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 Gov. Chet Culver’s loss and my loss to Gov. Terry Branstad in 2010 and 2014 respectively. This discussion is as old as our attempts to rationalize why Democrats have lost the governorship in 11 of 14 elections since 1968. The hometowns of our candidates does not tell us about their election competence or ability to govern. Mr. Dorman and other columnists and reporters like to point to the fact that I, Culver and Bonnie Campbell are from the capitol city but conveniently forget that Jerry Fitzgerald, Lowell Junkins, Don Avenson where from rural and small towns; and they too lost.
I wrote to Mr. Dorman before he and his colleagues 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 Quad City Times made the point that candidates like former 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 April 11 column, did acknowledge what 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 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.”
If we do have a Des Moines candidate, he or she has to talk about issues. I have written constantly that “good public policy makes good politics” and I believe it.
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) but 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.
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.
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• Jack Hatch is a former state senator from Des Moines and 2014 Democratic candidate for Governor. He is a housing developer with projects in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.