By Zach Wahls, Iowa Senate Democratic Leader
As we wrap up the 2021 Legislative session, I want to thank my Democratic colleagues for the honor of leading our team.
I want to take a moment to ask the chamber to join me in showing our appreciation to our smart, talented, caring and hard-working caucus staff.
And a big “thank you” to the Secretary of the Senate and his staff, the Senate pages, all the hardworking staff at the Legislative Services Agencies, and the news media that cover us every day on behalf of our constituents.
I want to congratulate Lois Brownell with the Secretary of the Senate’s office on her many years of dedicated service to the Iowa Senate. She will be missed by everyone in the Senate. Enjoy your retirement, Lois!
Let’s give Lois and all the staff a big round of applause.
Mr. President, this session was a missed opportunity. COVID-19 turned our world upside down and gave us all a new perspective. With this new perspective, we could have reimagined our social contract and responsibilities to each other. We could have boldly addressed all of the challenges Iowa faces, nearly all of which were exacerbated by COVID-19: a workforce shortage, a child care crisis, not enough good paying jobs, crumbling infrastructure, struggling rural hospitals, a lack of high-speed internet, systemic racial inequities, and maternal health challenges faced by Iowa moms and babies.
With our Build Back Better plan, Iowa Democrats introduced more than two dozen bills to help Iowans get back on our feet and return life to normal as quickly and as safely as possible. Our plan would have positioned Iowa for long-term economic growth, provided relief for struggling families, helped small businesses safely reopen, and supported our dedicated, frontline health care workers who got us through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, Governor Reynolds and the Republicans chose not to work with us on these proposals. Not a single one of our bills was given a public hearing. Instead, Iowa Republicans drilled holes in a sinking boat, pursuing a divisive, partisan agenda.
Republican inaction on a host of issues will actively hurt working families. Instead of tax relief and relief checks for middle class households – like the ones President Biden and Democrats in Congress provided to the American people – Republicans enacted policies that will raise property taxes and cut social services.
Instead of providing relief to Iowans who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Governor Reynolds ripped the carpet out from under these workers, cutting off unemployment assistance while they looked for work.
Instead of supporting public education and helping our students return safely to school, Governor Reynolds returned $95 million of federal funds – our tax dollars – back to Washington D.C. These are funds that should have been used to keep students safe from COVID-19 and improve the quality of public education.
Instead of bringing new workers, businesses, and investment to Iowa, Republicans continue to make our state unwelcoming to others by codifying discrimination, picking on our kids, banning diversity, and protecting online harassment and sedition.
Instead of doing more for families who need affordable child care or helping Iowa moms and babies who are facing maternal health challenges, Iowa Republicans are paving the way to ban abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
And as our country grapples with the insurrection that took place in our nation’s capital on January 6, a day that will mar American history books for generations to come, Iowa Republicans passed one of the most severe and punitive voter suppression laws in the United States.
I want to close this session by reminding everyone why we’re here, who we’re fighting for, and the challenges that we absolutely must address.
Across our state, too many people have lost sight of a better future and can no longer see more opportunity for their children and grandchildren — and that was true before the pandemic hit. Too many Iowans feel disconnected from their local communities, and too many of our local communities are struggling as young Iowans are forced to move from our state due to lack of opportunity.
As I talk with voters across my district and across the state, I see the same thing in big cities and small towns: a growing gap between the haves and the have nots; the powerful and the powerless; the well-connected and the disconnected. We need to remember that politics is about the fact that everyone — Democrat or Republican or Independent — wants their families to be happy, safe, and nearby. That means improving the quality of life in every Iowa community, because Iowa is strong only when our families are strong. Iowa thrives only when our middle class thrives. We are free only when Iowans have both liberty and justice. If you work hard, you should be able to provide for yourself and your family. These are the guiding principles of Iowa Senate Democrats, and I’m proud this caucus fought for those values every single day of this session.