Column — Republicans Thinking Retro

Republicans trying to figure out how best to chase Chet from Terrace Hill are feeling nostalgic yearnings.

They’re thinking about going back to the ’90s, when one of their guys held the veto pen and the ribbon-cutting scissors and could call out the National Guard.

That guy was Terry Branstad. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put that four-term band back together for a 2010 encore.

A poll commissioned by showed Branstad clocking Democratic Gov. Chet Culver 53-37. Culver beats GOP hopefuls such as Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants. But a retro rival could take him down.

“I learned a long time ago that you never want to say never. But my focus is here at Des Moines University,” Branstad, DMU’s president, said Monday. “It’s flattering. But you know, a poll is a poll.”

There’s just enough wiggle room there to make this intriguing. But is this really the way Republicans want to go?

It’s always tempting for a party lost in the weeds to look backward to get its bearings. Democrats went through it earlier this decade. That sentimental journey led many to think a back-to-the-future presidential candidate such as Hillary Clinton would be just the ticket. Early polls confirmed their leanings. The Clinton brand was still unbeatable.

But elections are about what’s next, not about nostalgia. Clinton found that out. Branstad could get the same lesson.

He would be formidable and favored early, but it’s unlikely that the growing sea of GOP candidates would simply part to make way for a Branstad candidacy. The former governor would almost certainly find himself surrounded in a competitive primary and beset by fresher voices, hungry to be the future of the party.

Frankly, a noisy primary focused squarely on the future is what the Republican Party in Iowa needs. And when the dust settles, Republicans should present Iowans with a new release, not an ’80s classic.

I came of age during the Branstad years and covered the final two years of his tenure. He understood Iowa, had sound political instincts and is still widely admired.

But his 16 years were also marked by serious budget problems and ugly fights with lawmakers, even after the GOP took control of the Legislature in 1996. The Branstad years weren’t all sunshine and cupcakes, no matter how good they look in the rearview mirror.

And in 2010, Republicans will be better off keeping their eyes on the road ahead.



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Chet’s Choo Choo Rolls East

This just in for our governor, who will be riding thr rails once again to promote his re-election campaign passenger rail service:


Train to promote passenger rail service throughout Iowa

DES MOINES – Governor Chet Culver’s Iowa Unlimited is on the move again, this time with stops in Eastern Iowa on Sunday, July 26. Designed to raise awareness of passenger rail, the train will make stops in Iowa City, West Liberty, Durant, and Walcott before crossing the Mississippi and holding an event in Moline at the future site of the Quad Cities’ passenger rail depot.

“Restoring passenger rail service is one of the Culver-Judge Administration’s top transportation priorities,” said Governor Culver. “Reconnecting some of our largest cities to Chicago will add to Iowa’s economic success, and as Governor I look forward to working with all Iowans to expand passenger rail throughout the state.”

Following the stops on Sunday, the Iowa Unlimited will continue to Chicago where Governor Culver will participate in the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit on Monday. The meeting is designed to further efforts to make Chicago a regional passenger rail hub, with lines radiating from the city to communities in other states. Participants will discuss with the Obama Administration ways to utilize Federal Recovery funds to expand passenger rail service throughout the Midwest.

As part of the sessions with other Governors, Governor Culver is also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on two proposed passenger rail lines – Chicago to Dubuque and Chicago to Iowa City. Current proposals call for the expansion of the Chicago-to-Iowa City route to Des Moines and points further west.

Traveling with the Governor on Sunday will be state transportation officials, advocates for passenger rail, and community leaders. Congressman David Loebsack will travel from Iowa City to Moline, and Amtrak Board of Directors Chairman Tom Carper will ride with the Governor to the Summit in Chicago from Moline.

Efforts have been taken in recent years to bring passenger rail service back to portions of the state, with current proposals to bring service to Dubuque, the Quad Cities and Iowa City and longer term plans to bring service to other communities such as Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

 To help spur efforts, Governor Culver’s signature legislative accomplishment – the I-JOBS Initiative — includes $10 million for multi-modal transportation projects in Iowa, including $3 million for expanded passenger rail service in the state. In addition, the Iowa Department of Transportation will be competing for federal passenger rail funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. All of these steps position Iowa to work with Illinois and Amtrak to bring new passenger rail lines to the state that connect more Iowa communities with Chicago.

 Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited is being provided thanks to the generous efforts of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, Ltd.

Below is the timetable for the Iowa Unlimited.


12:00pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Send Off Event

Old Rock Island Depot

119 Wright Street

Iowa City, IA

1:26pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited stops in West Liberty

The Depot

405 North Elm Street

West Liberty, IA

2:26pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Stops in Durant

Pythian Sisters Park

Main Street

Durant, IA

3:06pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited Stops in Walcott

On the tracks (near 103 S. Main)

Walcott, IA

4:21pm Governor Culver’s Iowa Unlimited stops in Moline

Center Station

1200 River Drive

Moline, IL

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Column — Coddling Casinos

Back in the quaint old courting days of Iowa’s casino love affair, the state let you lose only so much. Loss limits were the law. But casinos lobbied to have those small-time limits removed. High stakes, baby, that’s the only way to compete.

Maybe lose your shirt.

Maybe win a bundle. No guts, no jackpot.

But what’s good for the gambler, apparently, isn’t good for the state’s 17 golden geese.

Those existing state-blessed casinos now want a loss limit for themselves, courtesy of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

The commission opened the gates Thursday for new casino license applications from five Iowa counties. But it’s no secret that existing casino interests are not putting out a welcome mat. Shiny new casinos might take some of their business.

Maybe, just maybe, they can live with sticking a new casino in the farthest reaches of Lyon County, to fleece some South Dakotans. But that’s it. Fort Dodge, Franklin County, Ottumwa and Tama? No dice.

Beat it.

Sure. the commission is promising a fair and open application process. But … “I believe that this commission is going to be very protective of the casinos that they have already opened,” said Commissioner Toni Urban of Des Moines.

For a mighty $1.4 billion industry, casinos sure need a lot of protecting.

They needed protection from TouchPlay lottery games muscling in on their turf. Cruising up and down the river was tiring and pricey, and the water was just too wet, so we let them build on nice dry land. Then they needed protection from a pesky smoking ban. Now they’re worried about competition.

I’ve seen the studies, and I don’t doubt that new casinos will bring on a dreaded epidemic of what the industry calls “cannibalization.” For example, a Fort Dodge casino would cannibalize revenue from the Wild Rose Casino in Emmetsburg. Apparently there would be nothing left but a thorny stem.

It’s too bad we don’t have a Hardware Store Commission to save independent stores from big box domination. Where’s the Neighborhood Grocery Commission, to protect mom and pop from supermarkets? But, hey, if casinos take a hit, the state might lose precious revenue. I doubt it. People are going to gamble somewhere.

The state will get its cut.

No, the only losers will be the poor suckers who showed up to vote in those five counties. They thought with votes, investors and a plan, they’d get to compete for some of the dough other towns have been raking in for years.

Maybe they’ve still got a chance. Just like that coin flip. Heads, the casinos win, tails, casino seekers lose.


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ChetChase 2010 – The Week

This week’s developments in Iowa’s race for governor.

1. Vander Poll— continued releasing tasty tidbits from its  612-part poll, including numbers that showBob Vander Plaats leading the big ‘ol field of GOP hopefuls and potential hopefuls. Vander Plaats got support from 46 percent of Republicans polled, followed by Don’t Know at 27 percent and state Rep. Christopher Rants at 14 percent.

Vander Plaats was happy to grab front-runner status. John Deeth says that’s good news for Culver. Bleeding Heartland says, not so fast, it’s too early to be doing any anointing.

The TIR poll also showed Vander Plaats and Rants within striking distanceof Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in early head-to-head match ups. Culver led Vander Plaats 48-39 and beat Rants 46-36.

2. Parental Supervision— Republican candidate Christian Fong announced this week that Marlys Popma, a veteran Republican activist, will be guiding his upstart campaign.

The good news is that Popma lends some conservative heft to Fong’s fledgling effort. She’s got church cred with the religious right and could help Fong convince some skeptical conservatives that he’s the real deal, even though he contributed to a few Dems and says Republicans shouldn’t emphasize the whole gay marriage thing.

Popma also worked for Phil Gramm, Gary Bauer and John McCain, so she doesn’t always pick a winner.

3. Republican Roberts Reveals Readiness — State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, has called a Statehouse press conference Tuesday, apparently to jump into the governor’s race. He’s an ordained minister who has served five terms in the House. And he promises to add a dose of much-needed alliteration to the campaign.

4. Fallon Out of Lug Love — Former state rep. and failed governor/congressional candidate Ed Fallon says Culver is in trouble unless he dances cheek-to-cheek with the Democratic Party’s liberal base. Some flowers might also be nice. Maybe a spa day.

Fallon contends Culver has sidestepped issues such as campaign finance reform that are important to liberals. Fallon also contends that although it’s nice to be important, it’s also important to make your former rivals feel important.  He laid out his arguments in an an op-ed piece:

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.

Gov. Erbe could not be reached for comment.

5. Nostalgia Polling— TheIowaRepublican also jumped in the wayback machine, releasing polls on how a 2006 rematch between Culver and Republican Jim Nussle would look today. They also matched up Culver against former Gov. Terry Branstad. There’s been some buzz lately that Branstad might try for a comeback.

Culver edged Nussle, but a Branstad reunion tour pasted Culver 53-37.

That gave me the idea to do some legacy polling of my own. This week, you can vote in the Republican and Democratic nostalgia primaries. Next week, the general election.


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Honda Accord 1996-2009


After 11 years of faithful service, I traded away my 1996 Honda Accord last week. We bought it with about 23,000 miles on the odometer and let it go just a few miles shy of 232,000.

We traded it in on a new Civic, mainly because the Honda dealership was the only place that would give me significant bucks for my classic. Now, my wife can commute to Iowa City in a car that does a little better than 20 mpg, or about what our Chrysler Pacifica gets. 

The Pacifica is my chariot now. Plenty of room for golf clubs, kegs etc.

I’ve had three Hondas since 1989 and put over 700,00 miles on the trio. The 96 Accord carried me safetly between Ames and Des Moines for several years and on trips to numerous to count. The air conditioning went out last spring, but otherwise it held together pretty well.

The check engine light came on just before we made the trade, so I think the timing was right.

The Civic is the first new car we’ve owned. And while getting in the other day, it occurred to me that I hadn’t driven a brand new car in years, maybe even since driver’s ed in high school.

That new car smell always makes me think of driver’s ed, learning to pass, parallel parking, stalling while trying repeatedly to get started uphill with manual transmission. Ah, memories.


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Column — Trip to Honey Creek

The words “state” and “resort” don’t exactly fit together. Not like “state” and “penitentiary,” for instance.

But our state owns Honey Creek Resort on Rathbun Lake in south-central Iowa. And for a few days last week, it was our staycation destination.

The Legislature floated millions in bonds in 2005 to build the place. The long path to its opening in September was rocky. In January, state officials said complained that the resort was spending too much money and attracting too few guests.Oh, and there were reports of flying shower heads.

We found no airborne plumbing. But there were surprises, both pleasant and less so.

We stayed in one of the resort’s brand new cabins, a prairie-style, two-bedroom space that was, in many ways, nicer than our home. There were flat-screen TVs in the living room and master bedroom, a front porch and bunk beds for the kids. No one had scattered Franken Berry cereal across the floor. None of the dining room chairs were coated with a flypaperlike mix of apple juice and ketchup. It’s no place like home.

Maybe it’s too nice. When I think, “cabin,” I recall church camp, with humidity and bugs and a long walk for a cold shower. Now, my offspring will think Sponge Bob on satellite and air conditioning. There was a place to make an old-school campfire, salvaging a vestige of roughing it.

It was surprisingly posh, and why not at $259 to $309 per night? Honey Creek reports that the cabins have been 90 percent full this month.

You also get the run of the lodge, with its indoor Buccaneer Bay water park, restaurant, bar, rustic lobby and massive courtyard. Passes to the water park, The Preserve golf course and bike rentals are included.

The Lake Shore Grill served Tess and Ella “s’mores pancakes” stuffed with marshmallows and chocolate. Twenty minutes later, they were shooting around Buccaneer Bay at the speed of sugar, squealing at dog-whistle frequency.

But with any new spot, there were disappointments.

The resort map shows a beach, bike trail, playground and boat ramp. But none of those amenities is completed. The beach and boat ramp have been delayed by high water. The playground had yet to be assembled. Part of the bike trail is still under construction. And if you rent a bike, be choosy. Some had flat tires or missing chains.

There’s a small store in the lodge, with souvenirs, sunscreen, etc., but you have to drive five miles to get any real provisions. Seems like the state could make some decent coin by thinking more like an entrepreneur in this case.

Despite those bumps and delays, the place was crawling with visitors last weekend. Clearly, Honey Creek has a lot of potential — in a part of the state that really needs an economic boost.

We’ll be back, if we can get unstuck from our chairs.


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Participation Garden – July

Jully Zuccinni

Our Participation Garden has entered its wild, overgrown stage.

Sure, it’s not drawing global admiration like the Obama Victory Garden, but we did manage to negotiate a hard-won truce with rabbit insurgents. It’s shaky, but holding, thanks to a new fence.

A few dead-enders are sniffing around, but they’re in their last throws.

The endless flow of zucchini has started. Cucumbers are next. Followed by roughly 3 metric tons of tomatoes.

July Garden

Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini fight it out for supremacy.

July Tomatoes

Meanwhile, out on the east 40, tomatoes take over. The marigolds don’t stand a chance.

If you have favorite ideas/recipes for using all this bounty, send them along.


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