The battle for the future of Iowa is on. While Governor Reynolds is telling us that we will have to wait until January for her to share her vision for the future of our state, two of the men who will surely play a grossly oversized role in what happens in the Iowa legislature this year have uncharacteristically made themselves visible today. Drew Klein from Americans For Prosperity (AFP) and Jonathan Williams from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wrote an opinion piece that was printed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette today. In it they attempt to distance Iowa’s economic situation and future from what has happened in Kansas in recent years.
Let’s take a moment to acquaint ourselves with AFP and ALEC. AFP and ALEC are the Koch brothers; it really is that simple. Let’s be clear who the Koch brothers are. They want to use their billions of dollars to influence legislators without you or I knowing about it (https://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/alec-koch-brothers-dark-money-anonymous-donation-120784). It is also critical to note that while the opinion piece in the Gazette is about tax policy, much of the Koch brother’s activities are in support of gutting public education throughout America (https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/30/kochs-public-schools-shakeup-244259).
It is significant that the only person in the room when ex-Governor Branstad signed a bill stripping collective bargaining rights from public sector employees was Drew Klein. There was no grand public bill-signing ceremony that day because Governor Branstad knew it was a bill that wasn’t about what Iowans wanted, it was what the Koch brothers wanted and Mr. Klein was there on their behalf. It is also worth noting that today’s opinion piece in the Gazette is an attempt to distance the work of AFP and ALEC from what has happened over the last five years in Kansas (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/opinion/paul-krugman-charlatans-cranks-and-kansas.html). They really want you and I to believe that the failure in Kansas isn’t on them. The problem they have is that the Kansas failure is exactly what it looks like, a complete repudiation of their work. They want Iowans to pretend that all of the money that they spent to influence Kansas legislators to do their bidding didn’t end up as a massive disaster because they are spending huge amounts of money doing the exact same thing in Iowa.
It is almost as if Mr. Klein and Mr. Williams’ strategy is to double dog dare Iowa to buy into their scheme even though we know exactly how it will end. It’s a gutsy strategy and one that Iowans should run away from with all of our collective energy. The folks at the Iowa Public Policy Project do an outstanding job of putting the numbers in perspective (http://www.gradingstates.org/the-problem-with-tax-cutting-as-economic-policy/the-lessons-of-kansas/). The idea that the only problem with the “Kansas Experiment” was that Kansas politicians didn’t implement severe cuts in public services is laughable. The last line from the Iowa Public Policy Project post hits the nail on the head, “What new businesses really wanted, in addition to the tax cuts, was more potholes and more poorly educated workers? There is neither logic nor evidence to support such a claim.”
There are very few things in life that I am certain of, but I can promise you this, not a single Republican legislator in our state will talk about AFP or ALEC without being directly confronted. They don’t want you or I to know where the legislation we are about to see is coming from. If the 2017 legislative session was any indication they are going to act behind closed doors, they are going to do all they can to limit public debate, and people like Mr. Klein are going to have an enormous influence on what happens behind those closed doors.
The Republican chairman of the Iowa House of Representatives Tax Committee said this, “Frankly, I don’t know what happened in Kansas.” (http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/government/shadow-of-kansas-hangs-over-iowa-tax-overhaul-20171213) Really, Representative Guy Vander Linden said that. The chairman of the Tax Committee says that he is unaware of what happened in Kansas. That can’t be OK with us, is it? At the very least our legislators should be informed and transparent. Mr. Vander Linden should take some time to read up on the “Kansas Experiment.” I’m happy to send him links to more articles and analysis if he wants it. I’d also love to have Mr. Vander Linden or any other Iowa legislator talk about AFP or ALEC and their role in creating legislation that makes it into Iowa’s capitol. There is a great deal riding on what happens in the 2018 Iowa legislature. You can be assured that ALEC and AFP will be in corners of the capitol where Iowans like you and me are not allowed.
I’m just a teacher who is incredibly transparent, and my voice isn’t magnified by the deep pockets of people like the Koch brothers, but I will make my voice heard. Iowans are going to have to speak loudly in 2018. It is telling that AFP and ALEC are showing their faces this early trying to change the narrative. When AFP and ALEC say we shouldn’t be paying attention to Kansas, I can promise you that it means we should be paying attention to Kansas. In order to stop our legislators from being influenced by Koch brother’s dark money like their brethren from Kansas were, it is going to take the voices of smart, serious, thoughtful, caring Iowans to rise up. It is too important for us to not be heard.