Time for change

BY ART CULLEN

Terry Branstad deserved to go out better than he did. The longest-serving governor in the history of the United States watched what is presumably his last legislative session go down as a debacle for the people of Iowa. He will leave as ambassador to China, if the President ever actually dispatches him, and leave Iowa to clean up the mess he and the Republican majority in the legislature left.

So it was with great relief another great Iowan moved him, and called us last week. It was John Norris on the other end of the line, former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Vilsack, former organizer of the Iowa Farm Unity Coalition, former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and former Barack Obama Iowa organizer with his wife, Jackie. She is an organizing genius. He is a smart and charismatic guy who understands deeply how state and federal government work.

The Republicans gutted worker rights, welcomed anyone to bring a gun into the Capitol, ignored pleas to help the poor and mentally ill with the Medicaire privatization boondoggle, and, for sizzle, legalized the sort of fireworks that once burned Spencer to the ground. They tried to dismantle the Des Moines Water Works as a pre-emptive and punitive measure, but that effort fizzled when the lawsuit was dismissed. So they killed the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University instead, foregoing at least $3 million in outside grant funding next year.

It was abysmal. It was overreach of the highest order. Branstad stood by and watched it happen, putting a leash on no one. Any moderation he once displayed was well hidden.

And that’s too bad for a good man’s legacy.

But the good news is that it is starting a prairie fire.

The Democrats have fielded some awfully strong, if not firebrand, candidates.

Andy McGuire is first-rate. The physician is the former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, owns Northwest Iowa farmland, lives in Spirit Lake and her husband’s family is from Holstein. Hard not to like any of that. We want to hear more from her. We want her to wake up the echoes of Harold Hughes, the man from Ida Grove.

Norris promises to just that.

“I’m on my way,” he told us last week.

Hurry. The fire needs to get started.

While Republicans were gutting the worker’s compensation system the Democrats could only wring their hands and shake their heads. While nursing homes were shutting down they were cursing Branstad’s name from the sidelines.

To bring Iowa back to its senses, we need a candidate who will take it to the courthouse steps in each of 99 counties, starting here, and tell them that the working stiff comes first for once. That we will clean up our filthy surface water and fouled air. That we will stop the insane funding of foreign corporations that build fertilizer plants and meatpacking plants, which we already have in abundance. That we will quit abusing K-12 education. That we will quit forcing up property taxes by shorting state aid to education. That we will reopen the Leopold Center and use its research to show Congress how profitable agriculture can be supported. That we will welcome in the poor and dispossessed and demonized and give them a place of safe haven.

That’s the Iowa we loved. That’s what Harold Hughes fought for.

He fought for small towns and farmers with their backs against the wall trying to do the right thing. He created the community college system to give everyone in Iowa a shot at higher education. He knew what the poor man, the truck driver or the meatcutter, was up against. He knew about mental health and substance abuse first-hand. He always walked with them.

We need someone who picks up the trail where Hughes left off.

It might be Nate Bolton, a Des Moines labor lawyer. Does he understand what Fonda is up against? Maybe. It might be Norris or McGuire, who do understand if they can articulate it. It most certainly is not Kim Reynolds, who blithely smiles along while the writ of destruction is signed.

We are undoing the social compact in Iowa: great schools at every level fully funded, communities that welcome the stranger and comfort the ill, clean air and water and deep black soil that give us our bounty, that the laborer is equal to the owner, and that we can find solutions through moderation and accept the outcomes.

Iowa needs a check on unbridled partisan governing. We need a governor who speaks for all Iowans. We know that McGuire and Norris will.