The donkey lives! Iowa Democrats are doing more than listening

March 14, 2023 3:35 pm

Reports of Iowa Democrats’ demise were greatly exaggerated. (Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch with images via Canva)

There’s an old story about a minister who wanted his parishioners to think more deeply about the hereafter. One Sunday morning when all were gathered in their pews, he called three men to the front of the church and asked them to turn and face the congregation.

He then said to the three, “Imagine you are in the front of this church but lying in your casket. What would you want those who came up to view your body to say about you?”

The first man thought only briefly and then stated, “I would want them to say I was a Christian and an honest man.”

The second gave a similar response, only adding, “He really loved and adored his family.”

“When they are looking at me,” the third stated quickly, “I want to hear only one thing:  ‘Look! He’s moving!’”

After the last election, I went to the funeral because the overwhelming loss suffered by the Democrats clearly meant that as a political force in this state, they were dead.

But when I got there, the donkey was up and walking around. However, though the party was alive, the early responses of its leaders were not encouraging. We were being told what we had to do was go out to rural Iowa and listen.

My initial thought was that if a person did not know what was going on in this state, they must have spent the fall watching the Iowa Hawkeyes football team and praying for them to get a first down. I could see us taking firewood to the small-town convenience store parking lot, building a fire and sitting around singing Kumbaya. Listening alone is not leading.

However, a new Iowa Democratic Party state chair, Rita Hart, took over the helm of the party and along with legislative leaders Sen. Zach Wahls and Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, not only listened but started putting out both points and counter points to proposals from this Republican Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Finally, Iowans are starting, slowly, to realize just how far right these people are and the direction they are taking our state. Our party leadership seemed to understand that it is not enough to listen, but having heard the various constituencies that are being subjected to the GOP’s policy, there is another and better way to address the problems and started articulating those options.

For example, there is a coming crisis in the food stamp program nationwide, not only in Iowa. The federal supplement that expanded the program during the pandemic is expiring. A significant number of families that availed themselves of the expanded feature of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are going to be cut off.

The response by the governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature is to tighten the eligibility requirements and restrict what the recipients can use the funds for in purchasing food. In fact, one of the Republican proposals would prohibit parents from buying their kids candy. Really, Iowa’s agriculture prides itself on feeding the world and we won’t even feed our own? This is happening even though Iowa communities and churches work hard to support additional programs like the food bank.

That last point underscores two essential features of the Democrats’ message that our party leadership need to remember. First, the governor’s proposals and actions affect not only the people who benefit from various assistance programs but the community around them. Closing schools hits the local bank, the car dealer and the grocery store. It is essential to expand the message to the community in its entirety.

Secondly, and this is hard for legislators because they must deal with a large variety of issues, but redundancy in delivering the message is essential.

This is an exciting time to be an Iowan because we are determining the future of our state. Will we become Iowa Cheap and indifferent to each other where taxes are prohibited, and government assistance when needed is nonexistent?  Or can we become again Iowa Nice, where our government policies reflect that we really care about each other?

Heck, we might even persuade the governor of our state to let the kids eat candy again. Although, I admit, that one is a long shot.

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Dave Nagle
Dave Nagle

Dave Nagle, of Cedar Falls, is a former Iowa Democratic Party state chairman and three-term U.S. congressman from Iowa.