You ever notice how politicians that talk about shrinking the size of state government or reducing the costs associated with state government never actually shrink state government? Yeah, me too. Do they, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, want government 'small enough so they can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub' or do they want lean and efficient government that actually works?
This is a growing problem for Conservatives. Their base hears all this talk about reducing the size of government, but government never actually shrinks. It just changes its priorities a little bit. It's the reason why Republicans are balking at repealing Obamacare- people are showing up at their townhalls and they're pissed off and they're scared because oh wait, despite the many flaws in the bill- and there are many, it actually does help some people. Thus, Republicans are confronting the uncomfortable truth: voters actually do want some government. And they want it to do some things. All of which makes what happened in Des Moines last week all the more interesting, because it's obvious that State Republicans are convinced that voters want a state government small enough to drown in a bathtub which makes the changes to collective bargaining for public sector employees in the state are an obvious, immense risk for the State Republicans- because, after all, what if they're wrong?
(I have to agree with this piece in The Huffington Post, btw... this was not, 'Iowa Nice' at all. This was not even sensible politics. This was union busting, plain and simple- and to be honest, if I was a teacher's union, I'd be lawyering up and suing to get my right to strike back- because these changes stop short of repealing Chapter 20. So they'll reduce any meaningful seat at the table for teachers to nothing, but still keep it illegal for them to strike. But sure, tell me again how this was the fiscally responsible thing to do... this wasn't political at all.)
Thanks to multiple editorials in the Des Moines Register, steps are being taken to end access to cheap health care on the part of state legislators. That's good- but my next question is, why do part-time, citizen legislators need health insurance at all? Why should I have to pay for that? Don't they have jobs they do the rest of the year to give them benefits? (Do you know of any other part-time gig in the state that gets health insurance benefits? Unless you're working for a tech company that believes in things like yoga breaks, free shoes and meditation rooms- probably not.)
But then I thought to myself, why stop there? States are supposed to be laboratories of democracy after all. I think we're on the hook for a Republican form of government, but really, we can do whatever we want- that's what the whole 'we the people' thing is about, right? And that's when it hit me: the problem Iowa faces isn't that it has too many teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters or other public sector employees. It just has too many politicians! So if we're serious about controlling the cost of state government, what better way to do that than by abolishing the state senate.
"Aw, come on- stop with the crazy talk already," I hear you saying. But stay with me on this. Unicameralism isn't a totally alien concept in the United States- our next door neighbors in Nebraska do just fine with one chamber and- it's even better than that- their chamber is officially non-partisan! We could do away with all these labels and partisan rancor and elect a group of citizen legislators who are tasked with doing what's best for the people of Iowa- and, for sure, they wouldn't need things like per diems or health insurance, because, you know, they're citizen legislators. They have lives and jobs to go back to when they're not in session.
"But Nebraska has like no people in it!" Well, while that's true- we're getting closer to Nebraska with every passing census. We're at 3.1 million, they're at 1.8 million. At a certain point over the next couple of decades, we'll probably be pretty close in size. So the population can't be an issue.
"One chamber is just weird!" But I thought this was about controlling costs- think of the money the state will save! There's probably a little more to it than this, but, going with what I found on Ballotpedia, we've got 50 state senators all earning $25,000 a year for four years. That's $1,250,000 on salary alone in one year- we could save the state up to $5,000,000 over the course of a full four year term. And it gets better from there: you could save money on staff salaries, office space- we could turn their half of the Capitol building into something fun, that makes money- like a roller rink, or laser tag.
There's an emerging dilemma for Republicans nationwide- and of all the candidates in the 2016 race, only Carly Fiorina got close to breaking into the other half of the equation- she was the only candidate that talking about improving government and not just eliminating it. They can be the party that wants to drown the government rat or they can be the party that deliver smart, efficient and more importantly, good government to the voters. I think a lot of times, voters themselves are hamstrung by a certain lack of imagination when it comes to government. We, after all, are the people- our government can look however we want it too- and while the idea of switching to a unicameral legislature might seem a little extreme to a lot of people here in Iowa, I would argue if the State Republicans want to drown the government rat, they should roll up their sleeves and get on with it.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: true sacrifice starts at the top. By all means, drown the rat- but keep in mind that as you get older and as your kids get older, you're going to need people like qualified nurses and your kids are going to need qualified teachers and when all is said and done, ten, twenty years down the road when Iowa's population has cratered even more and young people continue to flee the state at the earliest opportunity- because after all, why stay in a state that's not willing to invest in you- then abolishing the state senate might not seem like that crazy a notion after all.