This op-ed piece arrived in our inbox this afternoon from former state lawmaker/candidate for governor/congressional hopeful Ed Fallon. He says Gov. Chet Culver could be the next Norman Erbe unless he dances with the Democratic base:
Culver Needs to Learn to Dance
by Ed Fallon
Few leading Iowa Democrats will admit it publicly, but Governor Culver is in deep trouble. If something doesn’t change, and soon, he could be the first incumbent Iowa Governor ousted from office since Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes in 1962.
A litany of woes afflicts Governor Culver. Most notably, he has had issues with issues.
• Iowans have seen little to no progress on key front-and-center concerns such as climate change, labor law, campaign finance and the regulation of corporate hog confinements, to name a few.
• Right or wrong, there’s a broad perception that flood recovery efforts and the budget crisis have been mismanaged by the Governor’s office.
• Iowa’s economy continues to struggle – a situation somewhat beyond the Governor’s control, but depending upon his response, one that inevitably affects his popularity.
Governor Culver’s problems are reflected in a recent SurveyUSA poll that found his overall approval rating a dismal 42%. Among that all-important block of voters known as “independents,” it was 35%. (By comparison, Senator Grassleyscored a 58% overall approval rating, with 59% approval among independent voters, and Iowans gave President Obama a 57% approval rating, 50% among independent voters.)
Yet the Governor has another problem, a deeper problem, one that is frequently overlooked. While Culver may be out of favor with the vast majority of independent voters, even among Democrats, his approval rating is only 62%. That’s indicative of a profound dissatisfaction within Culver’s base.
Candidates – even incumbents – rarely prevail if their base is not with them.
Culver seems to have forgotten the all-important maxim “dance with the one that brought you.” A disturbing number of Party activists have told me they’ve been snubbed by the Governor, as have many elected officials. While failing to maintain good relations with one’s political base is always a bad idea, snubbing one’s base in advance of re-election is a recipe for political suicide.
I encourage other disgruntled Democrats to share their stories. Sometimes, it’s cathartic, even necessary, to air one’s dirty laundry. In a nutshell, my story is this:
After a series of meetings in July of 2006, Culver promised me that, as governor, he would advocate for campaign finance reform and support legislation to control urban sprawl. After nearly two-and-a-half years of mostly unreturned phone calls and of trying to build a working rapport with him and his staff, I finally shared my discontent publicly this past April.
What was the Governor’s response? He or his staff could have called. They could have addressed the substance of my dissatisfaction. But instead of offering to dance, Culver’s staff chose to publicly deride my concerns.
Some conventional political strategists argue that cultivating one’s base isn’t that important. They argue, in this case, that even if Democrats are deeply dissatisfied with Culver they’ll still vote for him. Those strategists may want to spend more time hob-knobbing with the rank-and-file, who tell me they may not vote for a Republican, but unless something changes, they don’t plan to vote for Culver either.
And what happens on Election Day is contingent upon the strength of a candidate’s organization leading up to Election Day. In 2006, I spoke on behalf of Culver at numerous events. I raised money for him. I actively encouraged everyone I spoke with to vote for him.
This time around, unless something changes, that’s not going to happen.
Like so many other disgruntled Iowa Democrats, I’m tired of being asked to be a campaign foot soldier only to be ignored – and to have the issues I care about ignored – once the election is over.
Governor Culver needs to turn over a new leaf. He needs to demand that his staff be more responsive. He needs to follow-through on the issues he promised to address. He needs to stop stepping on so many toes.
And he needs to dance with those of us who helped bring him to Terrace Hill. Otherwise, the next Iowan calling the tunes at the Governor’s Office could well be a Republican.
So is this unfair friendly fire from a snubbed pol with a healthy ego and no access, or is Fallon speaking hard truth to Lug?
Some of the points Fallon makes are valid. But he sort of loses me when he complains about his own inability to crack the administration firewall. I feel my eyes about to roll.
Still, his central point, that Culver made lots of promises to the base that he didn’t manage to keep, is an obstacle to re-election that the governor needs to navigate.
And again, much will depend on who Republicans nominate. If they veer hard right, they’ll make Culver’s base-repair job much easier.
Speaking of Republicans, they’ll love Fallon’s piece. Although I doubt he’ll get much acces to Gov. Rants’ office either.