Top Democrats in the Iowa House of Representatives said Tuesday they were disappointed in the 2021 legislative session and that their job in the months ahead is to show Iowans that Republican lawmakers are extremists who don’t deserve their support.
“We really did nothing to help Iowans deal with COVID,” said House Minority Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City. “Iowa’s health care system came into the pandemic not in a great position, and we didn’t really do anything to help in the Legislature. We were on a different track, a different agenda. I think that will probably cause the effects of the pandemic to linger on our economy and on the people of Iowa.”
“What happened at the Capitol is really not matching at all what we’re hearing from our constituents that they want,” said Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, a Polk County Democrat. “You know, we’ve got some pretty divisive, some pretty partisan bills that happened and that became law, and those are not the things Iowans were asking us to do. And so there was really a disconnect between what happened in the Statehouse and what Iowans were looking for this session.”
The two lawmakers made their comments during a Tuesday press conference. Prichard has served in the Iowa House since 2013 and plans to serve out his term as a state representative while stepping down as the Democrats’ House leader. He has not said whether he intends to seek re-election in 2022.
Konfrst and Prichard said Iowa Republicans fared well in the 2020 election partly because they campaigned as moderates, even if that didn’t reflect their actions during the 2021 session.
“Republicans were able to maintain control (of the Legislature) in November, and they expanded their majority in the House,” Prichard said. “I think there’s a lot of factors that contributed to that. I think one is that the state went for President — you know, for Trump, and that probably had some down-ballot coattails.”
“The Republicans campaign in moderate and then govern in the extreme,” Konfrst said. “So a lot of things they talk about during the campaign are things that Iowans want. And then they get to Des Moines and they seem to forget that’s what they promised. They only answer to special interests. So I would say that certainly our job over the next several months is to let people know that the disconnect between what they say and what they do is pretty strong. Because when they’re knocking on your door they’re not talking about these divisive bills, right? They’re talking about child care and saying they fixed it, when really they did very little to address it.”
Prichard said he wished Republicans were willing to tackle some of the big, unresolved issues in the state rather than focusing on what he called a “divisive” agenda.
“Start with water quality,” he said. “You know, water quality is really nothing more than land management. Iowa’s economy is based on agriculture and you know what makes our strong agricultural economy is our soil, the health of our soil and the sustainability of our land. You know, the water quality issues we’ve talked about over the last decade, basically my entire time in the Legislature, have not gone away. They haven’t been solved … At some point, the electorate is going to ask, ‘What have you done?’ And all I can point to for the Republicans is that they’ve led a divisive agenda and play politics.”
When asked about the social issues that dominated the session — abortion, free speech in schools and transgender athlete restrictions — House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Butler County Republican, said Tuesday the GOP was simply responding to issues that matter to their constituents.
“I wouldn’t say that this session was unique from that standpoint,” Grassley said. “In my time in the legislature, since we’ve been in the majority, we’ve been willing to tackle those issues that we thought were important.”
Konfrst said Iowa Democrats are not radicals, though Republicans have successfully painted them that way. Now, she said, Democrats have to let Iowans know “who the people representing them truly are” by talking about Republican lawmakers’ actions and votes in the Statehouse.
“The extreme party is on the other side,” she said, “and it’s our job to paint those candidates, those legislators, that way in their districts. But not doing anything false, right? We were falsely painted as extremists by the national narrative. I think we can paint them, in a true way, as extremists in their own districts by letting people know what votes they took in the dark of night, letting people know what votes they took on a party-line vote just to go along with their caucus. I mean, we’ve got a big job ahead of us, but we have the facts on our side.”
Prichard agreed, saying that “as Democrats, we need to tell our story for ourselves and not be defined by the political right. We’ve got to speak and define ourselves, but then we also should say, ‘This is who they really are,’ and let their actions speak for who they really are.”