Borlaug, Branstad, Brooks and a junior senator
Skinny joins the world in mourning the death of the great Norman Borlaug, the gentle and lovely Iowan who saved millions of lives through his Green Revolution. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize but was humble in all things save one — he remained convinced that had he not had to quit the University of Minnesota baseball team because practice time conflicted with a scheduled lab he would have gone on to become the second baseman for the Chicago Cubs. He remained positive of that for more than 70 years. A friend worked out a deal for Borlaug to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game in July, but the great scientist fell ill and couldn’t make it. Borlaug went on from the university to change the world; it’s unlikely he would have changed the Cubs. …
So a person asks Skinny when he is going to write a column advising Terry Branstad not to run for Governor. Skinny tells this person that he’s not a political consultant. This person says Branstad would be making a horrible mistake to run. Skinny asks why. This person, who is very knowledgeable, a long-time Iowan, a political junkie and a Big Name in certain political — but nonpartisan — circles, then provides a six-point analysis. Here it is:
“Here’s how you might advise Branstad were he to ask for your wise counsel.
“1. The primary and general election campaigns will be ugly. There will be blood. While some with less intestinal fortitude will drop out of the Republican primary, Chris Rants will be emboldened. He becomes the David to your Goliath. You campaigned every election on bringing back the death penalty and stopping abortion. Neither happened during your 16 years in office. Why should Iowa voters believe any campaign promise this time?
“2. Your favorable showing in recent polls are artifacts of two phenomena not related to your competence: You have high name recognition — higher than any other candidate. And, Chet Culver is increasingly unpopular. While that creates an opportunity for any candidate, you’ll have to make an affirmative case for Branstad that will not alienate your base and will draw independents. You need the support of independents in a way you have never needed it before.
“3. You benefit from a halo effect. Any opponent will argue that you did little while in office and that much of the positive you accomplished is offset by damage done. A campaign will tarnish what you feel is a golden halo now.
“4. That means if you lose, you’re likely damaged goods for returning to any career outside of politics. You’ll be a loser — something you’ve never been before. And, you will, no doubt, say things that will tick a bunch of high-powered people off. You put your current position leading an increasingly impressive institution on the line. That’s a huge gamble.
“5. If you win, you’re stepping into an ugly mess. As a returning governor, expectations will be unrealistically high. You’ve seen what happened to Obama, who, for different reasons, ended up languishing in anticipointment. You assembled wise counsel when you were governor who helped you avoid many pitfalls and kept you focused. But Marvin Pomerantz is gone. While Doug Gross may become your new Marvin Pomerantz, who is your new Doug Gross? You’ll need superb staff — something recent Iowa governors have not enjoyed. You may face Democratic majorities in the Statehouse. If they take their cue from Washington, they will believe there is no benefit in giving you anything you want. Politics has changed since you were governor and only gotten harder.
“6. Finally, what is the best-case scenario? You win, serve what, four years? Eight years? Then what? What is the greater calling? What then, Governor? This is a stepping stone to nowhere. Of course, it is a tremendous ego-boost to get all the attention now. Do you have anyone looking out for YOUR long-term best interest? You have much to lose and not that much to gain.”
Disclaimer: The above was not written by Branstad’s wife.
Moving right along. ...
Skinny, who thinks the imprisoned Archie Brooks was a terrific city council member who occasionally lapsed into bad judgment, hit the history books after Brooks’ former colleagues shamefully voted to remove his name from the Archie Brooks Community Center on the South Side. Skinny wonders if those council folks now are going to pass a resolution urging that the cities of Ames, Colfax and Harlan be renamed. All are named for men involved in a major scandal — it made CIETC look like child’s play — in the 1870s. Oakes Ames was a rich Massachusetts Congressman who in effect bribed some colleagues to help further his ambitions for the Union Pacific Railroad, in which he had a big financial interest. A Congressional committee censured him and urged that he be kicked out of Congress, but he lost re-election before he could be expelled. James Harlan was a senator from Iowa (and a Secretary of the Interior under Andrew Johnson) who took an unseemly campaign contribution ($10,000) from a man involved in the same scandal — it was called the Credit Mobilier scandal — and it pretty much wrecked his political career. Schuyler Colfax was vice president under Ulysses S. Grant, and he also took bribes from Ames and left the office in disgrace at the end of his term. Additional reason Harlan, Iowa should be renamed: When he was Secretary of the Interior, Harlan fired Walt Whitman, who worked in the department, because Harlan believed “Leaves of Grass” — which he found on Whitman’s desk — was obscene.
Trivia: Tom Harkin, who now has enormous influence as head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, is still a “junior senator,” having four years less seniority than Chuck Grassley. Until the other day, only one junior senator had more seniority than Harkin — John Kerry of Massachusetts. But with the death of Edward Kennedy, Kerry became the senior senator from Massachusetts. That means Tom Harkin is now the junior senator with the most seniority in Washington. You read it here first and, probably, last. CV