In the New Year, Iowa might talk back

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

2017 dawned with the inauguration of Donald Trump, so I am happy to be through it. He is a disgrace to democracy, to the Presidency and to the Constitution. Fortunately, 2018 is nearly upon us and we have a chance to talk back to Twitter with our votes. Iowa will send a message in 2018 that probably will be heard into 2020.

Starting with the governor’s race: Gov. Kim Reynolds, who ascended when Gov. Terry Branstad left for China, is in deep trouble way over her head. The experiment in taking Medicaid private has been an absolute disaster for people and the state budget. Reynolds would have us believe things are going swimmingly, until it is revealed by The Des Moines Register that the state is fining the companies that are running the private Medicaid system, and that they in turn are saying that the state sold them a bill of goods — they say they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars on this scheme.

The Republicans will have to come clean on it this legislative session. It will be painful. It appears that the state will have to cut the budget again next year by about $100 million because of all our tax giveaways to Apple, Microsoft, meatpackers and a foreign fertilizer company. As a result, the City of Storm Lake is preparing for a budget bloodbath come January when it starts into workshops.

The Register’s Iowa Poll tells us that going in, half of Iowa voters want somebody new in Terrace Hill. We lost count of how many Democrats are running, but there are some good ones: Fred Hubbell, who is loaded and is running really tough TV ads about Medicaid, John Norris, Nate Boulton, Andy McGuire … It’s an A list of Iowa Democrats.

They are energizing voters. The Buena Vista County Democratic Central Committee has been meeting with them. Norris, for one, plans a convention strategy. He is looking to get all those county-level activists, the ones who show up at precinct caucuses on Feb. 5 and county conventions on March 10 and the state convention on June 16, which follows the June 5 primary. If no candidate can secure 35% of the primary vote, the nomination goes to convention.

Contested primaries in the Third and Fourth Congressional Districts also could be thrown to district nominating conventions. That is how Steve King got nominated 16 years ago.

That suggests a surge in Democratic turnout not normally seen in mid-term elections because of so many campaigns trying to engage the base. Those surges have been evident in Virginia, Maine and Alabama this year.

Democrats believe they will win the Iowa House and perhaps the Senate. If they don’t win the governorship, they have only themselves to blame with the perfect mess Branstad left behind. The legislature is trying to cobble together a grab bag for water quality to prove that it did something, but when the budget is busted there isn’t a whole lot the state can do.

You could say the same about the First and Third Congressional contests — if the Dems blow it they blew it. In the Fourth, an opening might be created with Steve King lining himself up with Trump and Roy Moore. Iowans like a straight shooter, even if he is a radical like King. They do not countenance people who hang around liars. Wiley Mayne found that out the hard way when he defended Richard Nixon in 1974. Plus, I would like to think that reasonable people who live around here are getting tired of his race-baiting antics. It did not work for Trump or Ed Gillespie or Roy Moore in rural reaches.

Other things to watch out for in the coming year:

• Storm Lake will not be under the dredge for the first time in more than 20 years. What a wonderful example we set when we showed how a community could pull together to get the state to save our lake. Everybody finally got tired of it, even though the job is not done. This should free up about $100,000 per year in sales tax revenue for city coffers. I am sure that City Manager Keri Navratil will not miss running a dredging operation, and she has plenty on her plate, to wit:

• As noted above, the city will have budget problems. Navratil got a pat on the back during her review with the council but no bump in pay. City officials fret that nobody might get a raise because the legislature is strangling city budgets with tax giveaways to big commercial property owners. It will be a baptism of fire for new council members Jose Ibarra and Dan Smith.

• We should learn early in the year the Foutch Brothers get their historic tax credits so South School may be converted to market-rate apartments. Nothing is a sure bet in this state fiscal environment. The state is acing out assistance for rural housing projects, killing one for the east side of town. And, finally, after years of blight we are about to see condos finally go up next to Sunrise Pointe Golf Course.

• My book Dateline Storm Lake gets published Oct. 2 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Please, buy it. Little Tommy needs a new pair of shoes.

• The Storm Lake School District will get a new superintendent in June. (See editorial.)

• Undocumented children of immigrants might — might — catch a break after the New Year with a new waiver for Dreamers passed by Congress. The Senate appears to agree, but the problem remains in the House so long as Steve King and Louis Gohmert hold sway.

• State Climatologist Harry Hillaker expects a dry, warm growing season because of La Niña, a weather cycle affected by equatorial winds.

• Congress is supposed to write a new farm bill. Don’t hold your breath. It took about seven years to write the last one.

• Storm Lake should win the state soccer tournament for the first time this spring. Hey, shoot high for the new year.