The Exchange: A Heated Town Hall, IPERS, Pow Wows, and Arts Funding

Mar 1, 2017

A recent town hall in Sioux City drew a large and vocal crowd.
Credit Alex Waters

The state legislature has been in session seven weeks and a lot has happened.  Lawmakers passed the controversial Chapter 20 measure that largely ended collective bargaining for public employees in Iowa, changing the way their healthcare will be managed and might eventually affect their pension system.

The Sioux City Council passed a measure this week that showed their support for the city’s public workers.  On Monday, the council voted to give unions representing the city a “seat at the table” when discussing benefits and the workplace environment, even though the new state law doesn’t require them to do so.  Council member Rhonda Capron said at the meeting that she was dismayed by the lack of consideration state lawmakers are giving to public employees.

“It was pretty obvious what happened down at the state. You had all the Republicans voting one way and all the Democrats voting the right way the way I see it.  And it really does upset me, this is why we did the resolution.  We back our people.”

Sioux City mayor Bob Scott said that the current legislature was not being respectful to local governments.

“This is for me not only telling us how we’re going to do labor agreements, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the most anti govt legislature I’ve ever seen.  They cringe when we show up at the capital, and yet, most jobs are created by cities that are affected the most by this.  And that’ pretty discouraging to me.”

During the legislative forum Saturday morning at the Sioux City Public Library many voiced criticisms of the legislature’s actions. The forum is one of several sponsored this year by the Sioux City chapter of the Iowa League of Women Voters.  The room was packed with more than 200 mostly Democratic constituents. 

Republican Jim Carlin and Democrats Chris Hall and Tim Kacena took part, but Republican state senator Rick Bertand did not. And his absence was noted. 

The Chapter 20 collective bargaining bill and the partisan manner in which it was swiftly debated and passed was the issue that concerned most of the attendees.  Chris Hall said that traditionally, the Iowa legislature and the governor have worked together in the best interest of Iowans, and that’s not happening today.

“Right now what you have is huge, powerful corporate interests like Americans for Prosperity, that have gone state to state and pulled the floor out from good working people.  You know it affects your retirement security, it affects your security for your health care, and what you are able to provide for your families. And it degrades the way you   yourself.  When you’re not working and you’re not providing for your families, you’re losing. You’re not any longer working for yourselves, for the next generation or to improve life for yourselves, you’re working only to receive what’s given to you, and that’s unfair.” (applause)

Jim Carlin voted for Chapter 20.  He said that the real effects of the collective bargaining changes won’t be known until the new public employee contracts are drawn up.

“When the contracts are negotiated, when the ink is dry, we’re going to have a much better handle on the effect of this legislation on you guys.  And when that first contract is negotiated, I really would appreciate you contacting me and bringing to my attention, those aspects of your new contracts that are problematic for you, because you’re my constituents and I represent your interests as well, and I want you to know that.”

Several questions were brought up about the Republican bill to set one minimum wage for the state that would preempt some of the higher minimum wages that have been approved in four Iowa counties.  Chris Hall  favors a fairly substantial raise in minimum wage, saying that most people who are earning a min wage are already in financial trouble.

“I think that when we are talking about min wage, the most important to remember is that anyone earning a minimum wage is living in poverty.  And poverty is something is not something that is dem or rep, poverty is a hardship of life that most of us don’t understand. And those of us that are experiencing it need more than just a minimum wage. There are some things in that legislation that would preempt local civil rights code and wouldn’t allow in housing policy or other areas, to make sure that there are protections in place for many Iowans including LGBT Iowans and others, that’s a strong reason I am opposed to it.”

Jim Carlin said he would like a raise that would be commensurate with the consumer price index. He also said that different minimum levels would cause people to move to places like Des Moines for better pay.  Here’s his opinion and Tim Kacena’s response.

“I would be in favor of a statewide minimum wage that shows how much the cost of living has gone up. The thing is, I believe you need to deal with realities.  One of the realities is, we are not competitive with our neighbors, and that affects our tax base, and our ability to grow as a state.

“Can I just say one thing on that.?”  As far as Sioux City to West Des Moines?  If you’re living in poverty, you’re not moving to WDM, you’re trapped in poverty.”  (Applause)

The Stand Your Ground bill was generated a lot conversation at the forum. Sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law is a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can "stand their ground" and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others. One women pointed to her son who was in hoody with headphones in and said that he was an example of the kind of teenager who could be shot at under the bill.

“And someone with a gun could see my son as a threat, and scream at him and he’s not listening because he has his earbuds in, that legistlation is dangerous." 

"Times Up!" 

"I' m going to share my information with you. The empirical example is Missouri.  I want to know if background checks will go away and I want to know if stand your ground will go away.”

Carlin said he supported the bill but believed that background checks would stay in place. Kacena and Chris Hall oppose Stand Your Ground.  Hall said that he’s heard a lot evidence from law enforcement that it can be dangerous.

“One of the primary reasons that I vote against stand your ground and don’t believe that it’s smart public policy is because when you talk to law enforcement officials and you talk to police officers out on ground, and they are trying to resolve a dispute at a bar or a public setting, one of the things that make their jobs more dangerous is when everyone has a gun.”

There were a lot questions and comments about the Republican lawmaker’s bill to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no state funding goes to pay for abortions.  A constituent asked Jim Carlin how he could still oppose the organization and its mission to help underserved women with health care, even young girls who had been victims of rape. Carlin said that planned parenthood should be defunded because it denies the value of a human being at the beginning of life.

Carlin: “Once we go down the road of deciding who is and who isn’t’ a human being, I think you’ve lost your way.  If we let our humanity be defined by 8-10 weeks in a mother’s womb.  At the same time, you would tell me it’s wrong to be racist, to judge someone by the color of their skin, and I would agree with you, I think that’s wrong.”

Both Kacena and Hall oppose defunding Planned Parenthood.  Kacena said that defunding it would make it much harder for women to access health care and birth control.

Kacena: “There are already no tax dollars used for abortions in this state, we know that.  97% of what they do is directly related to women’s health care services.  I can’t do that. The best way to reduce abortions is through education and contraception.  We reduce unwanted pregnancies we reduce abortions, it’s just that simple.”

One area where Republican lawmakers would like to put some money is voter integrity. They support sec of state Paul pate’s effort to set up a mandatory voter ID system that would use computers to verify signatures.  That project could cost up to a million dollars. It would also create more hurdles when citizens register to vote. Hall and Kacena said there have been around ten examples of voter fraud in the whole state of Iowa and they oppose the bill. Carlin supports it. Hall and Kacena also said that outside influence and money are partly behind the voter ID bill and a larger far right agenda this year in Iowa, just as it already has in other states.

“We killed the collective bargaining law that’s worked for 40 years . . .”

That was Tim Kacena, a democratic state representative from Sioux City at Saturday’s legislative forum at the Sioux City Public Museum.  He was joined by Democrat Chris Hall and Republican Jim Carlin.  The forum was sponsored by the Sioux City Chapter of Iowa League of Women Voters.  Another forum is set for March 25th.

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The issue of outside funding and political power is also of concern to state treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald sent out a news release Friday afternoon, warning state employees that the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System or IPERs is in danger of being weakened by Governor Branstad and Republican lawmakers.

Fitzgerald says he’s watched as the state has decimated the Collective bargaining system for state employees and now they will turn their attention to IPERS.

In: “So what else can you take away . . .”

Out: “. . . . unless it’s derailed.”

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is proposing some changes in the states voting rules. The changes would require every Iowa voter to present a government issued ID that would be verified by a computer system. There would also be changes to the voter registration process that would make it harder to vote.  John Wills is a Republican representative from Spirit Lake in Dickinson County.  Wills says he wouldn’t call the bill voter ID; he would call it voter modernization that would require a voter ID card that would be verified by computer in all 99 counties.

In” And that computer . . . “

This is the first day of March, soon it will be spring.  That’s time when the tribes of the Midwest begin holding their traditional pow wows.  The pow wow developed from many different native American traditions and become popular with white audiences more than 150 years ago.  Grant Arndt is an Associate Professor in Anthropology and American Indian studies at Iowa State University.  He spent many years researching the origins and traditions of the pow wow to write his book, Ho-Chunk Powwows and the Politics of Tradition.  Arndt says the pow wows he writes about have a Siouxland connection.

Pow wows will be held around the Siouxland area this summer.  Many different tribes including the Winnebago and Omaha will be taking part.  Dwight Howe, a Native American speaker and activist, tells us about the importance of preserving traditions and language as well as about the many dances that fill a pow wow. 

This March marks the 20th year since the Sioux City Art Center moved into its home downtown. The Center's direcotor Al Harris-Fernandez joined Ally Karsyn to talk about the new expansion that was recently announced as well as public support of the arts.