Compulsory unionism becomes campaign issue

A Republican-controlled political group is targeting Iowa Rep. Elesha Gayman, D-Davenport, with television ads criticizing her on property taxes and the state’s right-to-work law.

Gayman, who is facing a stiff challenge for re-election this fall, claims the ads are aimed at helping her Republican opponent. But the committee, run by the House’s top Republican, says they’re simply aimed at pressuring her on issues before the state Legislature.

The latest ad accuses Gayman of raising property taxes, and a previous spot criticized her for backing a Democratic proposal to force workers to pay a fee if they’re covered by union contracts.

The ads began running about a month ago.

“It’s a campaign tactic. It’s a campaign year. There’s a reason this didn’t come out last year,” Gayman said Friday. “They’re after my seat.”

Gayman, who represents western Scott County, Eldridge and parts of west Davenport, is being challenged by Republican Ross Paustian, a Walcott farmer.

The seat is a top Republican target.

The ads have run on cable TV and are paid for by the Iowa Leadership Council, a group organized under the Internal Revenue Code that allows it to raise unlimited contributions.

The council raised $214,550 in the last six months of 2007, according to IRS records, with the largest donors the Reynolds American tobacco company, which gave $40,000, and MidAmerican Energy Holdings, which donated $25,000.

House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said the ads aren’t an attempt to influence the fall election, just this legislative session.

“This General Assembly should do something to reduce the property tax burden,” he said.

In December, the Legislative Services Agency projected property taxes will go up $500 million over the next six years if there is no change in local tax rates.

The projected increase is being driven by higher agriculture values.

Rants is pushing a proposal to revamp the state’s property tax system, which he says would slice the projected increase in half.

He tried unsuccessfully last month to get the Legislature to pick up the local property tax increase that would result from raising basic state aid to schools.

The ads are running in just three legislative districts. Rants said they were chosen not because they’re fall election targets, but because cable TV rates “weren’t terribly expensive” there.

Gayman, however, says the explanations are a smokescreen because the Democratic leadership has made clear the union fee bill, dubbed fair share, won’t even come up for debate because there isn’t enough support to pass it.

It failed last year.

She also says there’s no bill in the Legislature that would raise property taxes by $500 million.

“This is not about any real bill. This is a fear-and-smear campaign,” she said.

Gayman argued she led an effort to save property taxpayers $12 million last year.

Backers of the fair share proposal say it forces nonunion workers to pay for the benefits they’re now getting for free.

Critics say it forces people to essentially join unions and would hurt the state’s economic development efforts.


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