We're number one! For now, at least

According to a viral clickbait listicle somewhere on the Internet, Iowa is the best state in the United States of America*. The best at what, exactly? We aren’t sure, but we’ll take any compliments we can get. With all of the changes we’re dead set on implementing, however, is there any chance we’ll stay at the top for long?


The Hawkeye State has always been defined by moderation: with campus snowflakes and blue collar union workers in the east, farmers and deeply religious conservatives in the north and west, and large multinational corporations in the middle, Iowa is truly a political melting pot. We’ve bounced back and forth between supporting Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections over the last few cycles, and for many years, we kept an almost equal balance between the two in terms of federal representation.


Some of our most venerated recent governors—Robert Ray, Terry Branstad Vol. 1 and Tom Vilsack—were known for reaching across the aisle and doing what was right, regardless of the political consequences. Ray, who welcomed Vietnamese refugees with open arms, championed civil rights and fought to protect Native Americans, is a relic of a kinder, more compassionate Republican party that bears little resemblance to the MAGA racial resentment fanaticism of 2018.


Vilsack received near unanimous praise when then President Obama appointed him as Secretary of Agriculture in 2009, and he even wrote a letter in support of his eventual GOP predecessor, Sonny Perdue of Georgia—making him the only Obama cabinet member to do so.


Branstad erased eight and a half percent unemployment and a $90 million budget deficit to leave the state $900 million in the black upon his first departure in 1999. Former Congressman Jim Leach, Senator Charles Grassley in the early days, Senator Joni Ernst on matters like sexual assault and workplace harassment, and former Senator Tom Harkin, the architect of the Americans With Disabilities Act, are other prime examples. These men and women understood the value of bipartisanship, and they placed duty to country above the vindictive desire to shove an ideological agenda down the electorate’s throat.


Governor Kim Reynolds and the current state legislature, on the other hand, possess no such restraint. Whether it’s slashing revenues at every corner in pursuit of their economic development pipe dreams, privatizing Medicaid for no good reason besides “Well, other states do it too,” making it harder and harder for teachers, road workers and city employees to negotiate for their pay and benefits, placing corporate agricultural and energy interests above the public interest or attempting to starve already anemic school district budgets with seemingly innocuous phrases like “education savings accounts,” they just don’t know when to stop.


The Governor spoke in Grundy County on Friday evening, and as you may have guessed, she referenced the aforementioned ranking more than once during the Reagan Dinner just outside of Reinbeck. Despite the typical gripes about “negativity” in the media, Michaela still showed up to do her job, and Reynolds grinned and spewed half-baked talking points about how wonderful it all is. If the Kool-Aid tastes this good, you’ve got no choice but to keep on drinking it.


“Now, we’re starting to recognize that some of those initiatives we passed over the last year are already starting to create significant change,” she said. “This ranking truly is a tribute to the Iowans who work hard each and every day to make this such a great state to live in.”


But beneath the façade is a state that isn’t actually in such rosy shape. Cutting taxes to solve a budget shortage is like buying a handle of Jack Daniel’s after receiving a cirrhosis diagnosis, and our mental health programs—a preferred scapegoat on the right in the wake of another horrific school shooting—are an absolute joke. The “landmark” water quality bill is little more than a handout with no enforcement measures or guidelines, and cities and counties are already being forced to go without money they’d been promised when the state decided it needed to cut commercial property taxes five years ago. Not even our own beloved courthouse, the subject of a recent Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier guest column, is safe. Is anything sacred?


In several columns on this page, our state senator has elaborated that his primary (and arguably his only) legislative concern is economic growth, and while the thought is nice, Majority Leader Dix and several other Republicans will experience a rude awakening when the next session rolls around and Google, Facebook, Uber, PayPal and Apple are still headquartered inside the confines of the People’s Republic of Silicon Valley—not Waukee, Marion or Bettendorf.


Representative Pat Grassley, to his credit, has expressed concern about the budget and a lack of revenue during several of our conversations, but with most of his party diving head first into full-on “Let’s Become Kansas” mode, any calls for a dose of sanity fall on deaf ears. We may bleed our reserves dry by the time this is all said and done, but at least we’ll get a few new slaughterhouses, fertilizer plants and data centers out of the deal.


Money isn’t everything, and as someone who willingly went to journalism school and took a job in the field upon graduation, I can attest firsthand. People base their living decisions on a variety of factors that have nothing to do with profit margins, shareholder value or year-end dividends—factors like school systems, quality of life, public recreational opportunities and an adequate social safety net in the event that times get hard. Iowa used to set an example for how these services could peacefully coexist with a robust business climate, but this two-year bender has us set on a path to complete financial insolvency all to prove to a few rich campaign donors that their investments were worth it. Suddenly, Citizens United makes perfect sense.


Well, there I go again, in the words of Tom Joad, “gettin’ idears when I go thinkin’ about stuff.” Really, though, would a little moderation every now and then kill us?


*-Credit to Kellie for tipping me off to this hot scoop.