Government

Immediate politicizing of tragedies is new normal

A blue ribbon waves in the wind outside a store with a poster for Mollie Tibbetts in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A blue ribbon waves in the wind outside a store with a poster for Mollie Tibbetts in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Mollie Tibbetts’ death was politicized almost immediately.

But that was nothing new, for better or worse.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old Iowa woman from Brooklyn, Iowa, had been missing for 35 days when on Tuesday the man charged in her death led authorities to her body.

As soon as the news broke that the suspect possibly was living in the U.S. illegally — a claim his lawyer refutes — Tibbetts’ death fueled a renewal of calls for an overhaul of federal immigration laws.

And it wasn’t just at the grass roots level. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ statement, sent out that first evening, concluded with the following:

“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”

In a joint statement on Tibbetts’ death, Iowa’s U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, also Republicans, called for action on federal immigration policy that same night. Their joint statement said Tibbetts’ death could have been prevented.

“Too many Iowans have been lost at the hands of criminals who broke our immigration laws. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue,” the statement said.

This was all within hours of when Tibbetts’ death was first announced. But that’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s the new normal.

School shootings, for example, are followed immediately by a renewed debate over gun control laws.

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Whether it’s a product of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, a combination of the two or other factors, the politicization of tragedies no longer waits. It is immediate.

“I think issues boil up very fast in any situation,” Ernst told reporters this week.

Ernst also expressed hope that these passionate debates in the immediate aftermath of tragedies eventually give way to a reasonable debate over policies that may require attention.

A cynic might say those prospects aren’t encouraging given previous examples and the polarized politics in the federal government.

One can hope.

Ernst called for the passage of an immigration enforcement bill for which she has been advocating, but acknowledged it would not have helped in Tibbetts’ case.

“I think we need to honor Mollie. We need to find ways to prevent tragedies like this,” Ernst said. “Is it an illegal immigration issue? Is it a stalking issue? What are the issues that need to be addressed? We need to focus on those different issues. ... Whatever went wrong in our system allowed this beautiful young woman to be killed.”

GOP owns fair polls

Iowa Republican candidates enjoyed a clean sweep of a pair of straw polls held at the Iowa State Fair.

The results are not surprising or necessarily indicative of Iowa’s general population, given what is likely a conservative lean among state fairgoers.

In the Iowa secretary of state’s straw poll, in which voters could cast ballots on tablets at the fairgrounds, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds won over Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell, 54 percent to 39 percent. All four Republican Congressional candidates — three of whom are incumbents — also won.

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More than 3,200 attendees participated in the straw poll, the secretary of state’s office said.

In WHO-TV’s Cast Your Kernel, in which voters drop a corn kernel into the jar representing their favorite candidate, Reynolds defeated Hubbell, 52 percent to 46 percent.

More than 61,000 kernels were dropped into jars over the course of the state fair, WHO-TV said.

The only Democrat to win a general election Cast Your Kernel bout was Barack Obama, 51 percent to 49 percent over John McCain in 2008, according to WHO-TV.

l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for The Gazett and Lee Enterprises. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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