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Political Mercury

Rural Iowa’s stupid bet will give Des Moines and suburbs defining political power


A soulless suburban sprawl spills out of Des Moines and other urban centers. Many of you reading this are living in it.

But rural Iowans like me bemoan, where have the young people gone?

The answer is Waukee, of course.

You’re barely out of the Sweet Corn Festival parade route in Adel before you hit the newly sprouted suburban reaches, places with little history, maybe a generation left of any ties that bind to the farm and to our rural ways, our pancake breakfasts and church-potluck neighborliness.

Urban Iowa is on the march, and Democrats are along for the ride.

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This means that those of us living in rural western Iowa are making a bet of colossal stupidity with our voting in of one-party representation to the Iowa Legislature. All of our eggs are in the GOP basket.

There are no rural Democrats in either the Iowa Senate or Iowa House west of Interstate 35.

Taking out the Des Moines area west of I-35, Democrats have Sens. Herman Quirmbach, Ames, and Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

In the House, there are Democratic Reps. Helen Miller of Fort Dodge, Chris Hall and Dave Dawson of Sioux City, and Charlie McConkey of Council Bluffs.

Yes, some of the legislators may have rural interests in their portfolios (and even their hearts). But workload, influence and sheer demographics mean they go to the office with a decided urban orientation. I’m sorry, but you just don’t get rural Iowa unless you live here.

So I ask my rural friends, what happens to us when Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both chambers in the Iowa Legislature?

We’ll have no one from vast sections of rural Iowa in the majority caucuses. That’s where we are at right now, actually, with the Iowa Senate.

The urban Democrats, when they have total control, and they will, will have the power to make that Des Moines Water Works lawsuit seem almost quaint by comparison with the unyielding, unsympathetic and gloriously ignorant mandates they can force on our farms with no rural Democrats in the caucus or on the committee to stop the foolishness before it starts.

Farm-to-market roads? “Step aside, hick,” the urban Democrats can tell us. “It’s build baby build! — on the Interstates.”

The citified Democrats may sip soy lattes from their airplane trays on trade missions, but selling soybeans? They can’t even tell the difference between a cornfield and soybean crop until darn near The Fourth of July.

Small schools in rural Iowa? Start packing now for consolidation.

And when this full urban-suburban Democratic takeover happens, we rural Iowans have only ourselves to blame for the silly hotheadedness in our emotion-driven, right-wing politics, the forfeiting of political leverage that comes with balanced representation.

We should want both strong Republicans and Democrats representing us in rural Iowa — and all of Iowa, for that matter. That way, regardless of the shift of the political winds, we have able legislators standing tall for us.

Many Republicans reading this are no doubt cheering what they see as a simple clearing of the opposition. That’s the wrong way to view this. In the demonization of Democrats, rural Iowa really just killed our options, shot down life-giving angles.

For now, we have to take what the Republicans give us in rural Iowa. Less funding for schools, longer distances to travel for mental-health services and drivers’ licenses, and urban-centered economic development.

What’s your recourse right now in rural Iowa if you don’t like what your Republican legislator is doing? Dial tone. Crickets. They really don’t even have to return phone calls. What are you going to do, Mr. Citizen With A Complaint? Vote for the Libertarian or the Green Party candidate?

Imagine when the shot-callers on all the key committees in the Legislature, in Terrace Hill, the Department of Transportation, are from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and spend more time cultivating their Minneapolis envy than lifting rural Iowa.

Well, OK, I guess they’ll probably give us more money for bike trails and farmers markets and after-school LGBT programs.

Talk radio has talked us into a dangerous gamble with single-party rule here in rural Iowa.

My fellow rural Iowans must prepare to pay — and soon. Doubt me? Drive around the state and see where future voters are coming of age in the new housing developments.

What a thrill it must be to live in Waukee.■


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.burns doug 12-10-25

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