116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
So my column last Sunday in the opinion section proposing some new slogans to adorn our welcome signs generated quite a few reactions.
My slogans were influenced by the disappointing work of our Republican-controlled Legislature and governor, and how it's made Iowa less welcoming. Among the most popular picks were 'The Dead Zone Starts Here,” alluding to our water quality problems; 'Our Liberties We Prize and Your Reproductive Rights We Will Mansplain”; 'Home to Real Americans, and Iowa City”; and 'Welcome Home Young Professionals Visiting Your Parents.”
A few readers chimed in with their own ideas.
One proposed 'No Masks, No Weed, No Diversity, No Future.” Another floated 'Iowa - A Place to Groan.” A couple of readers looked to conservative Western states as a guide - 'Idaho of the Plains” and 'Making Utah Look Progressive.”
But some were less than amused.
Iowa, 'Where Liberals Once Again Prove You Can't Fix Stupid,” wrote one.
'Iowa - Home to a majority of common sense Conservative voters plus a few left wingy dingy Liberal editorialist and columnist,” another reader wrote.
Now I'm haughty and wingy dingy. Tough to keep track. And I got some more advice on where to live.
'Why don't you put yourself on the Exception list, and don't let a barn door bump you in the (expletive) on your way to Illinois,” one wrote with colorful rural imagery.
Let me state for the record I don't hate Iowa. There are many things I love about the state of my birth. Changing seasons, with beautiful falls, hot summers and snowy winters. Small towns where I grew up, Hawkeye football games, farmers markets, rhubarb, apple orchards, state parks and caucus campaigns. I'll stop before I get to rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
One of the big reasons I stayed to build a journalism career here is I've collected a lot of knowledge watching politics and government in the state for the better part of three decades. Iowa's politics was fascinating, with divided governments, a broad ideological spectrum in the parties and a ticket-splitting electorate that would, for example, send Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin to the Senate.
And it's that knowledge that makes me lament what's happening now. What we have now is the least responsive, transparent and reasonable state government I've ever seen. We have a state government uninterested in listening to Iowans who are not their allies or donors. They shove bills to passage before the public can weigh in or anyone can fully fathom their consequences. They embrace ideas from out-of-state think tanks and bill mills while shoving concerned Iowans out of the way.
Iowa veered so sharply right so quickly many of us got whiplash. The Republican Party in Iowa is far more ideologically rigid, extreme and radical than it was just a decade ago. It has embraced Trumpian cruelty, political vendettas and dishonesty over restraint and moderation.
In 2004, I watched four brave Republican state senators - Maggie Tinsman of Bettendorf, Don Redfern of Cedar Falls, Mary Lundby of Marion and Doug Shull of Indianola - join with Democrats to vote down a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Now, the Legislature gives voice to a stack of bills targeting transgender kids. The bills died in a legislative deadline, but the message was clear - and no Republicans stepped up to condemn it.
In the 1980s, then-Gov. Terry Branstad stood up to fellow Republican President Ronald Reagan demanding farm credit reforms in the midst of a crisis. Now, Branstad can't even bring himself to say Joe Biden won a free and fair presidential election, refusing to back away from the big lie that sparked the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
In 1998, when Republicans controlled the Legislature and governor's office, the big debate was over how best to improve public schools and how much to increase their funding. Now, Gov. Kim Reynolds wants taxpayer dollars to go to private schools so pupils can escape 'failing” public schools.
Republican Gov. Bob Ray welcomed refugees to Iowa. Now one of the Iowa GOP's main campaign weapons is to demonize immigrants with 'sanctuary city” fictions and TV ads depicting tattooed immigrant gangs invading the country. They backed a president who shunned refugees.
Republicans' 2006 gubernatorial nominee, Jim Nussle, left the GOP after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The Iowa GOP's 2002 nominee for governor, Doug Gross, is also no fan of the big lie.
'Our leadership in our Republican Party, in large part, has been telling our base lies regarding the election,” Gross told the Des Moines Register in January. 'We have to rely on our leaders at least to tell the truth to protect our freedoms, and they didn't do that. Instead, they played it. They played our base like a fiddle. And they played ‘em so much, they played ‘em so hard that they turned around and almost burned us down. And we can't let that happen again.”
Now, the Legislature and governor have just signed off on a bill making it harder to vote absentee in Iowa, among other misguided voting limits. Backers cited the big lie of a stolen election in arguing for the bill.
The party that argues for measures to control 'rogue auditors” has itself gone rogue.
So don't tell me to move. Instead, why don't some of you common sense conservative voters try pulling your party away from the Trumpian brink of authoritarianism and back to sanity? It's not wingy dingy to think Iowa and its leaders can do better. It has. They have. That's why I, along with so many others, have stayed. It's hope that we can return to the sanity that keeps us here.
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