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Iowans are all in this together


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The opening day of the 2009 Iowa legislative session is now behind us, and the 150 senators and representatives are rolling up their sleeves to work on creating public policy and balancing a state budget. This year marks the first time since 1995 that I watch from the sidelines with other Iowans and wonder what is in store.

The legislative process begs for all of us to have a shared vision for outcomes. And that means a shared vision for action as well. This is the session to “do the right thing” and govern instead of focusing on the next election.

Iowans need to understand that they must play a bigger role in public policy decisions. Legislators do not have all the answers and often base decisions on their own experiences. This session’s success depends upon the broadening of that view in order to seek new solutions and opportunities. That means Iowans will need be to supportive of those officials willing to take a different but positive approach.

What can you do to help? First, it is your right and responsibility to speak up, participate and take ownership of your government. It’s not uncommon for lawmakers to consider it a “groundswell of public outcry” when they hear from as few as six people on an issue. Think about what’s important to you and share your thoughts with your legislators.

E-mail, write or call your legislator. Check www.legis.state.ia.us for information about how to contact your legislator.

Attend the legislative forums that virtually all Central Iowa legislators host during the period from January through April. They’re typically held on Saturday mornings.

Keep in mind that making public policy is not an absolute. Too often, advocacy groups make issues seem as easy as a yes or a no. In reality, getting a bill through the legislative process typically involves a series of compromises.

Hold your legislators accountable. Ask the tough questions, verify the numbers and encourage them to take bold and meaningful action. Be realistic in what you seek and know that legislators may have to operate outside their comfort zone in order to do the right thing.

Promote civility. Personal attacks and finger pointing are not tolerated in any other arena. It’s time to change the demeanor of legislative dialogue to get real results.

Say “thank you.” In the heat of a debate, legislators don’t often hear that.

Today’s elected officials are facing issues of a magnitude not seen in decades. All Iowans must pitch in to help shoulder the burden. We also must demand that a longer view be taken instead of quick fixes that are cobbled together. The problems took years to develop, and it will take time and vision to enact legislation that takes a long-term view.

From the sidelines, we all can help shape the tone and momentum for progress.

Libby Jacobs is the community relations director at Principal Financial Group Inc. and a former state representative.

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