2015 Legislative Session: Opening Day Comments Iowa House Democratic Leader Mark Smith

Good morning Mr. Speaker. Good morning distinguished members of the Iowa House. Let me welcome the new members of this body and welcome back all of you who have served before.

First, let me say I’m humbled to be leader of the House Democratic Caucus again this year. I’m proud to lead the most diverse caucus in the State Capitol that is a true reflection of the people of Iowa. We have five minority members and a record 49% of our caucus are women this year, the highest we’ve ever had.

One cannot gather in this beautiful room without having a sense of history. From 1857 on, people elected to represent their neighbors and community have traveled to Des Moines to participate in this great legislative body. At the desk we sit, representatives have risen to debate issues that affect the well-being of Iowa’s people.

The people who sat at our desk before us had their time and their moments. Today is our time and our moment. The challenge before us is always whether or not we will move our great state forward and whether the decisions we make will positively impact the well-being of Iowans.

The author, Willa Cather, once mused that winter was a time for the fields to lay fallow, for good books, and for long naps. I’ve often wondered what she would have thought about the Iowa Legislature coming together and disrupting those three things.

She also said that “some things are learned in the calm and others are learned in the storm.” We begin each legislative session in the calm and know that there will be stormy periods as we debate and wrestle with the issues before us.

This is the American way and more importantly it is the Iowa way: to ensure that issues are vetted, unintended consequences are exposed, and that the two-party system works to make a better Iowa.

Mr. Speaker, in the 2015 legislative session, it is my commitment to you that Democrats will work together with you to pass legislation in earnest if it answers “yes” to the following question:

Will it strengthen Iowa’s middle class or re-vitalize rural Iowa?

Those are the two key priorities of Democrats this year and they also happen to be the most important for the future of our great state.

We know the foundation of our economy is a strong middle class.

It starts with a good education that develops the skilled workforce we need to compete with workers from around the globe and bring good jobs to our state. We should expand the skilled worker initiative we passed a few years ago with tuition grants for students at Iowa community colleges and keep higher education affordable for all Iowa families.

We should expand early childhood education this year to make sure children enter kindergarten ready to learn. It’s also essential that we don’t short change our K-12 schools next year and leave them without the tools necessary to boost student achievement.

The middle class will thrive if we can encourage new partnerships between educators and our local businesses that will create hands-on learning opportunities to better prepare students for future jobs and keep young people in Iowa.

We can also help more Iowans reach the middle class by raising the minimum wage for over 300,000 Iowans. Just a few days ago, 21 states – including our neighbors in South Dakota and Nebraska — raised the minimum wage for over 3 million workers across the country. The last time this chamber passed the minimum wage was 2007 and it passed with 79 votes. It’s time for us to do it again this year.

Over the last 50 years, many rural communities have experienced a significant decline in population. House Democrats believe there is more the state must do to stop the decline and capitalize on the strengths of rural communities.

Our ideas to re-vitalize rural Iowa this year aren’t based on partisanship or ideology. They are common sense ideas that will benefit rural communities across the state.

To grow our agricultural economy, we’ll work to encourage more production and use of renewable energy like wind, solar, and biofuels. It’s an industry that already employs thousands of Iowans and adds value to the crops and land of our farmers.

In hundreds of small towns across Iowa, schools are still a great source of pride and build a sense of community. Our job here in the Legislature is to make sure every child gets a great education, regardless of where they live.

We should also pass a bill this year to expand access to broadband and WI-FI for homes, schools, and businesses in under-served and un-served areas. If we do this correctly, it will serve Iowans for generations to come. My caucus also firmly believes we need to take additional steps this year to improve water quality and expand Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Iowans living in rural areas also deserve access to quality, affordable health care, including mental health services.

If this body can work together this year and focus our efforts on a strong middle class and vibrant rural economy, we’ll be able to call the 2015 session a success.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that the voters selected a bipartisan approach to legislation this year with a Democratic led Senate and a Republican led House. Compromise and working together will be to our credit. Once again, a quote from Willa Cather comes to mind: “winter lies too long,” she said, “and hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.”

Mr. Speaker, let us begin and end our work before it lies too long or hangs on until it is stale and shabby.   Thank you, Mr. Speaker.