Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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Rants & Reason

Could we put a cork in “Only in Iowa”?


For openers, here are a few lines I sent to Dan Finney at The Des Moines Register because I am weary of those who defend their homeland with puffery of “Only in Iowa…” or “You’re not an Iowan unless…”

“Dan: Your…piece included a point you’ve made before, one that always resonates with me: ‘…Iowa is a very insecure place.’ After more than 40 years here, I still gag at ‘Iowa nice’ and ‘Only in Iowa’ — perhaps over-reacting to what I see as characterizing Iowans as a master race, superior to the rabble everywhere else.”

I reacted that way because having lived in six other states (Illinois, California, New York, Colorado, Kentucky and North Dakota), I know that, as in Iowa, there are great people everywhere. Most of them, however, have the decency never to suggest they are better and better off than anyone else.

In fact, when the Register Datebook ran a “You’re not an Iowan Until…” series with staff members telling how wonderful life in Iowa is, I couldn’t find anything they said was great about Iowa that I could not recall as being great about my childhood neighborhood in Chicago — and we had the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, ballparks and world-class zoos thrown in for good measure.

Maybe “Only in Iowa” reflects a rural defensiveness or insecurity about being downgraded, looked down upon. Having lived in “big” cities in rural settings — Chicago, Fresno, California, and now the Des Moines area — I’ve heard folks lament that no one appreciates how really nice and good they are. But I can’t recall other places being as manic about it as Iowa is.

Prep Iowa - Pride Month

Iowans seem to have built a figurative wall around their state before the idea ever occurred to Trump.

The “Only in Iowa” approach didn’t bother me at all when we moved here in 1975. Difficult to find fault in a state with Bob Ray and Art Neu as governor and lieutenant governor, with Neal Smith as your congressman and with Iowa devotion to girls softball and basketball making your two daughters welcome.

And, of course, we had great schools, a great judiciary and other strengths that the 2017 Legislature is now dismantling.

I guess “Only in Iowa” can serve a purpose. The Des Moines Waterworks people were lambasted for not being “Iowa nice” because they had filed a lawsuit to punish polluters. “That’s not the way we do things in Iowa,” one critic said.

No, in Iowa nowadays when you suffer at the hands of polluters or clowns in the legislature, you’re supposed to say, like the fraternity pledge being paddled, “Please, sir, may I have another.”

Besides, testifying as to how great Iowa and Iowans are seems to get folks re-re-re-re-re-elected. Witness Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley now in their sixth and seventh terms in office — not counting terms in the Iowa Legislature. Their “I love Iowa” themes resonate with Iowa voters. Many marvel at their longevity in office. When it comes to longevity, however, I wonder how long it will take Iowa to recover from the opportunities for political courage or bi-partisan leadership that time and again the two of them have ignored or maybe didn’t even notice.

How un-Iowan of me.♦

strentz21Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants & Reason column for CITYVIEW.




  1. IowaMimi says:

    Thanks for clarifying this niggling feeling I’ve had for awhile, but couldn’t put my finger on. As the quality of life in our state collapses due to the ridiculous Legislature and a Governor who seems to have lost his marbles, we justify it all by claiming our perfection. Ick.

  2. Sharon Johnson says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more and am glad that someone with credibility has boldly put opinions in print. The conclusion I came to many years ago is that those who are constantly reminding us how lucky we are are those primarily in the public sector where peer acknowledgment depends on “revolutionary” things implemented in their cities, counties and states . . . like clean water and Internet access. The segue is that access is not the same as affordable and one way to determine a city/county/state’s health is the percentage of the population that participates in any given program, etc.

    For instance, the recent Polk County property tax increase reflects a bias toward quick property turnover and not long-term neighborhood stability. A long-term homeowner, on a limited fixed income, cannot expect to get the same sale price as homes with new kitchens, bathrooms, and two-car garages, or updated plumbing and electricity when it’s time to move on. We relate to others, based on how we live our own lives and make decisions based on experience, education, personal values, and beliefs. Insidiously raising property taxes $10, $20, or $50 per month to this years grand reveal means can mean no paint, no new roof, no arthritis medication for many. Those things are not relevant to long-term decision makers who create their own salaries, bonuses and benefits packages.

    Not wanting to be left behind and to prove how progressive we are, we let our Internet service providers game us into believing charging late fees on top of late fees is necessary because even though declared and affirmed by federal court that broadband is a necessity, and a utility not a luxury, Internet-connection providers are “special.” Providers being able to sell our personal information to anyone they want without our consent is not advancing technology as long-standing congress members profess . . . it’s selling us out. Those of us who had to evolve from Steve Case and Windows 95, without the help of large IT departments or staff to find the way, understand what’s possible and know what’s probable. When Senator Dianne Feinstein told us what Ed Snowden said happened could not be done, I was embarrassed for our country.

    My DSL carrier is a partner with my cell provider who owns my email server and bought a long-term, early-on ISP that’s now it’s embeded search engine. In a dispute over deceptive business practices and late-fee overcharges a fifth grader can tell anyone how that DSL provider’s “delay, deny, discredit, destroy” tactics play out. But, those lobbyists are nice, and they socialize in the same circles in our small capital city. Ok, I’m done with my un-Iowan rant as only one “invisible” consumer who’s also weary of “Only in Iowa . . . ” Thanks for reading.

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