Truth, they say, is the first casualty of politics. But magnanimity has to be high on the list.
In July, when Cedar Rapids received word it would receive $117 million in long-awaited federal funding for flood protection, the reaction from local and state leaders was like a group hug. Elected officials tossed around credit and kudos like confetti. And there was plenty to go around after nearly a decade of lobbying for elusive dollars.
First District U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, even as he stared down a tough re-election campaign, gave ample credit to his Democratic predecessor Bruce Braley and 2nd District Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, who represented Cedar Rapids when the flood hit in 2008.
But as Blum’s re-election has become a tougher slog, that tone has changed a bit.
“A lot of politicians tried to get the money for the flood wall, nobody could,” a woman named Maureen, no last name given, says in a recent Blum TV spot.
“Rod Blum was the one who went to Washington and he never gave up, he never stopped fighting for us. Do you know what that means to all of us flood victims? Rod Blum got us our flood wall. Thank God, and thank God for Rod Blum,” Maureen says.
It’s a bit jarring, jamming such a big old “I” into “team.”
But this is politics, of course. Taking credit is what politicians do. Candidates of all stripes and at all levels take credit for good news, whether they actually had a hand in making it, or not.
Clearly, Blum did have a hand in securing flood protection funding. He capitalized on his ties to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and cashed in chips he earned enthusiastically supporting the president. Blum told local leaders during an August celebration of flood funding he had the president’s ear, literally. Into it, he whispered our flood wall wishes. And the White House surely was interested in helping an embattled incumbent.
But, based on how this unfolded, I actually think the game-changer was Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. Ernst’s military background likely proved valuable in her efforts to navigate the Army Corps of Engineers’ chain of command, reform its policies and convince its leaders to come across at long last with promised funding. It was Ernst’s office that first announced the breakthrough July 5.
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Blum’s ad has spawned some grumbling, especially among Democrats. But earning Cedar Rapids flood cred has hardly been a golden key to electoral success.
Gov. Chet Culver steered mountains of recovery resources to this flooded city and still went down as a one-termer. His running mate, Patty Judge, tried to capitalize on her 2008 disaster recovery role in a 2016 U.S. Senate bid. Didn’t work out so well.
Monica Vernon ran unsuccessfully twice for Congress and once for lieutenant governor in 2014, in part on recovery experience she gained as a Cedar Rapids City Council member. Former Mayor Ron Corbett also touted his flood recovery chops in a run for governor, stopped not by high water but by a low petition signature count.
So Blum could become the latest official who helped out only to be tossed out. In politics, it can’t all be group hugs.
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