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Guest Commentary

Bah! Humbug! The Grinch who stole Iowa

12/19/2012

Is there anything worthwhile left in Iowa for the religious and political right to demean or destroy?              

In the Hawkeye equivalent of Sherman’s March through Georgia, the folks on the political and evangelical right have done much to devastate Iowa.                

If you doubt that, consider some of the best aspects of our state over the past century or more. Here are four:                

1) A judiciary that led the nation by decades in recognizing the rights of women, minorities and others, breathing life into our state motto “Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Maintain”;               

2) An educational system, capped by state universities of which we were justly proud;                

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3) An environment and countryside captured in iconic images by Grant Wood; and                

4) A Republican Party, best embodied in the public service of Gov. Robert D. Ray, recognized as a world leader when it came to rescuing desperate and despairing people.                

Almost makes you want to sing the Iowa Corn Song!               

That is until you consider the damage done by the religious and political right.                

We have suffered when:                

Enough Iowans joined a religious crusade against the Iowa Supreme Court in 2010 to vote off the court three justices who were part of a 7-0 decision that read the Iowa constitution correctly and found that the state legislature could not legally ban same-sex marriages. Neither candidate for governor that year had the courage to speak up for the court. Indeed, former Governor and now Gov. Terry Barnstead vowed to “restore respect” for the Iowa judiciary — a ridiculous statement even in political demagoguery where absurdities abound.                

In what we can only hope is a brief relapse, Iowa State University wants to assure that research at ISU either extols how hog lot odors strengthen our pulmonary system or heralds the loss of top soil as a way to refresh Iowa farmland. That’s the substance of what the right-wing of the Board of Regents wants to do to sabotage research that might be undertaken by a campus institute established in recognition of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin.                

At the same time, Iowa is fashioning a two-pronged effort to end pollution of Iowa lakes and rivers and to curb poisonous chemical runoff from farmland. One prong would make the efforts voluntary and provide little or no funds for enforcement; prong two would empower the Farm Bureau and others who have caused the problem in the first place to oversee prong one.                

Meantime, if you are looking for knowledgeable, public-spirited people who can address the above and other problems, you will find many of them in the legions of Iowans who used to be Republicans in the spirit of Bob Ray. But they have been driven from the party by the right-wing and evangelical zealots.                

What to do? Well on the national scene some GOP leaders and pundits are pointing out the damage done to the party by folks like those at the wheel of the Iowa GOP. Even Gov. Bobby Tindal of Louisiana, who is chair of the Republican Governors Association, has said, “We need to stop being the dumb party.”               

Any hope of that in Iowa?              

One clue may be provided when the Iowa GOP decides what to do with the Ames Straw Poll. That farcical political exercise serves two purposes: 1. To raise millions of dollars over the years for the state party and 2. To keep any sane candidates well away from the Iowa caucus and Hawkeye consideration of who should be the party’s candidate. Abandonment of the Straw Poll, or at least radical changes in it, would be wise.              

Another clue will be provided when the Iowa GOP enacts its 2014 Platform. Will the platform return to conservative values and principles, or will it still champion absurd agendas of the religious right?                

Unfortunately, “being the dumb party” has paid off for those now at the wheel of the Iowa GOP. CV

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

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