Some Iowa legislators go it alone on votes – The Gazette: Eastern Iowa Breaking News and Headlines

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10 lawmakers have cast ‘lone wolf’ votes this session

Apr 16, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Print View

DES MOINES — Many times, state lawmakers are in complete agreement on legislation, and a bill passes unanimously. Many times, a bill divides lawmakers by political party.

And every once in a while, there is near-unanimous agreement on a bill — except for one lawmaker.

As of April 7, there had been 11 “lone wolf” votes cast by 10 different legislators during this legislative session.

That’s a small number, considering votes on nearly 300 bills this year in the Iowa House and Senate — 3.8 percent, to be exact — and the reasons vary for those solitary stands.

According to the legislators who cast those votes, some were the result of general opposition to a state program. Others were based on ideology. And sometimes, the vote was cast in error.

Whatever the reason, legislators said it can feel strange to look at a final vote tally and see their name as the only dissenting voice.

“It makes you laugh a little bit. It’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness,’ ” said Rep. Skyler Wheeler, a first-year state legislator from Orange City who cast one of those 11 lone wolf votes this year. “But it’s just one of those things. You have to stand by what you believe in.”

Of the 11 lone wolf votes cast this year, nine have been cast in the Iowa House, by nine different members. Two have been cast in the Senate, both by Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines.

Both of Bisignano’s lone votes were on bills related to liability. One bill said property owners were not responsible for duty of care to a trespasser; another said the Iowa State Fair would not be liable for injury or death caused by pathogen transmission caused by animals at the fair.

Bisignano also cast one lone wolf vote in the 2015 and 2016 sessions, joining Reps. Bruce Hunter, Chuck Isenhart and Jake Highfill.

“You vote your conscience, vote your district, vote what you feel is right, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re the only ‘no’ vote there,” said Highfill, a Republican from Johnston.

Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan cast three lone wolf votes in 2016 while he was a Republican. He changed his party affiliation to independent before the 2017 session.

There were 20 lone wolf votes cast in 2016 and 21 in 2015. Many of those legislators said they wear those dissents as a badge of independence.

“It’s a point of pride to me because I like to tell my people back home that I don’t just follow the company line. I don’t just do what my caucus and leadership tells me to do, and I’ve got multiple examples that prove that,” said Rep. Bruce Bearinger, a Democrat from Oelwein. “And I vote for the people within my district, and I listen to the people in my district.”

Here are some examples of lone wolf votes cast over the past three years:

Rep. Skyler Wheeler

Wheeler, R-Orange City, was the lone vote against a House bill that updates state alcohol regulations by, in part, allowing small distilleries to sell their product on site. The bill passed the House on a 93-1 vote; it has not yet been debated by the full Senate.

Wheeler said he voted against the bill because he viewed it as the expansion of alcohol production and consumption in Iowa, which he said he thinks is not good for the state.

Wheeler said he thinks the late Dwayne Alons, who represented northwest Iowa in the Iowa House from 1999 to 2014, also would have voted against the bill for the same reason.

“I think it increases the consumption and production of alcohol, and I’m not for that,” Wheeler said. “Ultimately, that’s what it came down to. It passed, and I’m not going to lose sleep over it.”

Rep. Bruce Bearinger

Bearinger, D-Oelwein, was the only legislator to vote against a bill that proposes the state public defender coordinate representation of indigent persons who have been arrested and charged with a crime.

The bill passed the House, 93-1, and has not yet been debated by the full Senate.

Bearinger said he voted against the bill because of an amendment that would have the state public defender’s office, when involved in a case regarding a violation of a local law, seek reimbursement from local government.

Bearinger said he thinks the bill shifts the cost to city governments, and he fears it will force cities to either find money to cover the additional costs or local police will attempt to prevent additional costs by bringing fewer criminal charges.

Bearinger said that concern was not expressed, even by his Democratic colleagues, but he contacted his local police chief, who shared the concern.

“I voted against it because I believe it’s soft on crime by forcing cities into that position,” Bearinger said. “And it is a further example of (state lawmakers) saying we love local control until we don’t.”

Rep. Cindy Winckler

In 2015, Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, was the lone vote against a bill that would have extended the deadline for contributions to the state’s college savings plan

The proposal passed the House, 94-1, but was not voted on by the Senate.

Winckler said she recalls her vote was a mistake, that she intended to support the bill.

It is not uncommon for legislators to cast a mistaken vote, especially on days when they vote on numerous bills, often with numerous amendments. Legislators have the option of changing their vote in the official record.

“Sometimes, you try and juggle a little too much, which is part of the job, and I accept that,” Winckler said. “But mistakes happen with those kinds of things.”

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