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2004 Legislature took Iowa backward


I suffered a minor foot injury the other weekend during the Drake Relays. No, it wasn’t from running, but from donning a Velcro suit at an amusement outside the stadium, in which participants throw their bodies onto a wall so they can stick.

I stuck to the wall all right, so tight that the teen-age attendant had to peel me off like old wallpaper. Without her help, I would have stayed fast on that wall, as helpless as a beetle on its back.

Never mind that I’m 45, and that I probably should have been content just being a spectator. I was goaded on by my sister Beth, who, since childhood, has goaded me on to do many things I oughtn’t. And invariably, I’ve paid the consequences.

So, too, will the people of Iowa, after this year’s do-nothing Legislature packed up and went home. Some say the state didn’t make any progress. In my mind, the state went backward. Either way, in business terms, it’s bad news.

It could be argued that the Legislature is anti-business, defying conventional wisdom that a Republican-controlled body must be anything but that. To wit:

· The Legislature failed to adequately fund Vision Iowa, which has been used to pump monies into worthwhile attractions that make the state more attractive to residents and out-of-staters alike.

· Education, the bedrock of our state’s claim to fame, was inadequately funded again.

· The majority of Republicans voted against the appointment of Jonathan Wilson to the state education board, solely on the basis that he’s gay.

Let me work backwards. The Legislature’s message to the rest of the country is that no gays need apply. Legislators should take note of successful American corporations, which for a decade-plus have more readily accepted gays into their cultures. Make no mistake: It wasn’t a benevolent move. It was, and is, good business. By being gay-friendly, corporations don’t limit their talent pools – they attract the best of the best, regardless of orientation.

Clearly, that’s not important to this year’s Republican legislators as witnessed by their shameful attempt to change the state’s constitution to ensure that marriage stay between a man and a woman.

While the legislators give lip service to education, that’s all it is. The state has been in a continual decline in the quality of education it delivers to its students. And the funding this year comes nowhere close to enabling the system to catch up following years of funding decline. We can boast to the rest of the country about our quality education, but like most braggarts, we’re treading close to fooling only ourselves.

And Vision Iowa? It was a remarkable program, from what I’ve seen and read, in which we invested in ourselves. I view it as a capital-improvements program. A strong program indicates that the company is growing and has faith in itself. A weakly funded program – or no program at all – tells me that the company is lacking confidence in the future.

Clearly, the Republican-majority, anti-business Legislature doesn’t have faith in Iowa’s future. It will take Herculean efforts to change that mindset, or perhaps an informed electorate this fall. We’ll see. But I’m guessing that a sea change like that is less likely than me peeling myself out of that Velcro moment.

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