Stunning defeat for Democrats

UPDATED with statements from Governor Culver, House Speaker Murphy below.

In a stunning defeat, Democrats failed to produce the 51 votes necessary to pass the "prevailing wage" bill this evening.  House Speaker Pat Murphy, as I type this at 6:25 p.m., is still sitting in the presiding chair in the Iowa House of Representatives.  We're told he intends to keep the voting machine open ALL WEEKEND, until one o'clock on Monday.

Republicans are angling to get the voting board locked, so they just tried a parliamentary move — it's called Rule 75 — to get the voting machine locked.  Murphy acknowledged the "call" — so to speak — but didn't lock the machine,  "Check the rules as much as you want, you're wrong," an adamant Murphy told House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen. (See UPDATE IV below for additional information.)

"I've never supported this bill," said Rep, Doris Kelley, a Democrat from Waterloo who was among the four Democrats who voted against the bill. "…I think it's wrong when we are focusing on labor bills right now when we should be focusing on how we're going to turn this economy around and how we're going to take care of all Iowans."

Kelley said Democratic leaders and labor unions knew she was a no vote all along.  "This was no game playing on my part.  I will be a no today.  I will be a no tomorrow and I will be a no next year whether I'm reelected or not, I will still be a no. I'm here to represent Iowans.  I'm not here to represent any special interest group," Kelley said.  "I'm here to represent those that really count."

As for whether she will be "bullied" into changing her vote, Kelley was clear.  "I'm not one that they can bully," Kelley.  "…This dog does not hunt and I'm not going there."

Rep. McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City, was expected to be a yes vote on the bill, but an amendment he sought was not included in the legislation and he voted no.

UPDATE:  House Speaker Murphy released this statement at 7:10 p.m.:

"There is a difference between creating jobs and creating good-paying jobs.  Thousands of Iowans work hard everyday but don't get paid a decent wage.   Prevailing wage is one step we can take to provide more support for Iowa's middle-class families.  I want to be sure that taxpayer money is going to responsible Iowa employers who pay a decent wage, not employers who take advantage of people like we've seen in Postville and Atalissa.

"As the presiding officer of the House, I will stay in the Speaker's chair and the voting machine will remain open until Monday.  My goal is to get 51 votes and make sure we have good-paying jobs for middle class families."

UPDATE ii:  Governor Culver issued a statement at 7:10 p.m., too.


DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver issued the following statement on prevailing wage legislation pending in the Iowa House of Representatives. If passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, Iowa would join 32 other states – including 5 of the 6 states bordering Iowa – to have a prevailing wage law that applies to major public construction projects.

Governor Culver’s Statement

"This legislation is about two things: good jobs and fair pay. And I want to be very clear; this is not over. Key members of the legislature have yet to vote, and I commend Speaker Murphy and the leadership for allowing them the opportunity to do so.

“Our state is currently ranked 42nd in the nation for wages, and I am not going to sit by and allow that to be good enough. As we work to improve our economy and invest in our public infrastructure, we owe it to the people of Iowa to make sure we are supporting good jobs. Iowans who work hard and play by the rules deserve nothing less.

“A broad coalition of labor and business came together to support prevailing wage, because we owe it to hardworking Iowans to guarantee they earn good wages at good jobs. This is one of many steps we need to take in order to boost our economy. Our efforts on behalf of Iowa’s working families are not over, and I will continue to work with House and Senate leaders to see that this important bill arrives at my desk."

UPDATE III: A Tweet on Twitter gives me heartburn

As you may know, reporters rarely sit through five hours of debate and once it's over, quickly write a long story about the outcome. Instead, we write drafts — and rework them — as the day or story progresses.  Today, by about 4 p.m., I had written a draft story based on the assumption that if Democrats were bringing a bill up for debate, they had 51 "yes" votes to pass it. While the story to my knowledge never appeared on, it for some reason was distributed via our Twitter feed.  A hat tip to Rep. Christopher Rants for bringing his laptop over to me on the House floor and showing me the Twitter-fed story. As I was on the House floor, wading through the developing story chronicled above ("Check the rules all you want, you're wrong!" was perhaps the highlight of the drama), I was also making a series of desperate phone call attempts and email requests and the story draft has been deleted from the Twitter feed.  So if you're left wondering, let me be clear: No, Virginia, there apparently is no Santa Claus. The bill did not pass.  It failed.  The story continues, however, and now I get to work this weekend!  May all my Tweets be intentional. 

UPDATE IV:  A legislator who shall remain nameless insists Murphy was not directing his ire at Paulsen, but at Rep. Christopher Rants who was standing at his desk in the back row, flipping through House rules when Murphy made his "Check the rules all you want, you're wrong!" declaration.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. If the people of Iowa have contacted their Representatives and told them to vote NO why do Culver and Murphy think it is their RIGHT to force it down our throats? I am so very tired of politicians shoving this garbage at us and then having the guts to tell us it is a) good for us or b) it is what we really want. If we say NO then it should be NO. If some of our representives ACTUALLY listen to us and vote the way we want them to why are these two twisting their arms? I can hardly wait until the 2010 election so I can vote some of these fools out that think we are too stupid to know what we want.