Dear Governor Branstad,
You have been my governor for 7,642 days; that is a remarkable achievement. Iowans like stability and it is obvious that Iowans also like you Governor Branstad. No other governor in the history of our country has served as long as you have.
It seems clear that this will be your last term as Governor. I also assume that you hear the same rumors that I do; those rumors that say you don’t plan on completing your term. You have certainly earned the right to step down on your own terms. What concerns me is that during this presumed final few laps around the political track, it appears to me that you might be losing touch with the typical Iowan. It seems possible that you are only listening to Iowans who are primarily interested in what happens to big businesses in Iowa.
I would assume that at this stage of your career, the idea of your legacy must be on your mind. I have lived in Iowa for all of the 21 years you have been governor. Prior to the last calendar year I would have said that your legacy would have been one of a time of considerable change in Iowa. Iowa looks considerably different than it did when you came into office, and yet Iowans are still common sense, good-hearted people. You should be proud of that. Yet, in the last calendar year you seem to have forgotten what kept you in office for this long, which was listening to Iowans. There are numerous examples of your drift towards an imperial governorship, but the two biggest seem to be your vetoing of $56 million for Iowa’s schools last July (done just minutes before a lengthy vacation after the bill had been on your desk for weeks…leaving schools to scramble just weeks before the school year started), and your plans to privatize Medicaid (which appears to be an attempt to line the pockets of businesses who have been friendly to you over the years). This is now your legacy.
You will now be remembered for what you have done in the last year. In neither case did you respond to the elected legislature or to what Iowans are telling you at every town hall you hold. It seems that you have decided that over 7000 days as governor grants you the right to do as you wish.
I am asking you to consider your legacy as you move forward in your final days as governor. Don’t you think the history books will look back more fondly on you if you reach out and act responsively to your constituents? As you prepare for your Condition of the State address next month and prepare your legislative agenda for the coming year I would encourage you to listen to Iowans. Legislators have no reason to trust you at this point, so your only option that will lead to action will be to present an agenda and a budget that is responsive to what Iowans are asking for. I am no expert on health care, but I know that Iowans are asking you to slow down Medicaid privatization. I also know for certain that Iowans want you to support our public schools. It is urgent that you support resources that recognize that public schools are being asked to do more than ever before. Iowa’s communities want schools with curricular options, the best possible teachers, and access to 21st century technology.
If your 2015-2016 budget sends a message that schools must improve while dealing with austerity that you thrust upon them, that is your legacy. The history books will record that you created conditions that required schools to cut programs, lay off teachers, and made it much harder to lift up our students who need our help the most. When you force austerity onto our schools their only choice is to sustain limited programming that meets the needs of the middle of the bell curve. The “extra” programs that get cut are programs that support our most vulnerable learners, arts programs that reach out to many students who have little else that they feel good about, and technology programs that help all of our learners become 21st century citizens. Your $56 million veto last year kept technology out of hundreds of classrooms, kept new curriculum from being implemented, and eliminated programs that support students on a daily basis.
Wouldn’t it be better that your legacy was about working together with Iowans on both sides of the political spectrum to support stronger public schools. Wouldn’t you be able to ride off into the sunset with a smile if you knew that you were instrumental in allowing school districts to increase programming for our students most in need. Don’t you think the history books would smile on you if your final budget recommendation would serve to accelerate our top students to become the standard for 21st century skills by allowing our public schools to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape. These things don’t happen without resources. In Iowa, those resources are provided by the state government. You have been our leader for 21 years and we are asking you to be a leader one more time. Congratulations on over 7000 days in office, but that is the past. You talk about the future a great deal. You have a chance, in the next month, to prove that you care about our future.
Patrick J. Kearney