Republicans in the Iowa House have passed a resolution urging the Board of Regents to reconsider its decision to establish a new public policy institute at Iowa State University and name it in honor of Democratic Senator Tom Harkin.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines blasted Republicans for bringing up the issue.
“I’m kind of dumbfounded here,” McCarthy said. “We are trying to shut down the legislative session. We’re trying to deal with economic issues. We’re trying to deal with jobs and we’re back here dealing with partisan resolutions.”
Representative Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, weighed in, too.
“This is June. We should be focused on the budget,” Murphy said. “We should be focused on what we can do to improve the economy in this state and not be doing political back-fighting here because a few people want to start an institute at a school.”
The Republicans in the House suggest no public building or institution should be named in honor of a state or federal public official until that official has retired from office. Representative Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Clarion, was one of only two Republicans to publicly defend the proposal during House debate.
“When we see buildings named after people, they’re generally named after the people who give an enormous contribution to that. I mean, we see medical buildings or buildings on our college campuses, but they gave their own personal money,” Iverson said. “As a public official, I think it is wrong to have something named after us when we spend taxpayers’ money. It wasn’t our own money. There’s a world of difference.”
McCarthy, the Democratic leader in the House, responded, saying private donations are being used to set up the Harkin Institute.
“There’s not a cent of taxpayer money being used for the project and it will be years before the project gets set up and has the cash flow from private sector dollars to be able to move forward,” McCarthy said. “That’s the facts of the case.”
The resolution suggests politicians like Harkin might use the status of having a building or education program named in their honor in a reelection campaign, but no Republican brought that up during debate. Representative Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars, was the Republican manager of the proposal during the 20-minute debate, but he only spoke for about a minute.
“We’re asking the Regents to reconsider and reverse their action,” Soderberg said. “If you look at it as a partisan issue, that didn’t start here. That started at the Board of Regents.”
On April 27, the Iowa Board of Regents voted six-to-two to approve establishing the Harkin Institute.
Oddly, Senator Harkin’s name was mentioned just twice during the House debate of the policy this morning. Much of the discussion centered on House guidelines which call for both Republicans and Democrats to sponsor resolutions debated in the House and no Democrat sponsored the resolution about the Harkin Institute of Public Policy.
Listen to the debate: June7HouseDebate