Ernst must lead Iowa

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, impresses us as someone who at least is trying to listen to all Iowans. During a visit to Storm Lake, the freshman senator met Latinos on the street and in the cafés and told us this: “I support DACA in principle, absolutely. These young men and women contribute a lot to our country and Congress ought to step up and help them.” We are grateful that she can see the future of The City Beautiful, and rural Iowa generally if it can come to the reckoning that immigrants can revitalize us.

It gives us hope that Ernst can influence Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to embrace his formerly pragmatic self and do the right thing for civil rights, for innocent young people brought here through no volition of their own, and for rural communities struggling to find a way forward.

DACA is a program created by President Obama to protect Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants brought to the US. Ernst’s principle objection is that President Obama created the waiver for Dreamers after Congress could not. Ernst properly recognizes that immigration law is in Congress’ domain.

Congress “needs to own the issue,” she told us. We could not agree more.

Two significant obstacles stand in the way: Grassley, and Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, who believe that DACA amounts to “amnesty,” though amnesty implies an offense; our sense of justice tells us that a minor cannot form intent to commit a civil offense. That is an important distinction that Ernst must press on Grassley — King probably is a lost cause. Grassley should listen more to former President George W. Bush and less to the nativist elements in his own party who diminish him.

We have noticed Ernst working across the aisle with Democrats on issues of veterans affairs and females in the military. She is taking another step over a deep political chasm by embracing Dreamers as contributing members of society who are worth protecting from deportation. She understands how if they can go to college and come home to their families, as first-generation immigrants do, they can build Iowa. And they will remember her as someone who helped.

First, she must help. She can do that by introducing legislation with Democrats and other like-minded Republicans to forgive the Dreamers of whatever sin they are perceived to have committed. Next, she needs to be a positive force in the Senate for comprehensive immigration reform, and she needs to demonstrate that commitment in Iowa. Joni Ernst has an opportunity to bring practical people together for a solution that is compassionate and builds Iowa. She can be the senator we need now — one who speaks for all Iowans.

Another budget gap

Gov. Kim Reynolds may have pulled a rabbit out of her hat by avoiding a special legislative session to fix a budget deficit. She was able to borrow money and hide the deficit, but she will have to reach even deeper now that another $130 million hole is developing. The Revenue Estimating Council believes that income growth is about half what was projected earlier, suggesting another round of steep budget cuts in the next session. That is, in an election year when any number of Democrats are champing at her.

We would add that it could be even worse if the Department of Human Services and the three Medicaid insurers come out from behind closed doors after months of talks. The insurers have not liked losing about $400 million from the reform of the Medicaid system. They will get paid. Either they take it out of the hides of health providers like nursing homes, which are closing all around, or the state makes good on its promise to the insurers and coughs it up. Which means that the money has to come from somewhere, and a tax increase is not on the table.

It is hard to see how the Republicans punt this big ball of problems beyond the election. Yet we do have faith that Democrats somehow can fail to seize the opportunity. Just last weekend they deposed their Senate caucus leader in Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids and replaced him with Janet Peterson of Des Moines. It was all very courteous but was not a good sign that Iowa can revert to divided government we once loved so well.

The gubernatorial candidates are making noise. Fred Hubbell has enough money to make more noise than others, and he already is running ads on this very subject. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has been yelping about it from the Republican side, and he always gets attention for it. This will be a dark winter for the new governor with such difficult legislative problems immediately ahead.