Johnson County senators blast Republican press policy

Senate Republicans barred the media from the Senate Chamber Floor in the 2022 legislative session.


Grace Smith

Johnson County Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom addresses media access in the Senate Chamber during the second day of the 2022 Legislative Session at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. During his speech, Bolkcom compared media access to coverage of a basketball game. “Can you imagine if Gary Dolphin had to call the Iowa men’s basketball game from the popcorn stand at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?”

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Editor

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, condemned Senate Republicans’ decision to bar press from the Senate Chamber in the 2022 legislative session.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Wahls said Senate Democrats were not included in this decision.

“We oppose this policy in the strongest possible terms and believe the press should be able to do their jobs from the press bench,” Wahls said. “That’s what the press bench is for.”

Senate Republicans said they made the change because of increasing difficulty to define media. The minority leader recommended outlets be looked at on the criteria of location, viewership, and age to determine who should be given access to the floor.

“As non-traditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet,” Iowa Senate Republicans spokesperson Caleb Hunter said in an email to the Iowa Capitol Press Association in December.

The Daily Iowan reached out to Hunter for further comment, who did not immediately respond.

The press has had access to the Senate floor for more than a century, according to the Iowa Capitol Press Association.

In his opening remarks on Monday, the first day of the legislative session, Senate President Jake Chapman, R-Adel accused the press of having a “sinister agenda.”

“It has become increasingly evident that we live in a world in which many, including our media, wish to confuse, misguide, and deceive us, calling good evil and evil good,” Chapman said.

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Bolkcom called Senate Republicans’ inability to define media a failure, and said Chapman should consult the Iowa House, Governor’s office, and Judicial Branch for advice.

“What are Senate Republicans afraid of? Your decision on blocking the press from reporting is not bold. Your decision is weak and you should fix it now,” he said. “Iowans are paying for this operation here today and they deserve transparency, not arrogance or hubris.”

In his remarks Bolkcom also condemned racist attacks targeted at Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn, IDP Black Caucus Chair Al Womble, and members of the House Democratic Black Caucus during the virtual “People’s Condition of the State” on Jan. 7.

“Racism in Iowa is not some theory,” Bolkcom said. “It’s real and it’s dangerous and it’s critical – critical – that we confront it whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.”

Bolkcom called on Gov. Kim Reynolds to condemn the racist attacks in her Condition of the State speech, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday night.

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