Staff Columnist

Dave Loebsack has gone missing, and nobody seems to care

Iowa's only Democrat in Congress is inaccessible, yet somehow escapes media scrutiny

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) speaks at a canvassing event for Abby Finkenauer at her campaign office on First Avenue Southeast in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 29, 2018. Finkenauer was joined by state and federal representatives, as well as the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) speaks at a canvassing event for Abby Finkenauer at her campaign office on First Avenue Southeast in Cedar Rapids on Friday, June 29, 2018. Finkenauer was joined by state and federal representatives, as well as the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Where is U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack?

Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress has been my representative for 12 years, and he lives just a couple miles from me in Iowa City, but I never get invited to meet with him. The 2nd District congressman doesn’t widely publicize his events, he declined to meet with The Gazette editorial board this year, and now he’s refusing to participate in an election debate to which he previously agreed.

Critics justifiably roast Republican politicians when they’re not accessible to the people. I unequivocally agree it’s bad form when U.S. Rep. Steve King refuses to debate or U.S. Rep. Rod Blum restricts access to town hall events. Such incidents are widely covered in the news, but Loebsack seems to get a pass.

To my knowledge, Loebsack has not hosted a true town hall-style meeting since his last election, and I can find only sparse evidence of large public events during his preceding 10 years in office. Instead, Loebsack prefers to host tightly controlled events with select groups of stakeholders.

A campaign spokesman informed me Loebsack has hosted 61 “Coffee with your Congressman” events this term. These are Loebsack’s substitute for full-fledged school auditorium throw-downs, and they’re listed on a webpage hidden in a drop-down menu link if you scroll down his congressional homepage. The office sends out news releases for those events, but I don’t receive them, and they’re seldom picked up by Johnson County news organizations’ websites.

Loebsack’s social media pages are filled with photos from meet-and-greets, but no mention of how a citizen such as me might attend a future gathering.

Loebsack passed up the invitation from The Gazette because his campaign objected to me — a former campaign staffer of his Republican challenger — being one of the five editorial board members responsible for vetting candidate endorsements.

Indeed, I am an active Republican. I was the director of operations for Chris Peters’ 2016 campaign, and Peters and some of his staffers are friends of mine and my family. I have made no secret of that.

Loebsack’s people also took issue with a 69-cent advertising purchase attributed to me in Peters’ campaign finance filings, which we explained was an innocent mistake related to my debit card being saved in Facebook’s advertising portal.

“What is clearly unreasonable is having my opponent’s former senior aide and ‘a personal friend of Loebsack’s Republican opponent’ be a part of the endorsement process for his former boss,” Loebsack said in a statement sent to me by his campaign manager.

The truth is I have been openly criticizing Loebsack since before I ever met Peters. And it is overwhelmingly common for people working as political commentators to have previous involvement in politics or government. That includes some of my current and former colleagues at Iowa newspapers, and many more working in the national media. Other political adversaries of mine chose to meet with us, even though I have criticized them or supported their opponents. Those conversations were civil and productive.

If anything, I’ve gone easy on Loebsack since I started working at The Gazette full-time a year ago, sensitive to the perception of bias. My criticisms have not only been fair, but also few — I have written only a handful of columns focused on my own congressman. I also proposed and authored a staff editorial, strongly praising Loebsack for his stance against U.S. tariffs on Canada.

For his latest stunt, Loebsack rescinded his commitment to debate Peters in Davenport this past week, saying he wouldn’t participate in the event if Libertarian candidate Mark Strauss was not included. It was a blatant political ploy, given that he made no mention of independent candidate Daniel Clark, who’s running to the left of Loebsack. During the last campaign, Loebsack agreed to participate in only one televised debate, and there’s been just one this year.

The Davenport debate’s nonpartisan hosts said they couldn’t accommodate Loebsack’s last-minute ultimatum, though Peters said he’s willing to appear alongside all the candidates.

“I welcome the participation of Mr. Strauss and Mr. Clark at all candidate forums this election cycle, and hope Dave Loebsack will genuinely seek their active participation and not use their attendance as a method of political grandstanding,” Peters said in a statement provided by a campaign spokesman.

There’s little doubt among anyone paying attention Loeb-sack is an ineffective legislator. Somehow he’s been able to slide by with his folksy demeanor and questionable reputation for constituent outreach. He likes to talk about the need to engage people across party lines. Given the opportunity to actually do that, he balks.

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Iowans deserve accessible leaders, no matter which party they belong to. We should demand as much from our Democratic representative as we do from our Republicans.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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