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Condition of the State Address

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

Governor Reynolds delivered her Condition of the State address Tuesday night.  While there was the usual focus on recapping the previous year, noting policy achievements and successes, as well as individual recognitions, two items received considerable attention: broadband and education.

On the former, what is notable about Governor Reynolds’s proposal is the amount of money: $450 million by 2025.  Expanding broadband, particularly following the pandemic, would seem to be a bipartisan issue, but this issue has failed to gain traction going back to Governor Branstad’s 2014 proposal to “Connect every Iowan,” which then reappeared as “Connect every acre” in his 2015 address.  Perhaps, because of the pandemic, this issue will receive the attention (and funding) needed for significant change to occur.

On education, the proposals are nothing short of fundamental reform, including: open enrollment in all districts; expansion of school choice; the creation of education savings accounts (ESAs); and, most notably, pushing for “parental choice” for parents to be able to send their children to school.  Such reforms, if passed, would profoundly reshape public education in Iowa. 

While Governor Reynolds’s party has unified control of state government, that is not always a guarantee of fast-tracked policy success.  The absence of divided government means there is not a stopping point for extreme legislation, and, as it relates to the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, there is some evidence to suggest voters to look to the chief executive for accountability under unified government. 

State legislatures are increasingly reflective of the polarized environment found in the U.S. Congress, with party-line voting and fewer “moderate” legislators.  The policy environment in state legislatures has also become more “nationalized” according to a recent article, with less attention to state and local issues.  The governor’s proposals are certainly state focused (mental health funding, child care reform, increased penalties for rioters, and eliminating racial profiling were also mentioned), but, as the saying goes, “the governor proposes, the legislature disposes.”

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