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First Steps for Branstad and the Iowa Statehouse PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Jonathan Narcisse   
Wednesday, 10 November 2010 05:14

An Iowa Worth Fighting for was created to serve as a future firewall against entrenched status-quo power following the November 2010 elections. On August 17, 2009, the content of this comprehensive review and recommendations debuted on the Jan Mickelson radio show in Des Moines.

It spoke to some basic principles, and addressed core governing concerns – like government is best that governs least.

But it offered more than platitudes. It offered specifics that included strategies to reorganize, reduce, and re-prioritize state government; to create accountable, efficient local government; to rebuild our economy based on tax reform and citizen – not government – stimulus; to reform our education system; to promote a healthy Iowa the effective way – not through government mandate; to affirm core rights, such as the right to property; to protect Iowa’s citizens; to interdict Iowa’s severe drug crisis; to reform illegal immigration; and to advance real leadership principles.

On November 2, 2010, the political pendulum reversed course. Republicans again control statehouse politics. It was not even a decade ago they controlled both the House and Senate in Iowa. Which is to say: It was not a decade ago that they fought education reform, welfare reform, and the introduction of sound fiscal and management practices. When Terry Branstad left office, he had a Republican House and Senate. He did not fix welfare, education, our prisons, our courts, taxes, or our economy. While he managed the status quo much better than Governor Chet Culver – thanks to dozens of tax hikes and data manipulations – Branstad and the GOP did not repair, restore, or rebuild Iowa.

Now that he and Republicans have returned to power, simply invoking a term such as “conservative” isn’t good enough. This group of statehouse leaders must lead, but to lead they must first have a plan. This means not just an agenda, but a specific vision of how we fix Iowa.

At this point, every fiber of my being wants to lay out a detailed, point-by-point analysis of the severity of Iowa’s crisis. When my gubernatorial-election campaign released our detailed plans to fix education and the economy in Iowa, the solutions alone consisted of 25 pages. Data analysis and problem identification would consume many more. So, I will simply say government in Iowa is broken, our education system is broken, and our economy is broken. The mountains of empirical data confirm this and can be shared readily with anyone who seeks more evidence.

Statehouse leaders from both parties, advocacy groups, unions, business and professional associations, business leaders, and the media ignore mostly, but cover up at times, the severity of the condition Iowa faces. The budget hole is real, property-tax hikes were real, the loss of yet another Congressional seat is real. One hundred percent of the high schools and 95 percent of the middle schools in our 10 largest cities are officially failing. The media won’t report that fact, statehouse politicians and edu-crats deny it, business leaders refuse to believe it, activists apologize for it. Yet this failure is a fact reported by state employees, in a report paid for by tax dollars, on a Web site published by state employees and paid for by tax dollars.

So what are the first steps the Branstad administration and the new GOP leadership ought to take to fix Iowa?

(1) Institute a four-year flexible freeze, capping spending at the current level, and refusing to increase the budget one dollar more than current levels.

(2) Resist simple and irresponsible remedies such as not filling current vacancies. While Culver’s across-the-board cuts were reckless, simply not filling the positions he cut is equally reckless. Instead a department-by-department, division-by-division, bureau-by-bureau, program-by-program examination of state government must take place. The fat needs to go, but the Culver-sliced lean needs to be restored. For example, we are about 100 troopers short. Leaving those positions vacant serves no one, other than the administration that wants to look like it’s doing something.

(3) End the practice of spending 99 percent of estimated revenues and move to zero-based budgeting. Fund what we are supposed to do – keep courts open, public safety, etc. at 100 percent and veto every nonessential expenditure from Planned Parenthood to church projects. Private – not public – dollars should fund such things.

(4) Institute a Bounty program, rewarding state workers that help us save money by giving them a bonus – 5 or 10 percent of what they save us. This works in the private sector and the military, and would mobilize those best aware of waste to help us reduce, if not eliminate, it.

(5) Reorganize state government, reducing it to fewer than 10 bureaucracies within the governor’s line of authority. For example Regents, College Student Aid, K-12, and Cultural Affairs should all be under one roof sharing one administrative team. They might retain their unique autonomy in the delivery of services, but the vast bureaucracy supporting each must go. This should apply to public safety, economic development, etc. Iowans cannot afford wasteful and duplicative government anymore.

(6) End the circumvention of reporting created through the employment of a permanent consultant class. For far too long, started during the Branstad years, agencies such as DHS have used full-time, permanent consultants to avoid inflating employment reporting. And at much more expense than our regular workforce. Either they should be made permanent employees, or they should be terminated. I prefer the latter.

(7) Fix the board and commission structure. Iowans in 99 counties deserve to be represented. Also broadcast every board and commission meeting live over the Internet.

(8) Institute real reform at DHS, beginning with welfare reform by requiring work and personal responsibility.

(9) Institute real reform of our justice system and courts, including ending the notion that building prisons is economic development, and restoring work details. Why should Iowans spend $116 million, which will be much more after the obligatory cost overruns kick in, when we have lots of strong backs in prison that can build new jails and prisons as needed?

(10) Begin the systematic elimination of the 12,000-plus useless bureaucratic positions in public education, from Regents through K-12, that drain vast taxpayer dollars, and end the practice of funding nonexistent students.

(11) Present a bold and comprehensive agenda to address the scourge of illegal immigration within our borders. The impact on our economy, state resources, and communities is devastating. Throughout the campaign, lip service was paid. Now is the time for action to take place.

(12) Allow parents to decide who educates their children and let the money follow.

(13) Allow real academic competition to exist by allowing independent academies to be formed.

(14) Publish full, accurate, and complete academic data hidden by previous administrations, including Branstad’s.

(15) End the rampant abuse of the administrative-rules process, fully restoring the constitutional role of the legislative department.

(16) Introduce a comprehensive plan to phase out corporate taxation; institute real property-tax protection for all Iowans, not just select corporate allies; reduce the sales tax; and phase out the individual income tax.

There are many other reforms that ought to take place. This is a start, however. These are things that can be done right away by the new leadership and would prove they are committed to true small government with free-market principles, and not just interested in power and control.

Jonathan Narcisse was the independent Iowa Party candidate for governor in 2010. More information can be found at

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