Yeah, I know it’s been at least three full sleep cycles since the Iowa Legislature adjourned early Sunday morning, ending an around-the-clock vigil commemorating the death of good, open daytime government.
Zombies, not Democrats, actually controlled the Legislature in the final hours, according to my sources. Which explains that huge tax break for the undead tucked into the standings bill.
For the first time in 11 years, I did not cover any of the legislative session in person. Like most Iowans, I watched from afar. Unlike most Iowans, I paid attention.
So I feel obligated to offer my late, long-distance analysis.
Top 5 Winners:
1. Gov. Chet Culver — He got the signature agenda item, a giant bonds sale in the neighborhood of $800 million to pay for disaster recovery, infrastructure, state and local projects etc. I’m not saying his plan is popular, that it will actually stimulate the economy or that he’s a shoe-in for re-election next year. But any governor who manages to get his big wish through the General Assembly can claim victory, and put an extra patch on his bomber jacket.
2. Flooded Towns — Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson, whose reporting I trust, says flood-related appropriationsapproved by lawmakers this year add up to nearly $500 million. That includes nearly $245 million in Culver’s bonding plan and $56 million from the state’s reserves approved in the opening weeks of the session. Sure, even those big piles of state money pale in comparison to ongoing muti-billion dollar recovery costs, but that’s a sizable take during a year marked by budget difficulties. But if they had just had a special session…OK, I’ll stop. We’ll all be waiting now to see exactly how they’ll spend the money.
3. House Republicans — They didn’t have the votes to get much passed, but they stuck together and did a much better job articulating a focused and forceful public message than disorganized majority Democrats. At one point, House Majority Leader Kraig Paulson, R-Hiawatha, even raised his voice.
4. Senate Democrats — Having smart leadership and a big majority are always helpful. I bet, during his contemplative moments, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal wishes Iowa had followed Nebraska’s unicameral lead all those years ago. May be high time to reconsider.
5. The Middle — The center, especially a handful of moderate Democrats, held all the cards in the House when it came to labor legislation, federal deductibility, health care reform and other big issues. They also succeeded in making vanilla the official state ice cream. Sprinkles? Let’s study that.
1. The Middle — Moderate Republicans, already a shrinking tribe, can’t feel good as they watch religious conservatives lead the GOP parade into the 2010 elections. On the minus side, the culture war overshadows tax and budget issues most Iowans care about. On the plus side, a primary campaign can really help take off those unwanted pounds.
2. House Democrats — Seriously, at what point do House Democrats look at this train wreck and wonder whether new leadership might be in order. Perhaps that’s harsh, but from out here in the hustings, this does not look like a well-oiled machine. Instead, the House has become the place where Democratic priorities go to die, squandering the party’s rare and potentially fleeting lock on power.
The night that House Speaker Pat Murphy ordered state troopers to clear a raucous public hearing on tax reform – turning a sleepy issue into an ugly, high-profile battle and a rallying point for his rivals – was just one exhibit in a gallery of missteps.
3. Labor – Organized labor was 0-4 on its top priorities. I’m not even sure a resolution honoring Union County could have passed in the House. This is not what labor leaders envisioned while they were working for years to help Democrats win control.
4. The Left – Health reform was watered down, tax reform was shelved and an attempt to make Iowa’s presidential electoral votes follow the national popular vote went down the tubes. Medical marijuana? Up in smoke. The biggest progressive victory of the year was delivered in an Iowa Supreme Court opinion penned by a Branstad appointee. Go figure.
5. Drunks — The House goes all Carry Nation at the last minute and shoots down legislation that would have allowed the sale of hard booze in convenience stores. So much for being able to buy your scotch and scratch tickets in one easy stop. And forget that BV and burrito night promotion.