Yes, they support their governor in his desire to restructure wage and benefit compensation packages for state employees, but members of Mills County’s legislative delegation say they also stand firm behind the Glenwood Resource Center and its staff.
Iowa’s newly-seated Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has made labor reform one of his top priorities since returning to office in January. Branstad and Republican legislators have presented a united front over the past month in voicing a need to restructure compensation for state workers as a means of addressing immediate and long-term state budget challenges.
Branstad has been critical of salary and benefit gains made by state employees during the tenures of former Democratic governors Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver. During a campaign stop in Glenwood last year, Branstad said, “We’re way out of whack,” pointing out salaries for state employees in Iowa are significantly higher than similar jobs in the private sector.
“Most state employees (in Iowa) are having 100 percent of their health insurance benefits paid for,” Branstad said. “That’s not the way it is in the private sector.”
State Sen. Hubert Houser and Rep. Greg Forristall, both Republicans that represent Glenwood and western Mills County, stand behind their governor on this issue, but they also realize the state-operated Glenwood Resource Center is the largest employer in the community and vital to the city’s economic well-being.
So, how do you stay loyal to the agenda of your governor and the Republican Party, but still look out for the best interest of constituents in Glenwood and Mills County employed at the GRC? The question was presented to Houser and Forristall after a legislative briefing last month in Glenwood.
Houser, who has represented western Mills County in the legislature for nearly two decades, admits the issue puts Republican lawmakers from western Iowa in a unique situation.
“Thanks a lot for that question,” Houser said with a smile. “Sure, it puts us in a unique spot. We’ve also got Clarinda (Regional Health Center) in the district.”
Houser said his support for the Glenwood Resource Center has never wavered during his time in the legislature, but that doesn’t mean he can’t support the governor on the need for labor reform.
“I’ve not been very supportive of union issues, but there’s been years past where the institution itself has been very threatened to even exist,” Houser said. “I think I’ve been very supportive of the institution here as a whole.
“When some of the union folks talk to me, I tell them to accept that I support your institution, but on union issues I’ve got to vote Republican because my district’s Republican and it’s a lot more than just Glenwood.”
Forristall downplayed the issue and said he doesn’t see a conflict.
“No, I don’t think of it. There’s a lot of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) people up there, but I don’t have any trouble with it,” Forristall said. “We need to be fair to everybody.
“We have to get something done. We have to demonstrate that we’re following through on our promises.”
Like Houser, Forristall said he is a strong proponent of the Glenwood Resource Center and the services it provides to Iowans with profound mental and physical disabilities.
“Those are very needy people up there and there’s no alternative for them,” Forristall said. “It is a place of last resort.”
Forristall added that a substantial portion of funding for the resource center comes from the federal government.