Andy McGuire shows up. And, she will come back.

Few Democrats campaign for the rural poor anymore



Andy McGuire says she is hearing mainly about three things as she campaigns for governor in rural Iowa: housing, early childhood education and child care. That should be no surprise: We have poor people exposed as completely vulnerable in a shabby Alta trailer court, Storm Lake is trying to build an early childhood education center, and local mothers are struggling with church support and tin cups to organize a daycare for Storm Lake and Alta. Her analysis rings true.

And, nearly every single thing she talked about during a 90-minute conversation related back to poverty and a lack of opportunity.

“People everywhere I go are mad,” said the Des Moines Democrat and former chair of the state party.

They’re mad about their income.

“Fifteen bucks an hour is not a living wage. People around here need to be making $20 an hour to make it, to afford a place to live,” McGuire said. The legislature has foreclosed the possibility of public employee unions to negotiate for a better deal.

They’re mad about Medicaid reform that shuts down nursing homes, denies care to the poor and cheats care providers.

“It’s a millstone,” McGuire said of the state Medicaid plan, engineered by Terry Branstad and embraced by Kim Reynolds. “It’s losing money, it’s not paying physical therapists and home health care providers, and they won’t do anything about it because the Republicans are so invested in it.”

They’re mad about mental health care, or lack of it, in Iowa.

“We are 50th among the states for mental health beds. We are 47th in providers. We’re just terrible, and we’ve been terrible for awhile and we’re not getting better.”

She is a physician who worked for insurance companies and ran her own.

They’re mad about delays in child endangerment and foster care cases. The Iowa Department of Human Services has shed 1,000 employees in the past eight years. Loads on case managers have grown from 13 to 80 cases each. Curtailed court services cause defendants to languish in jail for a week or more awaiting a bond hearing, McGuire said.

“It hurts to be poor,” she said.

Among the seven Democratic candidates she is among the poorest in campaign funds, along with John Norris. They’re the ones hitting rural Iowa and hearing the stories while the Democratic money is swept up by Fred Hubbell, Nate Boulton and Cathy Glasson.

They’re the ones talking about the rural poor and the critical lack of services out here in the sticks. One of them could get the nomination, but the inside money gives the attention to those with it.

In fact, each expects that the June primary will not produce a nominee because nobody will get more than 35% support. It’s a plausible theory. The monied people in Des Moines don’t dominate county conventions, activists do. The activists continue to talk about all the candidates, not just the ones with money or endorsements. McGuire remembers well: She was the running mate to Mike Blouin, who had all the endorsements and plenty of money but lost to Chet Culver. Culver had been all over the state while secretary of state meeting county auditors and supervisors.

“Some people think it’s about the money. I do not. I’ve got a lot of investment in skin,” McGuire said. “Democrats, Iowans, know who I am. And they know I’ll be back when I’m governor.”

McGuire had just come from Spencer where she met with a few people at a coffee shop. Her next stop was Cherokee. She is working the backroads looking for delegates who will support her in a primary and in a state nominating convention.

“The key for me is to get all over the state, which is what I am doing. It’s a relatively small universe of people (who turn out in off-year primary elections) and I’m talking to them.”

Norris visits Storm Lake on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Diane Hamilton’s home on Casino Beach.

Boulton and Hubbell each have stopped through on their way to Fort Dodge and Sioux City to make their cases. Storm Lake has not been their destination. Glasson is from eastern Iowa. McGuire owns farmland in BV and Pocahontas counties. She understands drainage systems and land values. Norris was chief of staff for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Each is trying to secure the rural activists who are still important to the Democratic base. The rest of the party has written off the Fourth District and claims not to understand this neighborhood. How do you win it back, as Berkley Bedell did? You ask them for their vote. You show up. McGuire and Norris show up.