The stench may gag the liars

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

The rot of dishonesty and corruption undid Rep. Wiley Mayne in 1974, the victim of his allegiance to President Richard Nixon. Berkley Bedell the fly-tying magnate from Spirit Lake was impeccably honest and beat Mayne. That year saw Tom Harkin unseat incumbent Rep. Bill Scherle in southwest Iowa, done in by Watergate.

Its stench remains in the air. Former State Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, sits in prison for illegally taking money from the Ron Paul campaign to jump ship from Michelle Bachmann. He was a prominent Republican kingmaker. It made Gov. Terry Branstad recognize that the dirty money grovel of the Iowa Straw Poll was done and over — whichever campaign can pay the party the most wins.

Sam Clovis couldn’t get paid by Rick Perry’s campaign for President, so the Morningside poli sci professor jumped ship to Donald Trump — whose check was good. He ends up on Trump’s foreign policy team, and tells an underling to go after dirt the Russian Foreign Ministry has on Hillary Clinton. “Great work,” Clovis tells the eager young retriever in an email, that looked especially interesting to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Clovis has been squealing like a stuck pig to Mueller, turns out. Which, in retrospect, might be why Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a wily man and a Republican, wanted Clovis to testify at a Nov. 9 committee hearing on the Iowan’s nomination to be the chief scientific officer of the US Department of Agriculture. Roberts hated the idea of Clovis’ nomination for the ag post, which oversees the doling out of $3 billion in funds annually to research institutions like Iowa State and Kansas State. He was no scientist, just a talk show host and a political hack from Sioux City.

Yet Roberts resisted calls from Democrats to call off Clovis’ hearing. He wanted to move forward. Why? So he could get the word on Clovis’ involvement in the Russian scandal and embarrass both Clovis and the President. Pat Roberts, a former weekly newspaper editor, hates lying and liars.

See, there is this war going on within the Republican Party that involves Donald Trump against everyone else, especially those old bulls up in the Senate.

Clovis spoiled Roberts’ fun. He said he was withdrawing his nomination after it was revealed that he is squealing in Mueller’s ear. We do not know that Clovis has been charged with anything. We do know that he is and has been cooperating fully with the investigation. Which means he is telling who told him to tell that nice Greek young man to go ahead and dance with the Russians.

Which gets us back to honesty and Iowa.

Fourth District voters like Steve King because they think he is honest, above all. They cringe when he talks about Mexican teenagers, but they chalk it up to a straight shooter speaking his mind for the world to hear. That’s what voters in BV County liked about Trump and did not like about Clinton: They thought he might be a truth-teller, they were certain she was not.

If you associate with liars and act like you enjoy it, Iowa voters don’t like it. At least they didn’t used to.

Former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, defeated in the Trump 2016 wave, said he feels the atmosphere changing. “People are seeing that the Trump agenda is working against them,” said the Council Bluffs Democrat in a post-mortem with me recently. “Trump is not getting much done. They couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act. The tax cut is going to hurt middle-class voters. The wall is bogged down. They might be thinking, ‘You know, my life actually is a little bit worse.’”

Gronstal said that voters in the Bluffs refused to leave their living rooms on election night because they were so disgusted by the choices. “Yeah, but I’m on the ballot, too,” he told them. “They weren’t even thinking about that.”

Polls show that the Trump effect might be taking a bite from congressional Republicans. They’re down by up to 15 points in generic congressional polls, and disapproval ratings are at a record low. A television-station poll in Kentucky showed Sen. Mitch McConnell with a 24% approval rating. The Republican congressional generic approval number is at 15%.

Trump’s approval ratings may be higher but the dysfunction in Washington that he engenders, and the dishonesty of it, is turning voters off.

King just hosted The Donald’s son, Donald, on a hunting trip at Akron. When you’re rubbing safety orange shoulders with a bunch of liars playing footsie with the Russians, that could have consequences.

Or, when you apply that patina of dishonesty and corruption to the mismanagement of Iowa’s state budget and Medicaid program, you might have enough disgust to overcome the disgust of 2016 that befell Mike Gronstal.

Iowans knew that Sam Clovis had no business working in an important job that would decide the future of land grant universities. He got that nod because he was willing to do the dirty work. Iowans know he will feed at whatever trough is full. They know who Kent Sorenson is, sitting behind bars. They don’t like this kind of stuff. We didn’t have this kind of politics before. Whether Democrats can seize on that angst like Trump did remains the question for next year.