Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: Iowa as the Center of the Political Universe

Posted at 12:32 pm, August 14th, 2012
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DES MOINES – Everyone wants a turn in the spotlight. Small states and smaller towns in particular position themselves as, say, the World’s Sock Capital (Fort Payne, AL), Artichoke Capital (Castroville, CA) Paddlefish Capital (Fort Thompson, SD). Indeed, you could excite spouse and family by saying next year’s vacation will be to world capitals. Even if they sigh when you say you’re going to start off with the Kiwi Fruit Capital, they’ll at least look forward to the New Zealand trip, until finding themselves in Gridley, CA., (population 6,600).

But I digress.


The point is that Iowa is not so peculiar when every four years at caucus time it declares itself to be the political capital of the nation. But even the Des Moines Register expressed some surprise (go to Aug. 13 issue) Monday that Iowa found itself again “the center of the political universe” — no small worldly thinking here — with visits by President Barack Obama and GOP vice presidential designee, Rep. Paul Ryan.

Still for all the clamor and glamour , two other events — one of them scary — help provide context for the role of Iowa as a “swing state capital of the nation” in the 2012 president election.

The first is an insight that Mike Glover, retired AP political reporter in Iowa, offered as to the future of the Iowa caucuses. Glover covered the caucuses for most of his 30 years with the AP, the most experienced caucus reporter there is. He told a Des Moines Kiwanis Club that the future of much criticized caucuses rested upon who wins the presidential election. Obama wins: Iowa stays first in the nation in 2016. Mitt Romney wins: Iowa’s future as a quadrennial center of the political universe is in question. That’s because, Glover said, Democrats take the caucuses seriously; Republicans don’t.

Glover’s comments, naturally, went unreported. Little is newsworthy about perceptive comments when it comes to political campaigns. On the other hand, a scary development received lots of coverage and will continue to do so because the religious right, now joined by the Iowa GOP, has renewed its war
against the Iowa Supreme Court for a 7-0 2009 ruling that the Iowa constitution makes it illegal for the state legislature to ban same-sex marriages. In 2010, the religious right led the successful campaign against retention of the three justices on the ballot. In 2012 the target is Justice David Wiggins, the lone Supreme Court justice up for retention.

That issue is significant because a strong turnout by the religious right and the Iowa GOP they dominate would hurt Obama’s chances in this swing state.

By the nature of its coverage, the press helped turn the 2010 vote into an issue of same-sex marriage and not whether Iowans wanted a government of law, not mob rule. The Iowa Bar Association appeared not to give a damn about the outcome of the vote; and a pro-Constitution group, Justice Not Politics, got started too late and did too little. Now Justice Not Politics is off to a better start in organizing support for constitutional law and opposing mob rule.

But the Iowa Republican Party is all for judge-burning. Not heavy-handed in the 2010 retention vote, this time around the chair of the Iowa GOP, A.J. Spiker, called for ousting Wiggins.

Republican governor Terry Branstad, although he appointed justices that his party now puts to the stake, won’t lose any votes by keeping silent, and he does.

As for the bar association, Art Cullen in the Storm Lake Times — considered by many to be the best small-town paper in the state — observed:

“The Iowa State Bar Association is supposed to be defending the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. It issued three paragraphs of pabulum about the campaign against Wiggins… The ISBA sat on the sidelines as three high court defenders of the Iowa Constitution were put down in flames.

“It would appear that the bar association learned nothing from the last judicial retention vote.”

Both the Des Moines Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette denounced Spiker’s call to oust Wiggins. Reader response to both editorials was favorable.

Perhaps, Iowans will protect the Supreme Court this time around; perhaps Iowa will be “The world capital of non-retention” and the fallout will help decide the presidential election.

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