Staff Columnist

Iowa Democrats have a radical plan to ... increase police funding?

Candidates for U.S. House and Senate favor policy Band-Aids, not fundamental change to law enforcement

U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer speaks on stage joined by Doug Emhoff, husband of Sen. Kamala Harris, (left) and former second
U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer speaks on stage joined by Doug Emhoff, husband of Sen. Kamala Harris, (left) and former second lady Jill Biden during a drive-in rally at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

There’s a theory floating around that Democrats want to both abolish the police and take away our guns. Who would force us to give up our guns in the absence of cops? Details pending.

Despite all the talk among Republicans about the radical agenda afoot, Iowa Democrats this year are running as milquetoast moderates who want no part in the audacious ideas brought forth by the grassroots left. Far from radical leftists, they are hardly even progressives.

As actual radical leftists call to abolish landlords, statewide Democrats nominated a real estate executive with access to mountains of out-of-state cash.

Far from radical leftists, they are hardly even progressives.

Amid growing anxiety about the impact of Big Ag on the environment, 2nd District Democrats nominated a farmer who opposes strict water quality mandates.

After Iowa caucusgoers cast their preference for anyone besides Joe Biden — a young gay man, an elder democratic socialist, a progressive woman — 1st District Democrats renominated a longtime Biden backer.

I am not a left-wing activist and I do not necessarily share their views on those issues, but I empathize with lefties’ plight in the 2020 election. As a resident of the vanishing libertarian fringe of the Republican Party, I know what it’s like to be fed a constant diet of candidates who don’t align with my values, and to be told I have to vote for them or starve.

It matters to me because I’ve been working for several years to foster a left-right coalition focused on reducing the scope of law enforcement. And that might be the issue where Iowa’s Democratic candidates are most wishy washy.

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Historic Black Lives Matter demonstrations this year have thrust policing policy into the national spotlight.

In meetings this year with The Gazette editorial board, the three congressional candidates we ended up endorsing favored policy Band-Aids instead of the fundamental change demanded by the protesters in the streets.

Electing more Democrats won’t stop police brutality or racial disparities

What Iowa could learn from Kamala Harris about reducing prison populations

U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield’s campaign materials call for more transparency, racial bias and de-escalation training, and a ban on chokeholds. More training and better use-of-force policies are important, but protesters explicitly and hostilely reject the idea that those would be adequate.

Rita Hart, 2nd Congressional District candidate, focused her comments on juvenile crime prevention programs, a worthy cause but nothing approaching a wholesale solution. The “issues” page of her website does not include a plank on racial justice or police reform.

U.S. Rep. Finkenauer, to her credit, was the only candidate we interviewed who seemed to be aware of all three federal programs and policies I asked about — civil asset forfeiture, qualified immunity and drug task forces, which I thought were basic things for policymakers in this era.

Finkenauer and more than 200 other House Democrats co-sponsored the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which has many good provisions, but is opposed by some of the most ardent reformers because it would invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars in law enforcement agencies without imposing enough meaningful restraints on police authority. The ACLU called the new funding a “nonstarter.”

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Notably, none of the three Democratic candidates we interviewed focused on simply reducing the number of criminal penalties on the books. Republicans running for federal office declined to meet with the editorial board.

Biden takes the cake for having the worst views on law and order among Democrats on the ballot in Iowa. While he said this week he prefers mandatory treatment programs over incarceration for non-violent drug offenders, he continues to oppose full marijuana legalization, vows to increase federal funding for police and still defends parts of the disastrous tough-on-crime packages he championed in the 1980s and ’90s.

On policy, 2020 Democrats are much closer to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds — a serious but very conservative criminal justice reformer — than they are to Jaylen Cavil — the Black Lives Matter organizer running a write-in campaign for Polk County sheriff.

Rank-and-file Democrats in Eastern Iowa seem to be fine with the Greenfield-Finkenauer-Hart brand of centrism. In each race, they went along with the political establishment’s handpicked candidate.

Greenfield won with nearly 50 percent support in a four-way primary during which she was criticized from the left by fellow Democrats. She earned early support and big checks from party elites in Washington, D.C.

Hart — who two years ago was a running mate to a gubernatorial nominee who went on to caucus for the billionaire former Republican Michael Bloomberg — was the only candidate on the primary ballot. She had early support from House Democrats’ political unit, and a progressive alternative from Iowa City bowed out before the contest.

Finkenauer, an incumbent, also won an uncontested primary this year. Last cycle, in her first run for Congress, she relied on backing from party groups to win a primary in a field that included a former Bernie Sanders delegate.

The Democratic Party remains a basically moderate party, despite what you might see on Twitter or Fox News. The pitch to disgruntled leftists is to vote for the blue team, and then pressure them on the issues after the election.

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Biden, though, dismisses the possibility he might be swayed after he wins. He said during the first presidential debate, “I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party is what I, in fact, approved of,” conjuring Palpatine.

Again at the most recent debate, the nominee made clear it’s his agenda, not anyone else’s. “I beat all those other people because I disagree with them,” he said, referring to the progressive primary field he defeated.

So, how do you convince a guy like Biden that he’s been wrong about crime and punishment for five decades? Details pending.

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

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