Iowa has a problem. A big problem. A growing problem. And, unfortunately, a problem our politicians don’t want to touch. This problem costs Iowans millions of dollars every year. It tears families apart. It casts a pall of despair over our cities and towns.
The problem is mass incarceration.
- If the current trend isn’t reversed, Iowa’s prison population will grow by nearly 40% between now and 2024
- According to a 2013 study, Iowa leads the nation in racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests — African-American Iowans are 8.34 times more likely to be arrested for possession than white Iowans. The disparity in Iowa is more than twice the national average.
- Black Iowans are imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of white Iowans. African-Americans are 2% of our state’s population and 24% of our state’s prison population.
- In 2010, Iowa spent $276 million on its prisoners — an average cost of $32,925 per inmate.
- Marijuana cultivation in Iowa carries a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison. “Mandatory minimum” sentences handcuff our judges from ensuring the punishment fits the crime (we call them “judges” for a reason, don’t we?).
- The state of Iowa spent thousands of tax dollars prosecuting the late Benton Mackenzie and his family for growing medical marijuana to treat his cancer. The war on drugs has become a war on patients.
- The Institute for Justice gives Iowa a “D” grade for its civil asset forfeiture laws. Current Iowa law places the burden of proof on property owners rather than on law enforcement and prosecutors who want to seize property. That’s just wrong.
- In 2013, more than 400 Iowans committed suicide — a 17 percent increase from 2012.
I offer the following message of hope:
It’s time to stop imprisoning Iowans for marijuana possession — especially patients with severe conditions which marijuana treats or alleviates. As alcohol Prohibition did in the 1920s, marijuana Prohibition today enriches criminal gangs, props up illegal cartels and DOES NOT WORK.
As governor, I will appoint a committee to review every Iowa inmate’s case so that I can commute the sentence, and ask the Legislature to expunge, the records of any and all prisoners held only for victimless crimes such as marijuana possession.
This committee will also review past convictions, so those found guilty of victimless crimes would find their records similarly expunged so they can fully reintegrate into productive society.
I will ask the legislature to reconsider the penalties we impose for crimes focusing on restorative justice and restitution than just punishment of criminals. It’s true that some crimes can never be made right. It’s true that sometimes prison may be the only way to deal with an offender. But we can, and must, re-think the way we’ve been doing things. The system doesn’t work.
Once an offender has paid their debt — to their victims, I will act to restore that offender’s rights. In all cases except voter fraud, voting rights would be restored. In all cases of non-violent crimes, sentenced in an Iowa court, gun rights would be restored.
I will also work with the legislature to prioritize those with addiction and mental illness as patients, not criminals. Care for these victims is kinder and more appropriate than imprisonment. It’s also cheaper. We owe it to ourselves to help and protect those among us who are hurting instead of caging them.
I will work with the state legislature to restore government’s respect for your civil liberties, including but not limited to reforming our asset forfeiture laws, putting the burden of proof on the state where it belongs. I’ll also ask the legislature to require our law enforcement agencies to track traffic stop data by race so that we can bring an end to disparate treatment and perverse, racially prejudiced outcomes.
The federal government has assisted with the militarization of our local police forces, giving machine guns, armored military vehicles and even grenade launchers to local law enforcement. By accepting that military weapons belong on our streets, the gulf of trust is widening between Iowans and our police due to this and makes it more difficult to partner with peace officers to prevent and investigate crimes with actual victims.
These problems are not insoluble. I’ve explained the solutions. And as Governor, I will implement those solutions to improve the lives of all Iowans.
For years, the go-to job creation tool in Iowa has been corporate welfare — subsidies and set-asides to Big Business and Big Ag — even as we’ve taxed and regulated small farms and small businesses out of our markets (or just plain out of existence).
Our state legislature works overtime to ship money and jobs out of state, raising taxes on cigarettes and gasoline, for years they banned fireworks, even forcing patients to travel to neighboring states if they require marijuana as medicine.
It wasn’t always this way. Let’s break for a brief history lesson from Dr. Eric Cooper:
Once upon a time, our state had perhaps the greatest immigration campaign in the history of the world. It was a word-of-mouth campaign that took place around 1850 in the beer halls of Bavaria and Munich, and it went like this:
“Have you heard about Iowa? It’s in America! They don’t care where you’re from. They don’t care what language you speak. You get to keep 96% of what you earn; 4% taxes! And you can live your life however you want!!”
And when people heard about this they said “That sounds so great!! I want to live there!”, and they did come here in droves because of the freedom that our state offered them. And when they came here, they put the motto of our state on our flag “Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain” to remind us, the future citizens of the state of Iowa, that liberty is the reason they came to live here.
There’s no reason things can’t be that way again. If we want more jobs, more wealth and more Iowans to share in the bounty, what we need is more
* End Welfare To Large Corporations
* Stop Regulating Our Economy Down the Drain
* Keep Taxes Low to Attract, Create and KEEP Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses
That means phasing out the Iowa sales tax. Our border cities — from Council Bluffs, to Sioux City to Dubuque to Keokuk — should become commercial centers that attract shoppers and money from our neighboring states, rather than exit points for Iowans and their money. Ditto for sin taxes. Iowans are going to buy alcohol and tobacco and fireworks. They should buy those things in Iowa … and people from nearby towns in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois should come to Iowa to buy those things too!
No, eliminating the state sales tax wouldn’t leave Iowa’s government unfunded. Five other states manage without sales taxes, and Iowa’s government would still enjoy revenues from personal and corporate income taxes — INCREASED revenues as our economy created new and better jobs.
That’s not an excuse to continue our state government’s big-spending ways, though. Smaller government is BETTER government. Not only can we eliminate inefficiencies in state operations, we eliminate many areas of state activity entirely, to the further benefit of Iowa’s economy.
The state of Iowa is in a fiscal crisis. IPERS, the state’s pension plan, is underfunded by about 7 billion dollars. Our budget shortfall this year is about 350 million dollars, a budget overseen by the self-declared party of fiscal responsibility. The state has dipped into the emergency funds to pay its bills and at one point had to delay tax refunds because they didn’t have enough money to pay them.
The state will likely raise your taxes to pay for their fiscal irresponsibility. They have already cut funding for mental health and domestic violence programs. Out of a 7.2 billion dollar budget, we have to ask why they started cutting things that actually save people’s lives while ignoring waste and bloat in the budget.
Each year, the Governor sets a recommended budget that they send to the state legislature. The current budget is over 1,000 pages and many budget items should be eliminated. Many of the departments and agencies could be made more efficient, consolidated, or eliminated, resulting in a balanced budget.
As Governor, I would order a review of each department and we would make the necessary cuts by partnering with the legislature. We would not start our cuts with things such as domestic violence shelters or sexual abuse hotlines. We will end the practice of giving corporate welfare to large financially sound corporations and handing you the bill.
Pension plans easily can bankrupt states and companies. I will not support any plan that would kick anyone out that paid into IPERS off IPERS or deny them their hard earned money. I would look at allowing 401k plans for new state employees so that their retirement and the state’s financial well-being isn’t dependent upon the same people that got us in this mess.