Bernie Sanders for governor of Iowa

Jeff Cox examines the Democratic field of candidates for governor through a “Berniecrat” lens. -promoted by desmoinesdem

All Democrats understand the great damage that Republicans have done to Iowa in a very short time, but we are far from being clear on how to undo the damage.

Obviously, we must to elect a Democratic governor, and take back control of both houses of the legislature. How do we do that?

The first task is to recognize that business as usual is not good enough. The Republicans did not merely take the White House; they won at every level of government across the entire country. The fundamental reason was the economy.

We are in an economic recovery characterized by low wages, job insecurity, and health care insecurity. There were two candidates in the last election campaign who addressed those issues. The first was Donald Trump, who blamed the economic woes faced by working class Americans on low wage immigration and foreign competition based on free market trade policies such as NAFTA. The other was Bernie Sanders, who came forward with a comprehensive non-racist alternative set of policies: a one trillion dollar New Deal style green jobs program, a $15 an hour minimum wage with no exceptions, universal national health insurance (i.e. Medicare for all), and tuition-free education in our public community colleges and universities.

Sanders also addressed widespread public concern about corporate domination of our elections by refusing to take corporate campaign contributions and limiting individual contributions to $2,700. (His campaign is now sending refund checks to individuals who exceeded that limit). He had plenty of money, contradicting the conventional Democratic Party wisdom that raising money is the way to win elections, and limiting contributions is nothing more than a form of “unilateral disarmament.”

Sanders won 45 percent of the elected delegates to the Democratic National Convention. He began his campaign by winning the Iowa caucuses, in the normal sense of the word “win,” i.e. more caucus attenders supported him than any other candidate. He did this despite the fact that not one single Democrat in the Iowa House or Senate caucused for him. [CORRECTION from desmoinesdem: State Representative Liz Bennett informed me that she caucused for Sanders in her Cedar Rapids precinct.]

A number of legislators, as well as other Democratic Party leaders and fundraisers, have already expressed an interest in the Democratic nomination for governor. A crowded field gives Democrats an opportunity to have a serious discussion about what is to be done. Is it “business as usual,” promising to undo the damage that Republicans have done, or is Iowa ready for a version of Sanders’s New Deal approach, including free tuition and a $15 minimum wage?

Cathy Glasson, a nurse and union activist in Iowa City, believes like all of the Democrats in restoring collective bargaining rights to public employees, and expanding spending on education. She has also endorsed a $15 an hour state living wage, and expanding health insurance to all Iowans, although how that is to be done remains to be seen. She has no position yet on corporate campaign contributions, or free tuition at our public community colleges and universities, which is probably the very best way to improve opportunity for working class, small town, and rural Iowans.

John Norris, although he has never held elective office, has the most impressive Democratic Party resume of any of the potential candidates. Whether or not that will be an electoral advantage, especially given his close association with former pro-corporate Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, remains to be seen. Norris was the state chair for the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988, and has run for congress. He is extremely knowledgeable about electoral politics, state government, and agricultural policy, and is the only candidate to date to address the issue of big money in politics, challenging the other Democratic candidates to set limits on individual contributions to their campaigns. He has no position yet on corporate PAC contributions, free tuition at community colleges and universities, Medicare for all, or a $15 Iowa minimum wage.

Representative Todd Prichard is the only candidate so far to commit himself to free tuition at our community colleges, having discovered after looking into it that it is affordable within the limits of the state budget. What he proposes is not exactly free in the sense that our high schools are free. (Why do so many people grasp the concept of a free twelfth grade, but cannot grasp the principle of a free thirteenth grade?) He supports tuition scholarships for students who attend community colleges full time and who agree to work in Iowa for a number of years after graduation. There are a number of reasons why these conditions are a really bad idea, but Prichard deserves credit for addressing the issue of economic opportunity and student debt with concrete proposals. So far, he is silent on campaign finance, the minimum wage, and health care.

Another legislator, Nate Boulton, is an aggressive campaigner who can stir up partisan crowds attacking Republicans. He is good at ducking questions about corporate campaign contributions and appears to think (wrongly) that a $15 minimum wage would be unpopular in Iowa. So far he is a “business as usual” candidate who claims to be both pro labor and pro education, but has little to say about how to win back control of the legislature.

There are some other candidates, including former state chair Dr. Andy McGuire, a key architect of the disastrous presidential campaign in Iowa, and corporate CEO Fred Hubbell, a political contributor and fundraiser. That either of them will promote any progressive ideas on health care, wages, or campaign finance seems highly unlikely, but who knows? Strange things happen in politics.

This article first appeared in The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest political newsletter. To subscribe to the hard copy quarterly, send $12 to Box 1945, Iowa City IA 52245

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  • I don't understand

    why you left out Jon Neiderbach. He was a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders before the Iowa caucuses, and has embraced the Sanders agenda, including campaign finance reform and Medicare for All and lots of other progressive policies.

  • While I am no fan of McGuire

    I feel it should be mentioned that she has stated support raising the minimum wage in Iowa to $15/hr, per her website. Prichard supports raising it, with no set number, and the last time i checked into other candidates I was unable to find clear stated stances.

  • Two Words: Rural Iowa

    We need candidates who are strong for rural Iowa, who will strongly support farmers generally, the way Jackson did, ( ) the way the Democratic New Deal did, ( ), with minimum farm price floors set at “living wage” (parity,) levels (1942-52), with no need for any farm subsidies. (Who remembers the passage of state minimum farm price legislation, vetoed by Branstad, who denied that there was a farm crisis in 1984 when Iowa’s agricultural return on equity was 32% below zero?) A state rural strategy should be the opposite of what the Republicans have done that has reduced Iowa net farm income to levels lower than during the 1940s, (when he had much lower yields). Front and center it should focus on returning value-added livestock to most farms, with incentives for grazing systems and restoration of livestock feeds into crop rotations (alfalfa, clover, grass, oats). That then would reverse Republican trends to gut small town economies, while hurting ecology, health and social life. The likes of Hatch and Judge and Braley all failed at this, compromising with the Republicans. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also failed to come forth with such a pro-rural platform, such as regarding the upcoming federal Farm Bill. Sanders has made mixed statements, some good, some bad. We lacked rural leadership in Iowa to pull him in. That contrasts starkly with Jackson, as we had awesome rural leadership to support his campaign. Bottom line, taking away the rural vote from Republicans on grounds of their rural economic failures is more important than touting progressive social issues against Trump. We need leaders who won’t concede rural economics to the Republicans. We win them! Why concede them?

  • By the way John Norris

    understood the Jackson (Harkin-Gephardt ) issues well (much cheaper farm bill than the Republicans, with much greater income from exports, and for farmers, ) but on TV recently, (a farmer told me,) he seemed ready to compromise with a greened up version of the Republican “Freedom to Fail” approach, (which Democrats took up in 2001, leading to loss of faith among rural voters). He’s not up to speed with the Family Farm (Farm Justice) Movement in the 21st century, but he could get there.

    • I find it hard to believe

      that any policy position taken in 2001 had a significant impact on the Democratic losses among rural voters. I think there is a strong cultural component to the shift in voting patterns. We have been facing a relentless campaign in conservative talk radio (dominant in small towns/rural markets) and on Fox News to brand the GOP as the party of “normal” Americans, while portraying the Democrats as representing special interests, lazy people, religious minorities or LGBT, immigrants, people with dark skin.

  • Undermining the point

    It is hard to take seriously an article allegedly about how we move Iowa into the future through a governor’s race but spends several paragraphs relitigating who “really” won a primary 18 months ago for a totally different office. A lot of the Dems running for governor have good ideas of how to move the state forward. I know one thing that *won’t* move the state or Democrats forward in mid-2017: an article arguing that Clinton didn’t really win the 2016 caucuses.