Weekend open thread: Newspaper endorsements edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

The weather’s been dry and unseasonably warm this October, ideal for candidates and volunteers. It’s not too late to spend a few hours helping a campaign near you. The state legislative candidates can especially use help with phone-banking and door-knocking. Even if your home district is a shoo-in for one party, you probably live near one of the two dozen Iowa House districts or four Iowa Senate districts considered competitive.

For instance, the Des Moines area has basically no swing districts, other than House district 59 in the western suburbs, but it’s easy for Democrats in the metro to volunteer for State Senator Staci Appel’s campaign in Senate district 37. You don’t even have to drive down to Warren or Madison County. Volunteers can make phone calls for Appel at the AFSCME Local 61 office (4320 NW Second Avenue in Des Moines) on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 pm to 8 pm, on Saturdays from noon to 6 pm, or on Sundays from 1 pm to 6 pm. I did this one evening, and it’s so easy.

If you want to help but don’t know how or where, I recommend calling your county Democrats or the Iowa Democratic Party (515-244-7292). Volunteers will also be needed on election day for phone-banking and contacting likely Democratic supporters who haven’t voted yet.

Newspapers across the state have been weighing in on the elections. I’ve been browsing the endorsement editorials, and a few have left me wondering what the editors could have been thinking. Some examples are after the jump.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette has surprised me most so far. They are backing Terry Branstad for governor, even though their own endorsement acknowledges that Branstad is “not up to speed” on Iowa’s need for “comprehensive watershed management,” and that Governor Chet Culver’s work on flood recovery “will make a permanent, positive mark on this community.” The Gazette editors like Branstad’s job creation ideas better, although most economists doubt the governor has much influence on job growth.

The Gazette’s editorials on the Congressional races were also inconsistent. I’m pleased the newspaper backed Representative Dave Loebsack after supporting Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks two years ago. Now they appreciate Loebsack’s hard work for the district on flood recovery and other issues. They added that the Miller-Meeks “campaign hasn’t quite convinced us that she has distinguished herself from the party line via her own ideas.”

Now look at what the Gazette editors said about the first and third Congressional district candidates. Concern for “fiscal responsibility” prompts them to endorse Republican Brad Zaun in IA-03:

We are impressed by Zaun’s straight talk.

We also admire his willingness to occasionally break party ranks, even when he knows it will be unpopular – as he has on some ag and biofuels tax credit issues.

Zaun lays blame for the massive federal debt where much of it belongs – both major political parties – and has laid out specific ideas for budget cuts. Above all, federal legislators need to prioritize spending and stick to it, he argued.

Some of his proposals strike us as radical – such as possibly eliminating the federal Department of Education – but we like Zaun’s overall approach: Spend only what you’ve got, and take a hard look at what you’re funding.

We could use more of that attitude in Washington. We fear Boswell, despite his seven-term tenure, won’t be a leader in that area. Zaun, a state legislator and former Urbandale mayor, will better rock the fiscal boat.

Zaun doesn’t have a clue how to get spending under control. His interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board confirmed that.

[Zaun’s] approach to the federal budget has not progressed from decrying ballooning government spending. He’ll protect entitlements, the military, infrastructure spending and he’d secure the border. He’ll cut out earmarks, which amount to about 1 percent of the budget. He won’t raise taxes.

When pushed to identify spending he’d cut, he says he doesn’t think we need the Department of Energy. He doesn’t know what the department does, he says, as if that proves we must not need it. He’d continue the Bush tax cuts, all of them, but he’s not sure how much that would add to the budget deficit. He’s confident the cuts will spur enough economic growth to reverse the deficit trend.

The Des Moines Register has endorsed some of Leonard Boswell’s opponents in the past, and editors have practically begged Republicans to nominate someone credible against him. But as the editors noted on October 21, Zaun is “painfully unprepared for the job of a congressman.”

During a recent meeting at the Register, Zaun said he wanted to go to Washington to “help solve the spending problem.” Yet he didn’t have specific ideas for how to do that. His mantra of cutting taxes and smaller government is not only unoriginal, he appeared to use it to avoid understanding and dealing with complex issues.

Zaun seemed to have no idea how Medicare works or is funded. He said he didn’t know what the Department of Energy does. He supports extending the Bush tax cuts, but didn’t know how much that would cost. An example he gave of government being overbearing: an agency telling farmers when they could apply manure to fields. Though Zaun has had months to bone up on the details of federal government, he hasn’t done so.

That’s the guy the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s editors admire for “straight talk.” At the same time, the Gazette says Bruce Braley’s opponent, Ben Lange, “doesn’t yet have the depth of knowledge on several issues to convince us he’s ready for the Washington, D.C., environment.” It’s hard to argue with that or with the Gazette’s praise for “Bruce Braley’s command of the issues and his relentless work for constituents.” My point is that Zaun is easily as uninformed as Lange. Morever, Miller-Meeks is twice as knowledgeable as both of them put together. I don’t agree with her on many things and wouldn’t vote for her, but you can’t tell me she is less discerning or less likely to stand up to the GOP party line than Zaun. She has advocated repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is open to a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants (in conjunction with beefed-up border security).

The Des Moines Register endorsed Democrats in all five U.S. House districts for the second election cycle in a row. I was pleasantly surprised, because in the past they used to pick at least one or two Republicans, and I thought they might back Miller-Meeks. However, the Register editors made the case for re-electing Loebsack on October 20. They see Loebsack growing in the job and write, “most of [Miller-Meeks’] comments on issues sound like they came from a script written in national GOP headquarters. […] She is too smart for such oversimplified takes on important issues.” That would be more convincing if the Register’s editors hadn’t just written the previous day that Ben Lange “is in some ways a younger version of Braley.” Lange has offered almost no specifics on anything. If anyone’s campaign rhetoric sounds like it “came from a script written in national GOP headquarters,” Lange’s does.

As usual, the Des Moines Register endorsed Senator Chuck Grassley (a “formidable presence in the Senate”). The Register endorsed Governor Chet Culver for outlining “the best vision for a higher quality of life that will sustain Iowa’s growth over the long haul.”

This year’s “damning with faint praise” award goes to the Sioux City Journal for its piece backing Representative Steve King:

Today we endorse incumbent King for a fifth term, but we do so tepidly and not without reservations.

We give King credit for reflecting the wishes and values of most 5th District constituents in the votes he casts, for strong advocacy of key district issues such as the four-laning of Highway 20, and for personal qualities like honesty and trust.

Still, as we have said in this space before (including in past endorsements of him), we believe his continuing combative style and penchant for inflammatory rhetoric hinder King’s effectiveness and work to the detriment of our district. Simply put, we would like to see and hear less incendiary language from him. We much prefer the approach to congressional service taken by, for example, Tom Latham, who represented us in the House before the last round of redistricting in Iowa. Also, we’d like for King to focus less on moving the nation’s political center to the right, as he described his goal to us during an editorial board discussion, and focus more on the day-to-day needs, challenges and priorities of the families, farms and businesses of the 5th District.

On balance, we believe King’s strengths still outweigh his weaknesses in terms of his service to our congressional district, but the gap is narrowing and changes by him are warranted. Only by a hair does he get our nod for another term.

As for Campbell, we encourage him to remain a player in Iowa politics should King defeat him because we believe his future is bright and he has much to offer as a candidate for public office.

Translation: we’re too chicken to go against King, even though we know better and he’s ignored our constructive criticism in the past.  

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  • Grandma

    When the Register endorsed Grassley, they didn’t saw a word about his comments that elderly people should fear the “death panels”.  They also praised him for bi-partisanship, even though he hasn’t played that role for at least 10 years.