Politics Pause As Flood Waters Hit Cedar Rapids, Eastern Iowa

As the Cedar River slowly raised foot-by-foot to flood levels these past few days, political campaigns in Eastern Iowa slowed to a halt. Iowa’s largest river winds its way through many of this year’s biggest electoral battlegrounds in the state, from Charles City to Waverly to Cedar Falls to Vinton to Cedar Rapids. When the historic flood in 2008 hit in a previous presidential election year, it came in June, well before the intense final months of the campaign. Early voting starts on Thursday, so the flooding in Cedar Rapids will likely impact campaigns’ plans for their initial early vote push.

Elected officials in tough reelection battles spent the past several days filling sandbags, organizing volunteers and attending to residents living in and near the flood zones. Local state representatives and senators banded together to find ways to help the effort to evacuate their constituents. Meanwhile, the state’s top elected officials surveyed the impacted areas.

Senator Chuck Grassley took a few days off the campaign trail to tour the flood-impated areas with Governor Terry Branstad and visit with local elected officials and emergency response leaders. Congressman Rod Blum joined in for several briefings.

Patty Judge originally planned to hold a fundraiser in Cedar Rapids with Tom Vilsack this weekend, who was visiting the state for a few days, but decided to cancel it. Instead, Judge knocked on doors in low-lying areas of Cedar Rapids with local State Representative Liz Bennet, informing residents about evacuation procedure and assessing needs. Judge also stopped by the volunteer sandbagging operation in NewBo.

The Iowa State Education Association had originally planned to hold a large canvass over the weekend for Molly Donahue, their member running for the suburban swing district against Representative Ken Rizer. Rather than knock doors in Marion, they filled sandbags in NewBo Market, which were then driven out to local residents’ homes.

Monica Vernon, who played a key role in the recovery from the 2008 floods as a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council, traveled to several communities in the 1st Congressional District along the Cedar River. A large part of her candidacy has been based on the lessons in management learned during the previous flood.

Friendships made in the Iowa Senate yielded important results for local Linn County constituents. State Senator Rita Hart of Clinton County helped out Liz Mathis when an apartment complex in Cedar Rapids needed to evacuate. Hart arranged to have 50 beds brought by a semi truck from Ashford University in Clinton for the displaced residents.

After preparations were finished in Waterloo, a group of elected officials and volunteers, including Waterloo mayor Quentin Hart, brought down extra sandbags to Cedar Rapids.

It will likely take many days for life to get back to normal for the residents who had to evacuate along the flooded areas in Eastern Iowa. Campaigns may not have as much of a timeframe with the election fast approaching, though the informal detente on attacking opponents seems to be holding for the moment.

That may last a few more days, but expect serious questions over why Cedar Rapids didn’t build better flood protections in the years since 2008 to take center stage in many campaigns. Several media outlets have already started to look into why a new levee system hadn’t been constructed. People will also be asking why Iowa experienced another historic flood just eight years after a so-called 500-year flood, and how candidates’ views on climate change match up with that reality.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/27/16

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