Iowa politics are pointing toward concentrating power in Des Moines. The proposal to reorganize judiciary selection, giving the legislature a larger role, is bigger than a "partisan power grab," and the argument that having legislators instead of lawyers select commission members would protect the rights of voters is only a small piece of the puzzle.
District 1 State Sen. Zach Whiting cites an article supporting the proposal. The author claims that lawyer-chosen commissions choose judges "much further to the left" than state residents — based not on judicial rulings but the dubious measure of private political contributions. Other state representatives call for litmus tests on reproduction or LGBTQ rights, advocating to dictate the decisions of judges who are not yet even appointed. Such intense concentration of power is more than a minority party political disadvantage. It is a long-term threat to democracy.
Senator Whiting and District 1 House Rep. John Wills (at Eggs and Issues on 2/16/19) both supported a 2018 Iowa Republican Party platform call to repeal the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment gives voters the right to elect their U.S. senators — directly. Otherwise, state legislatures would elect.
The argument that citizens benefit by concentrating power in their legislators breaks down spectacularly here … and slams into reverse. Senator Whiting claimed repeal would give "more direct accountability to the people." The opposite is true. I call my senator and receive a response. Repeal would confer that level of accountability onto state legislators instead. Representative Wills envisions that with repeal appointments under a Democratic majority would "represent the issues of the Democratic Party."
If legislators view these proposals as partisan, what chance will there be for appointments of judges or senators who may actually best represent the interests of the people of Iowa, instead of appointments that strictly follow party lines and platforms? The party in power is not the state, and legislators have their own interests. We ignore these truths at our peril.
A recent poll showed more than half of respondents thinking that Iowa's "heartbeat" law is too extreme. The counter argument was that a majority of voters had elected a pro-life governor. They did, but that's different from having elected her only on that basis or by electing her having lost their right to disagree with her on this or any issue. We elect representatives, not royalty — a fact enshrined in the requirement that an amendment to the Iowa Constitution must be approved by a majority of Iowa voters, no matter who the governor is.
The loss of citizen decision-making power is a harrowing prospect when extremes of partisanship have already all but paralyzed us nationally. Political moves further enhancing partisan power in Des Moines or D.C. point toward a woefully disordered ping-pong-like polarized political future. Even more important than objecting to any party’s “power grab” is to refuse to allow the concentration of political power ever further away from voters (or the relevant public experts). In that refusal, we protect the foundation of our democracy.
Dr. Karen A. Larson