SOLON, Iowa — What you see is what you get. Politics is more meaningful with experience and a proper lens. Our view of things is imperfect.
A political Saturday began with a meeting of the county party arrangements committee in North Liberty where members went around the table to introduce ourselves and tell how we got active in politics.
My first political campaign was for Lyndon Johnson. After taking the bus downtown and paying my weekly carrier newspaper bill, I stopped by the Democratic party office to help out. I wanted an LBJ for the USA campaign button and asked for one. They had me stuff envelopes for a while then gave me a button. The 1964 election built my expectation as a Democrat that we would win every election by a landslide. Imagine my disappointment when Richard Nixon was elected in 1968. Imagine my outrage as he dissembled about the war in Cambodia. Imagine how I feel now.
A fluffy, wet snow was falling as I left the arrangements meeting. I swept a couple inches off the Subaru with a broom and made my way across the lakes to Solon where Rep. Bobby Kaufmann was holding a town hall meeting at 1 p.m.
The town hall venue was the Palmer House Stable built in 1838. It has a turbulent recent history as it was bought for cheap and remodeled in a way that forced the owner to declare bankruptcy. A local Republican owns it now and holds some events there. He donates use to Kaufmann a couple times a year. Covered in snow, it looked very picturesque as I walked up to the door.
The setup was clean but uncomfortable with cheap plastic folding chairs. Local resident Lynn Gallagher brought posters with information about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and lined them up on chairs along the wall in the main room. Someone else brought a couple of trays of mini-cupcakes. When the town hall ran long, half a dozen attendees stood up from the chairs to alleviate back pain they caused. Despite the discomfort, I didn’t see anyone leave until the question and answer period was over.
In all 23 people plus Kaufmann attended the meeting, about double the normal number for a Kaufmann town hall in Solon. Most of the faces were familiar and most attendees had a prior relationship with Kaufmann. Whenever he took a note to get back to someone, he did not ask their name. He called on many of us by name to ask our question. To say attendees were supporters is not true. At the same time everyone had an interest in government, a relationship with the representative, and more interest than usual demonstrated by venturing out on slippery roads to attend. Based on attendance and level of engagement, interest in politics continues to run high in the 2018 midterm election cycle.
I found the town hall to be valuable because Kaufmann gave a glimpse into his work in the House and the environment in the Republican caucus. His view was surprisingly insular and focused on the House, not Republicans in general. For example, according to his response to the Republican who asked the question, he didn’t know that the Senate had advanced the embryonic heartbeat bill until someone from Cedar County pointed it out to him. The takeaway is the heartbeat bill is unlikely to get 50 votes in the House because Republican members believe that when it is struck down by the courts, it will be done in a way that makes it difficult to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Getting another abortion-related issue to the Supreme Court is the endgame of the flawed bill.
A good mix of Democrats and conservatives attended the meeting, although the group leaned somewhat Democratic. It seemed ironic that a current Iowa City School board member asked about his pet projects rather than school funding, and a former Solon school board member was more interested in the heartbeat bill than school funding. To characterize the meeting, school funding was not raised as an issue with the current legislature.
Kaufmann gave about ten minutes to answering my question about Governor Reynolds’ proposed tax cut, which I felt was generous. The new federal tax bill is forcing the state to do something to avoid a dramatic increase in taxes, according to Kaufmann. Governor Reynolds wants to delay addressing the $500 million in tax credits going out the door each year until next year. Kaufmann and other house members want them addressed this session.
Mental health got the biggest part of the discussion based on time and number of participants. I appreciated the woman who coached Kaufmann on mental health messaging. His statement, he was waiting to see the revenue estimate before action, seemed like a dodge of the need to do something to fix the mental health regions Republicans previously designed. Why wouldn’t the legislature determine what is needed to fix the mental health system and only then determine how to pay for it?
We talked about gun control beginning with a neighbor’s suggestion county sheriffs register assault weapons like the AR-15. This kicked off a long, albeit civil discussion about gun control that bordered on a skirmish. It had me wondering who might be packing. Kaufmann let the discussion get out of control and it degenerated into a pointless endeavor of confirmation bias.
The strong attendance at the town hall was a sign that people are engaged in politics more than in previous years. My conclusion afterward was that even on a snowy day people can come out, be civil, and learn about our government. This group was definitely not a flock of sheeple. People are engaged in politics more now than I can recall since 2012. An electorate for change in November is beginning to come together.