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Elizabeth Moen debuts song criticizing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ disconnection from small-town Iowans

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“A Red State Handshake”

Red State Handshake Wrote some of this a while back and finished some lines and added slide this weekend for our dearest Kim the Reaper.LyricsOn the corner across from the gas stationOn the same block as the public libraryThere’s a house whose yard is stocked fullOf trash under it’s decaying treesPiles of broken toys and slashed rubber tiresAnd the rusted rims laying separately Porch swing sits atop a car hood like a towerOverlooking it’s view of the seaOf absolute chaos In the middle of a quiet townIt’s not the kinda place A Governor hangs aroundStanding idly by the screen door there’s a womanLived in that house since she was threeGot pregnant her sophomore year of high schoolAll anybody asked was who’s the father of the babyDropped out same year once it was legalStarted working in the grocery store’s deliAfter a few years had another and got marriedTo the bartender who lived down the streetOf absolute chaos In the middle of a quiet townIt’s not the kinda place A Governor hangs aroundListening to the radio muffled from the airShe hears a woman screaming everything she wants to hearKeep your money, keep you safe, keep your job Our state’s been graced by the one true godI’m coming down to your beautiful town With time to hear all of your heartfelt storiesListen to the things you want done aroundThe church, the stores, see you at the rallyOf absolute chaos In the middle of a quiet townIt’s not the kinda place A Governor hangs aroundWeeks go by and Miss Governor’s on Pearl StreetOne step from the bus and lying through her teeth Our darling’s in line waiting to say something Tyler’s just happy there’s gonna be candyGets to the front and shakes her boiling hot hand“Only time for photos unfortunately” Goes home throws her note card in the trashThat said what she needsIn the absolute chaos In the middle of a quiet townIt’s not the kinda placeThe Governor hangs aroundOur woman needs care, our woman needs rightsOur woman needs a woman who can honestlyGive her everything her or anyone needsTo feel secure with the dailyAbsolute chaos In the middle of a quiet townIt’s not the kinda thingOur governor hands around

Posted by Elizabeth Moen on Monday, August 31, 2020

A new song shared by Elizabeth Moen on Monday afternoon takes aim at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response (or lack thereof) to the needs of Iowans. It is the Iowa City singer-songwriter’s first “blatantly political” track, she told Little Village.

“A Red State Handshake,” which Moen performs in a video posted to her Facebook and Instagram pages, follows a character living in “absolute chaos” “in the middle of a quiet town,” who dropped out of high school after an unplanned pregnancy and still lives in her childhood home. Listening to the radio, she hears a female governor “screaming everything she wants to hear” — “Keep your money, keep you safe, keep your job / Our state’s been graced by the one true god” — and decides to attend the governor’s rally in town a few weeks later. But when the woman tries to ask the governor about the issues affecting her family, she’s told there is only time for a handshake and photo op before the governor is rushed away.

“Our woman needs care, our woman needs rights,” Moen sings. “Our woman needs a woman who can honestly / Give her everything her or anyone needs / To feel secure …”

While the song doesn’t specifically name any town, state or politician, Moen was clear on social media and in a text exchange with Little Village that “A Red State Handshake” was written as a response to Reynolds’ leadership, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had started the lyrics for this song a couple years ago,” Moen said. “The song was mostly about her trying to take away reproductive rights and it just got put on pause. I came back to it this weekend thinking about how she’s handled pretty much anything since that time, especially the last handful of months, and was like, yeah, it’s time to finish this song for her. I’ve started to learn slide guitar this week too and writing a slide riff for it felt good.”

Moen said she had a particular Iowa town — even a specific house — in mind when writing her lyrics, but purposefully left the setting vague.

“The woman is really anyone who feels trapped and doesn’t know her options or have real support in a Christian small town where all anybody cares about is the gossip of who the father is,” Moen explained, adding that folks in smaller communities are often courted by conservative politicians who don’t have their best interests in mind. Moen herself is from Vinton, Iowa, a town of just over 5,000.

Elizabeth Moen performs in quarantine, March 18, 2020. — Zak Neuman/Little Village

One of Iowa City’s highest-profile musicians, Moen has continued to play new, old and cover songs virtually since COVID-19 arrived in Iowa, sometimes using her online performances to fundraise for groups such as the Okra Project and United Way’s derecho aid efforts. Earlier this month, Moen, who studied French at the University of Iowa, translated Iowa Department of Human Services derecho aid documents into French for Cedar Rapidians who primarily speak that language.

Moen hesitated at the idea of calling “A Red State Handshake” a protest song.

“I mean, yeah, I guess it is,” she said. “Protesting our governor. How she has failed everyone in the state aside from wealthy, conservative, white men. And even then she will have failed them when one of them or their family members gets fatally sick from Covid.”

With the release of the new song Monday, Moen shared a firm statement on her Instagram Story lamenting “the trauma” and “the UNNECESSARY hurt” caused by the Reynolds administration, which has overseen Iowa’s descent into “one of the worst places for the pandemic in the world.”

“This feels special for me as a writer,” Moen told Little Village of her first foray into political songwriting.

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Read the full lyrics to “A Red State Handshake”:

On the corner across from the gas station
On the same block as the public library
There’s a house whose yard is stocked full
Of trash under it’s decaying trees
Piles of broken toys and slashed rubber tires
And the rusted rims laying separately
Porch swing sits atop a car hood like a tower
Overlooking it’s view of the sea
Of absolute chaos
In the middle of a quiet town
It’s not the kinda place
A Governor hangs around

Standing idly by the screen door there’s a woman
Lived in that house since she was three
Got pregnant her sophomore year of high school
All anybody asked was who’s the father of the baby
Dropped out same year once it was legal
Started working in the grocery store’s deli
After a few years had another and got married
To the bartender who lived down the street
Of absolute chaos
In the middle of a quiet town
It’s not the kinda place
A Governor hangs around

Listening to the radio muffled from the air
She hears a woman screaming everything she wants to hear
Keep your money, keep you safe, keep your job
Our state’s been graced by the one true god
I’m coming down to your beautiful town
With time to hear all of your heartfelt stories
Listen to the things you want done around
The church, the stores, see you at the rally
Of absolute chaos
In the middle of a quiet town
It’s not the kinda place
A Governor hangs around

Weeks go by and Miss Governor’s on Pearl Street
One step from the bus and lying through her teeth
Our darling’s in line waiting to say something
Tyler’s just happy there’s gonna be candy
Gets to the front and shakes her boiling hot hand
“Only time for photos unfortunately”
Goes home throws her note card in the trash
That said what she needs
In the absolute chaos
In the middle of a quiet town
It’s not the kinda place
The Governor hangs around

Our woman needs care, our woman needs rights
Our woman needs a woman who can honestly
Give her everything her or anyone needs
To feel secure with the daily
Absolute chaos
In the middle of a quiet town
It’s not the kinda thing
Our governor hands around


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