Governor Kim Reynolds wants you to know that Iowa is “Number One.”
Like, she really, really wants you to know that. Ever since U.S. News & World Report labeled Iowa the best state in the country to live in yesterday, Reynolds’ official office, her campaign and the state Republican Party has blasted out the praise of the award non-stop. Reynolds appeared on CBS News to tout the top state distinction.
One imagines we’ll see that Iowa ranking in countless TV commercials, mail pieces and digital ads from now until the November election from the governor’s campaign. And there’s no doubt what she’ll credit that success to: the policies that she and legislative Republicans have passed and are pursuing.
And in a broad sense, the ranking is positive news, and something that many of us knew already – Iowa is a pretty nice place to live. But not for everyone. And the problem that so many Iowans realize is that it won’t be retaining those positive elements of quality of life for much longer.
Educational opportunities are vanishing every year. Tuition is skyrocketing at state universities. Medicaid care in Iowa is an imploding disaster thanks to privatization. The state’s mental healthcare access ranks among the worst in the country. Racism is on the rise. Corn and soybean prices are stagnant, and changing national policies on renewable energy could wreck the local industry.
Therein lies the risk for Reynolds’ sunny, optimistic picture of the Hawkeye State. Very real people are feeling very real hardship all over this state. What some national magazine says their quality of life is supposed to be doesn’t make a damn bit of difference for them.
And the Des Moines Register was quick to point out that many of the things that Iowa earned high marks for (health care, opportunity, education) are getting slashed left and right by Republicans in the state budget.
It’s a problem that many politicians face when they get too into the weeds on rankings and data and charts and statistics. Just because you measure education or healthcare by a certain metric doesn’t mean you’re accurately gathering how happy people are with those services. A governor can sit in her fancy office at the Capitol and look at spreadsheets every day that shows things are fine, but people’s actual day-to-day lives out in the real Iowa may look much different.
Iowa is the best place to live in the nation?
Try telling that to the first grader who spends an hour and a half on a bus every morning to get to their school because their county’s rural districts consolidated.
Tell it to the elderly woman whose abuse she suffers in her nursing home goes unnoticed because the state cut nursing home inspections.
Tell it to the teenager experiencing a mental health crisis who spends four hours in a cop car driving out to the only available mental health bed on the other side of the state.
Tell it to the kids who lost their school’s best teacher to Minnesota because the state no longer values public workers.
Tell it to the Hispanic family whose children were mocked with racist chants at a school sporting event by fellow students who feel empowered by the racism of Reynolds’ campaign co-chair, Steve King.
Tell it to the young student who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t afford yet another massive tuition hike.
Tell it to young woman who got a sexually transmitted disease after being unable to get reproductive care because her local Planned Parenthood clinic shut down.
Tell it to the father who’s out of work after getting injured on the job, but can’t get his workplace to compensate him for his injury.
Tell it to the young couple who can’t even pay for their apartment from their minimum-wage jobs.
This doesn’t feel like the best state in the country to live in for a lot of people, and more and more Iowans are experiencing those kind of lives every year. And no amount of rankings, data or cheerful words from their governor is going to make them feel otherwise.
“Iowa truly is a place where if you work hard, dream big, anything is possible,” Reynolds said yesterday morning. “And I’m honestly a product of that.”
It’s nice things worked out for Reynolds, but a lot of Iowans don’t have the same opportunities now that she once did. And the more she insists that Iowa still exists, the more out of touch she’ll seem.
Hillary Clinton dealt with the same kind of problem during her presidential run. She spent so much of her time defending the successes of the Obama Administration, that she sometimes wasn’t able to connect with the very real frustration out there about the state of American politics.
Reynolds too runs the risk of becoming Governor “Everything’s Fine” if she centers her entire campaign around a sunny vision of Iowa that so many struggling Iowans don’t see in their own lives.
by Pat Rynard