The regular monthly Urbandale Chamber of Commerce meeting on Saturday morning was far from normal. The meeting scheduled to begin at 10:30 had exceeded room capacity before 10:00. By 10:30 the massive overflow crowd filled the hallways and the line extended outside the building. The normal turnout barely fills the room.
However, Senator Brad Zaun’s recent introduction of numerous bizarre and dangerous bills have the public motivated to speak up. There were five speakers on the panel, but every question was directed at Zaun. The other panelists were Representative John Forbes, Urbandale Mayor Robert Andeweg, Supervisor Bob Brownell and Urbandale School Board President Graham Giles.
The majority of the crowd were in opposition to Zaun and his legislation, although there was a scattering of supporters. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the Zaun supporters were outnumbered by the opposition about 20 to 1. Surprisingly, the Polk County GOP sent out an emergency alert prior to the meeting asking Zaun supporters to show up. They did bring in a few, but not in the numbers that Democrats packed into the meeting. Not one speaker spoke in support of any of Zaun’s bills. Zaun was recognized for supporting Representative Forbes’ Medical Cannabis bill and Zaun did speak favorably about increased spending on mental health.
With those two exceptions, every speaker grilled Zaun on a variety of subjects. The majority of the speakers questioned him about his support for the defunding of Planned Parenthood. He was vulnerable on many of the defunding questions and seemed uncertain of his facts. Zaun initially took the position that if Planned Parenthood clinics were eliminated, there would be no shortage of alternatives for women’s health care. Speaker after speaker offered compelling evidence that Zaun’s facts were wrong.
They pointed to other states (Indiana and Texas) that have defunded Planned Parenthood and have seen a dangerous drop in availability of services. Speakers in support of Planned Parenthood offered factual evidence indicating Planned Parenthood in Iowa offers unique, affordable and specialty services unavailable elsewhere. Zaun gradually retreated from defending his claim of available alternative services. He gradually retreated to this simple answer, “I’m Pro-Life and I won’t change.”
Speakers warned Zaun of the dangers raised by his support for numerous gun bills. They raised concerns about the proposed Second Amendment bill that would require a constitutional amendment. One speaker reminded Zaun of the murders of the Urbandale and Des Moines police officers this past year by an Urbandale resident that should never have had access to a gun. The speaker also asked Zaun to consider the families of those slain officers before stripping police and other public employees of their right to negotiate wages and benefits for their families.
Several folks spoke up in opposition to Zaun’s plan to strip tenure from university professors. Again, Zaun seemed ill-prepared to defend his plan referring to anecdotal evidence that professors can’t be fired. Two speakers that identified themselves as professors offered facts proving tenure doesn’t prevent the firing of professors for a variety of reasons. After several people spoke in favor of tenure, Zaun suggested all those speakers were simply professors trying to preserve their employment. Following that exchange, two additional tenure supporting speakers rebutted Zaun’s claim by correcting him. They explained they weren’t professors and had no connection to universities.
Zaun is known at the Capitol by an unflattering motto, “No New Taxes.” He repeated that in response to a speaker asking him to support the Iowa Land and Legacy Trust Fund. That Trust Fund was approved by 63% of Iowa voters in 2010, requiring a 3/8 cent sales tax to be used for environmental purposes. Zaun said he wouldn’t support any new tax increases with the exception of mental health funding.
Education issues were raised as well. Zaun supports vouchers and school choice and speakers challenged his facts on these as well. Several speakers pointed to the damage to public schools that will result by robbing public education funding and using it to fund private, charter or home schoolers. Zaun also spoke out in opposition to Common Core. The Urbandale School President defended public school funding and warned that taking money from public schools would further exacerbate inadequate funding for public schools. He also pointed out that Iowa Common Core offers flexibility, disputing Zain’s claims.
It’s important to note the irony of the sign posted on the Chamber door that everyone had to read before entering. The sign asked for civility and referred to the six cardinal rules of Character Counts. Obviously, anticipating some passionate and vocal dialogue the Chamber prepared by establishing the guidelines based on the organization established by former Republican Governor Ray. Some of those cardinal rules are in direct opposition to some of Zaun’s legislation. Those rules include open-minded listening, protecting the environment, make your school and community better, helping people in need and staying informed. Senator Zaun needs to read the Character Counts rules and reconsider his proposed legislation with those as his guide.
Reading this you may think Zaun wasn’t moved. However, keep this in mind. When no one questions politicians making fact-less assertions, ignorance wins. We can’t allow ignorance based on fake news, faulty logic and ideological rigidity to be the basis for public policy. It’s our responsibility to hold Zaun and his counterparts to a high standard based on the truth.
Democrats must be present in numbers at every forum, every town hall and every GOP office. They work for us and we must demand they answer our questions. Let’s show them we are ready to fight back!
by Rick Smith