As a state legislator, I have thought long and hard about what it means to stick to ones principles. Long before I decided to run for office, I was upset with elected officials who don't stick to their principles and instead use their office for personal gain. This problem is the most acute at the federal level with those in Congress who take salaries in excess of $175,000 a year not only while in office, but for life. In addition, they receive other lavish benefits while in office and after as well such as lifelong health care. Not only am I fed up with this kind of behavior, but I know many of my constituents are as well. My principles are that Congress and legislators alike should run for office because they have a strong desire to serve their nation and state, not as a career move or for personal gain. While this problem is not as big here in Iowa, the principle still applies.
This is why I have chosen to take three steps to make sure I am sticking to the principles that I expect from my legislators and congressmen.
First, I did not accept the Iowa state employee retirement benefit known as IPERS even though I qualify. As a legislator I am a state employee and receive a salary and health care. But consistent with my principles I rejected IPERS because it is a lifetime retirement benefit that would continue long past my tenure in the legislature. When I am done with my job as a legislator, I'm done - the taxpayers and government won't owe me anything. Second, like Governor Branstad, I've advocated that state employees should pay on average 20% of their own health insurance in order to help the state control our taxpayers' burden. Therefore, I too will be returning 20% of my healthcare benefit cost back to the taxpayers (approximately $1,400 per year). However, I will not be giving this money back to the state, but instead donating it to the volunteer fire departments in my district. These fine men and women work hard training, maintaining their equipment, and of course fighting fires, all on a volunteer basis. This small donation will help them do their jobs more effectively by helping them to buy essential equipment to keep my constituents safe.
Third, as a member of the legislature, I also receive a per diem allotment of $135 for each day of the session to cover travel and living expenses. This year that allotment will exceed $14,000. This per diem amount may be appropriate for the legislators that have to drive from the far corners of the state, obtain housing in Des Moines, and spend four to five days a week away from their homes and families. But it is excessive for those like me that live within an hour drive and can commute. This money is taxpayer money intended for expenses and is in addition to our annual salary. I believe the amount above the actual expenses should be returned to the people of Iowa as a matter of principle. I feel strongly that this job is a matter of civic duty, not personal enrichment or a career. I think it is reasonable for me to recoup my gas expense to drive back and forth to Des Moines, and my expense if I have to stay over in a motel due to bad weather. I will be totaling these, and any other reasonable expenses, and subtracting them from the accumulated per diem allotment that I receive, then donating the balance to volunteer fire departments in my legislative district. Our volunteer fire department men and women deserve to have safe and reliable equipment and facilities, I hope and pray these donations help, even if in a small way.
My district covers all of Tama County, the southern and western halves of Marshall County, and the La Porte City area in Black Hawk County. I will be making these donations over the coming year as I identify worthy projects in conjunction with the districts volunteer fire departments. My first donation was $500 to the Haverhill Fire Department for their new fire station on March 22.
Our citizens across the country long for elected officials that stick to their principles; these are a few of the ways that I will be doing that.
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