Starting Line’s most ‘WTF’ stories of 2023

From left: Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fair. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall). Gov. Kim Reynolds bill signing. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall). The Satanic Temple of Iowa display at the Iowa Capitol. (Ty Rushing/Starting Line). Controversial Muscatine 4th of July Parade float entry. (Screenshots via @TheAngelinaLynn on Twitter).

By Ty Rushing

December 18, 2023

It’s that time of year when the Starting Line team recaps stories that made us and our readers go “WTF.”

As usual, Iowa delivered no shortage of stories that left us mad, sad, or confused—especially during the legislative session—and limiting ourselves while creating this list yet again proved a challenge.

With that said, let’s go month-by-month to relive some of the more “WTF” moments in Iowa news.

January

Iowa Republicans in the legislature eventually added the forced outing of LGBTQ students to SF 496—which is currently embroiled in two lawsuits over various sections of it—but that was one of several proposals that ended up becoming law later in the session.

GOP Bill Wants Schools To Forcibly Out Iowa Students

Other gems included Iowa Republicans powering through Gov. Kim Reynolds’ voucher bill less than two weeks into the session, a state rep blaming a lack of a voucher for two students killing their Spanish teacher, a bill that limits the liability of truck companies if a trucker crashes into you, and a bill to limit food assistance that generated national headlines.

Full Iowa House And Senate Will Debate Voucher Bill On Monday

Jeff Shipley Laments That Student Charged With Murdering Fairfield Teacher Didn’t Get A Voucher

Legislators Get An Earful About Iowa GOP’s Controversial SNAP Bill

GOP Bill Shields Truck Companies If They Crash Into You

Oh, there was also a voter fraud indictment involving the wife of a Republican elected official in Sioux City (more on that later).

Alleged GOP Voter Fraud Operation Busted In Sioux City

February

The second month of the year was not any less “WTF” than the first one. Iowa Republicans considered creating a master list of teachers and school districts accused of violating the state’s divisive concepts law—AKA the anti-CRT law—and fining schools proved to have broken it.

Accusations Counted Against Iowa Schools In ‘Divisive Concepts’ Reporting Bill

Moms for Liberty hosted a town hall that featured Gov. Kim Reynolds and several legislators, who used the time to attack teachers and LGBTQ students.

GOP Leaders Lob Accusations At Teachers Of Child Abuse, Indoctrination, Hating America

LGBTQ Students Called Mentally Ill At Forum With Iowa GOP Leaders

A freshman Republican rep, who had three abortions, advocated for a total abortion ban and later co-sponsored a bill alongside 19 other Republican reps to do just that.

Iowa Republican Who Had Three Abortions Calls For Total Abortion Ban

20 House Republicans Sign Bill To Ban Nearly All Abortion In Iowa

Iowa rolled back child labor laws this year, also generating significant national attention.

New Iowa Child Labor Bill Puts Teens In ‘Very Dangerous Spot,’ Opponents Warn

Remember when egg prices were really high and everyone blamed everything from bird flu to inflation when the actual cause was corporate greed? Good times.

What Really Drove Up Egg Prices

A bill by a Republican state senator to ban kids from drag shows that accidentally (?) overreached by quite a bit.

GOP May Ban Kids From Plays, WWE Events In Attempt To Keep Them From Drag Shows

If you’ve paid attention to central Iowa politics over the last three years, you are probably familiar with the Iowa Mama Bears. One of the mama bears did her best attorney cosplay and it was weird.

In Bizarre Lawsuit, Right-Wing Activist Sues Ankeny Schools For $87 Million Over Drag Show

More anti-LGBTQ legislation:

New House Republicans Bill Limits Parental Rights For LGBTQ Families

Trans Iowan To Republican Lawmakers: ‘You Truly Hate Us’

March

Iowa made national news again after House Republicans introduced bills to ban gay marriage, which one of the sponsors tried to downplay.

Sponsor Of Iowa GOP Bills To Ban Gay Marriage Says That’s Not What The Bills Are About

A bill was introduced to limit the state auditor’s office’s ability to audit. Also, did I mention the state auditor’s office was the only statewide office in Iowa that was held by a Democrat?

GOP Senator Wants To Limit State Auditor’s Ability To Audit

Records unveiled why nearly 200 dogs from one facility had to be euthanized.

Nearly 200 Iowa Dogs Suspiciously Euthanized in One Day, New Records Reveal

A Republican state senator wants officials involved with detaining Jan. 6 Capitol rioters to be investigated and arrested by the federal government and for the Iowa Senate to formally condemn those same officials.

Brad Zaun Calls For Arrest Of Those Detaining Violent Jan. 6 Insurrectionists

Even more anti-LGBTQ stuff:

Republican-Led Iowa Senate Passes Homophobic Bills Aimed At LGBTQ Kids

Bill To Strip LGBTQ Parents’ Rights Set To Become Law In Iowa

Reynolds Signs Anti-LGBTQ Bills After Saying She Doesn’t ‘Like’ Doing It

April

Despite massive pushback, a bill to cut federally provided food and health-care benefits to thousands of Iowans became law.

Nurse: Bill To Cut SNAP/Medicaid ‘Not Good’ For Iowans’ Health

Bill To Cut Food And Medicaid Benefits Goes To Reynolds’ Desk

Brenna Bird, Iowa’s new attorney general, stopped her office from paying for emergency contraception and abortions for rape victims.

Iowa AG Stops Paying For Portions Of Rape Victims’ Health Care

A House Republican bill to ban youth from social media advanced as did another bill from that chamber to allow guns on school and college grounds.

Iowa GOP’s Amended Social Media Ban Bill Is Moving Forward

Iowa House Votes To Legalize Guns On School And College Grounds

The Iowa Senate went overnight during a debate on child labor and things got tense after Republican senators stopped answering questions about the bill breaking longtime precedent in the chamber.

Iowa Senate GOP Passes Child Labor Law Rollback

Zach Wahls Accuses Iowa Republicans Of ‘Authoritarianism’

After a 17-year legislative push, raw milk sales became legal but that does not mean you should drink it.

No, You Should Not Drink Raw Milk. Here’s Why:

The bill that limits the state auditor’s ability to auditor—and that State Auditor Rob Sand called “pro-corruption”—advanced.

Iowa Republicans Strip Away One of Last Checks on Their Power

Iowa Senate GOP Approves Bill To Limit Auditor’s Ability To Audit

Yes, there was even more anti-LGBTQ stuff from the state house.

Deja Vu: GOP Senators Pass Anti-LGBTQ Education Bill A Second Time

May

The end of the legislation session allowed things to calm down slightly, but there were still a few “WTF moments.

Iowa private schools raised tuition in anticipation of new voucher money from the state (which many predicted would happen).

Kim Reynolds’ Private School Voucher Plan Led To Tuition Hikes

A small-town teacher had a principal job pulled after she was accused of being “woke.”

Did Being Called ‘Woke’ Cost This Iowa Teacher A Principal Job?

A tragedy in Davenport cost three Iowans their lives.

Davenport Residents Not Shocked By Building’s Collapse

June

The first projection of much Gov. Kim Reynolds’ voucher plan would cost Iowans came out and it was doozy.

Iowans To Spend $76 Million On Private School Vouchers, So Far

 

Woodbury County taxpayers voted to build a new jail, but the price tag was nearly 40% above the original estimate ruffled some feathers.

Sioux City Jail Almost 40% More Expensive Than Voters Agreed To

Warren County appointed a conspiracy theorist to oversee local elections. He immediately suspended a deputy auditor who had been recommended for the job, and voters triggered a special election to decide who should lead the auditor’s office.

Warren County Appoints Conspiracy Theorist As New Auditor

Conspiratorial Warren County Auditor Suspends Potential Opponent

Warren County Special Election Approved After Tense Meeting

The White House trolled Reynolds for consistently taking credit for federally-funded projects.

White House Thanks Reynolds For Her Support Of ‘Bidenomics’

A former aide to Betsy DeVos, who uses her vast personal fortune and past political powers to push for school vouchers and private school education, was appointed to lead the Iowa Department of Education.

Former Betsy DeVos Aide Is Iowa’s New Education Director

July

Iowa made national news—again—after a woman wore a “sexy Indian” Halloween costume while being bound and pulled by a horse during Muscatine’s Fourth of July Parade supposedly to honor the Cherokee Nation, which, in fact, did not feel honored.

Native Activist Condemns Racist Muscatine Parade Entry

The initial price tag for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ voucher program continued to grow.

Price Tag For Reynolds’ Voucher Program Could Hit $221 Million

A two-fer for former President Donald Trump. He used Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable to take a dig at trans women and used social media to first fan the flames of his ongoing feud with Reynolds over her relationship with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In Iowa, Trump Uses Dan Gable To Make Anti-Trans Jokes

Trump Attacks Kim Reynolds On Truth Social

Speaking of Reynolds, she called for a special session to enact a new abortion ban and during the one-day debate, one state representative said if people want reproductive rights they shouldn’t have sex.

Iowa GOP Passes New Abortion Ban During Special Session

GOP Rep. Says Don’t Have Sex To Abortion Ban Opponents

August

Urbandale was the first Iowa school district to release a list of banned books following the implementation of SF 496, and it made for an eventful month for bibliophiles, educators, administrators, parents, students, and district officials.

Urbandale ‘First Shoe To Drop’ In Iowa School Book Bans

Urbandale Pauses Removal Of LGBTQ Books From Schools

Urbandale Schools Trying To Navigate Iowa’s Anti-LGBTQ Law

Oh, and SF 496 was also why school districts sought parental permission to call students by their nicknames.

This Is Why Iowa Schools Need Permission To Use Nicknames

Guest Post: I’m a Teacher Wasting Valuable Time on Iowa’s Nonsense New Laws

As of August, the Iowa Department of Education approved $142 million in voucher money, the bulk of which was going to just 15 Iowa counties.

15 Iowa Counties To Get Nearly $100 Million In Voucher Money

One day before he had law enforcement bar a certain member of the Starting Line team and an out-of-state colleague from covering an event, Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis said, as president, he would conduct drone strikes in Mexico.

DeSantis Open to Drone Strikes in Mexico

DeSantis Has Law Enforcement Block Iowa Journalist From Event

The 2023 Iowa State Fair was Iowa’s political Super Bowl. The entire Starting Line team plus a few out-of-state associates chronicled several out there moments from the fair including Trump trolling DeSantis, people trolling former president Mike Pence, and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy rapping to Eminem as Gov. Reynolds looked on.

Eleven Iowa State Fair Scenes That Define The GOP Primary

In a close vote, the Waterloo City Council repealed a ban on conversion therapy for minors after a Florida-based anti-LGBTQ organization threatened the city with a lawsuit.

UPDATE: Liberty Counsel Behind Waterloo Repeal of Conversion Therapy Ban

September

The federal government warned that Iowa’s rollback on child labor laws wasn’t exactly compliant with federal law.

Feds Give Warning About Iowa’s Child Labor Law Rollback

While on the campaign trail, former vice president turned former GOP presidential candidate Mike Pence regularly took shots at the Linn-Mar School District for supporting LGBTQ students, but Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) helped lay the groundwork for those attacks.

How Ashley Hinson made her kids’ school public enemy Number One

October

During a rally in Ottumwa, Trump asked people if they would rather be fatally electrocuted at sea or eaten by sharks as a way to diminish the value of electric vehicles. This situation would later become part of his regular stump speech.

Trump Went On Bizarre Rant About Sharks, Lights In Latest Iowa Event

We’ve all heard these fabricated stories about teachers indoctrinating students into becoming communist Marxists over the last few years, right? Well, US Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) actually proposed indoctrinating students into conservatism.

Tim Scott says kids need more exposure to conservatism

Vivek Ramaswamy hosted arguably the greatest campaign event of all time and it included beer and a drone show.

We went to Vivek Ramaswamy’s ‘Vektoberfest.’ Here’s what we saw

This year’s school board races showcased the increased right-wing extremism infiltrating even the lowest levels of government.

Six districts where right-wing candidates are bringing culture war to school board

November

Iowa is in its longest drought since the 1950s, which is not great.

Iowa is in its longest drought since the 1950s. Here’s why it’s ‘odd’

Dallas Center-Grimes parents had concerns about a school board candidate with direct ties to Moms for Liberty and other right-wing groups, but that candidate and similar candidates from across Iowa connected to the group lost big in this year’s school board races.

Dallas Center-Grimes parents worry about school board candidate’s right-wing ties

Iowans welcome news of Moms for Liberty school board defeats

The staff of Iowa’s non-partisan Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board received numerous threats related to November’s city and school elections.

Iowa campaign board receives multiple threats related to city, school elections

Trump quadrupled down on his attacks on Gov. Reynolds and Ron DeSantis, threatened political opponents, and channeled rhetoric similar to Hitler and Mussolini.

Trump: Reynolds and DeSantis are dead to the MAGA movement, voters

Trump mocks Reynolds as ‘most unpopular governor’ in America

Trump wants to use internment camps and calls opponents ‘vermin,’ evoking Hitler and Mussolini

Kim Taylor, the wife of Republican Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor, was found guilty of 52 charges of voter fraud. In 2020, Kim Taylor took advantage of her connections to Sioux City’s Vietnamese community to use other people’s ballots—while pretending to help register them to vote—to cast votes for her husband in two races and for Trump.

Iowa Republican activist found guilty of voter fraud

Trump and the Satanic Temple dominated Iowa headlines to close out the year. The former president kept attacking Reynolds and DeSantis—the Florida governor attempted to push back—and he said some weird stuff in Coralville.

Trump continues to troll Kim Reynolds with new ad

Amid Trump/Reynolds feud, DeSantis says GOP doesn’t have to kiss Trump’s ring

Trump claims school boards are ‘violently’ attacking ‘Catholics in particular’

Surprise: Trump lies about gas prices while in Iowa

You thought Iowa was going to close out the year without generating another national news story? The Satanic Temple of Iowa applied to have a display in the Iowa Capitol Rotunda and all hell broke loose from there.

 

@iowastartingline Have you heard about the controversial Satanic Temple display in the Iowa State Capitol? Starting Line Chief Political Correspondent Ty explains why it’s there, why it’s legal and how Gov. Reynolds reacted to it. #iowalife #iowacapitol #iowa ♬ original sound – Iowa Starting Line

@iowastartingline Michael Cassidy, a former Mississippi congressional candidate “beheaded” the Satanic Temple display inside the Iowa Capitol. @RushTheWriter has the latest on the ongoing drama at the Capitol. #Iowa #IowaNews #iowalife ♬ original sound – Iowa Starting Line

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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