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Political Mercury

Beware what you run from, Iowa

10/22/2014

Joni Ernst is on the verge of cashing in the winning ticket on a crazy bet. She’s wagering Iowa voters, collectively, will assume the mindset of teenage runways and stick with a juvenile defiance until well after Election Day.

Run, run from the government, Ernst, the girl-next-door, tells Iowans.

You don’t need anything from Washington, says the Koch Brothers-cast Pied Piper of Privatization.

Scrap the Department of Education and send tens of thousands of student loans to private financial institutions. What, you think they’ll raise your interest rates?

Kill the Environmental Protection Agency. States can regulate their own land, air and water, and Iowa — bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri — should just take it on faith that even if we keep our house clean, Illinois and Missouri and Nebraska will do the same.

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Ever heard Gov. Terry Branstad delight in mocking Illinois? The governor, who is positively terrific at zinging our eastern neighbors, describes Illinois as a feudal state run by corrupt politicians and Chicago mobsters. But who needs the EPA? Illinois will just take care of its side of the Mississippi, and we’ll handle our own, goes the Ernst line of reasoning.

Or the IRS. Kill that, too, and tax people at the point of purchase with a national sales tax, or what Ernst calls a “fairer, flatter” approach. Each American then, whether he makes $20,000, or whether she makes $2 million, pays the same percentage to the government.

To whom much is given, much is expected. That’s Sunday school, not politics, right?

And, with Ernst’s vision, the government shouldn’t be in the business of shepherding Social Security investments for all of us. Roll the dice with Wall Street.

Then there’s the commodity-lifting Renewable Fuel Standard, a catalyst for so much that is so right with rural Iowa today. Ernst says she’s “philosophically” opposed to the fuel-mixing mandate for ethanol, but, trust her on this, she’ll make an exception for her beloved farm country until the biofuels industry is mature. Does the Iowa Corn Growers Association make that call for Ernst, or the Koch Brothers?

Iowans like Ernst and her followers are actors in a tragic play. They posture as independent pioneers living in mud huts and getting by with just a mule and plow, plenty of pluck and nary a buck from Uncle Sam.

But Iowa’s seniors and college students and USDA-financed rural hospitals in places like Manning and Jefferson have long been connected to the federal government. The rates you spend for the light to read this column at home are government regulated. Should that stop, too?

All of this government doesn’t make for good political brochures, and reliance on the government, even if accompanied as it is in rural Iowa by hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, is not the image everyone wants to project. It does happen to be true, though.

Here’s the bottom line: Joni Ernst is appealing to many people’s idealized image of what Iowa should be. Bruce Braley is running to represent what Iowa really is.

The government is terrifically flawed. Programs need fixed, to be sure.

But a Red Oak wrecking ball?

Back when Joni Ernst and I were growing up in rural Iowa in the 1980s, before kids could vent about parents who just don’t understand on Facebook and grind the angst axes in texts to friends, we’d hear stories from time to time at school of teenagers running away from home. Going it alone has to be better, these kids always thought, not fully appreciating the basics, a warm bed, food, a coat for winter.

After a few nights — or hours — on a friend’s couch, or in a damp barn, the runaways would come to their senses and return home.

Polls favoring Joni Ernst show that many Iowans are running from the essential programs of government for rural Iowa her well-heeled supporters are eager to dismantle.

burns doug 12-10-25The big question: Will Iowans wake up to the cold, hard reality of what the freedom from government Joni Ernst is pitching really means before they get frostbite. 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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