Seeing red and getting called ‘unhinged’: Iowa politics in 2017

A selfie of Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley before the 2016 State of Union Address, tweeted by Sen. Grassley.

Republicans took full control of state government in Iowa in 2017, and moved quickly to enact an intensely ideological agenda, making major changes that reduced women’s access to health care, reduced union bargaining rights, expanded access to guns and decreased support for public education. But it was liberals that Gov. Kim Reynolds called “unhinged,” at her first campaign fundraiser. Public statements by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst called in question how well-hinged Iowa’s two U.S. Senators are. Meanwhile in the Iowa State Senate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix tried to convince the public there’s no problem with sexual harassment in the Republican caucus (a jury disagreed). The Democratic State Senate caucus, on the other hand, made news by replacing Cedar Rapids Sen. Rob Hogg as its leader, even though Hogg had held the position for less than a year.

2017 also confirmed the “Full Grassley” is largely an empty phrase.

As the year draws to a close, remind yourself of the important and infuriating politics events of 2017.

The Iowa State Capitol. — photo by Lauren Shotwell

Jan. 9: Seeing red: Republicans take control of Iowa Legislature, Democrats vow to fight

With the gaveling in of the 2017 Iowa Legislature, Republicans took control of both chambers. With control of the Iowa House, Senate and the Governor’s Office, Republicans stand poised to take action.

“Today is a new day, a day that we embark on a new direction in Iowa,” said Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) during his opening remarks.

Nearly half a million marchers gathered in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. — photo by Jordan Sellergren

Jan. 23: Iowa Voices: During inauguration, Iowans celebrate and protest in the streets of D.C.

Iowans from both ends of the political spectrum were among the hundreds of thousands that attended the inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20. Some were Iowa natives and some were transplants, some celebrating and some protesting. Little Village sought them out and asked them three questions. These were their answers.

Illustration by Jordan Sellergren

May 16: With the legislative session closed, activists respond to the Iowa Legislature’s conservative turn

Gov. Terry Branstad heralded this year as “one of the most significant and productive sessions in our history.” And it certainly did produce a large volume of wide-ranging, impactful bills. But for some, those bills represented a sharp lurch to the right and an abrupt end to bipartisan Iowa politics. Among the measures that left Iowa organizations and activists gearing up for a fight are laws impacting women’s access to abortions, reducing union bargaining rights, expanding and protecting access to guns and decreased support for public education.

Some measures, including a 72-hour waiting period for abortions and restrictions on collective bargaining rights for public employees, have already been challenged in court.

Illustration of Kirsten Anderson (l) and Sen. Bill Dix. –illustration by Blair Gauntt.

July 19: Everything is fine, says GOP Sen. Bill Dix after jury decides Iowa Senate Republicans violated sexual harassment laws

On Tuesday, a Des Moines jury awarded $2.2 million in damages to Kirsten Anderson, after finding the Iowa Senate Republican caucus violated laws against workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Anderson, who was the communications director for the Senate Republican caucus, was fired in May 2013, just hours after she filed a complaint about the Republican caucus fostering a toxic workplace environment filled with sexual harassment and racist comments.

Photo via Ryan Merritt via Flickr.

July 15: CBS 2 and Fox 28 in Cedar Rapids will start airing more pro-Trump content

Both KGAN (CBS 2) and KXFA (Fox 28) will be increasing the amount of Trump-friendly news commentary they broadcast. Neither station has a choice in the matter. Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the media company that owns one of the Cedar Rapids stations, and operates the other, is mandating the pro-Trump content boost.

Chuck Grassley
Chuck Grassley attends the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa. — photo by Gage Skidmore

Oct. 16: Sen. Grassley skips town hall meetings in Johnson, Linn and other big Iowa counties for the fifth straight year

Last week, the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley announced Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator had completed another “Full Grassley,” the nickname Grassley has adopted for his annual tour of all the state’s 99 counties…

But as Progress Iowa documented in a 2016 report, Grassley’s “two-way street” detours around Iowa’s biggest population centers. Progress Iowa reviewed the published records of Grassley’s meetings in the state between 2011 and 2016, and found that during those years he held only three town hall meetings in Iowa’s 10 most populous counties.

Audience members react to Senator Joni Ernst’s remarks during a town hall at the Iowa Memorial Union. Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann,

Oct. 5: Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. David Young, among top recipients of NRA dollars in Congress, encourage public to pray after Las Vegas massacre

Two Iowa Republicans — Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. David Young — are among the biggest beneficiaries in Congress of the National Rifle Association’s political spending, according to The New York Times. Both have been staunch opponents of gun control proposals, and both have earned “A” ratings as legislators from the NRA. Both invoked prayer rather legislative action in their public responses to Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas, which has resulted in 58 deaths and left 489 injured.

Gov. Kim Reynolds — photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of Iowa

Oct. 23: Gov. Kim Reynolds calls Iowa liberals ‘unhinged’

Speaking at a fundraiser on Saturday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said, “As we all know as we travel the state, the liberals are unhinged and they are out for us.” The remarks came at the end of Reynold’s Harvest Festival in Des Moines, her first public fundraiser since becoming governor.

“What is this outrageous thing liberals are doing in Iowa? I’d be interested in knowing that,” State Sen. Joe Bolkcom told Little Village. “Liberals and progressives think people should have health care. Is that an unhinged idea? What about not giving a record amounts of tax dollars to big corporations?”

State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, speaking on the last day of the 2017 legislative session. — photo courtesy of Iowa State Senate

Oct. 23: Cedar Rapids Sen. Rob Hogg voted out as Minority Leader

Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids is out as minority leader in Iowa State Senate, following a vote by the chamber’s Democratic caucus on Sunday. Hogg had only been minority leader since last November. He was elected to the position after Mike Gronstal, who had led the caucus for 20 years, lost his seat in the 2016 election.

Chuck Grassley
Chuck Grassley attends the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa. — photo by Gage Skidmore

Dec. 4: Grassley clarifies his comment about average Americans spending ‘every darn penny’ on ‘booze or women or movies’

Sen. Chuck Grassley issued a statement on Monday intended to clarify his recent defense of repealing the estate tax as a way of rewarding people who invest money instead of “spending every darn penny they have” on “booze or women or movies.” Grassley’s comments caused a firestorm on social media over the weekend, with people accusing the 84-year-old senator of being out of touch with reality.

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