Guest op-ed from Jonathan Grieder, a Waterloo City Councilmember
Local government is key and fundamental to our system of government here in Iowa. In fact, it’s so important that in 1968 Iowa voters codified home rule into the Iowa Constitution. Local city councils, school boards, and county boards of supervisors were given their power through the state constitution, not through the legislature after that.
This system has worked well into the early 21st century, because many local elected officials know their communities best. Of course, there are issues that need to be resolved on a state level, just as there are issues that need to be resolved on a national level. But for quite some time, legislatures came and went, governors came and went, and local governments were left to govern.
In 2017 that changed when the State Legislature and Governor Branstad superseded the rights of cities and counties to set minimum wage, change protections to employees, and to outlaw plastic bags. They then went a step further and took away the rights of local governments to negotiate in good faith with public employees, exempting only fire and law enforcement personnel. Then they cut property taxes state-wide and imposed new restrictions on budgeting, making it more difficult for local governments to govern.
And this year, before the world changed, the State Legislature was looking at stripping away the rights of local governments to protect renters, help ex-felons get jobs, and do what is best for our citizens.
As a local elected official this upsets me to no end. I know my ward, I know my constituents, and I know Waterloo. The people elected me to govern them, not someone in Des Moines.
And yet it seems that the State Legislature and Governor Reynolds loomsat every turn, ready to roll back the rights of millions of Iowans to be governed by local officials they elected. All in the name of having a uniform system statewide, or at least that’s what they told me when I called them to complain yet again about the destruction of a system that served Iowa well for 49 years. Especially because the uniform system that the State Legislature and Governor want to preserve is a bar so low it’s absolutely pathetic to look at. This system has left Iowans poorer, with fewer protections, and with less ability to achieve a better life. I will never stop being mad about it.
But in our new normal, at home due to COVID-19, the Governor has remained adamant that local governments cannot do what is best for their communities even as she consistently fails to do what is best for the state. City councils and county supervisors cannot issue shelter-in-place orders even as Iowa surpasses Minnesota in terms of total cases and as deaths mount.
At best we can, like Waterloo did, beg that Governor Reynolds act. According to Governor Reynolds it’s best if the state does it, but she will not. She talks a lot about matrices and data, responsibility and prayer, but at the end of the day she has simply failed to lead and barred others from leading. And I will never stop being mad about it.
Government is built on a promise. That promise is that we the people will allows others to set rules for us in order to protect life, prosperity, and property. In our American system of government, we have long held that the closest government is often the best government to solve the problems of the people.
In Iowa we have abandoned that principle in the name of power and politics. It has led us to be less safe, to be less economically secure, and, as we’re are seeing now, less protected.
That promise has been broken by our state leadership who has tied the hands of local governments to do what is best for our communities. Those choices have consequences that have negatively impacted all Iowans. And that is something we need to remember this November and every November moving forward.
by Jonathan Grieder