Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.
Enough about how Iowans have been “kicked in the teeth” by Democrats losing the first-in-the-nation status of the Iowa caucus. If we really want to know who or what kicked Iowa in the teeth, the answer for Iowans is in the mirror.
Such self-reflection should put an end to the mourning about no longer casting Iowa as the center of the political universe.”We should put our own house in order first.
Is Iowa really a good indicator of what the nation should value, or which presidential candidate others should support? How good a job have we done in recent years?
The caucus did not make Iowa famous. Iowa made the caucus famous, thanks to the glory days of the Iowa news media and, perhaps even more so, thanks to Bob Ray, our governor from 1969-1983, and a relatively reasonable state legislature and electorate.
Progressive activist Ed Fallon, a former state legislator, recently sent out an email describing Iowa's loss of the early calendar spot as was "a huge blow to democracy." A better take is that the decline of the American press, especially when it comes to news coverage and editorial commentary on local and state governments, has dealt a far more serious blow to self-governance in Iowa and perhaps around the nation.
Much of the rhetoric about the Iowa caucuses focuses on the loss of money and political clout as candidates and the media pay less attention to us. Seldom mentioned is how Iowa has changed significantly since the 1970s and 1980s, when we were among the best states in the nation for vibrant community and city newspapers and the statewide agenda-setting of the Des Moines Register.
The Iowa Trump cult—with the audacity to call itself the Republican Party—has all but obliterated the legacy of the late Governor Ray, who showed his love for others by welcoming refugees from Tai Dam, Vietnam in Southeast Asia.
We continue to be among the states that incarcerate the highest percentage of its citizens of color. Iowa Public Radio summarized findings from a Sentencing Project report in 2021:
Black Iowans are incarcerated at 9.3 times the rate of white Iowans, a slight improvement from 2016, when the rate was 11.1 to 1.
Still, Black Iowans continue to make up 25 percent of the state’s prison population, despite being just 4 percent of the total population.
Governor Kim Reynolds has shown through her school voucher plan, budget proposals, and opposition to some sitting GOP lawmakers that she favors private schools over public education.
Iowa Republican primary voters booted out some legislators who prioritized public service and not political agendas. Further, no state GOP elected official will call out the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
And with Brenna Bird poised to become the governor’s lapdog attorney general, we can expect Iowa to file more lawsuits against the Biden administration and join cases that do Trump's bidding—such as the bogus one challenging the outcome of the 2020 election, which Reynolds wanted to join.
In the past year, the Reynolds administration has legislated against transgender kids and rejected a $30 million federal grant to support child care access.
And we think we are a model for the nation to follow?
There are more shortcomings in Iowa and, of course, in other states as well, as there always are in human endeavors.
But, enough already of blaming others for Iowans becoming somewhat of a liability and not an asset when it comes to offering insights to the nation as to how democracy can work well.
To wrap up where we began, Iowa needs to get itself in order before claiming to be “the center of the political universe.” Right now, our nation needs better.
Top image: Democrats in Windsor Heights precinct 2 caucus in February 2020. Photo by Kieran Williams, published with permission.
We could also consider...
...how Iowa is doing in regard to climate change, the uber-ginormous global issue that may become the issue for which Earth's current generation will be most remembered by future generations, for better or worse. Iowa is not the center of the climate-change-progress universe, either.
Iowa has a federal primary.
We have a federal primary every 2 years for the house of representatives or the senate if their term expires. It would not cost much to add the presidents every 4 years.