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In the Statehouse May 2, 2007


In the Statehouse

May 2, 2007

By State Representative Dawn Pettengill


All of my columns are written like a letter to my mother, because I want her to know what I’m doing and to be proud of me.  And I want you to be proud of me too.  This column is about the events that led to my decision to become a Republican.  I hope after reading it, all of District 39 (Republicans, Democrats and Independents) can understand I am not trying to blacken anyone’s eye by changing, but want to represent us in an honest, thoughtful and upright manner and that is what led me to the decision I made. 


This session was extremely difficult.  Why?  Is it because my desire and resolve to be a good representative wavered?  No, I am more committed than ever.  Is it because I am not capable?  No, I love it and am good at it.  Is it because of any family concern or personal reason?  Not unless you consider going against my integrity and beliefs, a personal reason.  I consider that to be a reason we all should have, not a personal one.  So what happened?


Democrats gained the majority in November’s election.  They have the Senate, the House and the Governorship.  I was told we would govern from the middle, where we had consensus and would be good leaders, working with the other side…for Iowa.  That’s how I believe governing should work and what I had worked so hard for.


It did go that way for about a month.  Then the special interests, who had given so much money to get House Democrats elected, started wanting their payback. 


“Fair Share” came along in early February.  We received a bill drafted by some labor lawyers in Washington, D.C. and were told we were passing it, without changes.  I and several other Democrats did not go along with it.  Although conceptually, I agree that no one should be getting something for nothing, the bill forced everyone who wasn’t union to pay up or be fired within 30 days, public employees would a fair share fee deducted from their pay whether they liked it or not.  I filed a change to make it a choice - if the non-union person wanted union services, they could sign up for paying their fair share, if they didn’t sign up, they would not be forced into paying and would not receive union services.  That is when the rift began.       


Besides fair share, I had concerns with other bills - anti-business bills, the budgets with 10%

increases, increases in taxes, fines and fees to cover those budgets and more.  There were many House and Senate Democrats with the same concerns as mine.  We tried to talk to leadership one on one.  We caucused and talked about it.  When we brought up our concerns for all of these issues, we were talked over and told this is the way it was going to be.  It got to be that when any of the people who were questioning leadership asked a question or voiced a concern, we were discredited by saying we were getting too emotional, were disloyal or had been listening to Republicans.  Why would anyone else stand up and say no, when they could see how we were being treated? 


On April 16th I was called into the Speaker’s office.  Knowing that I was one of the people who questioned what we were doing and am against the fair share proposal and others, I could not anticipate what was coming next.  There were three people in the room.  I was told that our biggest supporters were unions and they did not want to support me anymore.  I was being taken off incumbent protection (mailings, surveys, etc.) and no help would be had from the Iowa Democratic Party for my next campaign.  I was told leadership and our “partners” didn’t like my newspaper column and when writing them, I need to follow their talking points or they could do it for me.  I was to keep my face expressionless in the chamber because I was influencing people.  He’d told me on a prior date, not to nod my head or make expressions in caucus before this for the same reason, so I quit going.  On this day, he said I was to start coming to caucus because they were tired of having to track me down and see how I was going to vote.  When I went to caucus, I should make an apology to the group for a vote I took against “Fair Share” the week before.  Also, I was told that I had used profanity to the Majority Leader on the House floor during that vote the week before, which was absolutely not true.      


Because I am against “Fair Share”, I have been called names.  I have been threatened.  My family and I have been harassed, both at the Capitol and at home.  I have been continually marginalized, discredited and now I have been sold out. 


After this meeting, I knew I had some decisions to make.  I continued up until the last day to try to reconcile those differences, but the Iowa Democratic Party had left me by the side of the road, not the other way around. 


As far as I could see, my options were to resign or switch parties.  I could not follow the leaders who followed this agenda any longer. 


Resigning is quitting.  I am not a quitter.  That would mean the people who put money and influence before our citizens would win and I couldn’t live with myself for letting it happen. 


Switching parties was something I had never considered.  Because I’m a moderate, I’d been approached many times by Republicans to switch, both at the Capitol and at home.  I’d been a conservative Democrat all of my life and declined every time without hesitation.  At the same time, I worked very well with the Republicans.  My family and many good friends and supporters are Republicans.  My ideals match theirs and I’m pro-business & pro-taxpayer.  Most of all, when making my decision, the agenda pursued by the Republicans, when they were in charge, matched our district.  It was in the middle, not veering too far to the left or right.


The bottom line is, I refused to be a rubber stamp and I made a switch to be able to represent you in the way I hope you want to be represented.  I promise, I will never put a special interest ahead of you, our state or my convictions.  It is my charge as a leader, your leader, to be objective and not make decisions based on who contributed to me or to my party. 


Our integrity was challenged.  And we won.  I did, you did and my mother’s training did.  I know my Mom is proud of me for standing up.  I hope you can be too. 

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