Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls’ 2023 End-of-Session Speech

As we come to the end of the 2023 Legislative session, I want to thank my Democratic colleagues for the honor of leading our team. Together, we represent one million Iowans, who deserve, like every Iowan, to have their values represented and their interests reflected in the work of this legislative body. 

Colleagues, you have done an admirable job representing the people of Iowa during challenging circumstances this year. 

I’d also ask the chamber to join me in showing appreciation for:

  • our smart and hard-working caucus staffs and clerks, 
  • the Secretary of the Senate and his staff, 
  • the dedicated, knowledgeable, and hardworking staff at the Legislative Services Agencies, 
  • the sergeants-at-arms and the Senate pages, 
  • the custodial staff and all who keep our Capitol beautiful, 
  • the state troopers at Post 16 and security guards who keep us safe,
  • and the news media who help keep our constituents informed, 
  • and everyone else who contributes to the work we do on behalf of Iowa. 

Madam President, 2023 will go down in history as one of the most divisive and cruel legislative sessions ever seen in Iowa. Over the last four months, Iowa Republican politicians have continued to pour gasoline on the flames of the culture war by undermining and politicizing our public schools, banning books, mercilessly attacking the freedoms of parents and the LGBTQ community, and continuing the Republican push to ban abortion outright in the state of Iowa. 

In addition to their obsession with culture war issues, Iowa Republican politicians spent this session protecting political insiders and keeping the public left in the dark, eroding transparency and accountability of state government, and even calling for the arrest of law enforcement officers who detained the January 6 insurrectionists. 

All this without taking meaningful action to address the Reynolds Workforce Crisis, the number one challenge facing our state — other than trying to roll back protections against child labor. 

On education, Iowa Republicans rammed through an expensive, unpopular voucher scheme that will divert one billion dollars away from our public schools and into exclusive private schools over the next four years. We all know this private school giveaway will come at the expense of our community schools. And we can see that it won’t make these private schools any more welcoming to the vast majority of Iowa kids. In fact, many private schools’ first step in response to vouchers has been to raise tuition, likely shutting out many of the students Republicans claimed this bill would help. 

Senate Republicans followed up this terrible voucher bill with more attacks on our schools: slashing educational standards, banning books from school libraries, and even micromanaging where students go to the bathroom. None of this helps Iowa. It only hurts Iowa students.

And Senate Republicans made Iowa more dangerous for kids by rolling back child labor protections and instead allowing teenagers to serve alcohol and work in dangerous jobs like roofing, excavation, and demolition. This will make those occupations less safe, drive down wages, and jeopardize the future livelihood of Iowa’s young people. None of this helps our state.

And, finally, Republican politicians spent this session making our government less accountable and transparent to the people we are meant to serve.

With the governor’s reorganization bill, Republicans rubber-stamped a blatant power grab from the executive branch that hands over expansive new powers to the governor and attorney general, while removing important checks and balances. In addition, Senate Republicans declined to hold public budget hearings and instead advanced “blank-check” budgets. Some bill managers refused to answer questions about their legislation on the Senate floor. The public deserves to know what Iowa Republican politicians are trying to hide.

In one of their final acts of 2023, Senate Republicans passed a petty, partisan bill that strips away essential tools for the democratically elected state auditor to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.   

If there’s one silver lining to this terrible session, it was the passage of a bipartisan property tax reform bill that will reduce tax bills for Iowans all across our state. This is a positive step forward, and Senate Democrats were proud to support it and see it passed into law. 

I’d like to close with a message to the Iowans feeling angry, or scared, or left out by the actions of the Republican majority this year: It doesn’t have to be this way.

Senate Democrats are committed to representing all Iowans. We’re committed to listening to you, and reflecting your interests and values here in Des Moines. We’re committed to solving the big challenges facing our state. 

We’ll never give up on you, and we’ll never quit fighting for an Iowa that you can be proud to call home. 

Thank you, Madam President.