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Letter from Joe Bolkcom: Are rural Iowa communities better off today than they were five years ago?


Flags are displayed for Memorial Day 2021 in the northeast Iowa town of Jesup, population around 2,500. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

By Joe Bolkcom, Iowa Senator, Iowa City

Iowa Republicans’ tax and economic policies have hollowed out Iowa’s small communities and rural landscape. Their big business approach to every problem have resulted in everything getting bigger: worker shortages, farms, packing plants, chemical and fertilizer companies, tractors, consolidated schools, convenience store chains, food and childcare deserts, CAFOs, water quality problems, floods, wind storms, COVID deaths and agricultural subsidy payments.

The global corporations that have bankrolled their campaigns have sucked the money and jobs out of small towns and turned Iowa farmland into an expensive out-of-state investment. The “run government like a business,” “tax cut” party has made it much harder for rural Iowans and farmers to live and prosper.

The new 2020 census data highlights the problem. Sixty-eight rural counties continued to lose population over the past decade.

Since Republicans control state government and represent virtually all rural Iowans, they have had a front-row seat to rural decline. They have failed to adequately support their local schools and healthcare workers and services, the backbone of life in every community.

Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans created teacher shortages in rural communities by habitually underfunding local schools, gutting collective bargaining and stable good jobs for educators, state, city and county public servants in every school district, city and town in all 99 counties. Their plans to fund private schools will only make the teacher shortage worse and consolidate more rural public schools.

Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans hurt rural healthcare jobs and hospitals when they turned the management of Iowa’s $6.2 billion Medicaid program over to large out-of-state insurance companies. Medicaid privatization, another corporate get rich scheme has not saved money or made people healthier. That sucking sound is the tens of millions annually (that used to provide good jobs for people taking care of Iowans with mental health and medical problems) funneled to fat cat CEOs and shareholders.

Climate change is a major threat to all of us and has really hurt Iowa rural communities and farmers. Virtually every county in Iowa has had multiple floods or droughts or extreme weather disasters resulting in more than 1,000 presidential disaster declarations in the last 30 years. Iowans have suffered billions in damages to homes, businesses and farms. Kim Reynolds just declared disasters in 49 more rural counties this week due to extreme winds never seen before in Iowa in December. Reynolds and legislative Republicans have made storms much worse by denying and delaying action the last three decades.

Pollution seeps into an Iowa stream from a nearby farm. — Lynn Betts/USDA

Just recently, federal Republicans Ernst, Feenstra, Hinson and Miller-Meeks all voted against rural Iowa communities and farmers when they voted no on generational funding for rural internet, roads, bridges and water systems. Democrats passed the infrastructure bill that will bring blue state money to fix our dilapidated red state infrastructure. What are they thinking?

Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans have controlled all of Iowa government the last five years. Every decision. Are rural communities better off today than they were five years ago? More consolidated schools? Longer bus rides? More closed businesses? More low wage jobs? Poor internet services? Population decline? More COVID deaths? More anger. Massive tax cuts for Des Moines millionaires and big corporations time and time again have only made things worse for the average rural Iowan.

If their policies were working, why are they not telling rural Iowans how great they have it? Instead, they pedal rage, grievance and victimhood to Iowans with racial fear, anti-immigrant, anti-government slogans and constant name-calling.

In 2022, Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans are proposing more tax cuts and more rural austerity. Tax cuts have failed to grow jobs or quality of life in rural Iowa. Tax cuts will not educate our kids or keep them from leaving, create higher wage jobs, solve the teacher or workforce shortage, create more healthcare services for rural Iowans, improve internet services or clean up our filthy rivers and lakes.

How much longer will Iowans tolerate Republican rhetoric and record of failure?


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