Sticking to Principles

As a state legislator, I have thought long and hard about what it means to stick to one’s principles.  Long before I decided to run for office, I was upset with elected officials who didn’t stick to their principles and instead, used 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.  I believe legislators should run for office because they have a strong desire to serve, not as a career move or for personal gain.

To make sure I am sticking to the principles I expect from my representatives, I am taking the following steps.

First, I will not accept the Iowa state employee retirement benefit (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 choose to reject 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 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, approximately $1,400 per year, back to the taxpayers. However, I will not be giving this money back to the state, but instead am 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. I believe this amount is excessive for those like me who live within an hour’s drive and can commute. As a matter of principle, I believe the amount received above actual expenses should be returned to the people of Iowa. I feel strongly that the job of legislator is a matter of civic duty, not a career or to be used as personal enrichment. I think it is reasonable for me to accept reimbursement for gasoline expenses to drive back and forth to Des Moines, in addition to motel costs if needing to stay over in bad weather. After totaling these and other reasonable expenses, I will subtract them from the accumulated per diem allotment I receive and donate the balance to volunteer fire departments in my legislative district. These men and women deserve to have safe and reliable equipment and facilities. I hope and pray these donations will help, if even in a small way.

The district I serve covers all of Tama County, the southern and western halves of Marshall County, and the La Porte City area in Black Hawk County.  Over the coming year, I will make these donations for worthy projects, in conjunction with the volunteer fire departments who benefit. My first donation of $500 was made on March 22 to the Haverhill Fire Department for their new fire station.

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Dean Fisher, State Representative