By Kent Williams, Iowa City
On Oct. 9, 2021, former President Trump came to the Iowa State Fairgrounds for a rally. He took the opportunity to publicly endorse Senator Charles Grassley. Grassley responded not by praising Trump, but saying “…if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be that smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”
Perhaps we’re meant to intuit from Grassley’s unusually honest and tepid reaction to Trump’s endorsement that he isn’t in the tank for the former president. But standing next to Trump and shaking his hand forever ties the longest currently serving US Senator to him. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, Representative Ashley Hinson and Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks also took part in the rally, signaling their willingness to embrace Trump’s corruption and manifest threat to democracy.
If you’re an Iowa Democrat, you have co-existed with Iowa Republicans all your life. They’re your neighbors, your co-workers, even your family members. You may like them, even love them, but you know not to discuss politics with them. That’s part of “Iowa Nice” — neighborliness trumps partisanship. Iowa is a purple state. We (or most of us) want Iowa to remain a good place to live and raise a family.
But it’s become clear that there’s something rotten in the Iowa GOP. One party rule in Iowa has allowed not just Trumpism to flourish. It’s also allowed them to make transparently partisan and cruel legislation into state law. They’ve passed laws undermining voter rights, against life-saving mask mandates and unconstitutional restrictions on abortion rights. The governor is fully committed to a disastrously inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann went to war with Cedar Rapids Gazette, prohibiting GOP candidates from speaking with the Gazette’s editorial board. In particular he went after opinion columnist Lyz Lenz, ultimately pressuring the newspaper to fire her and succeeding, to the Gazette’s shame. Her crime? She was opinionated, which used to be a requirement for that job.
Perhaps most shameful, the Iowa GOP legislature passed laws prohibiting teaching “Critical Race Theory” and The 1619 Project. This bill seeks to silence any critical appraisal of American history, in favor of the frankly racist myth-making that dominated public education about American history until well after the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Polk County’s Eddie Andrews and Muscatine’s Eddie Cisnero are the only Republicans of color in either house of the Iowa Legislature.
Another emblematic action of the Iowa Legislature is rejecting the non-partisan drawing of districts as a result of the 2020 census. Iowa’s redistricting process has long been cited across the whole United States as an example of the right way to set congressional districts. Yet it looks as though the Iowa GOP will reject any non-partisan district maps so that they can gerrymander to their heart’s content.
All that would be bad enough, but there are many examples of public corruption and mismanagement in the executive branch under Governor Reynolds. The oversight by legislative committees has been weak and ineffectual, both of Iowa businesses and of the government itself. The state of Iowa has become more polluted, sick and corrupt on the GOP’s watch. It’s hard to believe the Iowa GOP cares so little about the health and welfare of Iowans, but their actions make it hard to think otherwise.
I grew up in a family of staunch conservatives. They were deeply religious and tireless supporters of Nixon, Reagan and both Bush presidents, but I could see the good in them. They had an abiding commitment to charity and civic mindedness, even if I disagreed with them about many things. But in Iowa, that kind of Republican is a dying breed. What we are left with in Iowa is a ruling party committed to taking away citizens’ rights, serving the selfish needs of their wealthy campaign contributors, and most egregiously, acquiescing to the patently untrue lies of former President Trump.
We don’t need a Republican party that agrees with everything Democrats and progressives want. But we do need a GOP that is honest and lives in the reality all Iowans share, regardless of political beliefs. That ended in Iowa years ago.