Staff Columnist

Stuck in the middle with Fred as the Iowa primary looms

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell during a forum for Iowa gubernatorial candidates for the Democratic and Libertarian party primaries hosted by the League of Women Voters of Iow at Ballantyne Auditorium on the campus of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell during a forum for Iowa gubernatorial candidates for the Democratic and Libertarian party primaries hosted by the League of Women Voters of Iow at Ballantyne Auditorium on the campus of Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, April 21, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The center has become central in the final days before Democrats pick a nominee for governor.

Fred Hubbell, the retired Des Moines business executive who leads the latest polls, has taken heat for hesitating when asked during a recent debate whether he would repeal big, fat tax cuts approved by Statehouse Republicans in May. Hubbell also had to defend contributing to GOP state Rep. Peter Cownie, a longtime family friend.

The term “DINO,” Democrat in name only, has been uttered. Or worse, “centrist.”

In the Quad Cities last week, Hubbell didn’t flinch, insisting, as governor, he would work with Republicans who likely will still control at least one chamber of the Legislature, blue wave or not. He might even give money to Cownie again.

“Democrats, if we’re going win the election and we’re going to get anything done in governing ... we have to reach out to Trump voters, we have to reach out to Republicans and independents,” Hubbell said, according to the Quad-City Times’ Ed Tibbetts.

Hubbell’s right. A Democratic governor likely will face a divided Legislature, and will need to make deals to get anything done. But after two years of Republican legislative majorities bulldozing Democrats to enact an extreme agenda, being right about the center isn’t sitting well on the left.

“The problem is we keep electing centrist middle-of-the-road Democrats,” Cathy Glasson told our editorial board last month. The Coralville nurse and labor leader is a “bold progressive” advocating universal health care, a fast-tracked $15 minimum wage and repeal of right to work. She says if Republicans won’t go along, she’ll build a “movement of activists” to apply pressure.

“It’s the only way change ever happens,” she said.

Democrats’ other choices, Andy McGuire, John Norris and Ross Wilburn, also said they would seek to work with Republicans.

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“You’ve got to put the training wheels back on our democracy. We’ve lost the capacity to work together,” Norris said. The former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Vilsack, who dealt with a GOP Legislature, said he’d try to forge easy compromises first, building up to bigger issues. He’d also use the bully pulpit to “change the conversation” and build popular support.

Having watched Iowa politics for two decades, I know bipartisan compromise is absolutely necessary to govern effectively and deliver lasting accomplishments. Having watched Iowa politics over the last two years, however, I’m not sure it’s still possible.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats should give up, declare common ground no man’s land and indulge the impulse to match rightward overreach with leftward excess. Democrats’ best chance lies in arguing they’ll put the brakes on extremism, not replace it with their own brand. More than a few Iowans will be looking for a governor who wants to represent and listen to all Iowans, not just partisans and donors writing big checks. They want Iowa ideas, not leftovers from Wisconsin or Kansas.

Show Iowans how you’ll steer the state in a better, more reasonable direction. If not to the center, at least back on the road Iowa politics once followed.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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