State legislators Hubert Houser, Greg Forristall and Richard Anderson began their Mills County farewell tour Saturday morning by participating in the Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce's first legislative coffee of the year. The three Republican lawmakers are in their final year of representing Mills County before new legislative boundaries go into effect next January.
Houser is in his 20th year of representing Mills County. He served in the House of Representatives from 1992 – 2001 before filling a Senate vacancy in 2002 created by Derryl McLaren’s resignation. Forristall has served western Mills County in the House of Representatives since 2007 and Anderson has represented eastern Mills County in the House since 2005. Beginning in 2013, Houser’s and Forristall’s districts will have new boundaries, while Anderson is giving up his seat in the legislature.
“I am retiring (from the legislature),” Anderson said. “I’ve been in this business eight years. I’m imposing term limits on myself, which I think all politicians should do.
“There’s more to life than serving in the Iowa Legislature.”
Reflecting on his 20 years in the legislature, Houser said he’s witnessed a noticeable decline in bipartisanship at the state capitol over the past two decades.
“The Democrats are much more liberal and the Republicans are much more conservative,” Houser said. “You line the Republicans up and you can hardly see light in between them.
“There’s not very many of us that can cross the aisle.”
Houser, a former member of the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors and Carson-Macedonia Board of Education, said he didn’t expect his run in the legislature to reach two decades.
“When I started out 20 years ago, I never expected to be around this long. There’s probably some of you that wish I hadn’t stuck around” he joked. “That’s the way it worked out.”
Houser said despite next year’s boundary changes, he still expects to be involved in projects and issues that impact Mills County.
The legislators expect a variety of issues to be addressed during the 2012 session, including Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform plan, mental health, commercial property taxes, economic development and a possible increase in the state’s gas tax. Houser said the majority of legislation under consideration will be initiated by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and passed on to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Forristall, chair of the House Education Committee, said a major component of Branstad’s education reform bill is third grade literacy.
“We want to make sure every child that finishes third grade can read,” Forristall said. “We’ll start identifying children that have difficulties, as early as kindergarten, and give them intensive remediation.
“We know through studies that if a child can’t read when they enter the fourth grade, 88 percent of them will not graduate from high school. When you don’t graduate from high school, that is a life sentence to poverty and nothing good happens.”
In regard to economic development, Anderson said House Republicans and the governor have differing opinions about the best way to stimulate economic growth.
“Generally, the House and the governor are on the same page that the best way to do that is through having the lowest tax rates that we can have on our businesses and individuals, but also to create a regulatory environment that is not burdensome on businesses, Anderson said.
“The point of conflict comes on how much money can we put into a fund that is used specifically to incent other businesses to come to Iowa. That involves some judgment and you end up picking winners and losers. Sometimes you lose and your money is thrown away.”
Anderson had praise for the leadership at the Department of Economic Development and said one plan he favors is encouraging small business owners in Iowa who are contemplating retirement to consider offering employee stock options to allow the workers to eventually buy the business instead of having the company be sold to a foreign firm.
“Hy-Vee is a great example of that,” Anderson said. “Hy-Vee is an employee-owned business. They remain stable and the employees are committed to the growth of the company.”
In recent years, Republican lawmakers have voiced support for an increase in the state gas tax to supplement infrastructure and road use funds and Branstad has indicated he would be receptive to an increase, but prefers to call the tax a “fuel user’s fee.”
Houser said bipartisan support will be needed for the gas tax hike to move forward and he doesn’t expect any bills pertaining to the matter to be addressed until March – after candidates have filed their re-election papers.