In a stunning defeat, Democrats failed to produce the 51 votes necessary to pass the "prevailing wage" bill this evening in the Iowa House. After five hours, debate on the bill was cut off at 5:20 p.m. and a series of votes were held on a string of amendments. When it came time to vote on the bill itself, only 50 "yes" votes were cast.
Representative Doris Kelley of Waterloo was one of five Democrats who voted no. "I’ve never supported this bill. I think it’s wrong," she said at about six o’clock on Friday night. "I think it’s wrong when the economy is in the shape it’s in and I think it’s wrong when we are focusing on labor bills right now when we should be focusing on how we’re going to turn this economy around and how we’re going to take care of all Iowans."
According to Kelley, Democratic leaders in the House knew she was a no vote all along and she’s not shy about taking a verbal swing at the labor lobby. "This was no game-playing on my part. I was upfront with them from the very beginning. I will be a no today. I will be a no tomorrow and I will be a no next year. Whether I’m reelected or not, I will still be a no," Kelley said. "I’m here to represent Iowans. I’m not here to represent any special interest group. I’m here to represent those that really count."
House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha was, predictably, pleased with the turn of events. "What it says is that gratefully, there was a handful of Democrats who recognized it’s more important to represent their House district and join the Republicans in voting down what is a very, very bad bill," Paulsen said.
Rather than declare the bill defeated, House Speaker Pat Murphy — a Democrat from Dubuqe — plans to keep the House voting machine open until one o’clock on Monday. At about 6:15 p.m., House GOP Leader Paulsen tried a parliamentary move to try to lock the voting machine to try to set in stone the 50 "no" votes, but he was rebuffed by Murphy. "Check the rules as much as you want, you’re wrong," an adamant Murphy told Paulsen.
Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City, was expected to be a yes vote on the bill, but an amendment he sought was not included in the legislation, he packed up his laptop, voted no and left the statehouse. House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines blamed Republicans for keeping Bailey’s amendment out of the bill. "I’ve never seen any vote like this ’cause it was a pretty interesting chess game, for those that like to play chess," McCarthy told reporters Friday night.
In addition to the five Democrats who voted no, a sixth Democrat — Representative Jeri Huser of Altoona was traveling out of state this weekend, but she is an expected no vote as well. But one of those five Democrats will have to vote yes if the bill is to pass the House. Kelley, the Waterloo Democrat, apparently won’t be the Democrat who changes their vote from no to yes.
"I’m not one that they can bully. They know when I say no. I don’t have to ask them, ‘What is it that you don’t understand about no?’" Kelley said. "This dog does not hunt and I’m not going there."
Governor Chet Culver had been coy about this labor bill and three others which are pending in the legislature, but shortly after his fellow Democrats failed to pass the bill, Culver issued a statement making it clear he would sign the bill into law — if it gets to his desk. "A broad coalition of labor and business came together to support prevailing wage, because we owe it to hardworking Iowans to guarantee they earn good wages at good jobs. This is one of many steps we need to take in order to boost our economy," Culver said in the statement. "Our efforts on behalf of Iowa’s working families are not over, and I will continue to work with House and Senate leaders to see that this important bill arrives at my desk."
Speaker Murphy, the Democratic leader who intends to spend the weekend at the statehouse holding the voting machine open, issued a prepared statement shortly after seven o’clock Friday night. "I want to be sure that taxpayer money is going to responsible Iowa employers who pay a decent wage, not employers who take advantage of people like we’ve seen in Postville and Atalissa," Murphy said. "As the presiding officer of the House, I will stay in the Speaker’s chair and the voting machine will remain open until Monday. My goal is to get 51 votes and make sure we have good-paying jobs for middle class families."