A crowd of nearly 600 was ordered out of the Iowa House Tuesday night when chaos erupted during a public hearing.
The crowd was mostly made up of people who oppose the tax plan Democrats have proposed and they cheered when a speaker shared their views. The crowd booed and hissed at those who offered a different opinion. The event’s emcee repeatedly asked the crowd to quiet down, but those requests were ignored and House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, ordered the crowd out of the House.
They did not go quietly. It took about 15 minutes for the angry throng to file out. Iowans for Tax Relief president Ed Failor, Junior, was livid and used an inflammatory word to describe the legislator who ordered the crowd to leave.
"The people who are paying their salaries, they’re throwing them out of the building they pay for," Failor said, jabbing his index finger into the wood border of the House press bench to punctuate his remarks. "This is the most atrocious thing I’ve seen in the history of the 15 years I’ve been a lobbyist. Pat Murphy acted like a jack-booted Nazi in the way he behaved today."
After that comment, Speaker Murphy then ordered a doorkeeper to escort Failor from the House, too. "Six-hundred Iowans, he took their voice away and threw them out of the building; 600 people thrown out the building tonight and Pat Murphy’s going to send me with them because he’s wrong and he knows he’s wrong," Failor said.
The doorkeeper grabbed Failor’s arm and said, "Come on, come on." Failor tried to shrug off his escort. "I’ll go out this way," Failor said, adding a few seconds later — after he’d accused Murphy of running a totalitarian state, "I’m going."
About five minutes later, Murphy spoke to reporters.
"The bottom line is the House has very clear rules," Murphy said. "There (are) no demonstrations. The idea behind the public hearing is to give public input and give people the ability to speak for and against the bill. This is not an athletic event where you cheer for the home team and you jeer and boo against people that you don’t agree with. If you want to do that, you do rallies outside the building. You don’t do that inside the building and it was inappropriate. Quite frankly, I should have acted sooner and it was my mistake."
Representative Paul Shomshor, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, served as a sort of emcee for the public hearing and Shomshor issued this advisory about half an hour before the crowd was ordered out. "Please, have order," Shomshor said after banging a gavel six times before the crowd’s cheering finally stopped. "If there is one more, you know, evidence of cheering or hissing or booing a speaker, I’m under order from (House Speaker Pat Murphy) to clear the chamber. The tradition of the House is to have order when individuals are making presentations and speeches — so, please, if there’s another outburst, I’m under the speaker’s orders to clear the chamber."
Jim Draude of Pleasant Hill was among the people who came to the hearing, and left in anger. "This is a joke. Free speech? To be informed on what’s going on? No," Draude said. "What my take is on this is that they want to hear what they want to hear. If they have someone that disagrees with them, they’re looking for a reason to get rid of them."
After the shouting was done and the crowd in the galleries had filed out, the public hearing resumed and those who had registered to speak were given a chance to do so. The last person started speaking at 9:45 and finished a couple of minutes later. Shomshor thanked the folks who were still in the House or listening to the audio online, then he shut the sound system off.
Read and hear more about this story on The Blog. Click on the audio link below to hear the first half of the public hearing, right up to the point where Speaker Murphy asked state troopers to remove the crowd in the balconies.