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Guest Commentary

Dec 8, 2011
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Iowa GOP, caucuses need a Hubert Humphrey

By Herb Strentz

Click here for sports commentary by Sean Keeler

Where is the like of Hubert Humphrey when the Iowa Republican Party so desperately needs him?

The late Democratic U.S. senator and vice president (1911-1978) came to mind because of the continuing failure of just about any Iowa Republican — save a couple — to protest how the evangelical right controls the Iowa GOP. So tight is the grip of the religious right in Iowa that it has delusions it can determine who will be the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election.

That delusion will continue at least until after Jan. 4, 2012, the day after the Iowa GOP caucuses give their blessings to whichever candidates strike them as the most extreme on issues of anti-abortion, immigration, waterboarding, homophobia and the rest of the religious right’s agenda.

For a suspected closet moderate like Mitt Romney, the only hope for a finish in the top three rests upon (a) the right fielders dividing the extremist vote and (b) an uncharacteristic turnout of responsible GOP voters who could lift Romney to the soaring heights of maybe 20 percent of the vote — with only 80 percent of the caucus goers against him.

Assuming the likely, a Romney third- or fourth-place finish, then perhaps New Hampshire and other states will dutifully reject the Iowa choice, just as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was rejected by non-Iowans after paying the Iowa GOP enough to win the party’s Straw Poll in August.

Romney failing, only U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has not surrendered to Iowa’s religious right. But the press seems so dismissive of him that it ignored his almost beating Bachmann last August.

But back to Humphrey.

He came to mind not as senator or vice president, but as mayor of Minneapolis when he took on the extremists in his party at the Democratic Party’s 1948 national convention.

He challenged the racists in the party, calling for the adoption of a civil rights plank in the party’s platform.

Among the resonating lines from that speech was this: “To those who say, ‘This civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights,’ I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!”

That sentiment so enraged many Southern Democrats that the Mississippi delegation and half of Alabama’s walked out. The so-called Dixiecrats nominated their own candidate, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for President, joining the GOP’s Gov. Thomas Dewey in opposition to a beleaguered incumbent, President Harry Truman.

Truman won, thanks to support from minority groups, labor and others energized by Humphrey’s courage and the convention’s narrow adoption of the minority plank that dared to call for federal legislation against lynching, an end to legal school segregation and an end to job discrimination.

Humphrey dared to take on extremists in his party in a display of political courage seen too seldom in American politics.

Unfortunately, many Iowa Republicans have been driven out of the party or opt for silence in the face of the religious right.

The silence of Iowa Republicans who know better is not only deafening, but prohibitive — barring all but the far right candidates from a commanding presence in the Iowa caucus process. The likes of Romney and Jon Huntsman — along with other GOP senators and governors who might qualify for even the label of “sort of moderate” — are conspicuous by their absence in Iowa.

Who can blame them, given how the Iowa religious right has silenced opposition and made political courage an even scarcer commodity?

One of the exceptions is a former Republican state legislator, Jeff Angelo, who created Republicans for Freedom, an advocacy group for conservatives who support same-sex marriage. Angelo says he was wrong when, as a legislator, he co-sponsored a bill that would get a process under way for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Former Republican lieutenant governors Art Neu and Joy Corning speak so much sense that they are scorned by current GOP legislators and, of course, the governor.

Small wonder, it is a joy to recall Humphrey in 1948. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.


Sports commentary

by Sean Keeler

What did you expect? Cancun?

New York City in December? Sounds like a great idea, until somebody hands you the check.

Iowa State fans still grumbling about being selected for the Pinstripe Bowl have their angst misplaced. This one isn’t on Cyclones athletic director Jamie Pollard for “whiffing” on his sales job to those Chamber of Commerce types in the pastel blazers.

No, the idea of sending Cyclone Nation to the Bronx (bring a coat) came from a higher power. Think of it as a parting Christmas gift from your old pal Dan Beebe, the former Big 12 commissioner. Or not.

Your major questions and concerns are perfectly valid. Why are we playing at a cold-weather site? Why are we playing outdoors, in late December? Why are we playing in a region where we don’t recruit?

Why? Because Dan Beebe loves you, that’s why.

OK, so maybe he doesn’t. But he must have thought New York City was a preferable alternative to say, Shreveport. When you’re trying to slot the No. 7 selection from a 10-team league, what did you expect? Cancun?

On one hand, you’ve got to admit: The idea of playing at Yankee Stadium has a romantic, Four Horsemen-of-the-Apocalypse kind of vibe, as long as those horsemen are named War, Pestilence, Famine and Frostbite. It works better as a concept. You’d love to watch it, but you’re not as crazy about paying to sit through the darned thing.

And yet, for all that, it’s also winnable — a favorable matchup between squads that, on paper, could be almost mirror images. Like Iowa State, Rutgers leads with its physical defense. Like Iowa State, Rutgers has shuffled its quarterbacks in search of the right combination. For what it’s worth, the Cyclones and Scarlet Knights faced one common opponent: Connecticut. Iowa State beat the Huskies on the road; Rutgers lost by 18.

Of course, there are more important things to worry about in Story County — namely, getting coach Paul Rhoads signed to a contract extension. As of Monday morning, he was still waiting.

After two bowl appearances in his first three seasons, it’s more than deserved; it’s overdue. If Kansas State’s Bill Snyder is the Big 12 Coach of the Year, then Rhoads is no worse than a close second, turning a meat-grinder of a 2011 schedule into a journey with more high points than a Cheech and Chong caper.

Having built a reputation for serving up at least one stunning, signature victory in each of his first two seasons, Rhoads came up with three in his third: a 44-41 thriller at home versus Iowa; a 41-7 throttling of Texas Tech in Lubbock, where the program had never won before; and the capper, a 37-31 upset of then-No. 2 Oklahoma State, the moment that cemented his legacy and, at the same time, doomed America to a rematch of LSU and Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

The good news for Iowa State fans is that Rhoads is a local guy and, by all accounts, happy. Unlike his predecessor, he sees the Cyclones as something more than a nice paycheck and a stepping stone. It means something. It’s about family. It’s about home.

But beating Nebraska at Nebraska, beating Texas at Texas, and ruining Oklahoma State’s season will get you noticed, and deservedly so. Last winter, Rhoads was linked with the vacant Pittsburgh job; this year, it’s Arizona State. Illinois is badly in need of a coach with half a clue. It seems as if half the Pac-12 is looking for fresh bodies, and all could pay more than the reported $1.1-million salary that Rhoads reportedly takes in now.

If former Kansas coach Turner Gill was worth roughly $2.1 million per year and Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville makes $2.05 million, Rhoads’ contract seems like a bargain in comparison. Although you get the feeling that he won’t be a bargain for much longer. Regardless, Rhoads is bound for the bright lights of Broadway, and maybe it’s apropos. After all, what applies to the Big Apple applies to Ames, too: If he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere. CV

Sean Keeler was a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register from 2002-2011 and offers columns for Cityview.. He can be reached at

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