Staff Columnist

Iowa voters deliver a muddled message

Democratic congressional candidate Abby Finkenauer reacts after appearing at her midterm election night party in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/KC McGinnis
Democratic congressional candidate Abby Finkenauer reacts after appearing at her midterm election night party in Dubuque, Iowa, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/KC McGinnis

There was much talk about the importance of “flipping” seats in Congress as national election results came in Tuesday night. Here in Iowa, our results delivered an election outcome that’s flippin’ perplexing.

Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne ousted incumbent Republican congressmen in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, putting three of the state’s four U.S. House seats in Democratic hands. Those wins contributed to the Democrats’ grabbing control of the House, applying a much needed check on Trumpian excess.

And yet, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was narrowly elected and the GOP will once again control both the Iowa House and Senate. The GOP trifecta was dented, with a net loss of five seats to Democrats in the Iowa House, but its Senate majority grew. Legislative excesses in Iowa will stand, with more to come.

Democrat Rob Sand handily won the state auditor’s post, while strong Democratic candidates for secretary of state and agriculture lost.

The ballot was a buffet for Iowa’s famous ticket-splitting voters, whose tastes defied conventions. But Iowa’s famous rural-urban divide was predictably deep.

And just months after we celebrated the life of former Gov. Bob Ray, his inclusive brand of politics and efforts to welcome refugees, voters in Iowa’s 4th District once again re-elected U.S. Rep. Steve King, with his fearful, immigrant-bashing white-nationalist brand of politics. It shouldn’t be forgotten that on the last night of the campaign, one where GOP candidates up and down the ballots peddled the scary specter of invading immigrants, top Iowa Republican officeholders, including Reynolds, stood with King at a Sioux City rally. Iowa has no “sanctuary cities,” but our state apparently is a sanctuary King and his enablers.

It was a historic night for women, with a record 45 women in the next Iowa Legislature and the first ever women elected to the U.S. House and governor’s office. Most of the Iowa House seats flipped by Democrats were won by women. It’s a celebration tempered by the fact a Statehouse majority remains in power that’s been hostile to women in need of accessible health care and other services.

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And because Statehouse GOP campaigns weren’t exactly long on policy proposals, we really don’t know what they’ll do come January. We do know what they won’t do.

Water quality won’t just be on the back burner, it won’t even be in the kitchen. Reynolds and the Legislature are content to stick with the nitrate-laden status quo, cheered on by newly elected Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig. His campaign got a late shot of corporate cash raised by his friends at the Iowa Farm Bureau. His agenda is their agenda.

If you want a sales tax increase to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, forget about it. In 2020 we’ll mark the 10th anniversary of Iowa voters approving the fund, but chances it will ever be filled were further diminished Tuesday.

That multibillion-dollar pile of tax cuts, credits, breaks and exemptions siphoning off scarce state revenues that could be invested in education, health care and other priorities, likely will remain untouched. Republicans talked on the campaign trail of passing even more tax cuts. Medicaid will remain broken.

But there are rays of hope in the results, and in my own household, where my older daughter knocked doors and made calls until the end. She worked hard, and learned politics isn’t a spectator sport. It’s enough to make her parents flippin’ proud.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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