Here is House Democratic Leader Mark Smith’s Opening Day Remarks:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And thank you to House Democrats who have given me this opportunity to serve as your leader.
Last week, I celebrated living on this earth for 62 years and all of those 62 years have been in Iowa.
This is the land that my ancestors selected. Earhart Lentz, from whom I descend, founded the Decatur County town of Woodland, which is in Representative Fry’s district. Another ancestor, David Newton Danner, placed his wife and children on a ferry crossing the Mississippi River and then began to swim his horses across the river. They wouldn’t move until he swam out in front of them, so he swam the Mississippi, with his horses following, to come to this great state.
Like so many of you, the value I place on this state is deeply steeped in tradition. The traditions of Iowa have been progressive and forward thinking – in education, in equality, in agriculture, in manufacturing – all because of the quality of people who call Iowa their home. These, the working men and women of Iowa, are the people that my caucus is committed to aid. This is the land that our caucus is committed to protect.
Mr. Speaker, in my hand is a block of wood. It is a receiver for when your gavel comes down. This receiver is made of Iowa hickory wood and is a gift from one wood worker to another. Because one of the founders of the Democratic Party was called “Old Hickory,” I thought it was a fitting gift. When you are angry with the Democrats, you may strike it with gusto.
And make no mistake – there will be times when we disagree. Democrats will stay strong in our commitment to what we feel are the best policies for the good, hardworking people of our state. But it is better when we work together toward common goals. When we listen to each other and cooperate and compromise, we usually find success. You need look no further than the property tax reductions, health care initiatives, and education reforms we passed last year as examples. So let this block be a symbol of our friendship and willingness to work together in the months ahead.
In these next few months, let’s continue to build on Iowa’s established strengths as we lay the groundwork for the next generation. A generation of Iowans who whose rights to opportunity should be without regard to gender, ethnicity, color, or sexual orientation.
It starts with education, and it always has. The covered wagons were barely unloaded and the sod barely plowed when Iowans established country schools so their children could learn. It was just fifty-nine days after Iowa became a state that we established our first state university, and private colleges sprang up among the many religious communities that settled here.
Today, our children need to know how to make machines and other products and to deliver services. At the same time, they need an education that allows them to ask “why” as well as “how.”
Personally, I think it should be Iowa’s long-term goal to change our K-12 system to a Pre-K/14 system, where we guarantee first-rate pre-school opportunities for every child, and we guarantee two years of additional training and study for every high school graduate.
After graduation, we know that 50% of Iowa jobs require more training than a high school diploma, yet only about 33% of Iowans have certification beyond a high school diploma.
Our greatest challenge as legislators is to stimulate job growth, and the biggest obstacle to that is our skilled worker shortage. Competitive taxes, quality of life – there are many factors in creating jobs. But by far the most important factor is a highly-skilled workforce.
We need to make sure Iowa students have opportunities for the higher training better-paying jobs demand. It also means making higher education more affordable, which is why we should freeze tuition at state universities and fully fund the universities’ demonstrated needs. Integrating a system of training beyond high school—involving community colleges, apprenticeship programs, and other job trainings is a must for Iowa to compete in a global economy.
Good jobs mean economic security for middle class families. They allow workers to take pride in what they accomplish while giving them the time, health, and ability to be part of vibrant communities. Today, many Iowa parents are working one or two low-wage jobs trying to put food on the table and pay the bills. The minimum wage is supporting Iowa families, not just Iowa teenagers.
We owe it to Iowans to raise that minimum wage, perhaps a dollar an hour now and more in the future. Our experience in Iowa has shown that raising the minimum wage has little effect on businesses, but gives working Iowans hope of a better future.
And while we are grateful that Iowa’s rate of unemployment is far below the national average, we need to do more to offer employment opportunities to minorities whose rate of unemployment is higher than the national average.
Twenty-five years ago this legislature created a groundbreaking program called REAP. REAP continues to stand as a shining example of our commitment to proper natural resource stewardship. Our REAP achievements should steel our resolve to conserve our soil, protect our water, and embrace new technology and research in renewable energy like wind, solar, and biofuels.
I am reminded that when government comes collecting taxes, there is not a question about where Iowans live. However, when it comes to service delivery, too often government says “you are not living in the right area.” We need to pay more attention to the needs of rural Iowa, where easy access to broadband and Wi-Fi and even emergency medical services is not the norm.
In conclusion, let me remind this body that today is not a day of conclusions, but a day of beginnings. Will this be a session of Washington style gridlock or will this be a session of collaboration, mutual respect, and positive decisions for Iowans? We, on this side of the aisle offer our willingness for it to be the latter and we shall see.