Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

March 29, 2012

In the House of Wood

Goodbye, Pledge

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville —  

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 
I’m sure you know that saying. I can remember reciting daily when I was in school. When I look at the words now, they almost seem meaningless. 
There are disputes with nearly every aspect of the pledge now, but I am going to focus on that whole “and justice for all” segment. 
Last week, an Iowa House subcommittee, which included Jim VanEngelenhoven, voted down the idea of allowing a judge to appoint a special investigator into Rep. Erik Helland. Helland is suspected of trying to bribe his Republican primary opponent to get out of the race. This is a couple years after Helland was busted for driving under the influence. 
The rationale behind the Republicans’ decision is that Helland’s opponent was not in a role defined by the Legislature as holding the potential for bribery.
What? Shouldn’t potential political opponents be among the most likely people to be bribed by sitting elected officials? To me, they should be. 
But this is one of the many, MANY advantages of being a sitting legislator. You don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else. 
Just like on the federal level, it is not illegal for Congressman to commit insider trading crimes or to enrich themselves through legislation. But if you and I were to try to insider trading, they would throw the book at us. 
Just like the numerous tax cheats discovered within the Democratic Party. Did they face charges? No, they did not. In fact, most of them continue to collect healthy, taxpayer funded paychecks and will not have to worry about expenses for anything for the rest of their lives. 
Does this sound like “justice for all?” 
While we’re on the topic of justice, let’s talk about what the Legislature thinks of Iowa’s Judicial System, shall we? 
Rep. Dan Kelley, who answered my questions about Judicial Branch funding a couple weeks ago - VanEngelenhoven did not - indicated that the House Republicans proposed a FY13 budget, for the Judicial Branch, of $156 million. This is the same amount as the current fiscal year. Funding to the branch has not been restored since cuts were made during Democrat Chet Culver’s Administration. Moreover, the Republicans voted down an amendment to increase the budget by $4 million, though the state apparently has a budget surplus. 
I know the people in black robes are unpopular with Republicans since the Varnum decision. I think Republicans need to get over it and recognize that the judicial branch is a full third of the state government that performs an essential function. Of any of the branches, the judicial branch can have the biggest impact on an Iowan’s home and family. The branch deserves respect, proper funding and should not be handicapped by anyone’s political games. 
But Iowa House Republicans are not the only ones who can play that. Look at what’s been discussed at the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this week. 
Our SCOTUS justices are selected by Presidents, who inherently have their own beliefs and ideologies regarding how the country should operate. The justices are confirmed by the Senate, full of Senators so beholden to their parties that opening their minds and making independent decisions is unheard of. Obviously, those justices confirmed by the Senate meet the approval of the political party in power. 
Can anyone say the justices are truly impartial when weighing legislation, when they had to depend on political approval to get where they are? Justice Sonya Sotomayor asked this week why Congress couldn’t settle the health care issue. 
They did, Madame Justice. It’s up to you to see if their actions were Constitutional. 
Justice Elena Kagan did not have the decency to recuse herself from this discussion, though she advocated the very legislation SCOTUS is reviewing, in her former life as Solicitor General. Is there a way politics will not play a role in her vote when one is taken? 
I think that justice for all is getting harder and harder to achieve. To me, justice is not getting everything you want or have everything go your way. Justice means that the system worked, and the best outcome was achieved through honesty, with integrity. 
The system seems to be breaking down, as honesty and integrity continue to become things of America’s past instead of its fabric.
Take care of yourself and thank you for reading.