Senator Mark Chelgren Aims To Purge Democrats From Iowa Universities

By Pat Rynard

February 20, 2017

The party affiliation on your voter registration card could block you from employment at Iowa’s state universities were a newly proposed bill by Senator Mark Chelgren to become law. Senate File 288, proposed by the Ottumwa legislator, could bring about a Soviet-style purge of liberal-leaning college staff in Iowa. Chelgren wants to impose an ideological litmus test in order to create a “partisan balance,” based on how Iowa has voted in past elections.

The legislation proposes that a “person shall not be hired as a professor or instructor member of the faculty at such an institution if the person’s political party affiliation on the date of hire would cause the percentage of faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of faculty belonging to the other political party.”

The Secretary of State’s office would be directed to provide voter registration lists to the colleges so that new job applicants’ party affiliation could be checked before the hiring process gets underway. Graciously, Chelgren allows for people registered as No Party to slip through the process without facing the litmus test.

The obvious impact and purpose of this bill would be to ban Democrats from getting hired anymore at Iowa colleges. If you took a survey right now, it’s highly likely that Iowa professors are registered as Democrats at a much higher rate than Republican. So any new hires would be strictly limited to Republican or No Party voters.

Obviously there’s all manner of logistical problems with this idea, not the least among them is that people would simply change their voter registration party to improve their chances of getting a job. There’s also the situation where your official party registration doesn’t always reflect your actual allegiance. Many Republicans in Johnson County will vote in Democratic primaries for local offices because the only real competition is between several Democrats, and vice versa in many Republican counties.

And party affiliation on your voter card rarely translates to activism or outspokenness in the classroom. What good would it do to ban a highly qualified physics professor applicant simply because they’re registered as a Democrat?

Not to mention that many of the faculty hired at Iowa’s universities come from out of state. Is Chelgren going to pull voter lists from every state in the country (and some states don’t even have party registration)?

The most disturbing aspect of Chelgren’s legislation, however, is that it is outright fascist. Republicans haven’t even spent two full months in power at the Iowa Statehouse and they’re already trying to impose a one-party rule in the state in perpetuity. You’re a registered Democrat? You’re banned from getting a job.

Iowa’s universities are supposed to be a place of open expression and discussion of ideas, some of which politicians in Des Moines may not agree with. Chelgren wants to stifle that culture and impose his own partisan ideology by force and threatening people’s jobs.

It’s one more step in the Republican Party’s march away from very basic democratic ideals of the United States. Maybe Chelgren should actually open up and read that little U.S. Constitution pamphlet that he loves to wave around on the Senate floor during debate. Because these days he’s sounding a lot more like a Soviet dictator than an actual American.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/20/17

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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