Sen. Taylor discusses power at Iowa State Senate

Sam Landstra—Co-Chief Editor

Editor’s note: This article alternatively appears as a podcast.

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Sen. Jeff Taylor typically talks pork at the Iowa State Capitol. In late February, though, he talked beef.

On that morning, the cowboy hat-wearing, leather boot-stomping members of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association lobbied the capitol’s suits. They asked Taylor to protect their pastureland from the Department of Natural Resources.

Taylor said he understood the cattlemen’s concerns. A few weeks earlier, he had proposed SF 2160, a bill banning eminent domain for pipelines and carbon-capture projects.

The first-term Republican from Iowa’s District 2 earned bipartisan support. The state’s farmers and the Sierra Club, an environmentalist organization, rallied behind the bill.

Still, a majority of Republicans disapproved of the proposed legislation and SF 2160 failed to reach the Senate floor.

Taylor referenced an “unwritten rule” that led to the bill’s demise. If a bill doesn’t receive majority Republican support while in committee meetings, it doesn’t receive a vote, regardless of its Democratic support.

“Is that the best practice? Well, it’s a very partisan practice,” Taylor said. “I don’t know that it’s the best practice.”

After the bill died in the Senate, Taylor referenced the Republican party’s ties to Midwest pipeline companies. Notably, former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad worked as a spokesman for Summit Carbon Solutions.

“I kind of knew it was an uphill climb because there were a lot of political, economic pressures against it,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to sit and judge one of my colleagues and say they consciously chose the pipelines companies over the farmers, but that was the end result.”

Since running unopposed in the 2020 election cycle, Taylor has turned his lessons into legislation. He’s a political science professor at Dordt University. Currently, he’s also one of three university faculty or alumni holding public office.

“I think Dordt and the Christian Reformed tradition [have] always been interested in government and politics,” Taylor said.

He mentioned Reformed theologians John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper. While Calvin compared civil service to ministry, Kuyper served as prime minister of the Netherlands.

“There’s so many different ways we can be involved in the world to make it a better place,” Taylor said. “We’re never going to make it perfect… But in the meantime, we have a role to play, and I think politics is an important part of that.”

Given Taylor works in the capitol from Monday through Thursday, he teaches one course during the spring semester: Introduction to Politics. During the fall semester, he teaches five courses.

For the senator, the ability “to put into practice what I’ve studied and what I’ve written about for many years” represents “one of the joys” of his jobs: “I do believe that adds value to the classes I teach at Dordt because every week I come back with stories.”

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Still, Taylor’s students have raised concerns about the political science department’s resources, given his more frequent absences from the classroom. Last year, The Diamond published “Not political enough.” The op-ed said the university “needs to focus more energy on educating students in politics.”

On that February day, Taylor pressed a green button at his desk on the Senate floor. He and 47 other senators voted “yea” on SF2081, an education bill relating to computer science grants. 

When elected, the Republican party assigned Taylor to Education Committee Vice Chair. While in Des Moines, Taylor attends committee meetings, talks to constituents, and votes in floor debates.

While working underneath the capitol rotunda, he says he’s a senator for District 2, not a professor for Dordt University.

“I’m trying to keep my Dordt position and my politician position at the state capitol somewhat separate,” Taylor said. “I realize that because of my ongoing connection with the school, people are going to notice that connection.”

During his first week in office, the Sioux City Journal interviewed Taylor about the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. Their front-page headline identified the senator as a “Northwest Iowa professor.”

After the article’s publication, Taylor said he didn’t clarify the interview’s context with the reporter: “I wouldn’t have been as partisan; I probably wouldn’t have phrased things quite the way I did if he was interviewing me as a political science professor.” 

Taylor called the impeachment an “overreach:” If Trump runs for president in 2024, the senator is unsure whether he’ll support the twice-impeached former president.

He said he’d welcome his students into politics, though, regardless of their policies: “I think it’s good for Dordt as an institution, for our culture, but also just for the kingdom, to have different Christian voices represented not just in the Republican party, but in the Democratic party as well.”

As Taylor proposes legislation relating to eminent domain and educations, he understands the responsibility of his position.

“To me, the heart of politics, as I tell my students, is power,” Taylor said. “It makes people uncomfortable. Other people like it, enjoy it, crave it.”

Taylor said he’s “not immune to the corrupting influence of power,” but also wants to use it well.

“I see it as something that is built into who we are as human beings. That we’re in charge of all the creatures God created,” Taylor said. “So, I feel like we have a responsibility. Can we use that power for not only our fellow human beings, but for creation as a whole?

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