For nearly 30 years, Iowa has been represented in the U.S. Senate by Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, a conservative Republican.
Looking in from the outside, that may seem odd. How can one state elect two senators with such differing views on a wide range of issues? But for those of us who live in this purple swing state, home to the hotly contested first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses and two strong political parties that routinely battle it out in close elections, we see a split that fits our landscape.
Much of Harkin’s and Grassley’s success can be attributed to the fact that both senators, although dedicated partisans, repeatedly have shown Iowans a pragmatic side that’s appealing to voters beyond their respective parties. Although both senators have been at the center of highly partisan fights over the years, each also has had many moments when they bucked their parties’ agenda to stand up for what’s best for Iowa.
For the most part, Iowa has benefited. And Iowans of all political stripes have been well represented, regardless of which party controls the Senate.
But now, Harkin is leaving the stage. And Iowans are faced with the remarkably rare prospect of an open U.S. Senate seat. And it is through this prism of three decades of balanced, bipartisan representation and political pragmatism that we view our current choice.
Unfortunately, the race between the major party nominees, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, and state Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, has been anything but bipartisan or pragmatic. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the campaign by outside interest groups on both sides of the political aisle. Much of that money has been spent on a blistering barrage of negative TV ads assailing each candidate.
Substance has been among the main casualties of that barrage. Much of the campaign has been focused on the candidates’ personalities, with chickens and pigs making prominent appearances. Debates have offered us too little insight into what Braley and Ernst hope to do if they win the Senate seat. It’s been largely attack and counterattack.
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So we hoped, amid all the noise and negativity, to meet with Braley and Ernst in a setting that would allow us to ask questions on the issues. Braley met with our editorial board for more than an hour. But Ernst’s campaign failed to make time in her schedule.
We admire Ernst’s career of public service, in local government, in the Legisalture and in the Iowa National Guard, and were looking forward to hearing more. We met with Ernst before the June primary and came away impressed, even if she ultimately did not earn our primary endorsement. But the general election campaign is a different beast, which clearly has provided more than enough new issues and questions to warrant a second meeting and a second look.
We’ve been troubled by several of the issue positions Ernst has taken on the campaign trail. This editorial board has, for instance, been supportive of stepped up efforts to clean up dozens of impaired waterways, with an eye on flood mitigation and soil conservation. But Ernst has said she favors not just curtailing but fully eliminating the federal Environmental Protection Agency, while relying on states to police pollution. As we’ve learned in recent years, watersheds and water quality problems don’t respect state boundaries. Ernst’s position strikes us as politically motivated and environmentally unsound.
We’ve favored a modest, incremental, increase in the minimum wage, while Ernst has suggested that there should be no federal minimum at all. In a 2012 questionnaire, Ernst said she favored state action to nullify the federal Affordable Care Act and arrest federal officials who sought to implement it. It’s one thing to oppose the Affordable Care Act as bad policy, but Ernst’s view would seem to fall far beyond the mainstream.
We would have liked to ask Ernst about these and many other positions. It’s possible that the Republican’s views have been misunderstood. But we weren’t given that chance.
So we’re left to conclude that Ernst’s views would make her a poor choice to carry on Iowa’s pragmatic senatorial legacy.
We’re far more familiar with Braley, who has represented much of Eastern Iowa in Congress since 2007. That’s how we know, contrary to TV attack ads, that Braley’s record on veterans’ issues has been solid, regardless of which meetings he did nor did not attend. And we appreciate Braley’s cautious approach to reintroducing ground troops to Iraq.
The congressman also has compiled a positive record on rural issues, from helping dairy farmers to sticking up for renewable fuels, despite his opponents’ efforts to cast him as an urban elitist. He’s called for a national manufacturing strategy, which strikes us as prudent here in a city where the continuing success of manufacturing and processing are vital.
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Braley was swift in his response to the 2008 flood, when his district included Waterloo-Cedar Falls but not the Cedar Rapids metro. Since Cedar Rapids became part of his district, Braley has pushed for federal recovery assistance, including funding for Cedar Rapids flood protection. He disagrees with Ernst’s call for eliminating federal environmental oversight, pointing out that President Richard Nixon formed the EPA because states were doing little to protect the environment.
On immigration, Braley favors bipartisan legislation that passed the U.S. Senate, providing more resources to secure the nation’s borders while also creating a long pathway to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. We’ve supported that legislation, and reject attempts by Ernst and others to simply label it as “amnesty.” We also agree with Braley that although the Affordable Care Act needs significant changes, its overall effort to provide health coverage to millions of Americans is worth continuing.
Braley has demonstrated the ability to work across party lines and make the compromises necessary to govern the country, which is sorely needed in the Senate. He’s experienced, and demonstrates a deep understanding of important issues beyond sound bites, attacks and talking points.
We see Braley as the best choice to carry on Iowa’s bipartisan Senate tradition.
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