Lebowski’s Rock n’ Bowl in Washington, Iowa seemed an unlikely location for a political forum, yet that’s where the local chamber of commerce held the only match up this cycle between State Senator Kevin Kinney and State Senator Dawn Driscoll. Candidates from House District 92, Eileen Beran and Heather Hora, also participated.
I live in the northern part of State Senate District 46 and it was an hour drive to the forum. I picked up a long-time political cohort who lives across the lake, so we had a good conversation on the way down. I had been to Washington a couple of previous times to attend district conventions.
Democrats held a rally on the sidewalk outside Lebowski’s. When Kinney arrived, we all entered the building together and took seats. Governor Kim Reynolds was to bring her state-wide bus tour for a pre-forum rally, yet there were permitting issues that prevented it. When the forum was finished, her bus was parked across the street from the bowling alley waiting to drive north to the next stop in Williamsburg.
The venue was expansive including a large room with a stage for bands, a dance floor, and framed posters of bands that had played there. I didn’t drink anything, yet having a bar at a political event had to have been a nice bonus for the proprietor and a boon to participants. The moderator from the chamber of commerce mentioned we were welcome to stay and participate in dance lessons after the forum. Line dancing and two-step were offered.
It is a late in the cycle for a forum. Democrats have a propensity to vote early and many of those I knew who were present had already done so. Republicans tend to vote on election day at the polls. Seven days from the election is not a lot of time to disseminate information from the forum to voters not present or viewing online.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are spending more on this senate race than on any other election in the state. George Shillcock posted an article about this in today’s Iowa City Press Citizen. I had a couple of takeaways from the forum.
Kinney and Beran provided real answers to audience questions. Driscoll and Hora parroted talking points that even I know because they and other Republicans repeat them so much. Hora literally read her answers from a piece of paper held up in front of her. Driscoll also appeared to read from prepared remarks in her answers to questions.
Each candidate was asked to which political party they belonged and what it meant to them. Hora’s answer demonstrated how today’s Republican party is devoid of original thought. Hora mentioned her memory of Reagan’s election (when she was age 10) and her positive feelings about his policy. She mentioned part of her political education was listening to Rush Limbaugh. I have written previously about the influence of right-wing talk radio in our society, yet to have a candidate cite Limbaugh as an influence at a public forum was a new one. What Hora didn’t mention was the 45th president. On the road leading to town, her large barn sign displayed next to a larger pro-Trump sign tells that story. Driscoll’s barn sign was also adjacent to the ex-president’s sign. These candidates, and the Republican Party of Iowa, are close to and seemingly subservient to him.
At Lebowski’s I heard Kevin Kinney mentioning to a man wearing a Hora t-shirt that all his grain was in the bin. As we drove back to Big Grove Township there was corn standing in the fields along with tractors, combines and grain wagons. This political cycle is almost over. Forums like this inform us of how much work remains to regain Democratic majorities in the Iowa legislature. It will be an uphill climb for Democrats to gain relevance in Iowa again unless we win a few races. Senate District 46 is an essential one to win.