In Iowa: You've got mail, and more Iowa legislative trivia

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Trips to my mailbox in recent days have dented my hopes for a legislative campaign addressing stuff more substantive than trivial junk.

I live in Senate District 34, where state Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, faces a tough challenge from Republican Rene Gadelha, who serves on the Linn-Mar School Board. It’s a key race in the partisan struggle to control the Senate and set the state’s agenda on numerous big issues — water quality, tax reform, health care education, you name it.

But you wouldn’t know that from the mailers I received, one from the Republican Party of Iowa for Gadelha and the second from Priorities for Iowa Inc., a conservative 501(c) (4) group spending money from its undisclosed donors to attack Democratic candidates. Priorities goes after Mathis but doesn’t mention Gadelha.

The mailers were remarkably alike.

The Iowa Republicans’ depicted a thank-you note from “Des Moines residents” lauding Mathis for voting to provide funding for Blank Park Zoo renovations, a new baseball stadium parking lot and a golf tournament.

“Good luck in your next election. Who’d give us these lavish things if you lost?” the fake note says.

“It’s time for Des Moines to fend for itself,” the flip side insists.

Priorities for Iowa assails the very same items as a “Senate spending spree!” For good measure, it adds a remarkably dishonest charge blaming Mathis for closing two state mental health institutions. It cites her vote for a bill that actually included a bipartisan compromise seeking to delay MHI closures demanded by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. The governor vetoed the compromise.

As for the zoo, baseball and golf, all were included in initial versions of budget bills funding numerous projects through the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, filled by gambling tax dollars.

It’s true Mathis voted for those early versions, which also contained millions of dollars for environmental projects, regent universities, the Vision Iowa Program, public safety radio upgrades and other items.

But I can’t find any evidence these “lavish” projects made it through the legislative process into final bills, which Mathis also supported. So Des Moines’ gushing thank-you, it seems, was hardly necessary.

And so what if they had passed? Should the state’s largest city be barred from receiving funds for local projects? I’m glad that when Cedar Rapids sought help with flood recovery and protection, or when Marion asked for state help funding its own baseball complex, the answer wasn’t “fend for yourselves.”

Gadelha is hardly the first legislative candidate to get this sort of “help” from political operatives outside her district. I know, soon, Democrats will drop something cringe-worthy into my mailbox.

Yes, this is the way the game is played. And yes, most of it goes straight into recycling.

But it still gets under my skin.

For one thing, it’s so obviously phony. We’ve got dirty waterways, major education challenges, health care issues on multiple levels, economic development obstacles and many other significant tasks facing the next Legislature. And what do we get, again and again, from cookie-cutter legislative campaigns? Heated sidewalks, flower pots and, now, a zoo.

The pros who peddle this cynical gotcha trivia know most of us don’t follow the legislative process closely enough to understand how truly meaningless and inconsequential this stuff is. They toss sorry seeds across a landscape of misunderstanding, hoping a few of them will sprout doubt in the minds of voters. The sums they’re paid to come up with this stuff is the true waste of money, not a baseball parking lot.

How about sending us a candidate’s actual, substantive positions? Gadelha is a smart challenger with real ideas, particularly on education. That would be a far better use of postage.

But I’m betting we’ll get more of the same. Mailboxes full of phony attacks and precious few solutions.

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