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In polarized nation, Iowa oddly split
Governor, legislators must look for things the two parties can agree on
DES MOINES, Iowa — Republicans and Democrats in state capitals across the country are talking ambitiously about what they will do next year with the unchecked power they amassed in the fall elections. In more states than not, one party now has full control of government.
But you won’t hear much brash talk in Des Moines. Here, party leaders are warning supporters about what they shouldn’t look forward to next year and speaking mildly about compromises.
Iowa inhabits an unusual parallel universe in this politically polarized time. It is one of only three states where control of the legislature is split between the parties. Instead of laying out bold initiatives for overhauling taxes or education, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and legislative leaders are trying to figure out a few things they can agree on so that when the session is over, they won’t wind up with nothing.
“You don’t always get everything you want,” Mr. Branstad said, in what could serve as the legislature’s rallying cry.
At a time when other states are pursuing purer — and often diametrically opposite — visions of how government should work, Iowa likely will take some from Column A and some from Column B, an approach that could later provide a hybrid counterpoint to the more ideological ventures.
At very least, Mr. Branstad said, citizens “don’t get some of the excesses that you don’t want.”
In the fall elections, Republicans won veto-proof majorities in many of the 26 state legislatures they already controlled, which will allow them to roll over any opposition. Democrats also gained concentrated strength. Half of state legislatures now have such “supermajorities,” up from 13 only four years ago.
So armed, Republican-dominated states, including Kansas and Oklahoma, will aim to cut their income taxes to prove the conservative argument that the economy will benefit even if public services suffer. Republicans in Wisconsin hope to stimulate mining with relaxed regulation. Tennessee, Texas and others will pursue a more loose-knit version of public education, replete with independently run charter schools and cash vouchers.
But Republicans in Iowa won’t be going there.
The GOP kept control of the 100-member House in November, but only by four seats. Democrats held the Senate held by the narrowest of margins, 26 to 24.
“We better sit down and start talking and be more serious about accommodating each other’s interests,” said Sen. Mike Gronstal, the Senate’s Democratic leader.
While other Republican states are in action mode, Mr. Branstad has named the head of the Democratic-leaning state teachers union to a new task force studying how to improve schools.
Mr. Gronstal said Democrats will work with Mr. Branstad on an education initiative to base teacher advancement more on merit and results. The goal is to boost performance without remaking the whole system.
He said the Senate also will give a new look at business-friendly property tax changes, which Democrats torpedoed last year.
“We all have a set of things we want to accomplish, but our shared focus is to continue getting Iowans back to work,” he said.
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