GOP principles: up in smoke at Iowa Statehouse

by Iowa Capital Dispatch
March 13, 2023

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature like to talk about their bedrock principles. This year, those principles seem to be printed on tissue paper and every new bill lights another match.

I wrote a whole column last week about how Statehouse Republicans, despite their repeated declarations of trust for parents, are working to eliminate choices for many. That was just one example, and the pattern has been regularly repeated.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Rep. Chad Ingels of Randalia, one of five Republicans who voted against the ban on gender-affirming health care for minors:

“This (bill) seeds division. It also asks the question: When do parents matter? Many people have talked already today that we have had a lot of talk, a lot of discussion, about parents mattering. Parents being the focus. But that’s until those parents think differently than us. You think differently than we do? To hell with them.”

But the abandonment of trust for parents isn’t the only one way the majority of Republicans are shredding previous principles. A central argument for banning drug therapies such as puberty blockers for minors was what Republicans cited as a lack of medical research on the long-term “efficacy” and safety of the medication.

And yet, just last year, House Republicans went to the wall to push through so-called “right to try” legislation to enable unapproved, unproven and potentially unsafe off-label use of drugs for certain patients. They wanted to clear the way for internet-fad remedies like ivermectin, commonly used to deworm horses, to treat COVID-19.

A bill to expand “right to try” to more patients was introduced this year. Apparently, proven efficacy is only an issue for trans kids.

Privacy is not for everyone

Then there’s Republicans’ newfound passion for privacy.  The need to provide “privacy” was Senate Republicans’ rationale for legislation to stop trans students from using school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

“Iowa kids are all going to be safe, they’re all going to be well cared for, and they’re all going to be provided facilities where they can have privacy,” Sen. Cherielynn Westrich, R-Ottumwa, said during debate.

Privacy is not for everyone, apparently. It does not extend to kids who may have to somehow prove their gender to use those sacred restrooms or locker rooms – or to play on school sports teams under legislation signed into law last year.

Anti-abortion Republicans cheered when the U.S. Supreme Court, later followed by Iowa’s justices, found that a right to abortion did not exist in the U.S. Constitution. As Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion highlighted, Roe v. Wade was decided based on a right to privacy that was also not explicitly stated in the constitution. Decisions upholding same-sex and interracial marriage are rooted in that same tenuous and, for conservatives, inconvenient privacy right.

The zeal to protect “privacy” was also the flimsy reason Senate Republicans claimed they were moving to shackle the state auditor’s office. Despite already-strict confidentiality requirements on the auditor, Senate Republicans decided to prohibit the auditor from accessing certain information, such as personal financial data, unless the target of an audit agrees it’s relevant. Who, if they were being investigated for fraud or embezzlement, would want to give up access to their financial information?

Who cares about fiscal responsibility?

State Auditor Rob Sand and other Democrats who opposed the bill also pointed out that the GOP was shoving aside another long-standing principle: fiscal responsibility. “This is now a waste, fraud and abuse promotion bill,” Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said. “… This bill doesn’t protect privacy. It only undermines independent oversight.”

And that’s exactly the point. With this bill, Republicans could not only neutralize the only statewide Democratic officeholder left in Iowa but also kennel one of the few watchdogs still able to hold the executive branch accountable.

It seems partisanship is one of the few principles that Republicans can always get behind.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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