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