Is this heaven? No, Iowa's becoming hell for lots of us

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.

Given the travesties and tragedies Governor Kim Reynolds has already visited upon Iowans, with the help of a GOP-controlled legislature that rubber-stamps her agenda, it is long past time to retire the phrase “Iowa nice.”

Let’s also give a rest to the most famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams”: “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa!”

When such language had relevance, it was because Iowans fondly remembered Republican Governor Robert Ray, who served from 1969 to 1983, or Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack, who served two terms from 1999 to 2007. Reynolds' tenure as governor, which began in 2017, is more aptly described as a "reign." Iowans are now treated as subjects of GOP officials, not as citizens to be served by them.

That is evident in many of the legislature's controversial actions this year. One of the most recent was passing (with almost no substantive changes) the 1,500-page bill to reorganize state government. Although Reynolds has said the plan would make state government “efficient," "effective," and "small," the real impact will be to concentrate more power with the governor and "her" attorney general.

In any event, "effective, efficient and small” government seems to run contrary to President Abraham Lincoln’s wish to “ensure that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln’s wording should be our goal in self-governance.

Another terrifying example of Reynolds’ decision-making is still moving through the legislature. As Laura Belin documented in this Bleeding Heartland post, the governor seeks to put thousands of Iowa children at risk for future cancers by removing human papillomavirus (HPV) and the vaccine that prevents it from the mandatory junior high and high school curriculum. It's not enough for Reynolds (or her "Moms for Liberty" advisers) that the HPV vaccine is optional. She doesn't want schools to be required to tell students about a shot that prevents several kinds of cancer!

The approach recalls then President Donald Trump’s wisdom in early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Well before millions died of the virus, Trump refused to back off from his statements that COVID would just fade away—go poof!—perhaps of its own accord. When Fox News host Chris Wallace asked the president in July 2020 if he would be discredited by his adamant insistence on how the virus would disappear, Trump was indignant: “I don’t think so, you know why? Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”

Perhaps as he visits Iowa seeking support in the 2024 caucuses, Trump will assure Iowans, “I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”

And given how language is tortured in political discourse, Trump may also tell us that news accounts of his legal troubles, and risks arrest and conviction belong in the world of “alternative facts” or “fake news.”

After all, a lengthy Des Moines Register analysis of "Why the 2024 Iowa caucuses could make or break Donald Trump's presidential campaign" did not say a word about potential criminal charges against Trump, stemming from business fraud, campaign finance violations, retaining classified documents, or trying to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia. The article also did not mention how Trump incited the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol after months of false claims about a supposedly stolen presidential election.

However, that 1,700-word article about the importance of the 2024 GOP caucuses did survey the Republican presidential field.

To most of the nation, Iowa has rightfully lost its status as the first-in-nation caucus or primary. But while Democrats supplanted Iowa's role, the caucuses will still be the earliest test for Republicans seeking the party’s nomination. That prompted this observation from a longtime leader of the Iowa GOP's social conservative wing:

“I think Iowa’s more important than ever this cycle,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president of the influential Christian conservative group The Family Leader. “If Trump were to win and win big in Iowa, I think he runs the table to the nomination. If Trump is halted in Iowa and say a (Ron) DeSantis or a (Mike) Pompeo or a Nikki Haley wins the Iowa caucuses, I think it's now game on to the nomination."

Meanwhile, documents disclosed as part of Dominion's billion-dollar libel suit against Fox News make clear that stars and management at the leading conservative cable network knew the 2020 presidential election was not “stolen." Nevertheless, the network kept hyping the false narrative, for fear of losing Trump-cult viewers.

Fox News also trumpeted Reynolds' anti-LGBTQ agenda during last year's re-election campaign.

FIRST ON FOX: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, dropped a massive six-figure ad buy as election season enters into its final week, saying the people of the Hawkeye State still know "boys from girls."

The governor's gratuitous swipe at transgender kids in her closing tv ad foreshadowed the fear, hate, and loathing that has marked much of this legislative session, culminating in Reynolds signingban on gender-affirming care for minors and a "bathroom bill" this week.

These are just a few of the reasons Iowa has become a hell for many Iowa families and more distressing for countless others.

Top photo: Iowans carry signs during March 5 rally outside the capitol to protest bills targeting LGBTQ people, especially transgender kids. Photo by Progress Iowa staff, published with permission.

  • Reynolds as a foil?

    Too much credit is being given to Reynolds and the sweeping changes in the social compact with Iowans. She and the Iowa Legislative Branch have instead been lazy, self aggrandizing, puppets for national Oz’s who have spoon fed every statehouse under Republican control. Name one piece of legislation that had actually been conceived by, and written by, Iowans. This ceding of legislation to the far right puppet masters was conceived by ALEC parented by the Koch’s of the world. Reynolds is lazy, ignorant, non-caring, and devoid of anything other than her need for hand maiden praises.

  • Thank you

    Thanks for this comment, insight and reminder. They provide a needed context for the post and for much of the content of Bleeding Heartland these days, They also raise a troubling question as to whether and to what extent news coverage of the legislature and governor points out much of "the ceding of [state] legislation to far right puppet masters."
    Herb Strentz

  • An empty vessel is Kim

    This governor is nothing but an empty vessel for the aforementioned ALEC crafted legislative language that is more autocratic than anything democratic. She takes the language and its objectives and clamps it onto her legislature for ultimate passage.. without qualitative objections from her party of sycophantic lemmings. ALEC is funded by the billionaire KOCH Brothers. That’s what we are.. a proving ground for autocracy.

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