not?

“We have conservative budgeting practices, and Iowans in increasing numbers send us back to the House and to the Senate. So yes, this reflects our fiscal policies and our conservatism,” he said.

We heard it frequently during the debate over Gov. Kim Reynolds’ scheme to siphon nearly $1 billion of taxpayer dollars into private schools over the next four years.

Democrats repeatedly raised evidence of the proposal’s unpopularity with Iowans, including public opinion polls and the overwhelming opposition by Iowans who had contacted lawmakers as the bill was being debated.

Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, the bill’s floor manager, pointed to the results of the 2022 election: “If Iowans are really opposed to school choice, then why are we winning seats?”

Good question.

Reynolds clearly made “school choice” a central campaign issue. She barely spoke about anything else during the campaign, except to make vague promises about continuing to cut taxes. She gave Iowans no warning that she planned to balloon the program into the most extensive in the country.

Why would she? Her original proposal, which would have affected only 10,000 lower-income students, was so unpopular that she couldn’t get it through the Republican-controlled House the past two years. She took the chilling step of backing primary challengers against a half-dozen Republican incumbents who refused to support the bill. Most of those challengers won.

Reynolds never mentioned that she wanted to hand out taxpayer dollars to even the wealthiest Iowans or that all but 1% of the students expected to benefit are already attending private schools. There’s no way Republican legislative candidates could have disclosed those details to voters – most of them had no idea until Reynolds’ bill was introduced.

And once that happened, GOP leadership gave most Iowans no time to think about the plan, let alone talk to each other or to lawmakers. The bill was introduced Jan. 18. It passed the House and Senate five days later. Reynolds signed it into law the next day, Jan. 24.

Republicans increased their majority by four seats in the Iowa House, and two in the Senate during last year’s elections. A dozen Republicans – three in the Senate and nine in the House, voted no on the private-school bill. Apparently, they didn’t think the voters in their districts – many of whom likely voted for Reynolds – did so because they supported sending their tax dollars to private schools.

Just because voters support a candidate doesn’t mean they agree with every proposal. Just ask the anti-abortion activists who were turning up their noses last week at part of Reynolds’ health care omnibus, which includes a provision for over-the-counter birth control.

Elections matter, of course. But “because we won” is not a justification for public policy. It’s certainly not an excuse for circumventing the legislative process to keep Iowans in the dark about the fine print and the bottom line. It leads to costly errors, like the one lawmakers are working to correct this year that would have cost Iowans an extra $133 million or so in property taxes.

It’s a power trip. Reynolds and the GOP majority are rushing through poorly drafted, wholly ideological bills that benefit the special-interest minority because they can. Every time they resort to “because we won” as an answer, they are admitting they don’t really know or care how the bill will affect most people in our state. Is this really what Iowans voted for?