C.J. Petersen is a rural organizer and board member of OPE PAC. He was the 2020 Democratic nominee in Iowa Senate district 6. -promoted by Laura Belin
Iowa nice. It’s the thing anyone who hails from the land of rolling cornfields and hog barns dotting the horizon loves to brag about.
Ask anyone—you’ll hear an anecdote about farmers rallying together to finish a harvest due to an unforeseen illness, that time somebody from two towns over changed a teenage girl’s tire when she had a flat, or the way the community came together to clean up after a storm. My own neighbors invariably scoop my driveway before I have a chance to trudge out of the garage with my snow blower at least once every harsh winter. And at almost every gas station you’ll find a coffee can filled to the top with dollar bills to help a family with medical expenses they can’t afford.
Yes, Iowa’s nice for those things. It’s also nice for the neighbor who waves and smiles, the ones who drop by on their golf cart rounds in my small town (you have to live here to understand), and for the surprise baked goods that make their way over whenever there’s an occasion for it. These are neighbors who love your company—they laugh at your jokes, indulge your cooking prowess, and send their children to pet your puppies. It’s nice. Iowa nice.
Beneath that cozy, Midwestern Rockwell-esque imagery, though, is something else. Many of the people who claim to love us have no qualms about hurting us—whether we’re people of color, LGBTQ, disabled, in need of healthcare, or simply struggling to stay afloat in a difficult economy.
In the 2020 general election, the majority of these very nice Iowans, including two out of three in the state Senate district where I was a candidate, voted for politicians who vowed to strip away the right of my partner and I to be married. They sent state legislators to Des Moines to represent rural districts who claim they can’t do anything about the decline of our small communities.
Many voters were swayed by buzzwords like “socialism” and “left-wing,” believing earnestly that their neighbor running to get them adequate broadband internet and fund schools, mental health, and infrastructure are in cahoots with the likes of AOC. (I’ve only met AOC once, by the way, and I can promise you she wouldn’t recognize me on the street if she saw me again).
In the comfort of their homes or at the polls, these very nice Iowans fill in bubbles next to candidates who will harm the people they say they care about.
There are a lot of lessons to learn about the last election cycle. Democrats wrote off rural districts and ceded even more seats in the state legislature to the most extreme crop of fascists we’ve ever seen in our state’s history. The Iowa caucuses may well be dead following a bungling of the count that left us looking hapless and incompetent. No, we’re not perfect. To claim we have all the answers our very nice Iowa neighbors sought would be disingenuous.
So, what’s the alternative? The Republican Party of Iowa is arguably one of the most anti-American GOP state organizations in the country. It didn’t happen by accident—Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann and Trump’s former Iowa campaign chair Eric Branstad, two men who have led the charge of Trumpian know-nothings, have spent years unapologetically engaged in dishonesty, fearmongering, and dangerous false attacks.
Four weeks into Joe Biden’s presidency, these profiles in cowardice and their friends still can’t say out loud who won the 2020 presidential election. What’s worse, in Governor Kim Reynolds, they’ve found either a useful idiot or a willing accomplice.
Either way, to once again be a force in our state’s politics, Democrats must confront a hard truth: Iowa nice ain’t so nice. Many of our friends and neighbors voted for Kim Reynolds in 2018. And because we’re friends, we can tell each other the truth. The truth is, Kim Reynolds is the worst governor in Iowa’s history and must not be allowed another term in that office.
While the Democratic Party is an important vehicle for organizing and ostensibly winning elections, we know that creating the change we need will require work outside the traditional party infrastructure. It is time to stop being Iowa nice and defeat Kim Reynolds in 2022. Balance must be restored to Iowa government. Period.
That’s why I’ve joined the board of directors of a new organization, OPE! PAC, or Operation Purple Electorate, with the stated goal of ending Reynolds’ tenure as governor. From a cross-section of Iowa ideologies, experiences, and geography, our board has endeavored to create an organization that is both grassroots and responsive to the Reynolds campaign’s efforts to pull the wool over Iowans’ eyes. We’ll organize on social media, knock doors, raise money for the eventual nominee, and run ads to educate our neighbors about the deadly Reynolds-Gregg agenda.
We’ve had a promising launch, raising over $5,000 in one day from Iowans in small towns like Templeton, Atlantic, Sheldon, Eldridge, Granger, and more. The governor’s campaign even attacked our effort in a campaign fundraising e-mail, falsely claiming we’re a “left-wing special interest group” that isn’t made up of real Iowans.
The attacks will continue because the governor knows that she can’t run on her record. More than 5,000 Iowans are dead in the wake of Reynolds’ incompetence and mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. The governor treats our state coffers as a slush fund, doling out contracts to her campaign donors and paying them back with COVID-19 relief funds. And in the middle of a pandemic, her disastrous aversion to responsible COVID-19 mitigation has left Iowans scrambling to obtain vaccines and protect themselves and their families.
Ope! It’s what Iowans say when we spill milk, drop an egg on the kitchen floor, or elect the worst governor in our state’s history. The good news is, we can fix that mistake. That work begins now.
Kim Reynolds isn’t running our state. She’s running for reelection. And now, she’s running scared. I’m glad we’re living rent-free in Kim’s head, because it’s a long way to November 2022. And we’re just getting started. Visit our website at www.opeiowa.com to sign up, contribute, or learn more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook at @OpePac.