Senate Democratic Leader Petersen’s 2018 Opening Day Address

Video and text of Senate Democratic Leader Petersen’s 2018 Opening Day Address to the Iowa Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Petersen’s 2018 Opening Day Address

I love being part of Iowa’s part-time, citizen legislature.  We are fortunate to spend most of the year in our districts – close to the people we represent.

Senate Democrats have been meeting with Iowans.  We’ve heard what’s on their minds and weighing on their hearts.  And we’re ready to get to work on their behalf.

Iowans want their leaders to work together, to lead with civility, and to make good things happen for the people of our state.

Governor Reynolds, Senate Republicans, House Republicans and House Democrats: Senate Democrats look forward to working with you on real solutions to real problems.

Last session, the Legislature did a lot of bad things to good people.

That was a mistake, but it has been a wake up call for Iowans.

As I travel this state, I see more energy than I’ve ever seen before.

Iowans are paying close attention to what their legislators are saying back home…and how they are voting at the statehouse.

It’s great to see so many Iowans engaged in what we are doing at the capitol and holding us accountable for our votes.

Iowans – I hope you will continue reaching out to your legislators, attending meetings at the Capitol, signing up for our newsletters, following us on Facebook and Twitter, and attending our local legislative forums this session.

Let us know what you think about what’s going on here.  When you do, it makes a difference!

I am proud to be part of the Senate Democratic team.  Our priorities are focused on helping Iowans get ahead in life.

We believe that no matter where you live, you should have access to:

  • Better-paying jobs with decent benefits;
  • Strong public schools;
  • Great cultural and recreational opportunities; and
  • Affordable and accessible health care

Iowans want us to focus on issues that matter to their everyday lives – and ditch the extreme policy agenda items that give our state a bad reputation.

Let’s focus on helping Iowans increase their pay.

Senate Democrats know that earning a decent paycheck means more than just money to Iowa families.

It means financial stability and family stability.

A good paycheck with decent benefits helps keep families together.

It puts food on the table.

It produces opportunities for our children and for our future.

Iowans working full-time hours deserve paychecks that can support their families.

We can’t afford policies that make Iowa just another low-wage state.

Senate Democrats will work to increase family incomes and help more Iowans get better-paying jobs.

Iowa can do that if we:

  • Invest in our community colleges
  • Support apprenticeship and job-training programs that help Iowans get ahead
  • Invest in safe roads, water and other important community infrastructure
  • Make sure Iowa families have affordable and safe housing
  • Help Iowa companies succeed – especially employers providing good-paying jobs in our small communities.

Our state has a growing number of older Iowans, many of whom live alone.

Let’s make Iowa the state that’s known for taking great care of its older population – helping them stay connected to their communities and helping them live happy, healthy and safe lives in their homes for as long as possible.

That starts by protecting Iowans’ retirement accounts.

  • Senate Democrats believe every Iowan should be able to retire with dignity. We will oppose any effort to dismantle or weaken the retirement security of Iowans.
  • We must also do everything possible to protect seniors from financial exploitation, neglect and abuse.

Senate Democrats know Iowans want safe drinking water and waterways where we can swim, fish and go boating.

We don’t have 10,000 lakes, but we certainly could make Iowa the “Clean Water State” if we open our minds and open the doors to allow all Iowans to come to the table.

Let’s start the conversation with a message that unifies us instead of tearing us apart. No matter where you live in Iowa, the water coming out of your faucet must be safe to drink.

Safe drinking water is a public health issue.  It’s an economic issue.  It is an issue affecting all of us.  And the solution should involve all of us too.

That means it is time to stop the Republican closed-door “working group” meetings that shut out health officials, shut out environmental experts, and block bipartisan dialogue.

This summer, Senator Rita Hart held a water quality summit in DeWitt.  Senator Hart’s meeting included Republicans and Democrats, farmers and city folks, everyone who was interested, including members of the media. Senator Hart and other Democratic legislators have good ideas.  We are ready to help craft a bipartisan solution.

Let’s work together to bring both clean water and new job opportunities to Iowans.  Let’s make the first bill the governor signs meaningful, not a waste of ink.

Senate Democrats believe in investing in our children and grandchildren.  They are Iowa’s future.

It’s time to make Iowa’s public schools #1 again.  That means responsibly investing in them.  It means backing our teachers and all the professionals who show up for our children in Iowa classrooms every school day, teaching and preparing our kids for the future.

Let’s help young families send their kids to safe, quality childcare settings they can afford.  With strong early childhood and preschool programs, we can get those kids off to a great start in school and in life.

Iowa children deserve a mental health system that will take care of them when they need it.  Fifty percent of mental illnesses begin before a child reaches adulthood, yet Iowa still has no children’s mental health system in place.

No parent in this state should have to bury their child because we failed to make mental health services a priority.

And let’s recognize that brain health conditions need treatment just like other health conditions.  A prison sentence is not treatment.  We can and must do better by all Iowans living with mental health conditions.

Speaking of health – this Legislature should act immediately to let Congress know that Iowa’s children, our future, deserve health insurance.

What does it say about our country when Congress can’t even come together to pay for our children’s health insurance program?

Finally, to the babies and children in our state who are not living in safe home environments – we must fix our child welfare system.  Iowans were appalled when state leaders remained silent as they saw story after story of abuse unfold around our state.

Not only do we need to protect our children, but we also need to invest in Iowans to grow our economy.

You can’t cut your way to prosperity.

The best ideas for our state come from the people we represent.  Let’s push for home-grown ideas — not failed ideas from Kansas and other states.

  • Let’s start by spreading the sunshine with more homegrown energy – solar, wind, and biofuels.
  • Local energy means more local jobs and money. Local energy means energy independence and doing our part to stop climate change.
  • Wind and solar energy support more than 7,000 Iowa jobs and nearly 300 Iowa businesses. Ethanol and biodiesel support thousands more jobs and generate wealth for Iowa farmers.
  • Let’s give all Iowans access to high-speed internet so they can connect to each other, to the world and have tools at their fingertips to create entrepreneurial ventures in towns across our state.
  • Let’s build more home-grown talent: We can create an Iowa where more of our children and grandchildren will CHOOSE to live, work and raise their families close to home. Too many of the Legislature’s decisions last year told younger Iowans that they just don’t have a future in our state.
  • Let’s put more resources into our small towns and rural areas: Imagine if the state had taken the $20 million it used to lure Apple – a multi-billion dollar company – to the Des Moines Metro area and instead invested it in Main Street companies and job-creation initiatives in our smaller counties and communities.

Funding our priorities will take work and discipline.  Our state budget is in a mess. Iowa taxpayers deserve smarter budgeting practices from Republican leaders.

Too many Iowa families are now paying the price for a state government that is failing to provide essential services and safety net programs for its citizens.

Republicans call the budget cuts “belt tightening” and “finding efficiencies.”

But, in reality, these budget cuts are painful and irresponsible.  Not only are they hurting Iowans, they will end up costing Iowa taxpayers more.

Iowans didn’t vote to stop providing Iowa children with hearing aids.  Iowans didn’t vote to take away the specialized food and formula program to help babies born with genetic disorders, but these programs were cut back to zero under the Republican budget.  Millions of dollars were cut from autism services and mental health services for our children.  And we know more painful cuts are being proposed by the Reynolds Administration as “COST CONTAINMENTS” – like cutting new moms off of health insurance and cutting in-home and group care for Iowans with disabilities.

These cuts are bad for Iowa.  Iowans don’t want our state to be like Kansas.

In Kansas, Republican legislators were forced to abandon their reckless tax cuts because they failed to deliver the promised increases in jobs and income. It would be irresponsible for Iowa to go down that road. Iowans want us to make wise choices to improve our state. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of others.

Senate Democrats believe making smart decisions with Iowa taxpayer dollars will save money in the long-run.

Senate Democrats believe any efforts to reform and cuts taxes must follow these guiding principles:

  • Iowa’s tax code should be more transparent so everyone can see Iowa’s true competitiveness.
  • Taxes should be fair for all Iowans.
  • Any changes should take into account our current budget situation.
  • Corporate tax credits should be examined.
  • Changes should be developed with everyone’s input.

Some of the biggest mistakes of the 2017 session — anti-worker legislation, voter suppression and other extreme changes – were cooked up behind closed doors without any input from hard-working Iowans.

Iowans expect legislators to stand up for them.  When we know things are not going right, we need to have the backbone and courage to change course.

  • It’s time to call for an end to Governor Reynolds’ Medicaid privatization mess. Too many Iowans have suffered under it.
  • We must protect Iowans, our hospitals and our health care providers from the damage caused by Medicaid privatization, especially in smaller towns.
  • Iowa’s small towns, communities fighting for survival, cannot afford to lose more local doctors, nurse practitioners and health care providers.

Speaking of courage, I’m grateful to Kirstin Anderson and others who spoke out against the sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus.  Kirsten is one of the many women across our country who had the courage to stand up and demand respect and fairness in the workplace.

It is disgraceful that Kirsten endured sexual harassment and a toxic work environment by her Republican colleagues in this very chamber.  It is also disgraceful that Iowa taxpayers were forced to pay $1.75 million for the bad behavior of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol. That is unacceptable.

But it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.

Retaliation against a whistle blower is grounds for termination in the Senate’s handbook, but it is clear that rule is being ignored.

There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace. The Iowa Senate has the choice: Do something serious to address this problem or be on the wrong side of history.

The Iowa Senate can no longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior.

We are committed to making the Iowa Senate a safe and healthy work environment.

That’s why I reached out to Ambassador Mary Kramer to offer ideas for better protecting everyone at the Capitol.

I offer my cooperation because we all have a legal, moral and business imperative to address this serious problem.

Finally, as we kick off the 2018 legislative session, let’s stay focused on helping Iowans and leading with civility.

Thank you to my Iowa Senate Democratic colleagues and staff for their support. It is an honor to be part of a team of people who have such a heart for public service.  As a new leader, I promise to listen, to learn and to fight for bluer skies in Iowa’s future.