Living in Society

Empty Seats at the Political Forum

Empty Chair for Bobby Kaufmann

A report arrived they set up two extra rows of seats in the back of the Area Task Force on Aging legislative candidate forum yesterday. That didn’t take away from the sparse turnout for the event.

Long-time community advocate Bob Welsh told me a story which was apropos.

A church community hired a well known architect to design their new church. Everyone in the congregation knew and trusted him. He had one condition: no one would inquire into the design while work was in process or interrupt him. After consideration, an agreement was reached and the work proceeded.

When the church was finished, as congregants entered the first service in the new facility, there was only one pew, all the way in the back. While taken aback, devotees took their seats. Once the pew filled, a set of invisible motors moved the pew from the back to the front of the church and a second pew appeared. Thus the church was filled from front to back.

It turns out the preacher went long as they are wont to do. At a certain point, without prompting or considering the point in the heavenly narrative, the pulpit began to sink into the floor until it was gone. It turned out the architect understood the nature of a church perfectly and executed his plan accordingly.

I’ve come to know and like Bob Welsh and it was disappointing there were so few people attending the forum. In years past there was standing room only. I remember my position along the stage right side of the room one year, waiting to hear what candidates had to say. No need to stand now.

A forum for four races is impossible. By the time all was said and done, the six of eight candidates in attendance got a minute closing time plus about 12 minutes to respond to questions in small chits of time. Two of three Republicans were no-shows, although the one who did and the Libertarian were most interesting as they broke up the uniform responses of the four Democrats.

State Senator Joe Bolkcom’s constant refrain was, “We’re broke.” It reminded us no new programs would be possible until the legislature found a way to pay for them. The path to doing that would be through regaining control of the executive branch of government and at least one chamber of the legislature.

The common denominator is Governor Branstad’s privatization of Iowa Medicaid. Democrats at the forum uniformly and properly said it was a disaster and needed to be reversed, something winning the governor’s race would make possible. There is a role for privatization of select functions within the Medicaid umbrella, but the state requires the low overhead of managing complicated cases themselves. Democrats made a rational case to the few dozen gathered and potential cable T.V. viewers.

Here’s one thing politicians didn’t mention: thousands of stories about the failure of the Branstad Reynolds privatization of Medicaid across the state. This is personal, private, and touches almost all Iowans. There are no success stories.

No one wants to talk about the trouble they had finding a nursing home that accepts Medicaid patients. We don’t hear of vendors who have taken seven figure loans to make payroll and fund cash flow while waiting for MCOs to pay their bills. We don’t hear the horror stories of how patients are treated except in bits and pieces from our closest family and friends. The question why aren’t there enough medical practitioners is tied irrevocably to the state’s rapid loss of young people and a flight from rural to urban centers. The Medicaid scandal is personal and most people don’t want to talk about it because they find it embarrassing they were caught up in it.

Johnson County is a Democratic County, one of a few in the state. There are organized political groups working hard to execute a strategy they think will win the election. What I’m seeing in evidence like the low turnout at the Task Force on Aging is this approach doesn’t work any more. What will decide the 2018 Iowa midterms isn’t the hard work of political organizers. It is convincing people aged 35 and younger to vote at all, getting voters who vote only in presidential elections to go to the polls this year and vote the entire ballot, and hoping the number of Iowans devastated by the shit storm that was the 87th Iowa General Assembly will be enough to turn the tide.

That’s a helluva political mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. I still like Bob Welsh and the forum he helped found and always will. Sadly it is more evidence our politics is broken as the rats continue to navigate the ship.

I’m working to turn out voters this cycle. Are you?