News

Land sales debate ramps up rhetoric

It was a contentious debate, accusations were traded and emotions ran high.

The topic was ... real estate?

The Iowa Senate this week debated legislation that would prohibit private entities from borrowing from a state fund to purchase land.

Somehow that debate, over whether organizations should be able to use a taxpayer-funded low-interest loan program when making land purchases for environmental projects, became one of the most contentious of the 2019 legislative session thus far.

The bill passed with mostly Republicans voting for it and mostly Democrats voting against it. The final vote came after more than 2 hours of often heated debate.

Democrats accused Republicans of being so upset with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which has used the State Revolving Fund to finance myriad conservation projects, that the GOP designed and supported a bill that will adversely impact conservation, water quality and flood mitigation projects.

“How dare you,” yelled Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who accused Republicans of “taking away one of the tools” for organizations to fund flood mitigation projects in the wake of devastating flooding in western Iowa. “Do you care about the people who have lost their homes?”

Republicans bristled at the accusation. They said the legislation was designed simply to create a level playing field for small farmers who want to purchase land but could be out-bid by another potential buyer using low-interest loans through the state fund.

“When part of the money out of my back pocket (in the form of taxes) helps subsidize the guy I’m bidding against, that’s the problem. That’s what we’re trying to address here,” said Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone.

Even after that 2-hour debate and mostly party-line vote, the Senate was not done debating the bill.

The next day, Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, on the Senate floor said Republicans passed the bill because they don’t want any more publicly-owned parks, trails, recreation or hunting areas.

That accusation drew a strong rebuke from Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan. During debate on the bill the day before, Zumbach said he could match the heated rhetoric but would choose not to. Bolkcom’s accusation the next day, apparently, was a bridge too far for Zumbach.

“Lie is a word I hate to use, so I’m not going to,” Zumbach said forcefully. “But not one Republican is where you just said we are. Not one. If you want to voice an opinion, that’s fine. Do not accuse 32 (Republicans) in this room of something that’s not true.”

For all the topics that often generate passionate and sometimes heated debate – abortion, gun regulations, religious issues– it was striking to see a bill dealing with land purchases and state loans create such a furor.

ACA anniversary

The advocacy group Progress Iowa marked the nine-year anniversary of former President Barack Obama’s federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act, with a news conference at the Iowa Capitol.

Speakers highlighted examples of what they said are the law’s successes, and called on Republicans in Congress to cease their attempts to get rid of or weaken the law.

“Living with chronic conditions is challenging and often unpredictable,” Emily Holley, a Des Moines resident who lives with chronic pain, said at the event. “But knowing that I will still have insurance to cover those conditions is life-changing. Thanks to the Affordable Care and Patient Act, I no longer have to wonder if necessary care will be covered.”

Health care was a critical issue for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, and it appears the issue is not losing steam as we transition into the 2020 presidential race.

That the Affordable Care Act’s 10-year anniversary will come in 2020 likely will only amplify that debate.

Ranking bipartisanship

Iowa Democrats, do you want a presidential candidate who is a liberal lion or who works in a bipartisan fashion?

If it’s the latter, John Delaney and Amy Klobuchar are the candidates for you, according to the Lugar Center’s annual rankings, which were published this week.

Delaney had the highest bipartisan ranking among the Democrats running for president who served in Congress in 2017 and 2018. The former Maryland congressman’s bipartisan score of 1.093 ranked him 36th out of 436 U.S. House members.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and current Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii also earned positive bipartisan scores.

Among the Democratic senators running for president, only Klobuchar earned a positive bipartisan score. Her .76 ranked 23rd among the 100 senators.

The other five senators running earned scores well below the historical average, according to the report from the Lugar Center, whose president is Richard Lugar, a former Republican senator from Indiana.

Read more on the rankings and their methodology at thelugarcenter.org.