Today’s Column — “Pork” and Bonds

In the “Tower of Invincibility,” Republicans think they have found an exploitable weakness in Gov. Chet Culver’s big bonding plan.Instead, they’re showing emptyheaded, inchdeep partisan politics.

The tower is a 12-story office building planned by folks in Vedic City, the southern Iowa town built on the principles of transcendental mediation.The governor’s office told communities to submit any and all ideas for using a potential $750 million pot of infrastructure money. Vedic City sent in its tower.

Once the list became public, Republicans eager to shoot down the Democratic governor’s signature legislative proposal swiftly wielded the “Tower of Invincibility” as a weapon. Right-leaning Web sites carried snide banner headlines. The words “exposed” and “scheme” were tossed around. It’s just like Congress, they said, greedy, unpopular Congress.

But is it fair to scream “pork” in this crowded political theater? Nope.

For one thing, the tower and a handful of other projects Republicans latched on to were among nearly 4,000 projects taking up 227 spreadsheet pages. Along with a handful of items that make you go, hmmm, there are scores of road projects, wastewater system upgrades, school repairs, etc.

It paints a pretty good picture of why Culver’s bonding idea is largely a good one – because this state’s infrastructure is badly in need of repairs. Culver deserves credit for trying to do something about it.

But not in the scorched earth world of 2009 GOP politics, where everything that government touches is bad, wasteful, silly and open to sound-bite scorn. Everything is pork. Monitoring volcanoes, important genetic research using fruit flies – it’s all a punch line.

I’m certainly not saying that the government doesn’t waste money on stupid stuff. And vigilance is a good thing. I have no problem with Republicans making principled arguments about bonded debt and its future consequences.

But when you start using tactics that assume we’re vapid and stupid, that we’re not interested in the details, only in clever spin, that’s where I draw the line.

Because once you drive past the “Tower of Invicibility,” you’ll find the Anamosa School District trying to make its high school accessible to the disabled and replace a 102-year-old middle school. You’ll see efforts to upgrade aging pieces of the rural power grid, to establish passenger rail service to Chicago and make badly needed storm sewer upgrades in Cedar Rapids.

You’ll read that tiny Blanchard “is without an adequate sewer system.” Yeah, pork. Ha ha.

All this GOP angst is just noise. They don’t have the votes to stop it. Really, only Culver can screw this up.

An 11-member board is planned to decide how this money is spent. I hope it runs like the first few years of the Vision Iowa Program, which I think is one of the most successful state programs in history. We need tough, independent-minded people to put applicants through their paces. A team of rivals, perhaps.

But if the governor packs it with cronies and political patsies, it could be a boondoggle yet. He may win a great victory, but in politics, nobody’s invincible.

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11 Comments

Filed under Chet Culver, Iowa Legislature, Uncategorized

11 responses to “Today’s Column — “Pork” and Bonds

  1. Dan

    Well you have pretty well secured you future with the corridor rag. Nothing like condeming republicans to enhance your position with a failing cause.
    In the meantime the selfserving Democrat majority can race off and put us all in debt for years to come to enhance their position with the downtroden masses.

  2. Dan

    What only one comment >> Must realy be popular.

  3. Iowa Cynic

    Dan, Todd’s been a regular critic of Culver and the stupid things Culver has said and done. That’s why I’m pretty sure this is an effort at “balance” rather than a heartfelt embrace of the junk Culver’s trying to push through.

    Todd, I’m sure you remember one of Culver’s most effective commercials, with the big lug and Patty standing in the rain, blaming Nussle for the Iowa Rainforest debacle. You’d have thought he took something away from that other than a bit of chaffing from the dampness. The government has no business doing some things. Building a very speculative office complex in a city of about 200 people is crazy. Iowa Rainforest crazy.

    Some things on the list are needed. But those are the only things that should be on the list. That’s the point Culver’s ad made a couple years ago, and that’s the point the bloggers are trying to get across.

  4. Brad

    Anybody that thinks Dorman is a liberal democrat doesn’t read his column very often and has never read this blog. Dorman is about as conservative a journalist as I have ever seen.

    Dorman–keep up the good work. When I first read this article I thought someone else must have written it. But I do understand the pressures being handed down to you. Don’t sell out, though.

  5. Citizen

    Well Put>>I C

  6. Todd

    Dorman,

    You’re missing the larger point. WHY should government PAY a single dime for a “Tower of Invincibility” at Maharishi..or for ANY non-public project?

    The GOP isnt saying not to make necessary fixes to infrastructure….however Iowans are NOT willing to waste their tax dollars on silly stuff like a “Tower of Invincibility”.

    The fact of the matter is Dorman, if the Democrats hadn’t SPENT our state deep into the red, we’d more resources available to do these infrastructure projects without having to put our state FURTHER into debt.

    By the time this State Legislative session is over, Iowa will likely be staring at a 1.5 BILLION dollars deficit!

    Plus, we’ve seen what the Governor has done with supposedly “independent” groups. Does the Rebuild Iowa office ring a bell for you, Mr. Dorman? He put his chief fundraiser in charge of the state’s flood recovery office..and I think you remember what happened..

    No special session for flood relief last year and demonstrated incompetance in running flood recovery efforts…Do you really think anything would be different in this regard, Mr. Dorman?

  7. Robby

    Just because there are much needed projects on the list, does not mean that they should be loaded with PORK projects also. I had a chance to read the entire list and probably agree with 75% of the items.

    Before we go further in hock, we need to ask to we really need all of these projects or could some be put on the back burner until times get a little better?

  8. tdorman

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t think I said the tower should be funded. I only said a few questionable projects on a huge list shouldn’t be wielded as a club to beat down the whole proposal. I’m worried about how the governor will run this show, but my worries, at this point, aren’t overidding my feeling that this could be good for the state in the long run. Sadly, we invest a lot of public dollars in stuff that has little impact. I think this could have a real impact.

  9. Marty

    It seems all the chest beating “anti”s here are making a very bad assumption… that being on the list is a guarantee of funding! It’s a LIST people, not a stone tablet! Culver didn’t create the list and neither did the democratic majority. The list was compiled from responses to an inquiry about how MIGHT the monies from this program be spent. Republicans need to “unbundle” their undies and get over being overwhelmingly chastised by the American public for their poor management of our country and its resources. If you were so right and so “majority”, you’d still be in power! Quit spinning like a top and start dealing with reality. Dorman has it right, quit assuming we’re vapid and stupid…

  10. Iowa Cynic

    “Dorman has it right, quit assuming we’re vapid and stupid…”

    Do something to prove it first. You’ve failed so far with the only major task you’ve been presented with: handling the floods in eastern Iowa.

  11. Robby

    Marty, you are absolutely right about this being just a list. However, with the track record of some of these politicians i believe most are worried about what items get left on the list and funded with our borrowed dollars.

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