Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Iowa: corn, beans and incumbents who always win

Lately I've been thinking of my youth growing up in Iowa. And not just because I'm reminded as we begin the holiday season that the state Song of Iowa is sung to the tune of O Tannenbaum.

A pair of Iowa politicians that no one's heard from in a while have returned, like a couple of ghosts of Christmases past who won't leave us alone. Four-time Iowa Governor Republican Terry Brandstad has returned to run against incumbent Democratic Governor Chet Culver. I ventured over to wikipedia to remind myself what Governor Brandstad's accomplishments were in his sixteen years in office. Branstad's page lists exactly ONE mighty achievement for the good Governor: linking Iowa's school district's in a broadband network.

Well, since no one seems to remember much of anything Branstad did in his most-of-two-decades in office, I'll have to rely on my own memory. The Branstad I recall was mostly interested in raising revenue on the back of Iowa's poor and middle classes. When he took office in 1983, Iowa's sales tax was three percent. Within a few years, where I lived in Story County it was six percent. And as far as the good "conservative" Governor was concerned, too much was never enough when it came to raising the gas tax, creating state lotteries, and legalizing gambling. And almost everyone seems to have forgotten the incident in which Branstad's son killed two people while driving drunk but was only convicted of a misdemeanor.

I had a suspicion that when Branstad and today's Republican Party got their first chance to meet each other that they would find out that they don't have much in common.The new "conservatives" are nothing like the moderate, frequently sensible Reagan coalition Branstad remembers from his first successful race for Governor in 1982. And the young Republican activists who drive the party and who have no idea who Branstad is are going to find out what Iowans knew in the 80's but chose to ignore: Terry Branstad is a very dim bulb.

Sure enough, when the GOP faithful and Branstad finally got together last week, it was not exactly a love-in. Attendees at the event described Branstad as "arrogant" and "no threat to the liberal status quo." (I think "no threat to the liberal status quo" means "not conservative enough.") Branstad's remarks at the event included defending himself on approving the first state lottery bill by saying that it was a response to his getting booed at football games. He also seemed to insult blind people. Branstad's second meeting with Iowa Republicans a few days later didn't go much better, with the Des Moines Register describing the audience as having, "no sense of excitement for the candidate."

So who's our other specter from Iowa's political past? It's Terry Brandstad's first opponent for Governor, attorney Roxanne Conlin, running against crusty old Chuck Grassley in next year's Senate race. I can give you a lot of reasons why Conlin isn't going to beat Grassley. Here's one big one: it is to Iowa's lasting shame that it has never elected a woman to Congress. Here's another reason: Conlin has served as the president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. Yeah, that'll be real popular.

There is one upside to nominating the head of the trial lawyers. Conlin will be able to raise an incredible amount of money and drive Grassley nuts with negative ads. The old man has recently shown that he's incredibly thin-skinned when it comes to criticism.

Iowa loves its incumbent politicians, and is likely to reelect them no matter which way the wind is blowing in 2010. That will give Senator Grassley another six years of the guaranteed government health insurance that he's already enjoyed for over fifty years but doesn't believe should be available to you in any form.

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