One Iowa lawmaker has a message for any state university that spends taxpayer dollars on grief counseling for students upset at the outcome of last week’s presidential election: “Suck it up, buttercup.”
“I’ve seen four or five schools in other states that are establishing ‘cry zones’ where they’re staffed by state grief counselors and kids can come cry out their sensitivity to the election results,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. “I find this whole hysteria to be incredibly annoying. People have the right to be hysterical … on their own time.”
Kaufmann plans to introduce a piece of legislation he’s calling the “suck it up, buttercup bill” when the Legislature resumes in January.
It would target state universities that use taxpayer dollars to fund election-related sit-ins and grief counseling above and beyond what is normally available to students. Those that do would be subject to a budget cut for double the amount they spend on such activities, Kaufmann said. It also would establish new criminal penalties for protesters who shut down highways, like those who briefly closed Interstate Highway 80 in Iowa City during a protest against President-elect Donald Trump last week.
The legislation comes barely a week after the close of a contentious presidential election that elevated conversations about "political correctness" and the "liberal elite" into a national dialogue.
Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, said that in some ways, Trump's candidacy and his election have emboldened conservatives to push back.
"Sometimes it’s hard to keep up on what’s considered good or bad or appropriate or not in any given context," he said. "At a certain point, and I think this was reflected in the election results, people get tired of it. It’s wearing to always be considered a racist if you don’t toe a particular line and use certain language."
No money spent, universities say
Spokesmen for the state’s public universities said it's important for students to have a chance to talk about the election and what it means for them. They say that although they have held a number of events to help students discuss and process the election results, they are not spending additional state resources to do so.
“I think universities are the perfect place to have these types of conversations,” said Scott Ketelsen, director of university relations at the University of Northern Iowa. “It’s where people learn. It’s where they share ideas. I don’t consider it coddling.”
At UNI, students and faculty got together at three different “sharing sessions” to discuss the election, their fears and their anxieties. Ketelsen said there was no money spent on them.
Students and faculty at Iowa State University held a rally and marched to the president’s office, and student groups at the University of Iowa held their own events. Both schools said they did not spend extra money on those events.
Protests and coping sessions have popped up across the country after Trump's expectations-defying victory.
National polls going into election night showed Democrat Hillary Clinton as the likely victor. She won the popular vote, but her Republican rival won several competitive states to gain a majority in the Electoral College. Clinton was forced to concede defeat early Wednesday morning.
While half the country cheered Trump’s election, the other half reacted with sadness and even fear.
“This election was somewhat unique,” Ketelsen said. “It wasn’t like previous elections, so the response wasn’t like previous elections. And that’s OK. But people have to be able to sit down and have open dialogue and honest communication with one another.”
Josh Lehman, communications director for the Iowa Board of Regents, said his office doesn’t comment on legislation until it’s been introduced.
Highway protest causes concern
Protests have not been limited to college campuses. About 250 people gathered on the steps of the Iowa Capitol last week. And in Iowa City, more than 100 protesters shut down Interstate 80 for about 30 minutes as they marched from downtown Iowa City and onto the highway.
Kaufmann said a second component of his bill would make it easier for law enforcement authorities to charge protesters criminally if their protests block highways and roadways.
Iowa City bumps up against his district, and he said he heard complaints from numerous constituents who were stuck in traffic, including one woman who was trying to pick up her daughter from school and another who was rushing her cat to an urgent veterinary clinic.
“What would have happened if there was someone being rushed to the hospital?” he asked.
Kaufmann said he’s working to convene a law enforcement task force to consider options. Officers now could potentially charge protesters with certain violations, but he said many have told him they’d like clarity on the issue.
“I have no issue with protesting," he said. "In fact, I would go to political war for anyone who wanted to protest or dissent and they couldn’t. But you can’t exercise your constitutional right by trampling on someone else’s. When they blocked off Interstate 80, they crossed a line.”
Sgt. Nathan Ludwig, public information officer for the Iowa State Patrol, said state troopers worked quickly and cleared away 77 protesters in 19 minutes to reopen I-80.
He said his office doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but he said protests that take over the interstate pose a threat to public safety.
“If you want to protest, you’re free to do that, but doing it on the interstate’s probably the last place you want to do it,” he said. “I would say it’s a very, very dangerous situation for people to go on an interstate.”
Kaufmann said he plans to introduce the bill when the Iowa Legislature resumes in January.
Republicans kept their majority in the Iowa House of Representatives on Election Day and regained the majority in the Iowa Senate, giving them greater leeway to pass legislation pushed by conservatives.