I sat up and watched Doug Jones become the U.S. Senator from Alabama tonight. It was exciting. But, something else happened in Iowa tonight that may be more important to us here in the state. Democrat Todd Wendt over-performed past results by around 31 points in his run for the Iowa State Senate in the heart of Steve King country. Mr. Wendt didn’t win, but he proved that a strong Democrat can be competitive in places Democrats haven’t been competitive for a long time.
If I were a Republican like Jake Highfill, who represents the school district where I work in, I might be a little worried. It doesn’t feel to me that simply running a campaign linked to President Trump and Steve King while doing the bidding of the Koch Brothers is a formula for success in 2018. I can’t imagine that another session of behind closed doors meetings where the rights of public workers are taken away is going to play quite the same as it did last year. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Representative Highfill or Governor Reynolds are going to be able to look Iowans in the eye and defend their running of the Kansas playbook for another legislative session. The fine people of Kansas have abandoned those failed plans, but Iowa’s Republican legislators seem eager to keep starving public services so that big business can get massive tax breaks. Are there Iowans anywhere calling for vouchers and charter schools? Where are they?
The truth is that December 12, 2017 presents an opportunity for Iowa’s Republicans. They have a U.S. Representative in Steve King who is busy trying to argue against diversity (and yet Republicans refuse to repudiate him). Iowa Republicans have two U.S. Senators in lock step with the least popular president of our time. Iowa Republicans have overseen a terrible economy for the last several years and we will surely be making more cuts to our state budget again this year because of their misguided policies. In addition is seems certain that this 2018 Republican legislature will do their work behind closed doors and in the dark of the evening (at least that’s how they did it last year). You can count on old Drew Klein from the Americans for Prosperity (Koch Brothers) showing up at bill signings to demonstrate who is really calling the shots.
If you are Jake Highfill or Kim Reynolds, what are you going to run on? Do you want Donald Trump in Iowa to attach his record-low approval ratings to you? Do want Steve King to come in and share his thoughts on diversity at one of your campaign rallies? Is the economy going to improve as you enact more of the Kansas plan?
A Democrat gained 31 points tonight in a state senate election here in Iowa. I think Iowa Republicans better do some thinking as they begin the 2018 legislative session. Will the Steve Bannon politics of division play out well? Will raiding IPERS, forcing vouchers down Iowan’s throats (has anyone met an Iowan whose issue is vouchers?) help Republican campaigns? December 12th was a glimpse into elections future for Iowa Republicans.
I’m not inclined to help Iowa Republicans, but I can’t help myself, because I want Iowa to succeed. If Iowa Republican legislators reached across the aisle and worked to close the numerous tax loopholes that exist to enrich Iowa’s wealthiest businesses and individuals, I suspect they would be rewarded. If Iowa Republicans truly listened to Iowans instead of ALEC or the Koch Brothers and debated policy in the light of day, I suspect they would be rewarded. If Iowa Republicans truly supported Iowa’s public schools, I suspect they would be rewarded.
It feels like the Iowa GOP is going to just keep running the Kansas playbook. There will be late night deals done behind closed doors. The Koch Brothers, ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity will be very active in the Republican caucus. The end result of that will be that Todd Wendt’s 31 point gain on December 12th, 2017 will be the norm in November of 2018.
The lesson of December 12, 2017 is that the tide is turning and Iowa Republicans can run the playbook of the last three years at their own peril. I’m eager to see Iowa Republicans prove me wrong. Yeah, I’m eager, but I’m not holding my breath.