The 19 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2019

Five years ago, I started taking stock of my most labor-intensive posts near the end of each year. Not all of these are my favorite projects, though invariably, some of my favorites end up on these compilations.

Before getting to the countdown for 2019, I want to give another shout out to guest authors who poured an extraordinary amount of work into two posts Bleeding Heartland published last year.

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Rest in peace, Berkley Bedell

Thousands of Iowans are mourning Berkley Bedell, who passed away of a stroke this weekend at the age of 98.

Bedell was best known as a member of Congress representing northwest Iowa from 1975 through 1986, when he retired while battling what was later diagnosed as Lyme disease. He served on the Spirit Lake school board early in his career but was unsuccessful in his first U.S. House campaign in 1972. Like his friend and colleague Tom Harkin, Bedell ran against the Republican incumbent again in 1974 and won the seat, aided by the post-Watergate Democratic landslide.

Tim Hynds reported for the Sioux City Journal, “At age 15 in 1937, using money earned from a newspaper delivery route, Bedell founded Berkley & Co., a Spirit Lake business that manufactured fishing tackle.” The company became a major employer in the area. President Lyndon Johnson recognized Bedell as Small Businessman of the Year in 1964.

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Exclusive: Iowa Democrats recall first Congressional vote on Hyde amendment

Forty-three years ago this week, Congress overrode a presidential veto to enact an appropriations bill containing the first ban on federal funding for abortion. Republican U.S. Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois had proposed language prohibiting Medicaid coverage of abortion during House debate on what was then called the Health, Education, and Welfare budget. Ever since, the policy has been known as the “Hyde amendment.”

Four Iowans who served in Congress at the time spoke to Bleeding Heartland this summer about their decisions to oppose the Hyde amendment and the political context surrounding a vote that had long-lasting consequences.

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Weekend open thread: Neal Smith memories edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Polk County Democrats’ spring awards dinner on Friday night exceeded all expectations. Hordes of journalists showed up to cover speeches by former U.S. Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. I enjoyed both speeches and have posts in progress on their messages. C-SPAN put up video of both speeches here.

You had to be there to experience the evening’s other high points. Beautiful videos honored the memories of veterans who died overseas and three legendary local Democratic supporters who passed away during the past year (including Paulee Lipsman). Tireless Urbandale volunteer and letter-to-the-editor writer Rick Smith was recognized for his activism. Before Webb and O’Malley spoke, Iowa Democrats honored Representative Neal Smith, who represented Polk County in Congress from 1959 to 1985. Unfortunately, Smith couldn’t be present, having suffered a minor injury last week. He sent a letter to be read on his behalf, while former Senator Tom Harkin shared memories by videotape and Representative Leonard Boswell told the crowd a few of his favorite stories about Smith. After the jump I’ve listed six new things I learned on Friday about the longest-serving member of the U.S. House in Iowa history.

In 2012, Smith sat down with Polk County Democratic Party Chair Tom Henderson to reflect on his life and long political career. Those videos are well worth your time: part 1 and part 2.  

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Oh good, a top ten list to argue about

John Deeth’s latest blog post for the Des Moines Register reviews the ten worst campaigns waged in Iowa during the past 20 years. I didn’t observe all of those campaigns first-hand, but he makes a convincing case for including most of the candidates on his list.

Two campaigns don’t belong on Deeth’s list, in my opinion. He ranked Congressman Neal Smith’s 1994 effort as number seven. Maybe Smith was slow to realize that Greg Ganske was a threat, but one thing destroyed Smith in that race, and it wasn’t incompetence. Redistricting after the 1990 census took Story County and Jasper County out of Smith’s district, replacing them with a bunch of rural counties in southwest Iowa he had never represented. Smith brought incalculable millions to Iowa State University over the years, and union membership in the Newton area was very strong. If Story and Jasper had still been in IA-04, Smith would have easily survived even the Republican wave of 1994.

Number two on Deeth’s list is Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign. As I discussed at length here, I feel that Barack Obama won the caucuses more than Clinton or John Edwards lost them. Remember, Clinton started out way behind in Iowa. Whatever mistakes her campaign made, and they made plenty, you have to give them credit for getting more than 70,000 Iowans to stand in her corner on a cold night in January. That included many thousands of people who had never attended a caucus before. In the summer of 2007, almost anyone would have agreed that 70,000 supporters would be enough to win here. The turnout for Clinton is even more impressive when you consider that she did worse on second choices than Obama or Edwards. She didn’t win Iowa, but this wasn’t one of the ten worst Iowa campaigns by a longshot.

I want to share one anecdote about Jim Ross Lightfoot’s gubernatorial campaign in 1998, which rightfully claimed the top spot on Deeth’s list. Lightfoot blew a huge lead over little-known Tom Vilsack in September and October. Here’s how stupid this guy was. According to several people who witnessed the event, Lightfoot advocated for school prayer at a candidate forum organized by Temple B’Nai Jeshurun in Des Moines. Not only that, Lightfoot told that room full of Jews that majority rule should determine the prayer. For instance, in a town that’s 90 percent Danish, why not let them say Lutheran prayers in school?

Terry Branstad showed horrible judgment by endorsing Lightfoot in the 1998 primary, when he could have supported his own highly capable Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning.

Go read Deeth’s post, then share your own thoughts about the worst Iowa campaigns in this thread.

Also, check Deeth’s own blog regularly this month for updates on Iowa candidate filings. March 19 is the deadline for state legislative and statewide candidates to submit nomination papers.

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