Addressing rural voters

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Iowa is sorely in need of a course correction. All-Republican control of the levers of government is tilting us off into the ditch — our rivers are polluted, our soil disappearing, our schools eroding and our rural prospects dimming. Our health care system for the working poor, disabled and elderly infirm was reformed by the current administration into a fiscal disaster shrouded in secrecy. Our schools are being starved. We have gone too far in one direction.

We believe it is imperative that Fred Hubbell is elected governor for those reasons, among others. He is a former executive of an international insurance and finance business, a straight-forward and serious man, someone who understands budgets and people and how to manage them. Anybody has to give Fred Hubbell that much. And that is precisely what Iowa needs right now: a strong manager with no nonsense who can get all of us rowing in the same direction again.

To win, Hubbell and his running mate for lieutenant governor, farmer and teacher Rita Hart of Clinton County, must make a case to rural Iowa. They cannot win with urban votes alone. Democrats have had a terrible time learning that lesson, and they have had difficulty crafting a message that sells along country blacktops.

They should start with the small big towns of rural Iowa: Storm Lake, Decorah, Carroll, Creston, Mount Pleasant and Waverly. They have one thing in common: they are host to community colleges or private colleges. Waverly is strong because of Wartburg. Carroll is strengthened by a strong community college presence. Storm Lake has both a private college and a community college. This is how rural communities created and retain an educated workforce — almost all community college and private college graduates stay in Iowa, many in rural places. Buena Vista University is betting the farm on it with new pushes into rural entrepreneurship and agriculture. When will we ever raise the Iowa Tuition Grant to help struggling private colleges? We give them lip service.

Education is the only hope of building a new rural economy in Iowa. Rural residents understand. They would like to know how Democrats can make Sioux Central stronger with transportation funding and new initiatives with Iowa Central Community College. In Storm Lake, we would like to know how we can build a new early childhood education center without weighting down the property tax load. These are urgent matters that demand answers. Hubbell must provide them.

We also believe, with years of polling to back it up, that rural residents are deeply concerned about their soil and water. Some 67% voted to amend the Iowa Constitution to allow the imposition of a fractional sales tax for natural resource conservation. This state’s few recreational amenities are located in ruby red areas like Dickinson, Sac and Palo Alto counties. Every real lake is represented by a Republican. Most state parks are in Republican districts. Most rural and small-town residents hunt and fish. And most of them don’t like it when the stench of a hoghouse won’t allow you to say a prayer over your grandparents’ graves near Whittemore for fear of vomiting.

And, we would point to Storm Lake where a welcoming attitude toward immigrants has helped to rejuvenate a community far from the urban centers. There are lessons here for people who choose to learn them. Immigrants remind us that economic growth starts with ambition. Lake Avenue is lined with shops founded by immigrants who had been forsaken by Anglos. There isn’t much a governor can do about that other than not make it worse and to be friendly, and help other Iowans recognize that organic growth by Iowans, old and new, is the only way to float this boat against the gales blowing from the outside.

Ultimately, that is a debate about real Iowa values. We hang onto the belief that rural places are where those values have been shaped that continue to make our state unique and resilient. But for every ton of soil we ship down the Mississippi, and for every young person we lose to Chicago for lack of opportunity, we chip away from those values. It will be up to Hubbell to provide a new vision for rural Iowa that protects the environment, sustains an educational network that was the envy of the nation, rebuilds rural communities and sets a stage in which ag producers can prosper. It should be his first order of business.

Democrats sound confident. They have resources. Hubbell has been building a network. He ran a general election campaign through the primary, and blew out a considerable field. Now he needs to demonstrate that he is a candidate who can get the attention of rural Iowa built around education, natural resource protection and stronger support for rural community development. We would point to Gov. Tom Vilsack’s tenure and how places like Storm Lake and Emmetsburg and Algona moved forward along with Dubuque and Des Moines. He won because he understood rural communities, he thought about them and he asked for their vote. And when he got elected, he delivered for all those places through the Vision Iowa program and a positive Department of Natural Resources and a recognition that community colleges are engines of development.

Iowa must not continue to careen off to the right until we get to Kansas. We worry that Democrats are too confident, fail to realize the power behind the marionette in Terrace Hill, and overlook the route to getting this state back on track. It starts on the rural routes. It always has.