Comment: The elections

Civic Skinny


What now for the Republicans in the state of Iowa?

The Iowa Republican Party has never been stronger. It now controls both houses of the Legislature, the Governor’s office, both Senate seats and three of the four Congressional seats. It can quickly pass whatever legislation it wants, and what it wants probably includes a huge swipe at labor, defunding Planned Parenthood, ever-looser restrictions on guns, ever-stronger roadblocks to voting, and privatization of more and more governmental functions. And, always, tax cuts.

Now that Senate Democrat Mike Gronstal has been defeated, the Republicans can coast blithely through the next two years.

But what then?

The Iowa House, half the Senate and the Governor’s office will be up for grabs in two years, and presumably the Democrats will be going all out to win after they get over licking their wounds.

But Gov. Terry Branstad could foil them again. As an unwavering supporter of Donald Trump — Branstad’s son Eric ran the successful Trump campaign in Iowa — the Governor could easily get a pretty good job in Washington that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting. That way, he could bump his protege — Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds — into the governorship, giving her a leg-up against whatever Democrat eventually gets the nomination.

And why not?

The Governor has already reached his goal of being in office longer than any governor in the history of this nation. Two years ago, he helped Joni Ernst become the first woman sent to Congress from Iowa, and he has noted that it would be nice to have a woman as Governor — something that has never happened in Iowa. A Republican woman, of course.

If Reynolds were the incumbent, she’d probably have a clear path to the nomination in 2018. But if she weren’t the incumbent, she’d surely face a primary fight — from former legislator Ron Corbett, almost certainly, and probably from one or two others.

It’s true the Governor seems to love Iowa and has never shown any interest in Washington, but it’s equally true that he enjoys his role as king-maker — and queen-maker — and he wouldn’t be against adding another “first” to his list of accomplishments.

Think about it.

WHAT NOW for the Democrats in the state of Iowa?

After being obliterated in the election, here’s all Iowa Democrats need: A strategy, leadership, candidates, money.

They need a two-year strategy — a plan to win back the governorship in 2018 and to win back the Iowa Senate. They need a four-year strategy — a plan to take back the Iowa House in 2020 and unseat first-term Senator Joni Ernst. They need a six-year strategy — a plan to win the presumably open seat now held by Chuck Grassley, who will be 89 when his next term is up. (And who, by then, will be the fifth-longest-serving Senator in the history of the nation, behind Robert Byrd, Daniel Inouye, Strom Thurmond, Ted Kennedy and Patrick Leahy).

The Iowa Democratic Party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. There are two Democrats who can make this happen: Tom Harkin and Tom Vilsack.

Those two — successful, savvy, energetic men who love Iowa — need to convene Democrats to come up with a plan. They need to reunite what was once the party’s solid base: the laborer, the farmer, the teacher, the student, the minority — and the sprinkling of really rich people who can write checks to help persuade strong young candidates to join the fray.

The first assignment: Find someone to run for governor. Vilsack, of course, would be the perfect candidate, but that seems unlikely. (Harkin would be great, too, but that’s not even remotely possible.) Andy McGuire, who has been eyeing the job for years, now is damaged goods, having presided over the November disaster as state chair. Mike Gronstal might be strong, if he has the stomach for it after the Republicans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get him out of the Iowa Senate.

At the same time, the Democrats need to find a party chair, preferably someone from outside Des Moines who knows the state, knows the people, and can work 18 hours a day to find able candidates for every single elected office in the state. It will take the persuasive powers of both Harkin and Vilsack to get someone good to take this job, for it’s a back-breaker. On the other hand, it could make someone’s career.

It’s been decades since the Iowa Democrats were in such awful shape — in the county seats, in Des Moines, in Washington.

But Harkin and Vilsack have the brains and the energy and the influence to start putting the party together again.

The good thing: There’s no way to go but up.

Think about it.

— Michael Gartner