Guest Commentary by Herb Strentz
How about turning the table in caucus inquisitions?
The presidential caucuses haunt Iowa political news and reporting. News stories pop up all the time about whether Iowa will retain its “first-in-the-nation” status in screening presidential candidates and whether the parties in Iowa will agree on the date for the 2012 carnival.
Meantime, likely candidates appear at fund-raisers and at meetings honoring one party official or another. Iowa pundits duly note that the visitor has not yet announced his or her candidacy, but is here to test the waters.
Running through all this is the notion that the U.S. is truly lucky to have no-nonsense, well-informed Iowans to test the candidates.
Iowans are ill at ease with such praise — even while knowing it is well-deserved. In the fashion of John Wayne, who was born in Winterset, we recognize, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” and — one has to admit — it is a kick to routinely meet presidential wannabes face-to-face.
Nevertheless, it would be refreshing if a candidate would respond to a question by saying: “That’s a good thought, and let me get to it in a minute, but first let me ask you something.”
Then the candidate could point out that across the nation people always want candidates to solve problems, but they don’t address issues in their own backyards. For example in Iowa, the candidate could raise one or more of the following questions, before being ushered out of the kitchen, the barnyard or the school auditorium by nervous aides:
1. What are Iowans doing screening presidential candidates, when within your own state your political parties can’t field really attractive candidates for governor? I mean, your current Democratic governor, Chet Culver, is lagging in all the polls, yet the Republicans offer candidates who will drive people to re-elect Culver.
2. Almost everyone I talk with here is for less government. Iowa has 99 counties, however, more per capita, per square mile, per anything than any other state. Yet efforts to reduce the levels of government go nowhere. Same goes for your 361 school districts. If you want less bureaucracy, shouldn’t you tend to your own problems?
3. Why is Iowa so addicted to gambling to support government and charitable organizations? You have 17 state-licensed casinos, two with dog tracks, another with horses, plus two American Indian gambling places. Gross revenues to the state top $1 billion a year. Even with this glut, many Iowans think even more gambling is a way to community prosperity!
4. One of Iowa’s major industries is prisons. Iowa has a higher percentage of its minority population in jail than most states in the nation. Blacks make up about a fourth of prison admissions while constituting less then 3 percent of the state’s population. Doesn’t this bother you?
5. I’ve been asked about my stand on abortion and concerns with women’s rights. Fair enough. But Iowa has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or to the House of Representatives. Isn’t it about time Iowa sent a woman to Congress? Pardon me for saying so, but you really seem backward in this regard.
6. Often, too, I am asked by Iowans about my concerns for the environment. You know, I’m scheduling my visits here during bad weather so I don’t have to consider a photo-op of taking a dip in one of the Iowa lakes or rivers that routinely far exceed federal standards when it comes to fecal material and other pollutants. Yet you and your legislature do little to clean up your precious lakes and rivers, let alone your impact on the Gulf of Mexico. Doesn’t this trouble you?
7. Sorry to hammer you so much, but as I travel around the country, people in every state complain about government — ignoring the fact that they are the government; that’s what our Constitution says. So instead of complaining and grilling candidates like me, why don’t people address their own state and local problems? If you would do that in Iowa, your “first-in-the-nation” would really mean something. Now, about that question on Afghanistan…”
This is wishful thinking, of course, but if presidential candidates turned the tables on Iowans and voters in other states when it comes to Q &A sessions, we might all be the better for it. CV
Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.