Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House, good morning.

It’s truly an honor to serve with you, my colleagues in the House. And it’s a great honor to lead this group of fierce, caring, and dedicated members of the House Democratic Caucus.

Seeing everyone again this morning, being in this beautiful building and in this chamber, I’m reminded that there’s hope in starting fresh. There’s opportunity in bringing what we’ve learned over the interim. And there’s responsibility in our work for the people of the great state of Iowa.

The Iowans I talk to every day are frustrated, but hopeful. They’re tired, but optimistic. They’re weary, but keep going. We owe them a productive session that honors their hard work and doesn’t leave them behind.

We come to this session knowing our state is facing myriad challenges – challenges we were elected to tackle head on, despite the difficulty and despite philosophical differences. Iowans elected 100 of us to serve them, and each of us has a responsibility and a role in completing the important work of the people this session. They didn’t elect some of us to lead, and the others just to respond. They elected 100 of us to serve them fairly, equitably, and fully.

Additionally, let’s remember we were elected to serve everyone in our districts, not just those who agree with us. Every Iowan deserves that respect from us as their state representative. 

We also know that Iowans are… well, Iowans are hiring. Iowa companies continue to have “help wanted” signs in the windows, and they’re pleading with us to do all we can to help them find workers. Certainly, workforce challenges are happening across the country, which is why it’s so important that we work holistically to address this crisis in Iowa.

As many of you know, I was raised by and trained as a journalist, and I proudly teach journalism and communication at Drake University. In my life and in my work, I’ve learned how critically important it is to tell stories that help people understand and empathize with those in their communities.

The important work we’re going to continue this year tells a story about who we are, what we value, and how we envision the future of Iowa. What kind of story will it be?

This session, we can tell a story that sets Iowa apart and helps our state grow again. Or, we can tell a story that says we think we can fix it with one budget-busting move that ignores the underlying causes of the workforce crisis. I’m hopeful we choose to look at this substantial problem honestly and completely.

Let’s imagine a young family deciding whether to move to Iowa for good jobs, or to another state in the Midwest. Will we create a state where they can find affordable child care, where they have access to quality affordable housing?

Will we work to ensure they can access health care?

Can we make sure their kids will have high quality public schools to attend, schools that are the centerpiece of the community, no matter where kids live or what their families can afford?

When we look at rightfully returning tax surplus dollars to Iowans, will they see that middle-class Iowans will finally benefit from tax cuts?

Will this young family feel welcome in Iowa? Can they rest assured that, no matter who they are or who they love or what they choose to do, they’re welcome here? If we can do that, I feel confident that young families will like the Iowa story we tell, and choose to build a life here, just like we all have.

Or, will we send them the message that only certain types of families are welcome here? Will we send the message that we prioritize more public money for private schools, statewide solutions to local problems, and a divisive agenda that’s rife with unintended consequences that make Iowa less welcoming?

If this is the path we choose, our workforce crisis will be made worse. Iowans will continue to leave. People will choose other states with higher wages, better housing and child care, and a more welcoming climate for themselves and their families.

Democrats believe we can do better this session. We need bold steps to grow our workforce and keep the next generation in Iowa.

We should reward the hard work of Iowans with more money in their pockets and higher wages. We should return to our deep history of strong public schools. We should make sure child care is both affordable and accessible. We should expand housing options in small towns, rural areas, and cities.

Before I close, I want to address one final issue that presents the greatest threat to our state and nation: misinformation.

It’s become increasingly clear we can no longer ignore the lies and misinformation so pervasive today. As elected officials, we have a deep responsibility to not just tell the truth, but defend the truth and hold each other accountable.

Our kids deserve to know the full truth about our history without interference or threats from lawmakers. Our families deserve the truth about how to stay healthy during this pandemic instead of falsehoods promoted by some politicians.  Our democracy needs us to uphold the truth so it can endure. 

Iowans deserve to know the decisions we make this session are grounded in reality, not internet conspiracy theories.

We must base policy on facts, not Facebook.

We must govern based on truth, not Twitter.

I know each and every one of us is honored to be here this morning. I know we all worked hard to get here, and our families sacrifice a lot for us to have the opportunity to serve. I’m grateful to Lee, Ellie, and James for their support as I serve the state we all love. And I’m grateful to your families for sharing you with all of us in this important work. I truly enjoy getting to know you, and building friendships with you.

I’m hopeful that this year we can remember that our policy differences don’t mean we need to resort to personal attacks. I’m optimistic that, even during sharp debate, we can remember the humanity and people sitting at each and every one of these desks. And I hope we can remember our shared commitment to the people of Iowa.

Like you, I treasured time with family over the holidays, including time gathering together for a shared meal at Christmas. Every time we gather together, we end our pre-dinner prayer with the same words – “and keep ever before us the needs of others.” That reminder will stick with me once again this session as we do the people’s business. Let us keep ever before us the needs of others, and work together toward a better Iowa.

Thank you for your service. Let’s get to work.