“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

Sixteen years ago this coming session, Terry Branstad was the governor-elect (he was also the incumbent); the Iowa House rolled over from Democrats having a narrow edge (51-49) to a 63-37 Republican majority; and the Senate remained in Democrat control with a 27-23 majority (it was also 27-23 in 1993-94).  Sound familiar?

Going into Iowa’s 84th General Assembly, Terry Branstad is the governor-elect; the Republicans will have a 60-40 majority over the Democrats; and the Senate remains under Democratic control, 26-23 (a special election is yet to be held in Senate District 48, which was held by former Senator and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Reynolds).  The makeup of Iowa’s legislative process in the mid-1990s is not much different from what Iowans are seeing now.  However, there is a difference.  In 1995, so many people believed that capital punishment would be reinstated as a sentencing option in Iowa; alternative opinions were thought of as silly.

I wasn’t sold on the idea that Iowa would move backwards into the past and adopt a primitive form of punishment.  As the legislative coordinator for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, I had already been researching past candidates’ statements, previous votes, and newspaper articles that gave an indication of how specific legislators might vote.  I saw a beam of light through the pessimism.  When I spoke to the Board of Directors of the ICLU that November in 1994, I told them that I didn’t think passage of a death penalty bill was possible.  A few of them told me later that they believed I should have been committed to a mental institute.  Even the board president at that time told the staff not to waste time on the issue – she said it was a hopeless cause.

House File 2 was the second bill introduced in the House of Representatives during the 1995 session.  The first bill, HF 1, was the other half of a pair of ideas that the Republican Majority had promised it was going to pass as a part of its newly-created mandate.  HF 1 was a bill reducing the individual income tax rates.  The new Republican Majority was so certain that these two issues were the reason why they won the majority; they decided a reduction in tax rates and reinstatement of the death penalty were going to be the first two bills introduced and passed.

HF 1 by Roger Halvorson become a Ways & Means Committee bill, HF 97, which never came up for a vote in the House.  HF 2, introduced by 30 Republicans, kept its number and eventually made it out of the House.  It failed to pass in the Senate.  And that’s where this blog begins.  Over the next year, I hope to write occasionally on this historic moment in Iowa history.

Don’t look for history to repeat itself this cycle.  I correctly predicted that there would be no death penalty bill passed in 1995, and I’m predicting again that there will be no death penalty bill to be enacted during the upcoming 84th Iowa General Assembly.

To be continued . . .

By the way, George Santayana was a famous blogger way back when they were called ‘essayists’.

© Copyright 2010 Fawkes-Lee & Ryan.  All rights reserved.

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