So I spent my evening with the good Republican delegates of state Senate District 18. They conventioned last night in Marion to chose a candidate for the Nov. 8 special election to fill the vacant seat left by Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, who is off to the Iowa Utilities Board.
If Republicans win, they would knot the Senate 25-25 and erase a thin Democratic majority. High stakes.
And yet there was little in the way of high political drama. The only real debate among the delegates was over the notion of allowing them to question the candidates, and for how long. It was not part of the original agenda, which involved short speeches followed by balloting. But after some haggling, the delegates decided to question the three hopefuls - Linn County GOP co-chair Cindy Golding, former U.S. Atty. Matt Dummermuth and Marion businesswoman Mary Rathje.
I think that was an important call, in the end. I went into the convention thinking Rathje was probably the favorite, with the apparent backing of Gov. Branstad and other top Republicans.
But during questioning, it became clear that Golding was the most articulate, enthusiastic, prepared and polished candidate. Rathje seemed pretty nervous at times totally unprepared for a grilling. Dummermuth is a smart, thoughtful and accomplished guy, but, how can I put this gently, he's got an enthusiasm/emotion deficiency. It afflicts many Midwestern males, like myself. We're all working for a cure, I guess. Soon as the ballgame's over. Lawn needs mowin.'
Anyway, Golding mopped up. If there hadn't been Q&A, it might have been different, or at least a tighter vote.
I think Golding could be a fairly formidable candidate. You'd better get used to hearing the numbers 4 and 6. She and her husband have four businesses and six children. She noted that, oh, about 174 times.
She has some Statehouse lobbying experience tied to her work with the National Federation of Independent Business and the Farm Bureau. The helped her be more conversant on state issues than her rivals, like when she explained that school reform and property tax reform are linked.
And I, an independent District 18 voter, give her a few bonus points for:
Saying that the two state senators she admires are former Sen. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, and the late Mary Lundby, who represented Marion in the Senate and House. They'd both make my list of high-quality, independent-minded lawmakers I've covered.
When asked whether they would represent the views of their constituents or use their own judgment, the age old question of representative democracy, Golding said a lawmakers' biggest job is to "make sure your constituents understand the issues." To many lawmakers forget that part.
She didn't pander. When asked about abortion, Golding said she's pro life and would work to limit abortions. But she also noted that the state is constricted by the framework of Roe v. Wade. Maybe that's not what the delegates wanted to hear, but it's true.
And why did she give $50 to Democrat Ed Fallon's gubernatorial campaign? Golding said her family owns an organic farm, and Fallon is a big proponent of organic ag. So she tossed him a small gift for his longshot bid. Makes some sense.
So now we've got a race.
Golding won despite being a resident of a part of rural Cedar Rapids that will not be part of the Marion-centered Senate district created by redistricting. So if she wins this year, next year she'll be running as an incumbent in a largely new district. And Republicans will need to find a new candidate in the Marion area. Note to the GOP, Rathje has brochures already printed up with no year on them.
We got a short glimpse of part of Golding's strategy. She called her soon-to-be-official Democratic rival Liz Mathis "formidable." But then she argued that Mathis has "connections to downtown Cedar Rapids." Cue the ominous music.
"We are different," Golding said. "We are not Cedar Rapids and we will make that distinction."
For me, a SD 18 resident with downtown Cedar Rapids connections, a.k.a. a job, this rings odd. A businesswoman like Golding surely understands and appreciates our interconnected regional economy, with Cedar Rapids as its hub.
But maybe among others it will resonate. I guess there's a reason that cannon in Marion is still pointed toward CR. We'll see.