When it comes to party politics, we just don’t care



So few Buena Vista County Democrats showed up to vote in the June 5 primary that it brought a special shout-out from the liberal website Iowa Starting Line in a post that detailed low-turnout counties: almost all of them rural or shelled-out manufacturing towns like Clinton.

“Finally, for all the talk that Iowa Democrats like to do about increasing Latino turnout in places like Storm Lake, the numbers never end up corresponding. Buena Vista came in dead last with a 15% turnout,” wrote Pat Rynard.

What would you expect? The Iowa Democratic Party superstructure pays almost no attention to Northwest Iowa. Fred Hubbell stopped by for a couple small visits. Nobody seriously tries to take out Steve King other than the earnest quixotic candidates who shout but cannot be heard.

Few around here heard of Hubbell or any of the other gubernatorial candidates. They don’t believe that anything can really be done about King. The choice between another ice-cold Bud or voting in a primary where nobody spoke to you, or certainly didn’t move you, can be easy.

That’s why 15% turnout for a Democratic primary is pretty routine in BV County.

It’s not much better in the Republican primary. Just 17% of the registered faithful showed up to vote on a ballot that included an interesting race between Supervisor Dale Arends of Newell and challenger Kelly Snyder. Snyder won a race in which 695 votes were cast. Arends now is running as an independent with a hard head.

My memory, roughly confirmed by longtime election observer County Auditor Sue Lloyd, is that primaries here generate turnout of 10-20%, which is about the normal turnout for a regular school board election.

Turnouts can be higher for controversial school bond issues. But voters figure that the superintendent and the state actually run the schools, not the school board, until they get tired of the superintendent. Then they vote.

Even though they are active in general elections, the vast majority of voters here have little interest in party politics and primaries, it would appear. Polling and anecdotal evidence suggests that few Northwest Iowa Democrats knew who was running for governor or cared, even those who had previously voted in primaries. The base gets beaten down without support or attention.

Republicans long complained that their fellow party members here were too tight with their political contributions, which is why Storm Lake seldom got attention from Des Moines. That ambivalence is consistently displayed in primary elections.

The farther away you are from Des Moines the less you pay attention.

And, even when the race is hot and local, as in Snyder v. Arends, voters don’t pay it mind because the courthouse will be the courthouse and the board will be Republican as it has since the Good Lord ordained it and created gravel roads.

We’re used to Steve King, ashamed to say it, and resigned to the fact that the Farm Bureau runs this state. The Democrats haven’t given most people a reason to think that things will be otherwise. It’s not as if anybody ever really asks Latinos for their vote here. They barely know they’re here or mistakenly think they’re all illegal. The turnout rates are almost as low in Denison, where people know the score and who writes the rules. They leave it to State Rep. Steven Holt, who is trying to better King in hating on brown people and wanting to chase them off. Sen. Mark Segebart of Vail runs unopposed because nobody in their right mind would expect a dime from the state Democratic Party or its special interests. Mary Bruner of Carroll — a cousin to Mike Gronstal — found that out the hard way and sports a defeat to Segebart to prove it.

No Republican from Storm Lake has been on the state board of regents or the natural resources commission because none of them give enough money to show that they care. They don’t give money because we seldom got action or appointments. It’s a circle of inattention and disaffection with western Iowa that neither party has figured out, really. That’s how you end up with a King or a Trump, and it’s why you can’t get rid of at least one of them. Believe it or not, that’s not good for the Republican Party, either. It is a fairly dispirited lot at 17%. Something has to reshape our politics that makes rural places think that we are actually part of the process and not just a little-understood appendage that appears to be primarily affected by fear of things just getting worse. And that is perfectly understandable if you live in Clinton or Marathon.