OTTUMWA — As Gov. Kim Reynolds prepares to deliver her annual condition of the state address on Tuesday, some Ottumwans delivered their own.
Those who spoke in an event organized by the progressive advocacy group Progress Iowa had harsh words for the state of Iowa. Republicans currently control both legislative bodies and the Governor's office.
Dennis Wilhoit, an Ottumwa entrepreneur, said recent actions by Iowa's government have been closed-minded and hurt both current and prospective citizens and companies.
"If a person that is part of a marginalized community doesn't see themselves or employees as a welcome of our state, then it is easy to mark Iowa off the list to locate a corporate office, a business, take a job or buy a home," Wilhoit said. "Iowans deserve a governor that values each and every Iowan, each and every person in our state. She needs to work for all Iowans, not just the corporations and the puppet masters that supply her legislature with discriminatory boilerplate bills."
Wilhoit pointed to Reynolds' remarks toward the end of the 2021 legislative session that supported banning transgender high school athletes from participation. A bill did not pass before the end of the session.
“This ridiculous, last-minute move certainly pleased her out of state corporate puppet masters, but it served to say to the world that Iowa is a state where discrimination will be tolerated," Wilhoit said.
Retired college administrator and activist Mary Stewart wanted to see increased transparency in government. Currently, media organizations are suing Reynolds' administration over failures in complying with Iowa's open records law, and the Iowa Senate is removing the media from the legislative body's floor this year.
"Iowans need a governor and a legislature that represents all of us and does not prioritize the needs of corporations and private donors over the needs of the people," Stewart said. "We need transparency in government, and not a legislature and a governor who limit public input, who pass the most drastic legislation under cover of darkness, and who fight against citizens and the media for access to public information."
Meanwhile, Stewart argued that Iowans and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet while large corporations thrive.
"Iowa's large corporations saw record-high profits during the pandemic, while ordinary Iowans and small businesses struggle to pay rent, to make house payments, or to pay for groceries and medical care," Stewart said. "Iowans are hurting while big companies are making record-profits at our expense."
Francis Thicke, a farmer and soil scientist from Fairfield, said the state is not making progress in reducing nitrogen and phosphorous.
"It's been nine years ... we haven't made any progress," he said. Thicke pointed to studies by Dr. Chris Jones of the University of Iowa which has found there is more nitrogen flowing in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers than before.
"We've had the farm organizations talk about all the new conservation practices that they're trying to put in place — but we never hear about the fact that we're losing ground elsewhere."
Steve Siegel, an Ottumwan who is a former Wapello County Board of Supervisor and a labor rights activist, said Republicans were misguided in their plan to address the state's labor force struggles.
"The Republican strategies to address this seem to be to starve out the Iowans not presently in the labor force," Siegel said. "By limiting access to unemployment insurance, food stamps, Medicaid, and other benefits, Republicans hope to force them into accepting low-wage, low-benefit jobs. I believe that raising the minimum wage and expanding collective bargaining would be much more effective to solve this problem."
He suggested a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and pointed to a 2016 decision by county supervisors in Wapello County to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Republicans, once they gained control of state government in 2017, banned such ordinances.
As Republicans have signaled talks for tax cuts due to the state's continued large surpluses, Siegel said the cuts shouldn't benefit large multi-national corporations and wealthy Iowans. Siegel said federal dollars helped the state achieve that rich surplus, but instead it should go to benefit the lives of Iowans.
"We need to invest in clean water — a lot," Siegel said. "We also need rural broadband improvements, safe streets and roads, expanded state parks and roads, additional OSHA staff to protect workers, the list goes on and on. We must never again force our meatpacking and restaurant workers to work in blatantly unsafe conditions needlessly risking their lives. We need to place more financial resources into stopping the market manipulations, price gouging and pricing fixing that is driving much of our current inflation.
"After all this, if we still see a need to reduce taxes, don't reduce or eliminate Iowa's income tax. Reduce the sales tax by a penny or two, instead. Reducing income taxes primarily benefits the wealthy and upper-income Iowans. Many low-income Iowans pay little or no income tax currently, so they would see no benefit to cutting income taxes. Sales taxes on the other hand hit low- and middle-income Iowans much harder. The Iowa General Assembly must invest in all Iowans, not just the wealthy few."