Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds's third Condition of the State address bore a lot of resemblance to her previous ones: In 45 minutes or so, she saluted Iowa's small town and rural history, while promising budgetary magic (cutting income and property taxes while increasing funding for mental health and water quality), subsidies for farmers, and a pro-life measure, this time an amendment to the state constitution. She also called out the tech education efforts of Osage Community Schools, which has established a partnership with Cedar Rapids-based NewBoCo, where my son works.
|Reynolds at NewBoCo in October 2019 with executives David Tominsky and Eric Engelman||(swiped from thegazette.com)|
One distinctive aspect of Reynolds's time as Governor has been her interest in criminal justice reform, particularly changing Iowa's strict provisions on disenfranchisement of felons, for which she wants another constitutional amendment. Her call came about 35 minutes into the speech, but we'd been led by advance publicity to expect it, she's talked about it before, and she spent some time on the subject, so it's clearly something she believes in.
She gave both practical and idealistic reasons for doing so. She argued that prisoners that are effectively re-integrated into the community are less likely to re-offend, which makes our communities safer. She also believes in "redemption," and that "When someone has lost their way, we are called to seek them out," alluding to Jesus's parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14, Luke 15:1-7). She recognized in the audience William Burt of Waterloo, who has established a remarkable record of community service and entrepreneurship after being released from prison, and who recovered his voting rights by petitioning the governor.
Reynolds also quoted Ronald Reagan to the effect that the right to vote is the "crown jewel of American liberties." This is why it's such an important issue to me. I'm ambivalent about absolute expressions of many rights, viewing them as efforts to close off essential community conversations about the terms of our common life. But voting is different, because the quality and equity of those conversations is absolutely dependent on their inclusiveness. Only when people are fully included in society does that happen.
New York University's Brennan Center for Justice includes voting rights restoration as a key part of their Ensure Every American Can Vote campaign. They argue, Millions of Americans are barred from voting because of criminal convictions in their past. Felony disenfranchisement laws, relics of our Jim Crow past, hit African Americans disproportionately hard. (On the origins of these laws, see Behrens, Uggen and Manza 2003.) When Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order in 2005 automatically restoring all ex-felons' voting rights, voting turnout increased, until the order was rescinded by Governor Terry Branstad in 2011 (Meredith and Morse 2015).
Iowa is the currently the only state in the U.S. where all felons permanently lose their right to vote (unless they successfully petition). In eight other states, mostly in the southeast, this may happen. Other states restore voting rights after the expiration of the sentence, or parole, or probation. Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow prisoners to vote. (See map at procon.org.) The number of people affected, currently over 6 million potential voters, has increased dramatically in recent years, as you can tell by comparing the numbers in articles only a couple decades old which use figures like 4.7 million.
The process of amending Iowa's constitution begins in the state legislature. Both houses must pass the measure in consecutive years. Last year the House passed it but the Senate did not, so we start all over again in 2020.
Complete text of the governor's address is here.