John and Terri Hale's conversation with Iowa snowbirds took an unexpected turn when one volunteered, “I used to be proud to be an Iowan.”
We dipped our toes in snowbird water in January, escaping the cold of Iowa for the warmth and splendor of Arizona. One of the first lessons learned – you can escape Iowa but you can’t escape Iowans.
Iowans are everywhere in Arizona – grocery stores, restaurants, hiking trails, pickle ball courts, golf courses, etc. And here’s no shocker – they are enjoying the heck out of life.
Yet they remain interested in the latest news from their home state.
An example – on a beautiful 71-degree Arizona day, we met a couple from central Iowa and began a conversation.
They were in their late 60s. After chatting about the weather, careers, children and grandchildren, etc. they wanted to talk about current events in Iowa and the latest headlines from the Iowa Capitol.
The conversation took an unexpected turn when one of them volunteered: “I used to be proud to be an Iowan.”
Ever curious, we probed for more detail.
They were self-described conservative Democrats, more observers of politics and government than active participants, and significantly pained by what they were hearing from back home.
They, and we, talked about the days when:
- Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, political opposites, got along and worked together to promote the interests of Iowa.
- The Republican Party supported smart, reasonable, and less partisan leaders like Mary Louise Smith, Bob Ray, Art Neu and Joy Corning.
- Elected officials of all stripes believed in the value of public education and worked to maintain rankings that placed Iowa at or near the top.
- Teachers and administrators were held in high esteem. Parents trusted educators to teach about a range of issues and ideas. The public was comfortable having books in school libraries that exposed children to places, events and lives unfamiliar to their parents.
- Public health was about encouraging and preserving health, not espousing some political view or bringing attention to someone’s political aspirations.
- Leaders wanted Iowa to be something other than a low tax state. They wanted Iowa to be a place where people would grow up and stay – with great education systems, high quality jobs, vibrant communities, clean lakes and streams, maintained parks, safe bridges, and values that say to all “You are welcome here.”
A great deal of the conversation focused on the vast decline in the attitudes and tactics of too many of our elected officials at the state level; people who:
- Say one thing and do another (example – saying they support transparency in government while limiting the ability of journalists to keep Iowans informed).
- See political value in using offensive words and gestures to generate headlines and raise campaign funds.
- Remain silent as their elected peers take Iowa off the rails with nonsense bills (examples: to throw “sinister” teachers in jail and install cameras in classrooms to keep them under surveillance).
- Would ban books today and conceivably begin to burn them tomorrow.
- Believe those who control the statehouse can run it like a “good-old boys club” and do whatever they want whenever they want, run roughshod over the minority party, and do so with an arrogance that too-often comes across as meanness.
- Espouse small and limited government yet micromanage schools, cities, and counties.
- Focus relentlessly on individual rights (unless you’re a woman, minority, student, LGBTQ, etc.) while seeming to be totally unaware of or unconcerned about our responsibilities to others.
As the conversation waned, our fellow Iowans asked this: “Is there anything we can do to change Iowa for the better?”
Our answer: Iowa will be what the voters say it will be. If people who are upset about the direction Iowa is headed get and stay fully engaged (by giving money, knocking on doors, making calls, etc.) in supporting worthy candidates, there’s a chance the downward slide can be halted.
If people who are upset choose to sit on the sidelines, then the Iowa we once knew will be a fading memory.
Many more will hang their heads in sadness and join the “I used to be proud to be an Iowan” group.
John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm focused on making Iowa a better place for all. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.