Staff Columnist

A year of columns fade into the rearview

Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa's state epidemiologist, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds met with President Donald Trump in the Oval
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa’s state epidemiologist, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Official White House Photos by Shealah Craighead and D. Myles Culle)

People will sometimes write to praise or condemn a column I wrote weeks ago. I can barely recall it. The job is always about the next column, so the past can get fuzzy in a hurry.

So looking back at a year of columns is even more difficult. I had to rely on data and metrics. Which columns did the most people read online?

Turns out my best-read columns tried to explain some of the decisions Gov. Kim Reynolds made in response to the pandemic. The governor made a lot of decisions but wasn’t much for showing work. Some were questionable, others irresponsible, and her calls were inescapably tied to election year politics and Trumpian loyalty more so than to public health concerns.

“Who is Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listening to on COVID-19,” was the headline on an April column when I detailed Reynolds’ ties to large agricultural and business campaign donors who would want the state reopened even as the coronavirus spread.

“Advisors? Not exactly,” I wrote. “But throughout her time in office, when the governor picks the wants of large business and agricultural interests over the common good and the broader needs of Iowans, campaign contributions offer a window into her decision-making. They’re the receipts for dirty water, injured workers no longer getting compensation and piles of business tax breaks we can no longer afford.”

Among the Iowans hit hardest by the virus have been nursing home residents and meatpacking workers. I wrote in April that Iowa had been neglecting these vulnerable Iowans for years, cutting back on nursing home inspections and leaving workers at the mercy of plant owners.

“The thanks these workers get is our anger and derision,” I wrote. “The Steve Kings of the political world demagogue immigrants and refugees for political gain, comparing them to cattle, depicting them as drug mules, terrorists and criminals. Denying them health care and other basic benefits has become a bedrock Republican litmus test.”

Well, at least we don’t have Steve King to make us cringe anymore.

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In May, when the governor basically threw the state open in defiance of health guidance, I wrote “All Iowans are gamblers in Kim’s COVID Casino.”

“But it’s no guts, no glory at COVID Casino. It’s time to get back in the game. Big bucks and political power are on the table. Baby needs a new pair of shoes, and there still are plenty of ventilators for granny,” I wrote.

“Sure, without more testing and tracing, we’re flying in fog, perhaps on a casino owner’s borrowed jet. But, oh, what a rush. How will it all turn out? The suspense is killing us.”

In June, Reynolds, for a time, discontinued her regular televised COVID-19 briefings. It had the feel of a cliffhanger season finale.

“Iowans are still contracting the virus and dying. Other states have seen troubling case spikes. Some counties in Iowa also are seeing cases jump. But the briefings are fading to black,” I wrote.

“We haven’t been this uncertain about what comes next since Tony Soprano looked up toward the restaurant entrance.’

What came next in August was news that the governor, backed up by an obscure provision approved by lawmakers, would force schools to hold at least half of core classes in person. Schools that wanted to switch to online if local virus conditions worsened had to jump through hoops to get state permission.

So much for the last shredded remnants of local control.

“Why did the state have to take this over? Again, we’re a testing ground for Trumpian reopening prescriptions. The active agreement is politics. If Reynolds had listened to public health experts from the beginning instead of embracing the president’s erratic, failed strategies, we’d be sending kids back to fully opened schools,” I wrote.

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“Instead, we’re back in the briefing room, with a governor socially distant only from reality.”

But, hey, it wasn’t all about the pandemic. Another popular piece described the scene in my Marion precinct on caucus night. A misreading of rules by volunteers left supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren one vote shy of viability. What followed was a mess.

“This is like a badly organized middle school assembly,” (Nate) Harris said. “As a young voter, this is very disappointing.”

“Volunteers messed up. And their late efforts to pull Marion 5 out of the dumpster fire might have fared better if more people had waited to go from being caucusgoers to home-goers. By the time the problem was identified, too few Democrats remained in the gym for a replay call,” I wrote.

Little did we know that the problems at Marion 5 didn’t amount to a hill of beans on that crazy train wreck of a caucus night.

What will 2021 bring? Good question. Vaccines, crowded restaurants and grocery shopping without that tinge of doom would be great. Bipartisanship, cooperation and satisfied readers, perhaps.

“You forgot a word for 2020! Irrelevant! Toddy Dorman and The Gazette. Irrelevant!” wrote one of my anonymous trolls this past week after my column on words of the year. “Perfectly sums up your career! If that’s what they call what you do! Try harder Toddy!”

Rest assured, Toddy will try harder in 2021.

(319) 398-82626; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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