On Nov. 2, Iowans spoke forcefully. And those of us who were elected or re-elected heard loud and clear that Iowans expect, and I might add, deserve, a state government that is responsive and transparent. Iowans rightfully want elected public servants to work in a bipartisan, cooperative and collaborative manner.
I pledge to do just that.
On Jan. 10, I will be sworn in for a third four-year term. I will take an oath to uphold the Constitutions of the State of Iowa and the United States of America. During the past eight years I have served in the minority, in a tied-chamber, and in the majority. I have worked with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and a Republican-controlled House. I've not worked with a Republican governor.
But I can ... and will.
The new governor
I've known Gov.-elect Terry Branstad since 1971 when we were both running for public office, albeit on different tickets. As a member of the House of Representatives he hosted one of my government interns when I taught at Urbandale High School. I worked with his wife Chris (a Fort Dodge girl) part-time at the Merle Hay Sears store. I worked with then-President of Des Moines University Terry Branstad on rural health, mental health and veterans' health issues. I can and will work with Gov. Branstad.
Although we will disagree on a number of issues, no doubt, we're both pragmatic public servants, and not particularly doctrinaire and ideological. I am generally pleased with his appointments to head departments and will try to find reasons to vote for their confirmation. Elections have consequences and one is the chief executive's prerogative to make gubernatorial appointments.
His reappointment of Gen. Tim Orr as Iowa's adjutant general and Nancy Richardson as the director of the Department of Transportation, at least through the legislative session, and appointment of Sen. Larry Noble, R-Ankeny, to head the Department of Public Safety and Rep. Jodi Tymeson, R-Winterset, as director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, are good choices.
Much of the 2011 legislative session will be devoted to balancing the budget without increasing taxes. Iowa is in relatively good fiscal shape. We continue to enjoy among the highest bond ratings of any state in the nation. We closed the books on the 2010 fiscal year with a $515 million budget surplus plus about $434 million in reserve accounts. That's nearly $1 billion in the positive column as we commence the 2011 session. State revenue is up. Unemployment is 2 percent less than the national average.
That's little consolation, of course, to an Iowan who is unemployed. So job creation and regional economic growth must remain major priorities, accomplished by bipartisan cooperation.
Whether it's accomplished by the Iowa Power Fund or another program initiated by Gov.-elect Branstad, Iowa must continue to explore and fund incentives for renewable energy, including ethanol, biodiesel, biomass, wind energy and solar energy. These programs are good for Iowa farmers, Iowa consumers, the Iowa economy, the Iowa environment and our national defense, by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
As chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to help our veterans. I am told we've passed more progressive and comprehensive veterans legislation in the past four years than any time since World War II. We must help our veterans and their families. Post traumatic stress disorder and the number of suicides among returning veterans are particularly troublesome and we must do better for the men and women who serve their nation in uniform, and their families.
We must continue to stay focused on transportation, including completion of a four-lane Highway 20 across the state, city streets and county roads and bridges. Gov.-elect Branstad, like his predecessor, Gov. Chet Culver, has taken a fuel tax increase off the table contrary to TIME-21 recommendations, so we must find other ways to fund our roads and highways. Aviation and passenger rail demand our support too.
Perhaps a major difference between Gov.-elect Branstad and the Republican-controlled House vis-a-vis the Democratic-controlled Senate will be education. Most members of my caucus and I are committed to expanding quality universal voluntary preschool. The new governor has said he's not opposed to preschool, but does not believe it should be publicly funded. My Democratic colleagues and I will resist efforts to scale back preschool. We've made great progress, including expanding preschool attendance from 19 percent of our 4-year-olds four years ago to 60 percent now. This is not the time to turn back. Public education has never been means-tested, that is, provided to those who are able to pay for it or those who are so poor that they receive scholarships. I fear the new governor's plans would mean only Iowa's wealthiest and poorest children could attend quality preschools. I will work to make sure quality preschool is available to Iowa's middle class families. Education must be viewed as an investment, not an expense. It's our very future we're talking about.
A hopeful sign is Gov.-elect Branstad's appointment of Jason Glass as the director of the Department of Education. Glass has been a leader in preschool education in Colorado, so I hope he will continue his support for free, voluntary, universal preschool. His vision and commitment will become apparent when he, like all other gubernatorial department director appointments, during the Senate confirmation process. That's a job I take very seriously. I believe the governor has the prerogative to appoint men and women he trusts and supports, but the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to vet and perform due diligence on these appointments.
Another education issue will be supporting K-12 and advances we've made to make the curriculum more relevant, rigorous and accountable. We must also focus on our community colleges. Iowa has among the nation's highest tuition and lowest state aid. Our community colleges not only play an important role in traditional education, but are vital to Iowa's economic growth, providing a skilled work force for Iowa's employers and businesses. Iowa cannot afford for a community college education to be unaffordable to Iowans.
During the last legislative session we expanded health insurance to 30,000 previously uninsured Iowa children. Access to quality and affordable health care, including mental health care, must not be denied to Iowa's most vulnerable citizens.
Bipartisanship A lot of challenges lie ahead for the 150 legislators and the new governor. There is nothing inherently wrong with partisan differences of opinion. In fact, it's healthy in a republican form of government. But we must all look beyond partisan differences and work for what's best for Iowans, who are, after all, our bosses. We all work for the same people - Iowans.
I anticipate and pledge to work in a collaborative, bipartisan and cooperative fashion. I didn't run to do nothing. Nor do I believe that gridlock and doing nothing are good public policy practices. They do not lead to good public policies.
I expect moderate policy to emerge. Extreme right-wing or left-wing policy is not likely to emerge because each house can say "no" to the extremes of the other. I do not believe we will veer too far to the right or the left.
May we disagree in agreeable ways and behave in a civil manner, acknowledging our differences, but focusing on those values and visions we share in common.
Finally, in a representative democracy it is vital that we public servants hear from you, our constituents, or as I like to think of you, our bosses. I am honored and humbled to be your voice and advocate in the Iowa Senate and welcome your ideas and suggestions.
Sen. Daryl Beall was elected to his third four-year term in 2010 and represents the people of Calhoun, Greene and Webster counties.
He chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee and is vice chair of the Local Government Committee. He serves as a member of the Transportation (policy) Committee and is vice chair of the joint House-Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Budget (appropriations) Subcommittee. He is a member of the Education Committee and the Commerce Committee.
Beall is a commissioner and steering (governance) committee of the Education Commission of the States, and a commissioner with the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.
You can contact Beall at email@example.com or at his home phone, 573-7889. During the legislative session, you can call reach him at the Senate switchboard, 281-3371. His home address is 1928 N. 22nd St., Fort Dodge, IA 50501.