The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Rep. Maxwell answers questions about this year’s busy, sometimes controversial legislative term

Dave Maxwell defeated Democratic challenger Sarah Smith and Independent candidate Kamal Hammouda last November to secure a fifth term in office. Photo from WikiCommons.

Legislation to restrict the teaching about systemic racism in Iowa public schools died before it could reach the governor, but state lawmakers have since passed a new law that restricts early voting, and are pushing ahead during a busy session with legislation to loosen gun control and fund charter schools. Grinnell’s state Representative Dave Maxwell explained his role in the legislature and his views on controversial legislation at a virtual March 6 event hosted by Grinnell’s League of Women Voters.

Grinnell’s newly elected state Senator Dawn Driscoll did not attend the event because of a family emergency, according to Marta Miller of the League of Women Voters, who moderated the event. Driscoll and Maxwell were part of a wave of Republican victories last November which resulted in majorities in both the state House (59 of 100 seats) and state Senate (32 of 50 seats). Republicans also hold the governorship, meaning they have total control over Iowa’s government.

Since the election, Republicans have supported legislation to loosen gun control, reduce early voting and shift state funding of education to private and charter schools. Maxwell, who represents Poweshiek County and parts of Iowa County and was first elected in 2012, said that this flurry of legislation is typical under a united government.    

“Government works best when government has competitions, and when we have … [a majority] and the governor, and when we get that, the first year we’re going to have a lot of questionable legislation because we can do it,” said Maxwell.    

“I don’t like to include me as part of the we, but I am a Republican,” he continued in response to a question about the legislature’s focus on controversial issues like gun control and reproductive health care. “I do question lots of bills, but I end up supporting them. I can be a ‘no’ on some of them, but I can’t be a ‘no’ on everything.”

Absentee and early voting    

The Iowa legislature passed Senate File 413 on Feb. 24, which reduced opportunities for early and absentee voting. The legislation shortened Iowa’s early voting period to 20 days, down from the previous 29, and forbids county auditors from sending absentee ballots to voters who do not specifically request them. Previously, such mailing had been up to auditors’ discretion, but it wasn’t until 2020, to combat the spread of COVID-19, that such mailings became widespread for the first time. SF-413 also makes it harder for county officials to set up satellite voting sites and imposes criminal penalties on auditors who do not follow the rules.   

Democrats decried the measure as voter suppression, but the bill passed on a party-line vote in each house, with both Maxwell and Driscoll voting aye, and now only needs the signature of Republican Governor Kim Reynolds before going into law. Maxwell supported the bill by citing the possibility that events may take place between the submission of a ballot by a voter and election day, and the need for smooth counting of votes.  

“The number one thing that all of us asked for going in was, we need to check Iowa’s laws so we don’t look embarrassing when the vote’s done like several other states did,” he said.  

In reply to a question from moderator Miller on whether cheating in elections is a major problem, he said, “I don’t think we have a problem in Iowa. I told everybody that, I thought things were pretty good. I think [the bill] tightens it up just a little bit.”    

Gun control  

The legislature is also mulling House Study Bill 254, which would remove the permit requirement for carrying concealed firearms and make it easier to buy guns. The bill would also remove the requirement for private sellers to pass background checks in order to sell handguns, as well as the requirement that those buying from private sellers would need to pass background checks. Federally licensed firearms dealers would still have to conduct these checks under federal law, though.   

According to research conducted at Iowa State University, nearly a quarter of a million permits to carry concealed weapons are active in Iowa  roughly one for every 10 adults. Such permits would no longer be required under the new law, allowing most adults to carry concealed weapons anywhere in the state.   

“I probably will be supporting [the bill] because there’s just hundreds of people who want that permit-less carry,” said Maxwell, although he noted that he personally favors permits.    

Maxwell also cited the need for personal protection. “We still have what I call an outlaw class in society, and if nothing else, they’re going to make their own weapons,” he said. “We’re going to have [shootings] happen, and I don’t know how to make everything perfect.”   

1619 Project 

 Among the legislative proposals this year have been several laws related to education. House File 222, which would have prohibited schools and public universities from teaching the 1619 project, a New York Times program that aims to reframe how students are educated about the history of slavery in the United States, failed to pass out of committee on March 5 and so won’t be passed by the legislature, at least this year.   

Though the bill is dead, Maxwell said there were reasons to support it. “We need to remember that slavery was not used in any large number north of Virginia,” he said. Maxwell went on to argue that the legacy of slavery is not directly related to Iowa because nearly all of the slaves that were brought over worked on agricultural jobs in the south, well, all kinds of jobs in the south.  

The 1619 project is centered around the idea that “we can still feel the looming presence of this institution [of slavery],” and seeks to highlight the inequities and institutional racism that extend beyond southern states as a result of slavery’s legacy. Maxwell did not address the ways in which systemic racism continues to disadvantage Black Iowans today.   

Charter Schools 

The legislature is still considering a proposal by Governor Reynolds to give public money to private charter schoolsSenate File 159 would give permits to charter schools that are directly  beholden to the state department of education, not local school boards, and would also create a scholarship fund using taxpayer money to pay for some students to attend private schools.   

The proposal was passed by the senate in January, but Driscoll voted against most of her party in opposition to the bill. The house is still considering the legislation.   

“The bill is still alive, but it’s not doing real well, simply because they’ve got to come up with more rules, better ideas of how to run it,” said Maxwell. “Right now I don’t think there’s enough support. … I don’t think [I support the bill] unless someone can tell me what the advantage is. I think we should put that money into the schools.”   

The Iowa legislature will remain in session until April 30, considering dozens of other bills on topics from healthcare to traffic cameras. Maxwell and Driscoll will appear for another legislative coffee sponsored by the League of Women Voters on April 3.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *