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Role of Women in Iowa Politics | Legislative Update

posted on March 29, 2013

A house divided.  Democrats and republicans sharing power in Iowa's General Assembly showing little compromise.  We're questioning the democratic Senate President Pam Jochum and House Republican Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: We're at that nearly annual time of the year when speculation is peaking about legislative gridlock.  And that is because, like previous general assemblies, democrats and republicans split control.  Republicans now dominating the Iowa House of Representatives, democrats holding a slim, but effective, Senate margin.  And on high profile legislation, such as changes for schools and teachers or expanding Medicaid, Senate democrats leverage that majority they hold and House republicans do the same.  In the partisan standoff, legislation stalls.  Garner republican Linda Upmeyer leads the House majority republicans.  Democrat from Dubuque Pam Jochum presides in the Senate.  Welcome back to Iowa Press.

Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.

Borg: And across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Ms. Upmeyer, this past week Senate democrats passed a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage to some 150,000 Iowans.  Are there any components of that bill that you would accept?  Or are you rejecting it out of hand?

Upmeyer: Oh absolutely.  There are two components that come to mind immediately.  First of all, the medical homes.  That's something we've talked about and I think it is an important part of whatever system is created.  And I also believe that an integrated system, so whether we refer to it as an ACO, which they haven’t quite been established yet widespread, but an integrated system is also very important.  So those are two components --

Henderson: I don't know what that means.

Upmeyer: Well, an integrated system would hopefully move toward ending a siloed system where one group of people treat a patient or an individual for one thing and then you start all over if you have another thing and you start all over with another thing.  If you have an integrated system moving around in that system and managing someone's health as well as illness becomes much easier and more cost effective actually.

Henderson: Ms. Jochum, in regards to the republican idea here it is the Governor's Healthy Iowa plan, which he describes as an Iowa centered plan, are there components of it which you think are worth pursuing?

Jochum: I have truly not seen many details of that plan.  But I will say that the bill that passed the Senate -- this is just an issue that I've been passionate about for many years to make sure that every Iowa, every American has access to health care -- so what we did in the Senate plan is we are changing how we deliver health care.  And as Representative Upmeyer has mentioned we are moving toward, away from a fee for service way of reimbursing our health care providers to reimbursing for outcomes.  And you do that by changing how you deliver health care through a medical home, through a more team approach on how you're going to care for people so that people, so that providers are actually going to be rewarded for good outcomes rather than just a fee for service or a volume based system.  Our plan also makes sure that 150,000 Iowans are going to have health insurance.  We expanded Medicaid for those between 101% and 138% of federal poverty.  So it means that there is a full array of benefits, it includes additional funding that will come to Iowa for our mental health system and just really overall a really solid plan.

Borg: You started out by saying, like Linda Upmeyer was saying, and then you described your plan.  So it seemed to me I thought you were going to say, I sort of agree with the Governor's plan, although you haven't seen the details.

Jochum: Well, we did agree with the Governor on wellness and prevention and moving away from a fee for service plan.  Many of those elements are also already in the Affordable Care Act.  And so the whole health system, whether it is private pay or public pay, is beginning to transition to a new delivery of health care.  And we agree with that.  It's a good approach.  It's a team approach to making sure that people are going to be healthy and stay healthy.

Henderson: The focus of debate on this health care issue so far at the legislature has been on 150,000 people.  There are probably far more people who will participate in these insurance exchanges and they have to start signing up this fall.  Ms. Upmeyer, are the exchanges ready?  Why aren't legislators paying more attention to how those are set up?

Upmeyer: Well, you mentioned the 150,000 people that will fall into one plan or another.  That is absolutely correct and I just want to point out that the plan that the Governor laid out and any plan we would bring forward that might be different than the Governor's would also cover all of those individuals either on the exchange or through the Healthy Iowa plan.  And the Healthy Iowa plan does focus on prevention and health assessments and making sure we're intervening at the proper place.  The health exchange is being managed, set up through, more through the insurance commissioner and the Governor's office and with a public-private state-federal partnership.  And the question of whether it will be ready I think is up for grabs.

Henderson: Ms. Jochum?

Jochum: So, right now the insurance health exchange bill or legislation is in the commerce committee.  It's out.  It's on our calendar.  So we have about 300,000 people in Iowa without health insurance.  Expanding Medicaid will insure about half of those uninsured Iowans.  And let me be clear, they are working people, they just happen to be working at low wage jobs and many times those jobs offer no health insurance nor do they earn enough money to buy a policy on their own.  So the exchange will cover the next 150,000.  That is people over the 138% of federal poverty.  And within that insurance exchange there is tax credits and some subsidies on premiums to help people depending on their income to make sure they can purchase a private plan.  Let me just say one other difference between what we're attempting to do with Medicaid expansion and the details we've seen from the Governor's office so far is the difference in how we're going to pay for that plan.  The Governor's plan calls for the Polk County residents to continue being taxed at $42 million on their property taxes.  It requires the University of Iowa to contribute $12 million to that, $23 million from income tax, etc.  On the other hand, the expansion has been paid for through our federal income taxes.

Borg: Kathie?

Obradovich: We could talk about health care all day long.

Jochum: Yes we could, yes we could.                                                                        

Obradovich: But you mentioned property taxes and I want to get to this because it has been a priority of both parties for the past three years, you’re still talking about it this year and really the positions on the two sides haven't changed that much.  There is a philosophical question about whether you deliver this property tax relief through credits, which is the democrat side, or through rolling back the rates on the republican side.  How do you resolve this gap, Ms. Upmeyer?

Upmeyer: Well, I think you're exactly right.  We do have a philosophical difference on whether or not tax credits are effective.  This year we tried a little different approach by focusing on the process, how we would get the job done as opposed to which bill we would focus on.  So we've said all along there are no lines in the sand, we're not dug in on any one perspective as long as it is sustainable and permanent and someone can rely on that property tax reform to build a business plan or buy a home and then making sure it doesn't shift cost to another class of property.  So I think that happens in a conference committee.  I really think at the end of the day if we can take these bills, get them into a conference committee that's where we can come to some agreement.

Obradovich: You say no lines in the sand but does that mean that your party is going to be willing to compromise on delivery through credits?

Upmeyer: Well, I think it is difficult to have permanence and predictability with tax credits.  The state hasn't done a great job of always honoring the tax credits.  In fact, this would be the first year that we've fully funded the tax credits in decades.

Obradovich: Is there ever really permanence and predictability with tax policy though?  I mean, it is always subject to legislative change isn't it?

Upmeyer: Well, it's been permanent for over 30 years now I think.

Obradovich: Okay.  And Senator Jochum, do you see democrats being willing to compromise on the rates instead of going through credits?

Jochum: You know, we really wanted to focus our property, commercial property tax bill to affect the small businesses in our state.  And our framework was somewhat similar except with a few more add-ons and that was to make sure not only that it would be sustainable, and that is why we put in a 3% growth in state revenue to trigger the next level of increases in that property tax exemption, but we also wanted to make sure that whatever we did would not shift taxes from commercial property to residential.

Obradovich: Right.  And this is, this is the position that democrats have taken all along.

Jochum: And I believe that --

Obradovich: Where is the give on that?

Jochum: We've got $250 million on the table.  I believe the House has $400 million on the table.  And we need to first of all come to agreement on how much money the state is willing to invest in commercial property tax changes.

Borg: Let me say we've got a lot on the table here too in topics and I'm going to move on.  Excuse me for interrupting.  Is the gas tax entirely dead?  I see some lobbying still among the general public.  Senator Jochum, gas tax increase completely dead?

Jochum: I don't know if it is completely dead but we have, I think both parties have said from the start that the only way we're going to increase that gas tax is if there is bipartisan support.  So in our chamber it meant 14 democrats, 13 republicans.  In the House it means, you know, a similar kind of break between the two parties.  And in our chamber we wanted 27 yes votes so that no one legislator would be, the finger would be pointed and say it is your vote that raised that gas tax.  So we're still working on it but it is beginning to look less doubtful as time goes on.

Borg: Is that the assessment you'd make too, Representative Upmeyer?

Upmeyer: Well, our position from the beginning is that before we consider increasing taxes we need to make sure the taxpayers in Iowa have more money in their pockets when we close session than when we came in.

Borg: Okay, so you're still saying that's doubtful.  I'm going to move to education now because we're a little short on time.  Education has not passed either house but this is, we're getting down to kind of funnel time here now.  It must pass, perhaps, one House or the other in order to survive, the education reform, teacher pay, support for teachers.  Is that going to happen?

Upmeyer: Well actually it has passed --

Jochum: Both chambers.

Upmeyer: -- both chambers have passed it and so now we -- the fastest way we can do that is if the Senate sends us a House bill that we sent over amended any way they wish.  But, again, that can go to conference committee then and we can all sit down at the table and figure out the differences because there's some common points and there are some differences and that is the way we can work them out the fastest.

Borg: All right.

Jochum: And one of the biggest differences right now between the two chambers is the Senate bill now, again, keeps 4% allowable growth for this coming school year and the following school year.  The House, on the other hand, is still at 2% allowable growth.

Borg: Yes.

Henderson: The Governor submitted an anti-bullying bill to the House.  It has run into problems.  Representative Upmeyer, do you think that it will be fixed or do you think that will be permanently tabled?

Upmeyer: Well, we'll need to figure that out Monday or Tuesday in order to get it over to the Senate in time for them to take a look at it.  I know it is being worked on and we want to make sure that there aren't unintended consequences.  If we lay everything at the feet of the school I think the school might have something to say about that.  So we need to make sure there aren't unintended consequences.

Obradovich: Representative Upmeyer, this week there was some controversy over the Governor's conference on gay and lesbian youth that is going on.  Some representatives, including some in your caucus, have said that funding should be withheld from Des Moines Area Community College for hosting this conference.  Do you think that that is something that is going to be discussed in the House?

Upmeyer: You know, when we start a new session people come from all over Iowa and people are diverse in their ideas and come together and I -- what I want to make sure people understand is that there's no confusion that the House republican caucus absolutely supports the community college system.  The community college system is so important to us in providing workforce training and that is a skill set --

Borg: So what you're saying is you're not about in the House to penalize the Des Moines Area Community College for their contribution to this conference?

Upmeyer: Well, we'll look at the whole system.  The community college system is funded as a unit and a whole system.

Obradovich: Senator Jochum, the group that was forwarding this idea was the Family Leader.  The Senate is considering confirmation of somebody on the board to the Iowa Board of Regents, Bob Cramer.  Does this situation change his prospects in the Senate?

Jochum: You know, I will tell you in terms of the nomination, appointments and confirming the Governor's appointees we have confirmed 99% of the Governor's nominees.  There is, of course, a slew of individual nominations that we still need to approve and we have begun our work within our caucus to try and assess the level of support because obviously someone has to have 34 votes.  So we are not there, we are not, we have not come to a conclusion yet on that appointment.

Henderson: Representative Upmeyer, will you run for Congress if Steve King runs for the United States Senate?

Upmeyer: Well, we've been talking about a very busy Iowa legislative session that we need to wrap up and I'm going to focus on that.

Henderson: Is that a yes or a no, or a maybe?

Upmeyer: I'm going to focus on doing the very best job as the House Majority Leader as I can.

Borg: What I hear is a maybe though.

Upmeyer: Well, I think there's just a lot of speculation frankly.  I mean, Congressman King is interested in being a congressman right now.

Henderson: Senator Jochum, the congressman from your neck of the woods in the Dubuque area is running for the Senate.  Would you consider running for Congress?

Jochum: No actually I've already ruled that out.  But I will say it is really an honor that people would approach you and ask you to consider running for any higher office.

Obradovich: What about running for governor?

Jochum: Well, I have been approached to do that as well and I told people I would think about it and make my decision sometime this summer.

Obradovich: If both of you being considered for a job that a woman has never run, do you consider yourselves role models for other women?  Maybe start with you Senator Jochum?

Jochum: Actually I think we are in some way.  I think we need to show that regardless of whether you're a man or a woman we are very capable of these kinds of jobs and we do well in them and hopefully that will inspire other young women to follow suit.

Obradovich: And Representative Upmeyer?

Upmeyer: Well, I agree with Senator Jochum.  I think it is a wonderful opportunity that we've both had to be among the first women to do some things in Iowa in the political arena and just as businesses move forward quickly and recognizing the strengths of women and what they bring to business I think in the political arena we can demonstrate that that's the case in politics as well.

Borg: Well, on that note we're going to transition into the next part of the program.  Thank you very much for being our guest today on Iowa Press.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Borg: And I believe that by now our viewers have noticed that I am the only male at the Iowa Press table today.  We've been hearing from two legislative leaders.  In the second part of the program we're discussing women in Iowa politics and the goal to increase that influence.

Borg: Contact the Iowa Press staff online at our website or email us at

Borg: Continuing this edition of Iowa Press we're inviting two women with impressive records influencing Iowa politics and government decision-making.  Iowa City democrat Jean Lloyd-Jones is a former legislator.  Five terms in the House of Representatives before moving to the State Senate for a term and then 20 years ago statewide campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat but losing to republican Chuck Grassley at that time.  Bettendorf republican Maggie Tinsman served in the State Senate 18 years representing Scott County and another 11 years in the county's board of supervisors.  What both women have in common now, they're republican and democrat, is that they're joining together leading a campaign called 50/50 in 2020.  One of its goals is male-female political equity in the Iowa legislature and more within seven years.  Jean, why way seven years first of all?

Lloyd-Jones: Well, it will take at least seven years, Dean, to get that done.  You know, when Maggie and I served in the legislature we thought that we were making great progress and that just a few more years we would have enough women to really make a real difference.  And what we've discovered is that in the last decade all across America in every sector except one women have made great progress getting into fields, getting up to middle level but they can't make it to the top.  And the one exception is business where women are really doing well.

Borg: But, Maggie, right now you, as we've said, you both served in the Iowa legislature, 35 women in the legislature right now.  And that's not good enough to you?

Tinsman: No because 53% of the voters are female in Iowa and we're not even asking to be the majority.  We're just saying we need to be at the table.  So we want to have 50% of the legislature be female and we think the time to do it is now.

Borg: But we've got a little, we've calculated this and we have a little graphic that we're going to show here now and that is the number of women in the House of Representatives and in the Iowa Senate and the fact that Kathie Obradovich, nobody ever elected as a U.S. Congressperson or U.S. Senator.

Obradovich: Exactly.  I mean, I think it's progress when you are electing more women to the legislature because it helps fill kind of the bench, if you will, to get some of those women with more experience so that they can run for higher office.  However, we still are in a situation in Iowa where women are -- when we see them run for Congress most of the time they're not running for an open seat, they're running against an incumbent.  This cycle in 2014 may very well be a different story if, for example, a Congressman like Steve King runs for U.S. Senate.  We also have Bruce Braley running for U.S. Senate, truly open seats.  These opportunities don't come along very often.

Tinsman: You know, we also have an opportunity to maybe have a lieutenant governor female run for the U.S. Senate.

Obradovich: Exactly.  And somebody who has experience running statewide.

Henderson: You know, Senator Lloyd-Jones mentioned women in business.  There is a woman who is at the top of Facebook who has written a book encouraging women to talk more aggressively when they're negotiating for pay.  They say women don't advance often in the business world because they do it differently than men do.  And in some respects, you know, women in the legislature, the majority of them are people who have raised their children and then they have the time to be a legislator.  And I think all of us who are women were particularly struck when Sarah Palin, regardless of what you think about her politics, was excoriated for thinking about becoming the Vice President of the United States when she still had children in the home.

Obradovich: Well, I don't know what you ladies think but women are still getting treated differently in the legislature at times.  Just this past week we had a situation where a male senator was being aggressive in debate and he was accused of kind of brow-beating and not being respectful to a young female senator.  And I kind of wondered as I read about that whether anybody would have said anything at all if the young woman had actually been a man.  I don't know what you think about how women are treated in the legislature.  Is it different still today?

Lloyd-Jones: Well, we're not there today but I can say when I went into the legislature there was a great difference.  And in fact the first day I walked in the first question anybody asked me was, whose clerk are you?  And I was an elected representative.  This happened a lot, not to me but to other women who were elected.

Borg: That brings up, you know, aside from that is there just intimidation about running for office?

Tinsman: I think there is some intimidation but I'd like to get back to the thing that, about being in the Senate, I was never attacked verbally by a -- I'm a republican, from a democrat woman.  I was attacked verbally by democrat women, or men.  So, women do things differently.  They come together.  They know how to compromise.  They would come afterwards and say, Amanda Reagan is a very good friend of mine, she's a democrat, she would come afterwards and say, Maggie, can you agree with this?  I said, no, but I can agree with this.  Can you agree with this?  Within a half an hour we'd be together.  But I wouldn't ever attack another woman in the Senate or a man and women don't do that.  Men play, like playing the game more.  Women like solving the problem.

Borg: Is there something about Iowa, Kay, our society here?  I mean, we're sort of a lone ranger among states.

Henderson: Yes, we hold the distinction of being one of two states which has never elected a woman to be governor or elected a woman to Congress.

Borg: Is there something about our society?

Henderson: I don't know that there's something about our society.  I do think it's about the bench.  We haven't had as many women be legislators, be statewide elected officials.  If it were not for the fact that Terry Branstad asked Joy Corning to be his running mate and Tom Vilsack asked Sally Pederson to be his running mate and Chet Culver asked Patty Judge to be his running mate we wouldn't have a woman statewide elected office holder at all in Iowa because all the other offices, treasurer, auditor, those offices are all male dominated.  So until you get the bench moving up through the process Iowans aren't seeing women as elected officials.

Borg: So what you're saying too then is that that explains why although women have more than 50% of the registered votes in Iowa they are voting for what they consider to be the best candidate, Kathie?

Obradovich: Oh, I think so.  I mean, you know, you talk to women who are elected in office now and a lot of them don't want to be out there saying, you know, promoting that they're a woman, they want to say that they are the best person for the job.  Now, we did see a little bit with Christie Vilsack running for Congress, there was a little bit of a drum beat of let's elect the first woman to Congress in Iowa but it was definitely not the main thrust of her campaign.

Borg: We have just a little bit of time remaining.  Maggie Tinsman, do you see the changes in our demographics in Iowa changing at all the number of women candidates?  I'm talking about ethnicities.

Tinsman: Well, first of all, I'd like to say there is a change in the age.  Young women today are working outside the home and having families.  At my age they did not do that.  In fact, when I first did it I was told all my children would be juvenile delinquents because I wasn't staying home.  I said, well, they're going to learn how to campaign, which they did.  But you're right.  Hispanic women, we have a Hispanic woman on our board of directors, we have seven republicans and seven democrats and the republican is the Hispanic woman.  We are going to be wanting to have people of different ethnicity.  We also have an African-American woman.

Borg: I wish we could go on but we are out of time.  We're constrained by that.  Thanks so much for being our guests today.  Next week on Iowa Press fourth district Congressman Steve King is pondering possibly running for the U.S. Senate.  We'll be asking him about that and other topics, same times, 7:30 Friday night, noon on Sunday.  I'm Dean Borg.  Thanks for joining us today.

Tags: Democrats government Iowa Jean Lloyd-Jones legislature Linda Upmeyer Maggie Tinsman news Pam Jochum politics Republicans women