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Political Mercury

Will Jacobs’ Texas shoe fit Iowa?

12/18/2013

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy built an industry with one of the best joke set-ups since “Knock-knock.”

“You must be a redneck if…” goes the moneymaker in the Foxworthy arsenal.

Similarly, political candidates have sought to sell voters on their answers: “You are a real Iowan because…”

Some candidates talk of detasseling, the grueling, close-to-Earth work that establishes Hawkeye State bona fides. There are, of course, the newspaper routes, and the six-on-six girls basketball, the hunting of many things furry and the eating of even more things fried.

In about 20 years of covering Iowa politics I have heard a colorful range of appeals from candidates who want us to think they are as Iowa as a Maid Rite sandwich under a Friday night harvest moon during an eight-man football game. Or Andy Williams singing “Moon River.” Or Donna Reed smiling. Or a Chuck Offenburger column on anything.

Fred Grandy, a Hollywood star and Ivy League-educated Sioux Citian (who roomed with an Eisenhower, no less) earned back his membership in Club Iowa against great odds in 1994, because he didn’t oversell it. It didn’t hurt that Grandy is very likely the most intelligent man to ever seek statewide office in Iowa.

But most returning Iowans are not Fred Grandy.

We get a lot of tone-deaf unintended condescension from people telling us they are, well, just like us, when we’ve mostly been just rear-view mirror objects that appear smaller than they really are.

The worst attempt I’ve seen from a prodigal political son is the current one from U.S. Senate candidate Mark Jacobs — a retired (at 51) former Houston energy company CEO who moved to the Des Moines area to run for one of the state’s highest offices.

Jacobs is such a Saccharin Iowan that — with a straight face — he mounted his home-state argument by telling this newspaper that, well, yeah, I may not have lived an adult working year of my life in Iowa, but I vacationed at the Iowa Great Lakes.

“Iowa has always been at the core of who I am,” Jacobs said in an interview. “Our family has deep, deep roots in Iowa. I brought my family back to Iowa every year to vacation at Lake Okoboji. In fact, we’ve rented the same house for the last 24 years. It’s a five-bedroom, two-bath house, and this last summer, we had 28 of us.”

Fair enough. He would no doubt be an effective advocate for the University of Okoboji. (We’ll take it on faith that he knows the U of O is a marketing ploy, not Iowa’s fourth Regents school.)

Seeking to establish Iowa credentials through vacation stories tells us a lot. First, Jacobs has the time and money to take vacations. Second, he’s long seen Iowa as a place to visit.

Then there’s the business of the work ethic. How Iowa is it to retire at 50? We all know farmers worth millions who wouldn’t think of calling it quits at 70.

And what has Jacobs contributed to Iowa? When I asked Jacobs if he could understand why Iowans who were here, on the ground, fighting for the state, in 1993, may find his Iowa act off-key, he made no references to floods of that year.

Jacobs is an exceedingly nice man. He’s smart and well-educated. As one Iowa Republican told me, Jacobs would be a great next-door neighbor. But Jacobs is a Houston guy, so it’s a little insulting, this notion that Jacobs has returned to save, first, the Iowa Republican Party, and then the rest of Iowa.

Where have you been all these years, Mr. Jacobs, when we could have used self-described job-creators like you?

I’m a big believer in playing out role-reversal, shoe-on-other-foot scenarios. They are generally revealing. So think about it.

Would the good people of Houston or Dallas embrace a U.S. Senate candidate who returned to their towns after an adult life lived in Des Moines with little more than a Texas birth certificate and high school diploma as evidence for his connections to the homeland?

Hardly.

We shouldn’t sell off our Senate seat like Texas oil rights.

Texas has enough advantages these days.

It doesn’t need a third United States senator. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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