Suppressing your own base

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Iowa election officials did a smooth job handling record turnout in the June 2 primary election, much of which was conducted by absentee balloting encouraged by Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican. Pate sent out absentee ballot request forms to every voter. His campaign to get people to vote was joined by county auditors from throughout the state, who have made easy voting their priority for years. Buena Vista County Auditor Sue Lloyd encouraged people to vote by mail or in advance of the election day because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that it is difficult to find poll workers in an environment like this.

The result was that 500,000 votes were cast without a hitch. People who voted by mail found it convenient, safe and secure. People who voted in person (perhaps forgetting to mail in the absentee ballot request because of procrastination) found no lines and no problems at the polls. Contrast that to Georgia, which on Tuesday forced voters to wait in line for three hours after mail-in balloting was discouraged. Or Wisconsin, where the same thing happened.

Iowa looked great. So of course the first thing the Iowa Legislature does on its return to the capitol is attempt to restrict mail-in or early voting. Republicans cited fraud concerns. There is no election fraud in Iowa. It is part of a national effort to suppress voter turnout under the assumption that benefits Republicans (even though President Trump votes by mail).

Voter suppression hurts everyone. Older Iowa voters vote strongly Republican. They also like mail-in or early voting. This is true of many rural voters. They are freaked out by the coronavirus and would prefer to avoid standing in line. The legislators are tamping down their own base.

Legislators would be better off encouraging more mail-in voting, not less. What they are doing makes no sense and contradicts the good work being done by election officials. They’re only hurting themselves by limiting their own base’s opportunities to vote.

We could hope that attention would be paid to the economic calamity that is crushing state and local government budgets, and which is putting existential pressure on local health systems. Those are much more serious problems than voter fraud in Iowa, and they require serious minds to pay attention.

Persistent dead zone

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week forecast that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nitrate and phosphorous runoff will be 6,700 square miles, about the same as last year. The Upper Mississippi Hypoxia Task Force, a multi-state compact including the two biggest polluting states (Iowa and Illinois) would hope that it were closer to 1,900 square miles. That’s the goal, anyhow, and we never get closer to achieving it through voluntary “nutrient reduction” strategies upon which Corn Belt states insist.

Witness the Raccoon River Watershed Authority, allocated $2.5 million to incent farmers and/or landowners to install conservation practices along the notoriously polluted river from which Des Moines draws its drinking water. The authority was able to dole out only $500,000 over the past couple years because nobody was interested in a cost-share — emphasis on the word “cost” amid an agricultural slump. About one percent of Buena Vista County farmland is planted in a cover crop over winter. Nitrate loads to the Raccoon are not decreasing.

It is killing the fishing industry. All so we can grow 30% more corn than what the market indicates that it needs with pathetic prices. Farmers are left to hope for a fat fall bailout payment so Trump can win Iowa. We would do better to spend that bailout money on paying farmers to grow grass instead of corn through the Conservation Stewardship Program, which targets conservation efforts to working lands. Our current construct has us planting every last inch of river bottom and then filing for crop insurance to make the rent. Until we reduce corn acreage through a sustained and robust conservation payment regimen we can count on the Raccoon running foul with nitrate and phosphorous, killing the gulf as it rolls past Des Moines to the Mississippi. The pollution cannot go on. Gulf states are getting restless. Farmers are depending on trade bailout payments when they would do the right thing if they could afford to.

Paying farmers for water quality improvement shows support among Midwesterners who voted for Trump but are persuadable. It also surveys well with people who voted for Obama and then for Trump. It sells with voters. What doesn’t sell: regulation and cost-shares. Restore natural resources, make farmers prosperous, lift corn prices and build rural communities. It’s a winning message for Democrats in rural areas.

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