Town Hall spirited, contentious at times
U.S. Rep. Steve King, State Senator Dennis Guth, and State Rep. Tedd Gassman hosted a town hall for constituents during the Farm, Home and Living show at the RWC Saturday morning. As with recent town halls held by U.S. Senators Ernst and Grassley, citizens spoke their minds, sometimes with anger. At times it was difficult to hear questions and answers over murmuring from the crowd.
Virginia Kelly of Spirit Lake set the tone, saying, “Iowa schools are being driven into the ground. I’m extremely disappointed in the Iowa legislature. Iowa has a $110 million deficit, the amount Governor Branstad gave to [a private business].”
Rep. Gassman said, “That is not the way that went. I’m not going to spend more than we take in.”
Emmet County supervisor John Pluth said, “Fifty percent of our taxes are going to our schools now. Spending the money we have in education wisely might be a better idea.”
Al Egeland spoke passionately on the bottle bill.
“At one penny per can, it takes me 80 bags to pay one employee for one day.”
Egeland wondered, “How many raises have you had in 39 years?”
Bob Jensen added, “The five cent deposit goes to support most of the charities in this area: Special Olympics, the animal shelter, as well as fireworks.”
Gassman said, “I’m on the environmental protection committee. Cans and bottles are three percent of refuse. That leaves 97 percent the bottle bill is not addressing.”
Egeland said, “If you have ten minutes after this, you’ll see the volume of recycling at my place. Fourteen counties come to Estherville because there’s no other recycling place.”
Gassman invited Egeland and others concerned with the issues to attend subcommittee meetings on this issue next session.
“We would need to get this going over the summer for the fall session, or in December for the spring one,” Gassman said.
Sen. Guth announced good technology news: Iowa will become one of the first states with 5G wireless service thanks to Senate Study bill 1138. “This will make your speed 50-100 times faster,” he said.
Gassman said the state legislature was very busy during funnel week. The legislators reviewed hundreds of bills, with 150 in committee. Gassman gave an update on a bill about life beginning at conception.
“It came out of subcommittee but did not have enough votes in the full committee. I’m still working with people on that, and if this is something important to you, I’d urge you to write and call the committee members about it,” Gassman said.
Rep. King said, “January 20 was a terrific time to be in Washington, DC. The climate has changed from one of dragging our feet through a session to feeling optimistic and looking forward. The values I’ve been driving most of my adult life for less government and low regulations, and addressing the national debt now seem possible.”
King praises President Trump
King said he felt President Donald Trump was checking off a great number of his campaign promises in the first several weeks of his presidency.
“People say if it was unconstitutional for President Obama to accomplish his aims with executive orders, then it’s unconstitutional for President Trump, I’ll speak to that. I’m on the Constitutional Subcommittee. I will speak up at any time President Trump oversteps his power under the Constitution,” King said.
King also said in this administration he has political leverage with which to help pass legislation on his agenda.
“I’m friends with about half the cabinet members. We can accomplish quite a bit with a handshake and a signature without having to try to pass a bill,” King said.
Steve Egeland said he is a lifelong Emmet County resident. His concern was about his wife who has disabilities. He addressed the state legislators about the layoffs at the Iowa Department for the Blind.
“You cut funding and laid people off. What are you going to do about that?”
The answer to Egeland’s question was deferred as someone else said the Iowa legislature was cutting off IPERS, the state employee retirement system.
Gassman said, “We are not cutting IPERS in Des Moines. That would be terrible of us. We are developing a new and different plan for new people, but we are not going to break our promise to people already enrolled.”
Gassman said the Health and Human Services Budget for fiscal year 2018 was on track to have $200 million in new money.
“Representative Heaton (R-Dist. 84) will stick up for you,” Gassman said. “We have to know what the numbers are then go from there.”
Gassman said, “I won’t pay taxes this year on my farming operation. Farmers with 1,000, 2,000 acres are not breaking even.”
Among other citizen concerns, Bob Jensen of Estherville asked, “What’s the feeling on reducing waste in streams, rivers, and lakes?” Jensen said the deregulation of environmental laws would reverse the progress that has been made toward clean water and air.
“These are decisions that are life-long lasting. Lakes, rivers and streams could go back to the way they were 40 years ago. This is about having a sense of responsibility.”
King said, “I’d like to hear from you on this and see what we can do.”
Other citizens said they were stymied by the overreach of agencies regulating production farming.
King said, “I would want to look at regulations, taking one at a time, making amendments and bringing up regulations for regular review, to see if they still make sense in practice.”
Other concerns included decluttering the number of LLCs and corporations created so a farmer or other sole proprietor is his or her own employee for purposes of health insurance; ALEC (the American Legislative Executive Council) and the eroding of collective bargaining power, school vouchers, and home schooling.
The session ended an hour past its scheduled closing. King had to leave for another commitment, but Guth and Gassman stayed to address concerns and comments from the public.