Guest Commentary

Guest Commentaries by Walt Shotwell, Lee Hamilton and Douglas Burns


Thanksgiving Day stuffing — on your doorstep, at a price


By Walt Shotwell

Is Iowa headed back to the death penalty?
In each of his four 4-year terms, former Gov. Terry Branstad tried to restore the death penalty in Iowa. Further, in his 16 years as governor, Branstad commuted the sentences of only two lifers. He told me some years ago that both were exceptional cases or he wouldn’t have commuted even those two. “Life means life,” he said.

Current Gov. Chet Culver also favors the death penalty, and since his election in 2006, he has commuted the sentences of no lifers.

Therefore, on these two issues, Branstad and Culver are exactly alike, even though Branstad is a Republican and Culver a Democrat. They are likely to oppose each other in the next election.

Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965 under the leadership of then-Gov. Harold Hughes, who died in 1996. He was succeeded by Gov. Bob Ray, who also opposed the death penalty, and still does.

In addition, between them, Governors Hughes and Ray commuted the sentences of 66 lifers, freeing them. Not one lifer became a repeater. Neither Hughes nor Ray was accused of being soft on crime, and both were compassionate guys who believed in rehabilitation. Ray noted that Iowa has a Department of Corrections and a Correctional Facility at Newton. So is our goal to correct offenders or simply warehouse them? Ray often raised that question as he observed the positive results of rehabilitation.

Obviously, Branstad and Culver do not accept rehabilitation.

In fact, their throw-away-the-key obsession puts them at odds with all eight governors dating back to Gov. Robert Blue in 1945. The eight freed 211 lifers, an average of 26 lifers per governor. Democratic Gov. Herschel Loveless was the champion, freeing 46 lifers in four years.

These commutations resulted in no crime wave and escaped much attention from the news media. The Board of Parole is among Iowa’s most anonymous agencies.

Branstad was elected governor in 1982, when the Iowa Republican Party was at its strongest. His first opponent, Roxanne Conlin, had not yet attained the power that she would enjoy later. Besides, many believed Iowa was not ready for a female governor.

Further, retiring Gov. Ray was perhaps Iowa’s all-time most popular governor with long coattails for Branstad. Iowa’s Republican National Committee representatives were Mary Louise Smith and John McDonald, two political powerhouses. The Iowa Republican State Central Committee had such recent members and staffers as Dick Redman, Tom Stoner, George Brown, H. Rand Petersen and many other savvy political strategists.

Branstad waltzed into office four times, and wants to go for five.

Death penalty, anyone?


Walt Shotwell is a former Des Moines Register reporter and columnist who writes occasional commentaries for Cityview.


Town hall meetings

by Lee Hamilton


Years ago, when I was in Congress, I found myself running a town hall meeting that included about 25 members of the Ku Klux Klan peppering me with anti-Semitic questions. Something interesting happened: their persistent confrontational approach wore out the audience’s patience, and eventually the Klansmen left.
In this age of heated public rhetoric, it’s a reminder that fierce town hall meetings are hardly new. The challenge is not to avoid controversy; it’s to make it productive. In my view, whatever their tone, we need town hall meetings.
That’s because they are crucial for members of Congress and other elected officials to gauge the intensity of public feeling, hear from ordinary citizens, and give people a chance to get to know their representative. They are democracy at the retail level.
During my decades in Congress, I came away from almost every town hall meeting with the feeling that I was engaging in a small part of democracy’s dialogue. Just as often, they reinforced my confidence in the fairness, decency and judgment of Americans. So as we look ahead to the next round of heated town hall meetings, let’s remember that they, too, help ensure that our representative democracy remains vibrant. 
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.




By Douglas Burns


Rubio: The Republican to watch

A Republican you should now be following is Florida’s Marco Rubio, a 38-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who is mounting an intriguing campaign for the U.S. Senate against GOP establishment figure Charlie Crist.

Should he win the August primary in Florida, and there’s ample reason to believe he will, Rubio, who already has served as Speaker of the Florida House, would be seated in the U.S. Senate in January of 2011.

At this point you would hear rumblings of a Rubio White House run in 2012, but it would be ludicrous for the up-and-coming pol to succumb to the sycophants. President Obama announced his campaign in February 2007, nearly a year before the Iowa Caucuses. There’s not enough time for Rubio. More on this later.

First things first. Rubio needs to beat Crist, the Republican governor of Florida looking for a career move to Washington. Crist is being hammered by conservatives who think he’s an opportunistic appeaser with no moral moorings. The Values Right thinks its suspicions were confirmed with Crist’s recent Obama hugging.

“Charlie Crist supported the stimulus, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it,” joked Rubio, whose delivery of such one-liners appears to be a real strength.

If I were a conservative twenty-something political activist, I’d be heading to Palm Beach or Tampa right now and looking for a job with Rubio.

Rubio’s got the goods for the national stage, and should he take that U.S. Senate seat, he’ll instantly be in the running as a potential vice presidential running mate for the GOP nominee in 2012.

This is not far-fetched. A ticket with an experienced Republican at the top, say Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, with Rubio as the first mate, would be competitive.

Rubio recently appeared on the cover of National Review and some Iowa Republican operatives have spoken of him to me in glowing terms, as if they wish they themselves were down in Florida. (It appears Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign is no doubt monitoring Rubio’s moves as it is seeking to do to Terry Branstad what Rubio is to Crist.)

With an athletic bearing, Rubio, who earned a law degree from the University of Miami, is strong on television and YouTube. Rubio and his wife, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, have four children.

His mother worked at Kmart and as a hotel maid, and his dad tended bar.

The working-class and Christmas card bona fides are indisputable.

Rubio, as a Miami-born son of Cuban exiles, speaks Spanish (he’s done political analysis for the major Latin TV network Univision) and also knows the language of modern conservatism. It could prove to be a politically lethal blend if he knows when to shoot, and when to hold his fire.

He’s got the bio for politics at the highest levels. Does he have the substance?

As a legislator Rubio developed a policy book, “100 Innovative Ideas For Florida’s Future,” after traveling the Sunshine State listening to residents.

Rubio stresses his opposition to the $787-billion federal stimulus package and throws his first political punches on taxes. He’s big on school choice and seems to suggest that women should have to watch ultrasounds of their fetuses before they could obtain abortions, which he’s opposed to anyway.

“I am pro-life,” Rubio says on his Web site. “As a state legislator, I supported various pieces of pro-life legislation that, among other things, would require doctors to perform ultrasounds before performing abortions and another bill that would ban the use of taxpayer dollars to fund stem cell research.”

On the Values Right checklist Rubio hits all the right marks. Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are admirers and likely advocates.

Rubio is young enough that he can list “Wedding Crashers” as one of his favorite movies on Facebook. He also shows some sophistication with ranking Showtime’s “The Tudors” as one of the TV shows he most enjoys.

Yes, it is early to be talking about Rubio in a presidential context.

But this is Iowa, a state with an astonishing amount of power — and responsibility — where this is concerned.

We need to be scouting the horizon, getting the background on people we’re likely so see campaigning in Iowa.

Marco Rubio is one of them, and after he defeats Crist, which I’m thinking he will (in spite of some polls to the contrary), the conservative lawmaker likely will face liberal Democratic congressman African-American Kendrick Meek in the general election.

Meek will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Rubio can win this one, too, in 2010.

When this happens, Iowans will start hearing much, much more about Marco Rubio. CV


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