The 2016 Iowa Legislative Session began on January 11th and with that, Iowa Starting Line has teamed up with State Representative Abby Finkenauer (D- Dubuque) to offer a weekly column. Finkenauer will share her take on the happenings at the State House, highlight topics that are not being discussed in the Republican-controlled Iowa House, and general commentary on news and issues, particularly those related to being a young elected and encouraging millennial participation in the Iowa Democrat Party.
Last week began Finkenauer’s second session in her first legislative term as a State Representative. Starting Line profiled Finkenauer as a new legislator last January.
She was also featured in ELLE, in a piece titled, “How this 20-Something Woman Beat Three 40-Something Dudes for Public Office.” Currently, Finkenauer is the Iowa Director of the Make It Work Campaign, a national issue campaign focused on family economic issues such as equal pay, paid family leave, and affordable childcare.
Finkenauer will be open to answering questions or receiving topic suggestions for posts which can be emailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finkenauer Friday – The First One
This is my first “Finkenauer Friday,” and I’m sitting in the Iowa House chamber at 5:30 Thursday evening with only one other State Representative still on the floor, reflecting on the last two weeks of session. These moments are my favorite. It gets very quiet. The sun is going down, while not actually blinding me while I’m at my desk (as it does most of the day), and the chaos has finally settled for the week. It takes me back and reminds me that in a way, I grew up on this floor.
At 18, I sat next to then House Speaker Pat Murphy, as his first Speaker’s Page in 2007 and watched groundbreaking progressive legislation get passed. I knew then that I wanted to be a part of the Iowa House and a part of moving Iowa forward, I just didn’t know in what capacity that would be down the road. I later sat next to Rep. Todd Taylor for two years as his legislative assistant, struggling, but fighting through the minority. I now sit in a more comfortable chair as a State Representative filling the open seat of my former boss and Speaker Murphy. These quiet moments, remind me that regardless of the chair I sit in, it is an honor and a privilege to have any seat in this historic chamber. At times, we pass progressive legislation that helps all of Iowa and other times, like more recently, we stand up and fight.
I’ll be honest and say, I’m not sure what the topics of this blog will be every week coming out of this chamber because every week is different. Some Thursdays, I leave more hopeful than others and then there are the Thursdays where you wonder if you’ve moved the needle or made a difference at all. This week, I was sick and losing my voice, so basically it can be summed up as “I survived.”
So, what did I learn this week besides just survival tactics of lots of tea and Dayquil? Apparently, I’ve been told, I legislate with my “heart,” too much.
I was talking to a legislator on the floor this week working on a bill that I won’t get my name on, but will help many families throughout the state. The name isn’t the important thing in the minority, it’s the policy that helps the families that means everything and when you can get something like that passed you have to take it. We were bantering back and forth in a friendly way when I was told I legislate from my “heart” too much and need to legislate with “logic” over the “heart.” I told the Representative that although I have a healthy respect for logic, I can’t decide when and where to turn off my “heart.” I mean, I don’t operate on an emotional defibrillator that I can unplug whenever it’s most convenient and stop caring about the people I’m here to serve.
I thought about this conversation later and wondered, was that Rep. right? Should I stop getting so invested in certain bills or issues? It’s not as if I ignore the facts, figures, and dollars, but we can’t ignore the struggles and consequences for the real Iowans we are impacting. Then, I started thinking about the Iowa Caucuses and the negativity and fear we are seeing across our TV’s. That’s when I realized we could use a little bit more “heart” in politics in general and I will never again apologize or question using my “heart.”
I’ll likely take some grief from some people about this column and everybody in entitled to their own opinion. However, I would argue that being “soft” and legislating from the heart is the very thing that can put victims of domestic violence, or the advocates who care for victims of human trafficking at ease as they tell you their stories. These stories I hear change me. They penetrate your consciousness, your logic, and your heart at the same time and you will never be the same person or Representative after hearing them. Being ‘soft’ and using your heart is the very thing that makes this a public service. It isn’t easy and there are days and moments that are frustrating because you “logically” know you can’t do more given the political climate, but your “heart” keeps screaming at you to not give up.
This session, I’ll keep legislating from the heart and as I do, I’ll use this blog to bring attention to issues that I wish we could do more to solve if the political climate were different. I’ll be frustrated and at times I’ll be elated with small victories. Welcome to the roller coaster that is being a minority member of the Iowa House. Hope you enjoy the ride.
by Abby Finkenauer