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What’s the Matter With Iowa? Dark News From Red-State America

Posted on Mar 18, 2017

By Paul Street

(Page 2)

The “patchwork” complaint is misleading and probably disingenuous. As the National Employment Law Project notes, the real goal behind the preemption bills is to help business keep wages down:

[B]usinesses are accustomed to dealing with varying rules across cities and counties. … Businesses have adapted to varying rules concerning traffic, business licenses, construction, zoning, and many other local laws. Local minimum wages are no different. Most minimum wage preemption laws have been pushed and adopted by largely conservative state legislatures in recent years in response to pressure from big business, which generally opposes minimum wage increases. In other words, the real motivation behind recent state preemption bills is not uniformity, but rather a desire to limit the ability of local elected officials to raise pay.

At the same time, studies by academic economists at the University of California, University of Massachusetts and University of North Carolina have found no negative competitiveness impact of increased local minimum wages.

A False Paradox

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It might seem paradoxical that the Republicans—who claim to trumpet small and local over big and centralized government—would so blatantly quash local power. But there’s no contradiction, really. The real issue isn’t big and central government versus small and local government. It’s big and small government—state power—favoring the business class over the working poor. The right-wing Republicans and their moderate Republican and corporate Democratic allies in the nation’s state governments side with the business elite, which has vast financial and organizational resources to invest in local, state and national politics and policy.

The Preemption Champion

Nullifying local control over wages has become a significant priority for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a powerful corporate-backed group with huge lobbying influence at the state level. Founded in 1973, ALEC has linked corporate America to lawmakers to generate hundreds of “model policies” that have entered state codes from coast to coast. The exchange council has been drafting “model” state measures to preempt local minimum wages for 15 years.

ALEC’s preemption agenda goes beyond minimum wages. It has worked to preempt liberal and progressive local measures on a large number of issues, including guns, tobacco, wages, family and medical leave for workers, racial discrimination, immigrant rights (including sanctuary cities), recycling, fracking, pesticides and bans on sugar drinks and plastic bags. (Iowa’s HF295 also forbids local governments from implementing a soda tax or banning the use of plastic bags by retailers.)

Thirty-six states introduced legislation preempting cities’ laws in 2016. There should be more preemption bills in 2017, thanks to Republican electoral victories last fall. State-level preemption is largely a Republican phenomenon. The Republicans now control 34 state legislatures and hold both the governor’s office and the state legislative chambers in 25 states.

Preemption measures generally survive judicial review. As David Graham noted in The Atlantic, “[T]he Constitution doesn’t mention cities at all, and since the late 19th century, courts have accepted that cities are creatures of the state. … Some states delegate certain powers to cities, but states remain the higher authority.”

Why Boycott Iowa?

Collective Bargaining Rights Stripped

If North Carolina can suffer economic boycotts for violating transgender people’s civil rights, might progressives want to consider a boycott of Republican-controlled Iowa for its deepening assault on working people of all genders and sexual identities? Last month, the state government in Des Moines followed in the footsteps of Wisconsin’s right-wing Scott Walker-led state government by abolishing public sector workers’ rights to collective bargaining.

Workers’ Comp Rollback

Bills introduced in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate this year are designed to significantly roll back compensation benefits for injured workers. In addition, the bills would allow employers to deny benefits if an injured worker tested positive for drugs or alcohol.

Preempting Family Leave

Iowa HF295 also would prevent local and county governments from requiring private employers to provide workers with paid family leave.

Preempting Sanctuary Cities and Campuses

Along with their assault on workers, Iowa Republicans are moving ahead with numerous other right-wing policies. An “anti-sanctuary city” measure (HF265) would forbid cities, counties and public universities from creating a “safe haven” for undocumented immigrants. Law enforcement officers would not be able to be directed to not gather and communicate to federal authorities information on the immigration status of local residents and students.

Steve King: An Open White Nationalist in the U.S. House

On issues of race, ethnicity and immigration, perhaps Iowa should be boycotted until it convinces its westernmost congressman, Steve King, to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives. Last Sunday, the openly racist and nativist white nationalist sparked public outrage when he tweeted in support of the anti-Muslim Dutch politician Geert Wilders: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

King doubled down on his remarks, going on CNN to add: “I’d like to see an America that’s just so homogenous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective.” King also went on an Iowa radio station to “predict … that Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other” before whites become a minority in the U.S. He said that his “somebody else’s babies” comment wasn’t racist but was about “our stock, our country, our culture, our civilization.” He added that “we need to have enough babies to replace ourselves.” Getting King to resign, however, might not be so easy. Many Iowans appreciate his bluntness, the same way many Americans appreciate Donald Trump’s brusqueness.

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