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25 people not running for governor (but should)

By Cityview staff


In seven months, Iowans will once again take to the polls to elect (or reelect) the future leader of the state. First-term incumbent Gov. Chet Culver is seeking the office again, while others on the ballot such as Terry Branstad, Rod Roberts, Jonathan Narcisse and Bob Vander Plaats look to take their seat at the capitol. Who is the right man or woman for the job that begins in January 2011? We have compiled a wish list of individuals we believe have what it takes to manage the great state of Iowa. Too bad they are not running.


Sally Pederson could have been governor. It was hers for the asking after serving as Tom Vilsack’s lieutenant governor for eight years. But she’d seen the gubernatorial life up close — and decided it wasn’t for her. Too bad. She’s smart, she’s fair and she’s progressive. She listens and, most importantly, she leads. Pederson is also a hell of a fundraiser. She has all the other credentials, too — raised in a small town (Vinton), graduate of a state school (Iowa State University) and has successful career in Des Moines (Meredith Corp.). She’ll tackle tough issues and persuade you to join her. And she would be Iowa’s first woman governor.


Gregg Connell might be one of the half-dozen smartest guys in Iowa. He’s a stubborn optimist, a onetime farmer and onetime banker, who has almost single-handedly turned his home town of Shenandoah — where he was mayor for years and where he now runs the economic development office — into a thriving community. No one in the state knows more about government finance than Connell, and it was his knowledge and hard-nosed negotiating that helped stretch Vision Iowa dollars so far and make that program a huge success. He actually ran for governor four years ago — he was going to take on Gov. Chet Culver and Mike Bluoin in the Democratic primary — but an auto accident caused him to pull out. He’s a dogged visionary, but his head isn’t in the clouds. He could get Iowa out of the mess it’s in and lead Iowans to a glorious future.


LaVon Griffioen is a blooded family farmer, conservationist and activist with considerable oratorical and leadership skills. People trust her and listen when she speaks. Griffieon articulates the predicament of Iowa agriculture so much better than Denise O’Brien did that it’s a pity she didn’t run against O’Brien in 2008.


Gov. Andy Fleming. We like the sound of that. Who better to lead the people than a man of the people? Anyone who has paid remote attention to the songwriting of Brother Trucker’s frontman knows that Fleming has a knack for writing songs that champion the working class heroes of society (in other words, people who vote and pay bills) in a way that bonds us and reminds us of our humanity. And in this political day and age, couldn’t we use some bonding? Listen to his songs carefully, and you’ll agree that Fleming has his finger on the pulse of Iowa in a way that is reminiscent of the songs of his heroes like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. Also, unlike most musicians, Fleming has real political experience, having done some work for the Iowa Democrat Party after college.


David Maxwell, the president of Drake University, is a scholar and a thinker who also happens to know how to run big and complex organizations. He’s a Renaissance Man who doesn’t flaunt it. He can think strategically and act pragmatically. He made tough decisions and now has the university on its most solid footings in years. Everyone at Drake — students, faculty, trustees — likes him, and voters probably would, too. But he’d have to shave first. And Maxwell doesn’t suffer fools gladly — which might cause him problems in the Legislature.


Craig Berenstein is a charismatic and visionary leader who is probably lost in the deep conversations of northwest Iowa. A former mayor of Sioux City, Berenstein helped turn Sioux City around both economically and culturally. He’s still young and would bring a lawyer’s acumen to the arena.


$trick 9, Des Moines rapper. If you want to find out what’s going on in Des Moines, $trick 9 and his band, The Truth, are a great start with their “dope rhymes, sound logic and moral clarity,” not to mention their sense of humor, which would be a welcome addition to Terrace Hill. If you’re concerned that an MC might be standoffish and unable to work with others, consider $trick9’s uncanny ability to rally musicians and music fans of a variety of cultures (hip-hop, rock, bluegrass) to come together for his popular semi-annual Hootenanny concerts held throughout the metro. Maybe he could recruit liberal politician and part-time musician Ed Fallon to help write his campaign song. The two teamed up in 2008 to write a rap song about the economy. Sure beats the same old song and dance from most politicians.


Scott Raecker embodies all the qualities of the Character Counts operation that he runs. The 10-year Republican legislator from Urbandale is an honest politician. He means what he says, and he follows through. Though he’s almost 50, he looks like a Boy Scout and acts as if the Scout Manual was his playbook. He understands complex issues, is persuasive and truly wants what’s best for Iowa, not for Scott Raecker. He’s a husband and father and a nice guy — probably too nice for the job.


Tom Vilsack has the look, charm, humor and discipline of an Iowa governor. In fact, he served as governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007, becoming the first Democrat to hold the office in Iowa in more than 30 years. Born in Pennsylvania, Vilsack has deep roots in Iowa, marrying Christie Vilsack in her hometown of Mount Pleasant in 1973. He then served as mayor of Mount Pleasant from 1987 to 1992 and was elected to the Iowa Senate later that year. Vilsack’s aspiration to help not only his state, but his country was displayed when he declared his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in the 2008 election. Since then, all Vilsack has done is become the 30th Secretary of Agriculture, after the-president-elect Barack Obama chose him. If there is one person with former governor experience that truly matters, it’s Vilsack — arguably the best governor ever.


Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs is, some say, already the de facto governor. He runs the Senate, and he quickly filled the power vacuum left when Tom Vilsack departed and Chet Culver lumbered in. He knows policy and politics — knows how to make good deals and avoid bad ones. He has overwhelming respect among Democrats and grudging respect among Republicans. Gronstal is practical, but he won’t yield on principle. He is a leader, and he can defuse a situation with his wry humor.


Art Neu, the Republican lawyer from Carroll, cares about this state as much as anyone. And he knows more about it than most. He’s been a legislator, lieutenant governor (under Bob Ray), member of the Board of Regents and the Board of Corrections and the board of public television, and founding chairman of Iowa Public Radio. He has a wonderful sense of outrage and an insatiable curiosity — great traits for a political leader. The Republicans should have chosen him 20 years ago, but it’s not too late. He also tends to blurt out very funny things, which is probably political death. But oh what a governor he would have been — and still could be.


Gary Fethke is so smart he refused entreaties to become president of the University of Iowa, where he was acting president for more than a year. Fethke accomplished much in his interim presidency and proved he could work with the faculty, the press, labor, the Regents and the alums — all of whom know precisely know how to run the place, of course. As the former dean of the business school, he knows his numbers. He’s as well rounded as any Iowan — he reads prodigiously, haunts museums, enjoys the theater, travels the world and knows how this state should fit in to that world. He hates mediocrity. He knows how to make a plan — and how to carry it out.


Shawn Crahan, one of the Slipknot guys, loves his native state and has lots of ideas on how to attract young people. (He’s 40.) He’s smart, thoughtful and creative, and he understands the Iowa culture — and what’s right and what’s wrong about it. He’d be an exciting leader. Who wouldn’t want to boast that the governor has a band called Dirty Little Rabbits. Besides, when dealing with the Legislature, he simply could put on his clown mask — so he could fit right in.

Jim Cownie dropped out of politics after losing to Preston Daniels in the Des Moines mayoral election, but some would love to see him back in the race. No one better than Cownie brings genuine quality and insightful vision to community concerns and civic welfare.


Steve Deace is — oops, never mind. He’s on next week’s list — “25 Iowans Who Should Be Deported.”


E.J. Giovannetti understands Iowans’ needs — he already helps maintain an exceptional quality of life at an affordable cost for Polk County, and we’re confident he could do the same statewide. Giovannetti has credentials (former mayor of Urbandale, 1977-1997) and sits on the Polk County Board of Supervisors where he represents District III, which consists primarily of Urbandale, Johnston, Grimes, Ankeny and Sheldahl. The governor is the voice of the people, and Giovannetti would be sure that happens.


Kevin Cooney brings Iowans the news weekdays at 6 and 10 p.m., reporting on Iowa, including a lot from the capitol. He’s a proven leader — he’s well-konwn, he’s smart and he has anchored KCCI’s newscast since 1982. Cooney fits the bill — good looking, trusting, informative and people care about what he says.


Hayden Fry embodies the word “leader” so it comes as no surprise we believe he should run for governor. A College Football Hall of Fame inductee, Fry systematically and methodically raised the spirits of the Iowa Hawkeye football program from a never-was to the front steps of a prominent Big Ten team. On the field, Fry compiled a 143-89-6 record, including three Big Ten titles. Although retired in Nevada, Fry is not long from Iowans’ hearts. He understands the nuances of building a winning program, and current legislators could take a hint from his playbook.


Neal Smith turned 90 the other day, but all those years of experience in Iowa and Washington — and the vast knowledge of the state and politics — are unmatched by any Iowan of any era. He probably did more for the state than any other person, ever, so why not bring him back for a final round? He loves this place — how many other defeated congressmen return home (yes, Greg Ganske did, too) instead of staying in Washington and taking some plush job? He’s full of common sense. Everyone respects him. No one would cross him. And what other state has ever had a 90-year-old governor?


Dan Gable coached the University of Iowa wrestling program to 15 national titles in 21 years. He knows how to win more than anyone. Gable has the qualities a governor needs — discipline, leadership, respect and how to rally the troops. His name is already synonymous with wrestling and could be with the Iowa Legislature, too. Too bad he is a horrible public speaker.


Christie Vilsack is going to run for office some day — for Leonard Boswell’s seat in two years, perhaps, or Tom Harkin’s in four. But what she ought to run for is governor — this year. After eight years as a politically active First Lady, she knows the territory. Vilsack is great on the stump, good on the issues and isn’t afraid to ask for money or votes. She’s an Iowa through-and-through — she was raised in Mount Pleasant — and she has more charm than the last four governors combined. Vilsack could lift the spirits of the state overnight, and she could get some pretty high-powered people to campaign for her and advise her, starting with the Secretary of Agriculture.


Ashton Kutcher may go through a lifestyle change from Hollywood to Terrace Hill, but his title as governor would certainly gain Iowans’ attention. While he is a celebrity, Kutcher already has ties to Iowa, growing up in Cedar Rapids. In 2008, Kutcher, and his wife, Demi Moore, returned home to attend an Iowa-Iowa State college basketball game as a way to raise money for flood relief charities in eastern Iowa. He would have a faithful following by younger generations, backed by becoming the first Twitter user to have more than one million followers. Plus, Moore would make a stunning First Lady.


Ed Fallon claims he has approximately 4,000 weekly listeners to his show on 98.3 WOW-FM, and we’re sure most of them believe he would make a good governor. A past member of the Iowa legislature and a chicken farmer in the city limits, Fallon ran for governor in 2006 against then secretary of state Chet Culver and former state economic development director and congressman Mike Blouin.


Fallon has the backing from supporters, and would make the race truly interesting.

Mari Culver probably knows what it’s like to be governor — for gosh sakes, she’s married to one. But wouldn’t you like to see her take her husband’s spot? Culver is great with the public, raising awareness for organizations that provide shelter and other critical support services for women and at-risk youth. Culver is in touch with younger generations, which are the faces of tomorrow. And if Barack Obama can smoke, so can she.


Jim Leach has the experience to run Iowa, exemplified by his 30 years (1977-2007) as a republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Iowa’s 2nd District. Leach has authored legislation on topics such as creating an international AIDS Trust Fund, prohibiting Internet gambling and restraining federal employee growth, but may be best known for the 1999 Gram-Leach Bliley Act, a key part of banking legislation in the 20th century. Leach has all the qualities needed to help Iowa succeed and should run.


Suku Radia moved to the United States in 1971 and hasn’t looked back. Currently the president and CEO of Bankers Trust, Radia’s knowledge and hard work would garner votes come election time. He was vice president and chief financial officer of Meredith Corp. from 2000-08 and has served as chair of more than 12 civic organizations. He is articulate, he is smart and he loves Iowa. Radia has already changed the lives of many and would change many more at the capitol. CV

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