Iowa goes its own way

Iowa turned away from most of America in the midterm elections with its sustained march to the right.

Voters restored full control of the Statehouse to Republicans and swathed the congressional delegation in red. Even Storm Lake, who voted for Democrats, went with the GOP.

Meanwhile, Democrats flipped the Minnesota legislature and re-elected Democrat Tim Walz as governor. Kansas retained a divided congressional delegation and returned a Democrat to the governor’s office. The Democrats held the US Senate and did amazingly well in the US House of Representatives races nationally.

What is it about Iowa that not so long ago embraced Barack Obama?

A guy could write a book about it if anyone cares, so we’ll have to keep it short.

First, Iowa has undergone tectonic economic changes over the past 40 years through consolidation. Rural areas led the decline, which spread to the small towns that lost their schools, and then to the county seats where Dollar General gained a foothold, and finally to the old working-class towns like Clinton and Ottumwa, which suffered year-on-year stomach pounding suffered (Keokuk just lost his hospital). It has led to deep frustration as population, retail and manufacturing declines have accelerated. Apparently the government has not responded. In industry and trade, the state was the problem – that is the central thesis of MAGA.

Second, the Iowa Democratic Party is sclerotic and on the rise. It is lost without Tom Harkin and Tom Vilsack to provide an operational structure. The Democrats cannot organize a successful national campaign. Des Moines money is split off from the party to fund its own political operations and further alienate voters abroad. The DC establishment interferes in candidate selection and does not support rural populists who question corporate consolidation.

This allows Republicans to cut taxes, ban books, distort history in the classroom, repeal certain privacy rights, wage a holy war on non-heterosexuals, scrap workers’ rights, and cut funding for education.

“The Democrats are incompetent and the Republicans are corrupt,” said Storm Lake native Jesse Case, who leads the Iowa Teamsters. “Faced with the choice between incompetent and corrupt, voters will vote corrupt every time. You can’t sell the Democratic brand in Iowa.”

US Senator Guy Gillette could not be elected in his hometown of Cherokee today.

Voters believe the Democrats obviously couldn’t protect them from economic decline, but Republicans will at least cut their taxes.

Republicans have a chance to prove their incompetence over the next few years when $2 billion in tax cuts come home to sleep.

We’ve seen this play before.

Kansas recently elected Sam Brownback for governor and he has redirected the state budget. Schools collapsed and voters revolted. They elected a lesbian native kickboxer to Congress and a Democratic governor (each of whom were just re-elected). Something similar happened in Wisconsin when Gov. Scott Walker brought a cheese cleaver into schools. Remember Iowan native Scott Walker, anyone?

Governor Kim Reynolds is on the same track, made possible by a legislature with no guard rails of moderation.

So we’re only a few years behind Kansas and Wisconsin in our development as a center.

Reynolds is committed to pursuing private school funding from behind the cover of public education. Tuition fees at state universities will rise more sharply. Community colleges will charge higher property taxes. The trajectory won’t change for Keokuk or Clinton — or Galva and Schaller — and those who get stuck in it will eventually kick out the bums.

Iowa needs two functioning political parties. There are signs of life when younger executives like JD Scholten emerge. It’s going to be a long way back from the right detour if the left doesn’t figure out what’s going on in Storm Lake – hola! There was no organization here, despite a large number of Latinos. That didn’t happen in 2016 or 2020 either. It’s not at all clear that Democrats understand what’s being eaten at these places.

Kansas had to play hell to find out and get back to center. The same goes for Wisconsin and even Minnesota. Iowa is so stubborn.

Art Cullen is editor and editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot. He won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing and is the author of “Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.” Cullen can be reached at [email protected].

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