The Iowa House experienced a strange phenomenon last Wednesday. During the afternoon debate, 40 percent of its members were absent. This absence was due to the fact that House Democrats had left the Capitol in protest of the matters to be debated.
Democrats claim they were told two bills on Second Amendment gun rights would not be debated Wednesday and they were left unprepared and unable to present amendments.
Republicans claim that Democrats were aware of the schedule of debates and had no reason to stage the protest. House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer accused the Democrats of simply wanting to cause a political scene.
A political scene? When did our Legislature become a reality TV show out to stir up drama? The Republican-held House repeatedly passes uncompromising legislation it knows will not make it through the Iowa Senate. What is the point? Seems to me as if Republicans are trying to cause a political scene themselves.
It’s a tricky situation, but one that goes much deeper than the gun laws that eventually passed Wednesday evening through the House, including a constitutional amendment and a self-defense bill. I’m not here to discuss Second Amendment rights — I’ll leave that to my fellow columnists. But this situation leaves us with the reminder that something is deeply wrong in our politics right now.
When we get down to the core of it, all we see is a situation where our elected officials sink low enough to act like children bullying one another on the playground. Let's see who can flex their muscles and piss off the other party the most.
Since the tea party Republicans took over the Iowa House and gained members in the Senate in 2010, we have seen a string of nearly unbelievable actions that have reduced our supposedly "highly esteemed" elected officials to bickering amateurs.
A few examples include: wasting time debating the use of lead shot when dove hunting, attempting to pass a punishment of life in prison for an abortion, relentless same-sex marriage bills and multitudes of firearms bills. Yet they are still unable to find the time to make a balanced budget, fund education and take care of our sick and poor. I’m not saying certain issues aren’t worth discussing, but whichever way you put it, some things are more important and should be addressed first. Let the executive and judicial branches do their jobs.
As a 21-year-old, the biggest portion of my active political life has been during the tea party movement. It is hard for me to be able to compare the current situation with days gone by. Some nagging part of me — as well as older, more experienced voters — insist that it used to be different. That this unwillingness to negotiate and compromise, a core principle of our legislative setup, didn’t used to be so party-based. There didn’t used to be the idea that a legislator had to vote with his or her political party every time. There used to be room for representing the constituency for which he or she was elected to represent.
However, I can’t help but think something has changed. Something has changed that has made our Legislature so hostile to one another across party lines that they are no longer able to function. At one time, I was told by a legislator that the Legislature mostly wants the same things for the state. She said they want to address the seemingly nonpartisan issues of education, health care and taking care of Iowa’s citizens. She is now one of the worst offenders in refusing to compromise.
The Republicans' national epidemic of using religious beliefs to warrant an unmoving stance on issues is out of control. Walkouts to prevent quorum, and thus stall debate, are not uncommon. Historically, they have been used by Democrats and Republicans alike all over the United States. So what is the big deal this time? Well, its another attempt at blaming one party for all of the problems.
Look at the Iowa Senate, which still holds a slim Democratic majority. The last big stir it caused was when Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck told ISU students to “go home” last spring. Yet somehow, the Iowa House continues to make headlines time and time again. No accusations of trying to undercut the other party like the instance last week. No attempts to overthrow the judiciary in its same-sex marriage ruling. No attempts to shove religious beliefs into every nook and cranny of our legislation by using it to justify guns, limit marriage rights and abolish abortion.
I have been on both sides of the aisle and worked with both parties. I know how the Republican Party treats its supporters, and I know how the Democratic Party does, especially its young supporters.
Last January I was fired from my clerking position by the House Republicans for standing and supporting same-sex marriage, our courts and criticizing Bob Vander Plaats. Last August, the ISU Republicans weren’t even given tickets to the Straw Poll they helped organize.
The Republicans have crossed the line. They have gone from supporting a party platform based on basic principles to advocating for an intolerant, racist, sexist movement that is alienating civil-minded conservatives, offending the minority and hurting the majority.
So for now, I, like many other Iowans, will take consolation that we still have a rational Senate and do what we can to ensure it stays that way in the 2012 elections when we can hopefully hold Republicans accountable for their atrocities.