A one-party region

We would like to welcome Democrats from around the sprawling Fourth Congressional District for their convention in Storm Lake on Saturday. Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer of Boone will deliver the main address as he trudges on in his campaign to unseat Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron. Mowrer will need every ounce of support he can get against King, who has trounced every comer. We wish him all the best. It would be nice if we were not embarrassed every time our congressman opens his mouth. Mowrer is a class act who would do us proud. Consider it our endorsement, the first of many.

Sad to say that progressive candidates and causes are lost in the Fourth. The Democratic Party has become patently uncompetitive and apparently unappealing to even independents. Outside of Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Mason City and Ames, we can think of no Democratic legislators from the Fourth District serving in the Statehouse. The Democratic Party in Northwest Iowa is largely irrelevant.

Not even Bruce Braley, the Democratic Senate candidate, could spare the time to press the flesh with a few farmers from the buckle of the Corn Belt in the Storm Lake elementary school. It wouldn’t hurt him a bit. But Braley reflects the Washington wisdom: This neighborhood is nowhere.

“Not worth a second look,” said Stu Rothenberg, the brilliant DC political analyst told the Carroll Times Herald about the King-Mowrer race.

Even though Mowrer outpaces King 3 to 1 in fundraising.

Money doesn’t matter thrown against the wall again and again with no good result.

It is the job of every delegate in Storm Lake today to get out and work for Mowrer and Braley. But they have a bigger task ahead: Revitalizing and rebuilding their party in the rural stretches of the state.

It’s where Terry Branstad draws his strength.

John Kerry had the edge on George Bush in Iowa until the Northwest Iowa results came in.

Bruce Braley needs support in Denison and Estherville as badly as he does in Dubuque.

A Democrat cannot win a statewide race in Iowa without support all over the state.

But the Democratic Party, from Des Moines to Washington, has written off this section of Iowa. Possibly that’s why there are so few registered Democrats and why they cannot gain traction among the largest voting bloc: independents.

We have urged the party repeatedly to step up its game in organizing, voter registration, candidate recruitment and advocacy. There simply is no response.

The party of Harold Hughes instead pours its resources into areas where it already has an advantage: Iowa City, Des Moines and Waterloo. So the party will be at a permanent disadvantage in Spencer, Storm Lake and Carroll (which used to be a Democratic town and county until the party gave up on them).

This is not entirely about the great sorting, where liberals move to the Twin Cities and libertarians dig in at Odebolt. It is about the failure of the Democratic Party to maintain a political infrastructure in this congressional district. It does not follow through on funding candidates. It makes little effort to register and turn out minorities. (Note: 80% of Storm Lake’s elementary students are of color, and the same probably is true of Denison. Yet there is no Democratic field office in either county.) And it fails to elucidate how its policies help rural areas (conserving soil and water, building a better farm bill, defending immigrants, protecting food stamps and the like).

That’s why Steve King does not need to represent the interests of Storm Lake. There is no force opposing him in any real way. Mowrer may be doing well at fundraising, but that cannot match motivated boots on the ground.

We live in a one-party district. That is not how democracy is supposed to work. The Republican Party has done its job in building a political infrastructure all over rural Iowa. We wish Democrats would do the same.

Ya gotta pay the rent

A worker in Storm Lake needs to earn at least $9.23 per hour to put a roof over his head, the National Low Income Housing Coalition figures. The group used federal market rent data to determine how much someone has to earn to rent a one-bedroom home. In neighboring counties, you could earn 50¢ less per hour and still have enough to pay the rent.

There is a lot of talk about increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour. That’s about all it amounts to: just talk. The existing minimum wage falls far short of what it takes to secure a home, much less afford a car or a cellphone (now required for human existence).

An adult who does his or her job should be able to meet basic needs. The best way to bury the so-called welfare state is to pay workers enough to provide for themselves, and maybe even their families. It all starts with a place to lay your head.

In Storm Lake we have to subsidize rents for working people. Something is wrong with that scenario.