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Government

Iowa political activist trying to appeal to the middle

Cory Crowley grew up in Cedar Rapids and spent nearly 10 years as a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Cory Crowley grew up in Cedar Rapids and spent nearly 10 years as a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cory Crowley longs for the good, old days of the early 21st century.

A staffer in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Washington office then, Crowley recalls congressional bipartisanship, when senators and representatives crossed the aisle to write legislation and didn’t vote only along party lines.

“I saw a system that worked a lot better,” says Crowley, a Jefferson High School graduate. “I remember Ted Kennedy coming into the office and sitting there with Sen. Grassley, and they’d work on education bills or whatever.

“Even if you look at the Bush tax cuts, those had bipartisan support,” he says. Democratic Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus “and other Democrats weren’t afraid to sit down and talk. Looking back, the system just worked a little better when people weren’t so ‘demagogued’ if they compromised.”

Crowley, 36, who operates a Washington political consulting firm, Cory Crowley & Co., has launched Middle PAC, www.middlepac.org, in an effort to bring back those good, old days.

Q: How did we get to this situation?

A: “I think there was kind of a realization this year that almost none of the major issues are getting tackled because nobody is even willing to work with the other side. If you mention you might try to touch immigration and a Marco Rubio is going to work with a Dick Durbin, both sides just start accosting them.”

He points to passage of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — without Republican votes and the Trump tax cuts without Democratic support as examples of members of Congress being unwilling to cross party lines.

“My biggest fear is that we end up in a system where every two to four years when party power switches everything gets undone — there’s no lasting legislation,” he says.

Q: Why Middle PAC? Why now?

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A: “Politics has never been perfect or fair, but government has always worked better when elected officials focused on working together to craft good public policy, and everything wasn’t viewed first through a purely political lens,” says Crowley, who worked in the Senate from 2001 to 2011. “The loudest voices in politics today are the most partisan and the most extreme.”

So Middle PAC plans to support candidates who have proved “they don’t think compromise is a bad word when it gets result that are good for the country.”

He notes a Gallup poll found 29 percent of Americans identify as Democrats, 27 percent as Republicans and 42 percent as independents who “believe it is OK to work across the aisle.”

“Yet, our political system and discourse seem to be moving to the extremes instead of meeting in the middle where most Americans find themselves,” Crowley says.

Q: So what’s Middle PAC’s goal?

A: Unlike some other non-political party groups, such as No Labels, which push policy ideas, Crowley says Middle PAC will raise money to support “independent-minded” challengers and incumbents who have a record of working across party lines.

“There are no big special interest groups running ads or supporting independents and no heavy-handed party bosses pushing resources to elected officials who buck the party line for the good of the country,” Crowley says.

“If you’re not dyed-in-the wool enough Republican or Democratic, they kind of will cut you loose if you show a little independence and buck the trend,” he says. “So the idea here is to try to put a little financial firepower behind some of these folks.”

Middle PAC will solicit donations from people less concerned about supporting either Democrats or Republicans “as long as those people are working together and trying to get things done.”

Q: What’s next?

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A: As a traditional political action committee, Middle PAC will be limited to accepting and making contributions of no more than $5,000. Crowley foresees establishing a super PAC or other entity to raise and contribute more money.

This fall, however, he would be pleased to support even a couple of independent-minded candidates as a launchpad for involvement in future races.

“Success at this point is just getting the word out, getting shares on social media and through political reporters,” Crowley says.

Q: Is it realistic to think you can make a difference by appealing to the middle?

A: “I think there’s an acknowledgment that the system as it is isn’t working,” he says. That includes “people like myself who have spent a long time trying to elect people from a certain party, that we’ve gone so far just trying to win that we’ve messed up the process in the process of doing that.”

“I might be naive, but I think more and more voters are going to start crossing party lines. I know a lot of people I’ve worked with on the Hill who are splitting their tickets this year. I think there is going to be more and more of that. As people who have grown up on social media start voting I think there will be more of an appetite for crossing party lines.

“So in that sense, getting support from Middle PAC might be a badge of honor and help attract voters. That would be my hope.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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