Basu: Is this what Iowa voters truly want?
Everyone braced for changes after Republicans won a majority in the Iowa House and captured the governor's office. Many incoming lawmakers had campaigned on smaller government, so some belt-tightening at least was expected. But the dizzying pace at which state representatives and Gov. Terry Branstad have begun trying to fundamentally change the landscape on social and other issues in just a week is troubling. They're fixing to slash programs aimed at bringing progress through preschool or high-speed rail or - if Branstad follows through on campaign calls - embyronic stem cell research to treat debilitating illnesses, without offering anything in return.
Branstad's first executive order rescinds the automatic restoration of voting rights of former felons. He joined a lawsuit challenging the federal health reform law. Some of these measures reflect a small-mindedness rather than a grand vision for the state. They demand difficult things of people - like quitting smoking - while withdrawing the help. Family planning programs would be cut but abortions would also be harder to get. People who broke the law, paid their dues and want to rejoin society would see roadblocks.
Can we really have the best educated kids in the world, as Branstad wants, by scaling back on early learning? Representatives heard passionate testimony to preserve the state's preschool program for 4-year-olds - then called to eliminate it. And the party of pragmatism and government restraint would so micromanage how people live that anyone who doesn't uphold a '50s model of traditional marriage could forget getting state recognition. Fifty-six of the 60 House Republicans are sponsoring a bill to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban not just same-sex marriage but also legal civil unions and possibly even male-female domestic partnerships.
Much of this agenda seems to come out of boilerplate Republican Party platform planks. But most people don't want ideologically doctrinaire legislation; they want practical leadership - and a truthful airing of issues. In proposing to cut state jobs, Branstad has accused his predecessor, Chet Culver, of badly mismanaging the state budget. In fact, Culver left a surplus - and Branstad wants to put $327 million of it into cutting business taxes. If layoffs for tax breaks is the trade-off he wants, he should be up front about it, not blame the Democrats.
Most Iowans, I suspect, do not have the appetite for divisive debates over social issues like abortion. But House Republicans have drafted a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except when a woman's life is in danger. The current standard is fetal viability, at 22 to 24 weeks. The bill is based on the unproven claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. A doctor could be guilty of a Class C felony for performing one then. And the man who got the woman pregnant could sue the doctor, hinting the bill has a broader agenda. Giving standing to anyone besides a woman to challenge an abortion would undermine a woman's right to choose.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has vowed to block a constitutional marriage amendment and protect preschool. But he'll have to pick and choose his battles or be seen as a perpetual obstructionist. Lawmakers on both sides would do well to put away the party platforms, stop trying to score political points and save their energies for serving the broad interests of the majority. Job creation would be a better beginning.