Recently, I have been in a public discussion with members of the Eastern Iowa press corps. Columnist Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette believes a Des Moines candidate for Governor is the wrong voice for Democrats. He defends his position by acknowledging Governor Chet Culver’s loss and my loss to Governor Terry Branstad in 2010 & 2014 respectively.
This discussion is as old as our attempts to rationalize why Democrats have lost the governorship 11 of 14 elections since 1968. The home towns of our candidates should tell us something about our candidate’s values, not election competence.
Mr. Dorman or other columnist and reporters like to point to me, Culver and Bonnie Campbell as being from the capitol city, but conveniently forget that Jerry Fitzgerald, Lowell Junkins and Don Avenson where all from rural and small towns; and they too lost. They conveniently forget that Governor Tom Vilsack was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and moved to Mt. Pleasant, or that Republican candidate Des Moines lawyer Doug Gross was reared in western Iowa.
I wrote to Mr. Dorman before he and his Eastern Iowa Press friends discussed this issue on their weekly Podcast, OnIowaPolitics. Mr. Dorman still believes Des Moines is a “curse” for Democrats, but his colleagues were more willing to withhold judgment. In the podcast, Ed Tibbetts from the Davenport Times made the point that candidates like then-State Senator Tom Vilsack did not litigate the legislative agenda, but presented a larger view of what Iowa needed when he won in 1998. Waterloo Courier political reporter Christinia Crippes agreed and said the Democrat who could win had to make the best case.
Mr. Dorman, in his Gazette rebuttal article on April 11, did acknowledge that his colleague, Linda Waddington wrote in last Sunday’s paper, “some voters last fall saw Democratic legislative candidates as obstructing while Republicans were proposing. Much has been written about how the Clinton campaign’s focus on Trump’s myriad problems in the final weeks left voters with less sense of what she hoped to accomplish as president.”
Finally, Mr. Dorman sees some wiggle room for a Des Moines candidate, but not much. He appears to extend an olive branch to residents of his paper’s largest city competitor, Des Moines, when he recently wrote, “So, clearly, Democrats need to be about more than stopping bad stuff Republicans want to do. They’ve got to have strong ideas for how they’d govern better. But I think the pitch has to be delivered by a candidate who can convince and connect with a broad array of voters.”
Clearly, reporters will continue to talk about the “curse” of Des Moines, but the Eastern Iowa press wants to elevate the discussion. For that realization, I am grateful for them to have an open mind about not using Des Moines as the convenient punching bag.
If we do have a Des Moines candidate, he or she has to talk about issues, just like any Democratic candidate outside Des Moines. I have written constantly that “good public policy makes good politics” and I believe it. The problem is that our candidates have defaulted to Democratic accomplishments as our campaign issues. Not a good strategy when we have capitulated to Governor Branstad/Reynolds for seven years.
All Democratic candidates need to develop strong program solutions that include rural areas, small towns and micropolitan cities (between 10,000 and 50,000 population). Iowa is not a big state. We all know somebody in these towns and in rural areas.
Democrats don’t want to leave anyone behind. But the big, large vision Democrats have to promote is the answer to this basic question: “How does our candidate for Governor grow Iowa’s economy?”
We can’t do it by growing Des Moines alone, we have to grow Dubuque, Decorah, Davenport, Dakota City, Dallas Center, Dana, De Soto, DeWitt, Dyersville and Defiance and all 947 cities in our state. We should care more about how candidates propose doing this than rather where one is from. Leave it to the candidates to sort this out and reporters should not bias voters with the elementary and tired argument that Des Moines candidates can’t create growth everywhere.
And by the way, I grew up in a small town of Farmington, Connecticut, where we drank water from our own private well and collected our waste in our septic tank. And furthermore, Farmington, Iowa was the first incorporated town in Iowa in 1841 – no doubt it’s founding families originated from my childhood home of Farmington, Connecticut.
by Jack Hatch