Storm Lake Times Pilot

What happened to Iowa Nice?

Why do Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds hate California?

Both use the Golden State as a punching bag in their latest political ads, warning Iowans that electing Mike Franken and Deidre DeJear would turn Iowa into another “liberal” California, apparently a real hell-hole if you believe the dire voices of the narrators.

Grassley’s ad tells Franken: “Move to California and leave us alone!” Reynolds’ ad warns that California’s crime and electric brownouts will happen in Iowa if DeJear is elected.

What has California ever done to Iowa to warrant this bizarre talk?

Maybe it’s jealousy on the part of Reynolds, who has been unable to deliver the economic and population growth that California has enjoyed for decades while Iowa languishes. In 1920 Iowa had 11 congressional districts. Now we have four as our population stagnates. Two-thirds of our 99 counties have lost population in the last 20 years. With the notable exception of Storm Lake and Denison, buoyed by immigrants, most of western Iowa is dying as our young people move to places like California as soon as they can to find good-paying jobs and bright futures.

We all have relatives and friends who have highballed out of the Hawkeye State in search of better opportunities. Ronald Reagan, Gene Hackman, John Wayne, Johnny Carson and Andy Williams are all Iowans who left for California and never looked back. We love to brag about all the talent we’ve given the world.

And as we approach winter, we’ll see how much we love Iowa as we shiver through December, January, February and March and pay those skyrocketing heating bills. Hundreds of thousands of snowbirds are already packing their bags for their annual six-month escapes to warm weather.

California certainly has its problems, many of them brought about by its astounding growth. But California is working on them. Every state has problems, including Iowa. California has wildfires that leave people homeless and knock out electricity. Iowa has tornadoes that leave people homeless and knock out electricity. California has crime. So does Iowa. Why else has practically every county in Iowa expanded their jails over the last 20 years if we didn’t have criminals to fill them? There are drive-by shootings in LA, there are drive-by shootings in Des Moines. In fact, according to the FBI data for 2020, the crime rate for Des Moines is 5, while the rate for Los Angeles is 14; 100 is safest. Murder rate per 1,000 population is 0.15 for Des Moines, 0.09 for Los Angeles.

It is ironic that Gov. Reynolds on one hand is willing to dole out tens of millions of dollars in incentives to attract cash-rich California companies like Apple and Google to build computer facilities in central Iowa, while on the other hand she trashes the home and culture of these same California companies.

Our Iowa politicians’ ads infer that California is anti-agriculture, when in fact it is the leading ag state in the nation. California accounts for 14% of U.S. ag production; Iowa is second with 7%. Plus, you can drive past California farms and not choke on the smell of manure.

Iowa has plenty to sell without tearing down other states. But Grassley and Reynolds aren’t interested in that. They want to scare voters into thinking we’re doomed if we adopt any of the ideas that have made California successful. It is home to some of the greatest universities in the world. It is the technology center of the world. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Hollywood is the entertainment capital of the world. Sonoma Valley is home to some of the best wines in the world. It has some of the best tourism in the world, from Disneyland to Yosemite, with breathtaking oceans and beaches and mountains and forests.

In fairness, we do have the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball in Sac City. 

If Iowa gets into an argument with a place like California, we’ll look like fools. We can’t afford to have fools leading our state. There is a lot to promote about Iowa, and politicians should concentrate on selling our strengths rather than running down fellow Americans. It reeks of desperation.

Instead of trashing other states, maybe we could learn some lessons from them. It’s not just warm weather that attracts our young people to California. They’re leaving for Boulder, the Twin Cities, Kansas City, Chicago, New York, Houston, Washington, D.C. None of these have better weather. But they do offer hope for a better life. That’s what Grassley and Reynolds should be selling.

We used to hear the phrase “Iowa Nice.” It expresses the concepts of friendliness, helpfulness and trust that Iowans had become known for across the nation. We’re losing that reputation with the snotty messages of these political ads.

We are better than that, Sen. Grassley and Gov. Reynolds. Try being Iowa Nice.

John Cullen is the founder and retired publisher of the Storm Lake Times Pilot. He can be reached at

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