United We Stand

When President John F. Kennedy changed the tax structure to lower the highest marginal rates, while closing loopholes, it was effective because it was a balance of the right amount and in the right way. It was a confluence of fairness, equitability, and accountability that led to economic stimulus.   But, numbers alone are not why our economy stabilized and grew; Kennedy also instilled a vision that Americans could share, so that equal parts of sacrifice, generosity, and prosperity would comingle in a united concept of greatness.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

That was not a call from President Kennedy simply to diminish public responsibility; it was a call for participation with compassion and personal responsibility so that better government can prevail for all of us. It was his vision that we could create something better, together.

Today, as we argue over budgets, bottom lines, and what does, and does not, comprise fiscal responsibility, we must be mindful of the fact that our success, regardless of who wins seats in the House, the Senate, or the White House, is contingent upon our goal; an inspired purpose for our communities, our state, and our nation.

That is a big concept, and there will be many shades of grey in the realization of what it means to be great, but just as Kennedy’s call to action was not a litany of demands or even ideas, our “vision” can also inspire us to unite in an ideal to create a greater community with prosperity, peace, and justice.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was our founding ideal, echoed by Kennedy nearly 200 years later.  We can do the same.  May I offer:

“Let us look unto ourselves to better our communities, with a resolve to secure justice, for the purpose of peace, and to reap the rewards of living united.”

A State-Bred Race

thIt’s the home stretch! I’ve been campaigning now for 21 months.  Over a year in a primary for the United States Congress and 7 months after I made the switch to run for the Iowa House.  I have been enjoying every minute of it, even though the physical and mental requirements can be, at times, exhausting.

For every forum a candidate attends, it seems that there is one they had to miss. One way or another, you make one group happy and another is annoyed.  Nevertheless, it is a process about getting in front of people, listening, sharing ideas, and discovering new ones.  At the end of each day, a candidate will access their progress and feel either that they’ve moved the 20161017_215808needle, or that they missed an opportunity.  A campaign is a test of the sturdiness of will, principles, ideology and character.

I am proud of what I have done so far, but this journey will continue, regardless of the outcome on November 8th, into parts unknown, and it will be with the purpose to serve.  I respect any candidate or incumbent for the sacrifices and commitments they have made to serve.  No one, regardless of differences, goes through this with any intention other than to do good work.

I give my opponent the same respect. In fact, yesterday at a forum, we acknowledged that we agree on a few things, even though we have fundamental (huge in some cases) differences on other topics, and I tip my hat to him for his commitment.fb_img_1476818220544

But, I am running because of those differences.

He has placed a lot of stake in a call for “Smaller/Smarter” government.  And this is where I can comfortably stand on his ground while revealing our differences.  I am all in with creating efficient, fiscally responsible, government.  I, too, want to see smarter government.

Voting for education budgets that are annually 1 to 2% lower than inflationary costs, is not smarter, however. Not when the state’s new revenue would be sufficient without giveaway subsidies and when economic growth is consistent.

Standing in the way of legalizing in-state access to Medical Cannabis to treat epileptic seizures, on the grounds of needing more research, may seem conscientious, but it is, in reality, a government induced smokescreen pandering to Big Pharma that spends millions lobbying against it. That isn’t smaller.

Standing with a Governor who unilaterally closed two mental health facilities without a plan to replace those beds is neither smarter nor smaller. What it does is place the financial challenge of mental health onto our local municipalities as those patients transition into our jail system.

Government is not smarter when Medicaid is privatized (again a unilateral decision by the Governor) without enough oversight, or transitional plans in place to handle the burden of care. Government ran Medicaid with a 3% administrative cost; private MCO’s operate around 12%.   It will take a lot of new efficiencies to compensate for the difference.  And where are those new efficiencies as a patient waits 6 months for a catheter and providers wait 6 months for reimbursement and have to drop services to cover costs?

As I point out these differences I am not blind to progress. At least mental health is in our political conversation. So is water quality.  And the Governor has taken his proposal off the table that took money from the school budget to put toward cleaning our water.

Cooperation has been seen toward fighting Human Trafficking and I applaud bi-partisan efforts. But there are ideological differences when it comes to placing priorities like public education, women’s health, equal pay for equal work, living wages, access to medicine, building infrastructure for commerce, and civil rights for all Iowans.  That is where I carry my standard and promise to challenge any movement that compromises those garyhasissuesvalues.

It is why I’m running.

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

dc82853e7904b0731f4e903e56980211Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

No more apt description of the duty of a true politician has ever been written.  Such reflection is what strengthens our moral purpose, and as a candidate for public office, the convergence of my ideas and motives are what will reveal to voters what kind of a representative I will be.

Strong continues his description of will as “The soul’s power to choose both an end and the means to attain it.”  Within our soul is our moral purpose.

The journey I am on has led me to biographies of political leaders to learn more about their motives and recently I have been drawn to biographies about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and James Garfield.

universe-wallpaper-20It would be easy to develop a fatalistic point of view, considering that each of these men were assassinated, but my belief is that life is a series of capricious events orchestrated by our capacity for reason; we attach meaning to stories drawn from the collision of our will and forces outside of our control.

My point of view does not deny the existence of God, it only admits that I cannot define God any more clearly than I can define love for my children; the concept transcends the confinement of words.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Garfield each seemed destined, yet their demise was the result of careless mistakes; a lack of attention when they should have been more aware of their vulnerability.  As purpose and fate comingled in my mind, I began to think about my own mortality.  Not in a morose “Oh-my-God-I’m-past-the-halfway-point-and-the-last-half-includes-incontinence!” way, but in a reflective “What-is-the-sum-of-this-journey-so far?” kind of way.

Life will always reveal a lesson when our awareness is heightened.  I was on a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids in pitch-black darkness, zero-visibility cloud cover, andplane-lightning-100610-02 buffeting crosswinds from a huge storm system passing through.  I fly a lot, but this was one of those flights where the wings tilt dramatically side to side and simultaneously hit air pockets where the plane drops several feet, and I’ll admit that I said a prayer.

It wasn’t a fear of dying at that moment, but I thought to myself, “What if I did?  What was the sum of my life?  What would people say?  Would I be remembered as a good man?  Did I remember to pay the cable bill?”

I try to tame the tendencies of self-indulgence by mediating such thoughts, but I think it’s a primordial human desire to want to be worth something to others.  Suddenly a moment with my father popped into my head.  It was only two months before he passed away and he asked me if I was happy.

Not willing to recognize that my father wouldn’t be here for years to come, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

GE DIGITAL CAMERA“Because I’m not going to be around forever and I want to know that my family is happy. I can believe that I had something to do with that.”

I asked him if he was scared of mortality and he said, “No.  I raised good sons and that’s how I want to be remembered.  And maybe you’ll tell your children that there was once this man named Glenn Kroeger…”

I found solace in his words because I already knew that my memories of my father would always construct a story about a good man, who was kind, wise, intelligent, and who loved his family. It would be the story of a man who achieved great success by giving his children the safety, comfort and dreams that his own childhood was denied. His flaws would be as forgiven in death as they were in life; they were not the measure of the man.

On this flight I asked myself, “Will my children feel the same way about me?”

There was an unsettling vibration under the fuselage as the plane banked against the wind to land.  But as we touched down softly and safely, it occurred to me that the answer lies in the question itself.  In these moments of perceived peril that turn into the fortune of living, our vanity is arrested by reality.

The present is a moving target that passes seamlessly into the future and instantaneously becomes the past; and it was within that infinitesimal space where my lesson found words:  To live the best of my life from each moment on.  Value is not measured by quantity, but quality. The number of years, the amount of wealth, or the accumulation of things, have no bearing on the value of a life.

My motive in this quest to become a public servant is exactly that.  As I serve the purpose of being a father by sharing with my children the best that I have to give, I will serve my constituents with the same resolve.

As my father could have proffered:  “We are immortal when our sincerest motives live in the memories of those we’ve loved. And served.”


Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

My oldest son, who is now 17, likes to talk politics now and again.  I love that he is showing interest in what has been his father’s passion, and he has been coming to the table with his own ideas.  Occasionally he will come right out with what is on his mind.

“Dad, why you don’t like Big Business?”

“Where did you get that idea??!”

“Well…um…someone said that about you…” and he trailed off.

It’s hard enough to discuss politics and actually get anywhere but when you have to completely correct perceptions of your position before even making your case, it can become nothing but an exercise in futility.  But, this is my son, for whom I have the patience of Job.

The truth is, my son’s comment is something that I’ve heard before.  It comes from a misperception that Democrats, a) Don’t like big business, b) Don’t like the rich, c) Don’t like wealth accumulation or success, and, d) Want a Communist distribution of money earned by the wealthy.

Wrong.  Wrong.  Wrong.  And wrong.

I’ve never met a Democrat who didn’t like money, success, or who wants America to become a Communist state.  Maybe there are some, just like there are some people who don’t like butterflies and babies, but, as I said, I’ve never met any.

I also don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy money, or who wouldn’t like to have more of it. In fact, I know a lot of very wealthy Democrats and they aren’t embarrassed, nor do they feel that they don’t deserve what they have.

Big Business creates 50% of America’s Gross National Product.  It employs nearly half of all working Americans and when you consider that small business comprises 99% of all businesses; one can easily see the relevance of big American corporations.

No one wants to impede their success because it benefits all of us.  What we DO want to pay attention to, however, is HOW they succeed and we want to keep the power afforded to wealth balanced with the interests of the public.

I’ve heard or read so many blanket criticisms of the Occupy Movement, for example, from people on the right who dismiss the cause as “hatred of success and American business.”  It is not.  It is hatred of unfair pandering and greed which compromises the wealth and the success of most Americans.

It was (and remains) a protest against cronyism and bailouts of financial institutions whose unscrupulous tactics to amass wealth contributed heavily to the collapse of our system.  That collapse resulted in a lot of Americans, who didn’t wield influence, to lose their savings and pensions (and jobs).

Today, Republicans are blaming President Obama for not creating jobs fast enough, yet it is the Republican controlled House that has blocked Obama’s job initiatives.  The President has been called “anti-business” but, corporate welfare has actually increased.

So, I’ve come back to where I always come back; a wish for more truth in our arguments.  If I am called a “socialist,” or accused of “hating the wealthy and big business,” then I have to spend too much time correcting that fallacy before I can even get to a rational and factual debate.

My son and I are fine and he benefits by learning early in life how truth and rhetoric are not necessarily joined in Holy Matrimony.

Here’s what I suggest:  Conservatives should stop calling liberals “anti-business socialists who hate America,” and liberals, maybe we can stop calling them, “Greedy fear mongers who hate America.”

The Body Politic

I am a Democrat but I’m not anti-Republican (not Republican history, anyway). I am a Liberal but I am not anti-Conservative. What I believe is that liberalism is necessary to move our conservative nature in the direction of progress.

Believe me, I have as many friends on the right side of the aisle as on the left and they are all people I respect and whose company I enjoy.  I spend a great deal of time trying to understand our differences for the purpose of finding common ground to resolve conflict. My goal has always been to create a more civil dialogue that could lead to positive changes in our lives.

One of the mistakes that we make is in believing that either side (right or left) is consistent and that the modern labels of “Republican” or “Democrat” carry historical accuracy.

Thomas Jefferson was a Democrat-Republican. He and Madison formed the party to oppose the Federalists whose policies were in the interests of wealth, to form trade agreements with Britain and to create a National Bank. By today’s definition, Jefferson more closely resembles a Democrat but the Democrat-Republicans favored states’ rights and strict adherence to the Constitution and eventually became known as Republicans.

From this fragmentation, a new party focusing on individual freedom, led by Andrew Jackson, emerged.  Known only as Democrats, it must be noted that the “freedom” Jackson believed in only extended to white males, but this was the “majority” opinion of the day.  Disenfranchised Democrats along with the dwindling Federalists, joined what would become the Republican Party and swayed the party toward many Federalist values.

The line is already blurred and we’re only up to 1828…..

Once upon a time, in fact, it was not unheard of to be a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican.

While Lincoln was a Republican, his socio-political positions were “liberal” while his devout nationalism might label him “conservative.”

Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, was a champion in many areas that are now considered the domain of the left (the environment, labor rights, regulations on big business). The Republicans, in fact, turned their back on him and he formed the Progressive Party to run again.

So why is it today that we believe there is historical consistency with our party values and why do we define each other with contrary terms rather than look for common threads to build new alliances?

Because, it’s easier to believe that we each naturally follow the beacon of unalienable rights that extend back to the eternal spark of creation.  It’s easier to follow than it is to lead….

Why, then, do people affiliate with one party over another and why are the differences between us so contentious?

I believe that every human being carries within them a conflicted polarity; a duality where we struggle between light and dark; a fight in our souls between fear and faith. We choose to, or we are conditioned to, conform our guiding principles to follow one direction over the other so that we can give that conflict rest.

I believe that at the core of modern conservatism is wisely measured caution, but also fear.  Fear of losing that which has protected us; that which has given life and sustained us (the status quo). It is perfectly rational to have that fear, we all do, but fear can also make us selfish.

Liberals are scared too, but at the core of liberalism is a critical evaluation of our frailty; it is a position to counter the natural forces that will nurture our fears (which can lead to selfishness…and from selfishness the soil becomes more fertile for intolerance, bigotry and greed to grow).

Liberals view our country’s greatness, not by the great system of accumulation that has been created, but by the compassion that we demand from that system.

At the risk of betraying my own premise by reducing ideologies to easy sound bites: Modern Republicans believe that what is good for them as individuals is best for the whole, while Democrats believe that what is good for the whole will create the best opportunities for the individual.

Would it be too pedestrian of me to suggest that both sides are right?

What’s really funny is that the genesis of each party came from almost reversed positions. Jefferson was a secular humanist whose own political philosophy started from an agrarian influence, and he was the original Republican…or Democrat depending on which party’s website you’re on.

Could there be a synergy of common goals that could become the answer for better government?  Could we develop a more civil dialogue so that the experience of our disagreements would be more….agreeable.

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Greetings from the down ticket!  That’s the first level of representation alongside city officials.  That’s not meant to be a self-deprecating comment, nor is it meant to diminish the importance of state and local government; it is simply where the office of a State Representative resides in the matrix of elections.

At the top are the presidential candidates, of course, followed by the United States Senate and the House of Representatives in Washington.  Governorships would be of AR-140509959equal stature, followed then by the State Senate and the State House.

Politicians running for a seat in Washington are at 30,000 feet, raising insane amounts of money, to yield insane media coverage, to create awareness as insanely as possible.  Whereas, in a state race we are in the trenches, going door to door, handshake to handshake, to literally eyeball our constituents hoping to inspire their support.

The up ticket does that too, mostly for photo ops, to appear as connected, but here at the city and state level we are the true Retail Politicians.  Our issues are ones that connect people more closely with the lives they hope to lead.  We aren’t necessarily talking about Foreign Policy, Federal Income Tax, or the EPA, but we are talking about Education Funding, Clean Water, Building Roads, Creating Jobs, and Access to Medicine while drawing straight lines to our communities.  I like it here.

victorianKnocking on doors is an experience everyone should have, yet almost no one reading this ever will.  It is, admittedly, a bit unnatural going door to door asking people to support you.  It was a lot more comfortable as a Boy Scout selling magazine subscriptions because there was a product other than oneself and a cause that few people would argue with; namely helping a young person achieve a goal.  But, few people get up in the morning, or go out to the garage to do some cleaning, hoping that a politician will come by at any moment.  As one of those “politicians” it is incumbent upon me, therefore, to be as engaging as the intrusion will allow, or as brief, yet effective, as a handshake can muster.

I enjoy the process and can honestly say that meeting people is something I’ve always embraced, but politics create a plenitude of reactions, some of which are challenging.  Yet  I’ve always found people to be quite friendly by nature, even those predisposed not to support me because of party lines, will smile, shake my hand and say “Thanks for stopping by.”  Supporters are also often brief, but occasionally someone will really want to talk for awhile about a specific issue.  The candidate must be equal part ears and eyes.

As we head into the last 2 months of campaigning, I can feel lines being drawn.   Yard signs are going up defining party turf and rhetoric is solidifying as ideological shields for the battle.  The reactions at doors are becoming more defined, as well.

While I can honestly say that I am greatly encouraged by the majority of people I meet who are interested in my candidacy or who outright support me, there will be the occasional door that shuts with: “You’re that Hollywood Liberal!” and yesterday I was told that I am “a Hillary Democrat” as the door closed.  Well….labels are just shortcuts to make the process of elections a little easier to deal with.  The contradiction is that no label can accurately define anyone and when we tag a politician with such a confinement, we take a step away from knowing who they really are.

I don’t line up perfectly with any label that I’ve heard.  I was not shy, for example, in my 10436support of Bernie Sanders, particularly on the grounds of countering the oligarchic policies that are destroying the middle class and the opportunity for prosperity for most Americans, and I will continue to express myself in that regard.  I am also not shy about being a Democrat who aligns with traditional liberal ideologies of civil justice and equality.  But I look at every issue individually and go as deeply as I can to consider how it will benefit or detract from what I believe is best for the world my children will inherit.

Is that a Hollywood Liberal?  Sure.  It’s also a lot of other people from other places, including right here in Iowa.  It is also, quite simply, an American who cares deeply about the engagement of ideas and the pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness for us all.

Meanwhile, look for me if you’re out cleaning the garage.


Education Must Resonate

This link was sent to me at the end of the last school year:  https://msg.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=P7Mxhkr5lN8

When I first began to think about running for public office, I asked friends, already in office, what moved them to take the leap into the political arena. They all had different sets of priorities with regard to issues, but all had one thing in common.  They all said, in varying ways:  “There was one issue that stood above all others, that told me that something has to be done.  Now.”

That resonated clearly with me. And the answer to that question, for me, was:  Education.

Education is the issue that I believe defines economics, opportunity, progress and quality of life. Education is essential to our representative democracy, to our ingenuity, production, and stability.  The creation of thinking minds is the foundation of justice, equality, civility, and freedom.  Furthermore, great schools are what attract businesses and promote the highest standards of quality.  In long and in short, our educational system, from the buildings themselves to the curriculum, teachers, and students that occupy them, are what lead us to greatness.

Education in Iowa has been marginalized by budgets that don’t meet the needs of our schools and force regent universities to increase tuitions, making them less affordable. The education crisis is exacerbated by our Governor’s (and complicit members of the Iowa Legislature) insistence on increasing corporate welfare and reducing what Iowa needs to support its infrastructure; ironically, the very things that attract businesses.  It is a state imposed Catch-22 where special interests have cut off the nose of our greatest special interest:  Our future.

Here is that link again:  https://msg.schoolmessenger.com/m/?s=P7Mxhkr5lN8

The Cedar Rapids School System is articulating the entire issue right here.  And this is a paramount reason as to why I am running for the Iowa House of Representatives:




Progressive American Gothic

“Progress is impossible without change.  And those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”  –  George Bernard Shaw

The other day I was asked a question by a conservative friend that I often have dialogues with.  “Gary, what does it mean to be a progressive?”

That appears as a simple question, but I knew that it was also a disguise for an editorial comment, so, I started my answer thusly:  “Well…I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean, first.  It doesn’t mean that I’m what I’ve heard you call a knee-jerk, tax and spend, liberal, who wants to hand everything away.”

That took the wind out of the sail that I knew he was tacking, and a half smile-half smirk came across his face.  I continued:  “What ‘progressive’ means is this- if something isn’t working, change it!  Pro-gress from where we are.”

His eyes start to roll, but I was on sure footing.

“Progressive ideals don’t simply adhere to issues or solutions because they carry a label; they are a pragmatic process and rationale to create the greatest opportunity for people and for our communities to grow. They are a set of values that place people first.”

Values should play a vital role in politics, but I believe that many politicians confuse the term. They create a certain set of values to engineer support with a majority of constituents, but use a different criteria in private.  Therein lies the fundamental flaw in modern government where we find ourselves misrepresented.  Because there is one value that must stand before the rest:  Truth.

Without “truth” as our preeminent value, all others become moot.  What is a “value” if it’s not sincere?  And what do politics accomplish if we are not in pursuit of truthful ideals?

Politics are, essentially, a perpetual debate over what are, and what are not, our “Rights” and the definition and protection of them.  Whether it’s the right to bear arms, the right to celebrate our religious beliefs, the right to freedom of speech, the right to live and love as we choose and to have dominion over ourselves, we are connecting our rights with our values.

AmericanGothicAs Iowans I believe we are unique in that respect.  We are a confluence of rural and urban sensibilities with an innate respect for personal rights.  Often we baffle the rest of the country with our social progress within our ruggedly conservative nature.  I moved back to Iowa 13 years ago to give my children that very sense of propriety and progressive spirit.

We live by our values, and what we value is respect for one another and a commitment to family.  We value air, water and soil, and two of our greatest historical values are of education, and the well-being of our communities.  Those values drive how we live and how we behave.

I continued with my friend.  “Every policy idea should be preceded by serious and unrelenting questions:

Will this embrace the full spectrum of families by making them stronger and more secure?

Will this give our children the best education in the nation or will it diminish the teachers, resources and materials that will achieve that end?

Will our land and the people who work it flourish and grow?  Or will they be stagnated by special interests?

And will our community, and the communities within them (veterans, entrepreneurs, students, senior citizens, the neglected, disadvantaged or infirmed), be made stronger and more economically vibrant?

Do we uphold our ethical standards?

This is what it means, to me, to be progressive and these are the values that compel me to run for the Iowa House of Representatives.  I intend to give a strong voice to Iowa values that once put people first.”

My friend donated 50 bucks to the cause.  🙂


My Thankful Prayer

Someone said to me, “Gary, I don’t see any evidence of American pride in your positions.  You criticize our great country.”

I was startled.  I honestly feel that my perspective is a tribute to America, even when I am critical of politicians, policies and political parties.  I never take for granted what this country provides, and I consistently give thanks for all that I have.  I’ve been educated, I have a great job, I have healthy children and I am free to speak my mind in the public square.

To bring some harmony to this dissonant chord I decided to form my political views, realized and hopeful, into thoughts of thankfulness.

I am thankful to live in a country where we are free to protest, to peaceably assemble to empower the voice of the people.  A country where such a right is recognized as essential to securing our freedom from tyranny.

I am eternally grateful to our military men and women who have bravely sacrificed so that we may have that freedom.

I am thankful that I live in a country that has recognized that clean air and clean water are vital to the health of our nation.

I am hopeful that health care reform will continue, and improve, so that more Americans can live healthier lives and reduce the fear of illness and financial ruin.

I am thankful that I live in a country where the rights of citizens are protected by ethical laws regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion; and that these laws are vigorously examined to suppress the tendencies of prejudice and fear.

I am thankful to live in a country that offers support and help to those who have fallen on hard times or who are challenged by obstacles of ill health, physical or mental, or who have been raised in an environment without advantages.

I am thankful to live in a country where education is acknowledged as the engine of prosperity and freedom, and public education is offered to every child.

I am thankful to live in a country where more reasonable voices can subject an imperfect system to better governance and demand accountability from those who have taken advantage of its flaws.

I am concerned, however, that the national debate has turned into demagoguery that could compromise much of what I am thankful for.

I am concerned that many politicians are working to marginalize, even eliminate, many of those great things that we have fought for.  Things like civil rights for all Americans, environmental protections, equality of opportunity, public education, religious freedom and valuable social programs.

I’m a divorced father with two young sons, and this year my family has been extended. Today we will all gather for a lively conversation of hopes, blessings and politics.  My 17 year old is becoming engaged in the world around him and I believe he gets a little memory chip from Dad’s passion for public service.  Lately he’s been coming to the table to play his own hand.

My youngest is 11 and little of this resonates, but this won’t be the last time ol’ Dad talks about how much he cares about America.

And for now, I am thankful just to have them all for dinner.

To Sir, With Love (a defense of teachers)


In a never ending quest to bridge ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans (and Independents and Libertarians), I consistently engage in conversations with people with whom differences exist. If I have any trait for which I may be uniquely suited as a representative, it is that I welcome such engagement.  And it is with a genuine purpose to reach understanding.

This leads to a lot of anecdotal evidence, and I’ve even been criticized for my posts that begin with, “I was talking to a Republican friend the other day…” but that is criticism I gladly accept. I believe that it is from real interaction and not platitudes from slanted media or party doctrine, that we can glean the truth.  So….

I was talking to a Republican friend the other day…

And we were talking about education. His position was that we spend enough of our budget on education (“It’s the biggest percentage”) and he’s tired of hearing about how we don’t have enough money for teachers and programs when he’s “paying for professors who take the summer off and teach only 15 hours a week.”

(By the way, I have his permission to share this story)

“I don’t mind paying taxes,” he told me, “but I do mind paying for things I shouldn’t have to.”

That last statement said a lot. First of all, I agree with that statement 100%.  I want the same value for every dollar I pay in taxes as much as any Republican or Libertarian.  Truth be told, so do most Democrats.  The question is:  What should we pay for and when are we paying too much?

Easy question to ask, but if it were easy to answer, Congress would be toasting each other across the aisle rather than sit-ins, government shut downs and unscheduled vacations. Even when we consider all of the gradations of party affiliations like Libertarians, Independents, the Green Party or the Tea Party, what our conflict boils down to is what criteria do we use to examine evidence, and at what point are we convinced that we have enough information?

Again, easier said than done. My friend pointed out that our education budget is inflated because of the salaries of college professors, “protected by unions” who “often put in less than half a normal work week” and take the Summer off while “still getting paid well above what such a schedule should allow.”

“I don’t accept that teachers have to be laid off,” he continued, “or that classes have to be cut, because the Iowa Legislature approved only a 2.25% increase rather than 4%. That money is just going to salaries.”

We were in the company of others who all agreed with his statement.

“Well….” I said, “I believe that you are determining your policy based on a myth. A myth that is being perpetuated within Republican ranks by conservative media.  From my view, it is created to diminish the value of education, in general.”

I knew that I was going to get a reaction that was less than positive, but I was telling the truth as I saw it.

He countered:  “I’m fine with paying taxes toward education and I’m fine with the fact that most of our budget goes toward education, but it isn’t a ‘myth’ that a lot of it is being wasted. What we don’t need to do is spend more.”

“Then why is Iowa ranked in the middle,” I asked, “and in some studies toward the bottom in several measures of education where we used to lead the nation?”

His answer was swift. “Because we are allowing for substandard results, and letting bad teachers continue to teach because their union protects them.”

Not a drum beat that I haven’t heard before.  My mother was a teacher, many of my friends are teachers, and so this is territory in which I am not unfamiliar.

“Okay,“ I said, “let me tell you what I know. Most teacher salaries do not keep pace with inflation.  One of my college professor-friends works at another job all summer simply because of the fact that her salary does not pay all the bills.  During the summer, she, like many others, takes classes to improve her knowledge in her field, in order to continually improve her curriculum.”

My friendly adversary smiled (was not convinced), and asked if we could continue this at another time, as we were both on our way to other functions.  I told him I would and today I emailed him my thoughts:

During the school year the time in the classroom is only a third of the time required forteacher-and-students each class. They prepare lessons, grade papers, counsel students, stay after school tutoring those who are struggling, and also keeping up with meetings and myriad activities required by an institution.  Offhand, I’d say those ‘low hour’ teachers are putting in 20% more time, year ‘round, than the average full time worker.  That’s not to mention the research that is required by a university.  Research incumbent upon them in order to keep their jobs, but also that’s critically important work in the broad scheme of improving society.

The average salary for a college professor in the U.S. is just over $70,000 annually. Nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly inflated.  K through 12 is around $40,000.  When compared to real hours dedicated to their students and schools (not the ‘myth” of sabbaticals in the Bahamas and diminished hours during the day) they are being grossly undervalued.

In Iowa, first year teachers are paid below the national average. I know of several young graduates from UNI who have left the state for better salaries in Minnesota and elsewhere.  How do we compete if we do not retain, or even attract, the best new teachers?  How does America compete globally if we don’t start with the teachers themselves?

And if it’s economic impact that concerns us the most, a Stanford University study concluded every excellent teacher (determined as above average by a defined criteria) raises each student’s lifetime earnings by $20,000. If there are 20 students in one class, that is $400,000 more generated income. If that seems like small potatoes in an individual sense, consider that there are 21 thQWFDNSJRmillion students in America. That’s over 80 trillion dollars.

What is imperative is to listen to the teachers themselves who are saying that they are not getting the funding for the tools, and to retain the teachers and classes, that give our students the best advantage.

A state representative said to me the other day: “Do you think teachers are happy with the budget the state of Iowa has given them?  Ask them.”

I did. They aren’t.

I immediately received an email response and it was short and direct, but also respectful:

“We can agree to disagree. State government is wasteful in many ways and I can point to several cases where funds were allotted to various institutions that simply inflated salaries.  I simply cannot absolve government when it comes to oversight and spending our tax dollars the most efficiently.”

On that, I do not disagree. And from here, maybe we can build a consensus or coalition or even re-evaluate some ideas.  At the very least, we can continue a respectful conversation.

And at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of every worthwhile exchange, there will be education.…maybe, that’s what we need more of, in general.