Living in Society

Political Landscape

Ben Keiffer (L) and Dr. Christopher Peters chatting at Pints and Politics event, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018

I hope the procession of deaths of friends and acquaintances will give it a rest for a while. I need to think about other things, namely gardening, cooking, writing, reading, and to some extent, politics. That last one sticks in my craw.

My new process of saving political newsletters to read over each weekend is working well to offload worries about political life. Better to save them and review all at once, I thought. The decision made me more productive during the week. I can see which elected officials are doing the work and which are phoning it in.

One newsletter stands out. Brad Sherman, my representative’s newsletter, sent from his campaign website. Sherman is a fringe member of political society. As a preacher, he is also on the fringe of nondenominational congregations. I compare him to other Republicans I’ve known and he doesn’t seem to work at getting to know constituents except those that produce a vote for him. Not only is Sherman on the fringe, he is plain weird. I gain insight into the weird at the expense of foregoing my priorities for state government. It is an unsavory dish to swallow.

Sherman won the election fair and square, even beating the Democrat in typically liberal Johnson County. We’re stuck with him until 2024, although depressed voter turnout and lack of interest in politics may be his ticket to reelection.

What don’t I like about him? In his last newsletter he wrote,

It has become obvious, for anyone who is not under the spell of the corrupt mainstream media, that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Election fraud is now out in the open and it is time for it to be dealt with. And if the 2020 election was fraudulent, then Donald Trump is the rightful president, and we must insist that this gets fixed!

Brad Sherman legislative newsletter, April 6, 2023

It is tedious to mention Joe Biden won the 2020 general election for president the same way Sherman did, fair and square. I won’t be taking that up with him as he is off in the deep end. I don’t want to get dragged down with him as I have gardening and other things to do, as mentioned. Whether electing a Democrat in this district is possible is an open question. My sense is few people are paying attention to politics these days.

Iowa Democrats are in transition, as is the entirety of the state.

Much has been made this news cycle of the 565,000 registered Iowa voters who didn’t vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Secretary of State Paul Pate is sending letters to them all to receive confirmation they want to remain on the rolls. No response, you are purged in 2026. Yes Republicans are working to purge voters from the rolls. My comment is a little different. Did Democrats really leave 565,000 votes on the table in 2022? I believe Obama 2008 would never have left that many fish in the pond. My take is sloth set in.

Democrats have a lot of plans, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Centralized thinking about winning elections hasn’t worked for a long time, likely since the big wins in 2006 when the electorate decided they’d had it with George W. Bush and Republicans more generally. The worm has turned now.

My experience during the 2022 cycle was there were very few active Democrats in the nine Johnson County precincts in House District 91. Most have trouble filling two seats on the county central committee, let alone doing much during GOTV in the run up to the election. Partly, this is apathy, but partly the Democratic Party. More than apathy, Democrats have lost the relevance of which they are continuously reminding us. Other factors play more important roles in people’s lives. Politics is not high on the list of what is important.

Iowans are amenable to collective thought, and that serves Republicans. Farmers alone have to listen to bankers, equipment dealers, chemical companies, seed companies, and people who make a market in the commodities they grow. Without being collective farms, farmers act like them voluntarily because it serves their best interests to conform to the demands of people and organizations they rely upon. Evidence of the success of our form of agriculture is that millions of people haven’t died of hunger as they did in the hey day of collective farms in the Soviet Union.

It’s been a couple days since one of my friends and acquaintances died. Let’s see if we can go a few weeks before there is another. In the meanwhile, I’m keeping politics on the back burner.

Living in Society

At the Rock n’ Bowl

Painting on the front of Lebowski’s Rock n’ Bowl, Washington, Iowa

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.

Senate District 46 and House District 92 chamber of commerce forum in Washington, Iowa, Nov. 1, 2022.
Living in Society

Push Poll Comes to Big Grove

Kinney is the Democrat running in Iowa Senate District 46.

I hadn’t received a push poll telephone call until yesterday. I participated in the whole thing, yet it was terrible. The pollster must have been seeking dim-witted jamokes to persuade voters of the efficacy of their chosen candidate, in this case Dawn Driscoll, who is running against Kevin Kinney for the Iowa Senate in District 46.

Driscoll did almost no visible campaigning before Labor Day. A few campaign signs appeared along major thoroughfares after that. She recently held an event with Governor Kim Reynolds and Congresswomen Mariannette Miller-Meeks. If her campaign begins with a push poll, there is no telling how much mudslinging there will be from Republicans before the Nov. 8 election.

“A push poll is an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to manipulate or alter prospective voters’ views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll,” according to Wikipedia. The key word here is “manipulate.” This poll attempted to manipulate me by misrepresenting Kinney’s positions. Because I know better, the sole alteration of my views of the campaigns was to reaffirm support for him.

I’ve been represented by Democrats in the Iowa Senate since we moved here, notably with the long tenure of Senator Bob Dvorsky (1993-2018), followed by Zach Wahls (2019-present) after Dvorsky’s retirement. It is only with the recently completed decennial redistricting we have to contemplate a Republican representing us. While the urban centers in the county remain strongly Democratic, Republicans have been able to peel off a few precincts around the central cities.

The contest with a new district that leans Republican is proving to be the worst of modern politics for regular voters like me. Push polling is just the tip of the iceberg of the Republican threat.

Living in Society

Kevin Kinney’s Summer Barbecue

Inside State Senator Kevin Kinney’s barn in rural Johnson County. Photo Credit – Dominic Patafie.

The weather was perfect for a barbecue.

The first large political gathering in our new state senate district took place on Saturday, Aug. 27, in rural Oxford. Kevin Kinney is a full-time farmer seeking re-election to the senate after an incumbent Republican and he were mapped into the same new district by the state legislature. Kinney is running a strong campaign.

I volunteered to help with the event, arriving two hours before the starting time. The Kinney family had already done most of the set up, so I was able to take a walk around the farm and talk to the senator. The farm runs a cow-calf operation with 40 brood cows. We discussed the configuration of his corn and bean planter. I also asked some questions about the corn crop using this photo on my mobile device. Corn is drying out.

Field corn.

State Auditor Rob Sand was the featured guest. When he wasn’t speaking to the group, he socialized, took selfies with attendees, and distributed bumper stickers that said, “Bowhunter. State Auditor. Rob Sand Finds Bucks.” Lieutenant Governor candidate Eric Van Lancker was added to the speaker lineup. In addition to giving a short speech, he spent most of the event socializing with attendees. Both Sand and Van Lancker were present for the duration of the event.

My assigned duties were at the registration table where I greeted almost everyone who attended. Getting to know people is one of the reasons I attend political events, so it was a perfect assignment. A number of Johnson County Democrats I’ve known for decades came out. No one did a head count, yet I estimate 150 or so attendees.

Overflow parking with cattle at the Senator Kinney Summer Barbecue Bash, Aug. 27, 2022.

By all accounts, the food was good. Being mostly vegetarian, I skipped the meal except for a couple of slices of watermelon and a cookie. There was plenty to eat. After the speeches and meal were finished, people lingered while drinking beverages from large coolers and talking in groups. It was the kind of event that is becoming increasingly rare in Iowa Democratic politics. As I mentioned to people when they signed in, it was a great day for it.

If re-elected, Kevin Kinney would be the only Democratic, full-time farmer in the Iowa Senate.