Post-Election 2014 thoughts: The results

On to the national, state, and local results! (As they would say in Wisconsin, FORWARD!)

As has been mentioned by many others, the election of Joni Ernst means Iowa has finally sent a woman to Congress. Before Tuesday, Iowa and Mississippi were the only states that had never elected a woman as governor, US Senator, or US House Representative. Thankfully, Mississippi is all alone now. (I would have hated it if Mississippi had done it first. That would have been a huge embarrassment for the Hawkeye State.)

Obviously, I voted for neither Ernst nor Democrat Bruce Braley, but it seems to me that Iowans picked the better candidate, at least between the two. As far back as the Republican primary, Ernst’s appeal to Iowans was much stronger than, as Bobblehead would say, the vanilla white men she ran against. Though Braley and left-leaning groups ran a months-long character assassination and tried to tie her to big money interests (as if Braley was innocent of that), I think Iowans were better able to relate to Ernst. A gun-owning woman who grew up on a farm, castrated hogs, worked at Hardee’s, and wore plastic bread bags over her shoes in the winter, Ernst seemed much more real and relatable, seemed much more like an everyday Iowan. By comparison, Braley came across as a plastic politician. His experience as the District 1 Representative did not help him, especially given how unpopular the Obama administration has become. (The CRG noted yesterday that Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, received more votes than Braley.) Also, Braley had essentially been campaigning for the open Senate seat since Harkin announced his retirement way back in January 2013. He was the presumptive Democratic nominee from the get-go; once he threw his name in the hat, nobody else stepped up to challenge him. Perhaps Iowans had grown tired of him. Frankly, for over a year it seemed like he was Iowa’s Democratic Senator.

Will Ernst prove to be an effective Senator for Iowa? Will her actions and votes prove beneficial for both the state and country? I hope so. In an age of extreme partisanship, I think both Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin have been, overall, voices of levelheaded reason. They are two people who generally want to get things done, not gum up the works for the sake of doing so or because they won’t get everything they want. I hope Ernst will follow the example they have set. It is something Iowans have valued and appreciated, otherwise I assume neither Grassley nor Harkin would have lasted this long.

Voters want change, want something different, something better. For years, Bobblehead has said that Republicans have been much more forward-thinking and progressive than Democrats, and I think the election was proof of that. Though some of the ideas put forth by Republicans may not be the most palatable (and some of them are probably gifts to big business), at least they are ideas for change. What kind of change and reform do the Democrats propose? Nothing big, nothing drastic, if anything at all. Only small tweaks to the status quo, to those lasting monuments of Democrats past. Healthcare reform was an exception, but what since then? (I suppose one could count immigration reform, that appears to be going nowhere fast.) Raising the contribution cap for Social Security would, I think, go a long way in keeping our social safety net solvent, but what about other systemic problems with our government programs and services? (The debate about Social Security reform is a frustrating beast. It seems most older, white Americans despise welfare programs — except, of course, the welfare program they can’t wait to join when they retire. Only they do not call it welfare — they call it “Social Security.” It’s welfare, folks. The white-haired old fogies, whose solution to all the world’s problems is to do things “the way they used to be done,” collect the same welfare as the welfare queens they bemoan.) Anyway, you get the idea. Our government programs should be effective and efficient. If they are not, we need to rethink what we are doing. The Republicans have been doing more rethinking than Democrats lately.

Kudos to Alaskans, Oregonians, and Washingtonians (from DC this time) for voting to legalize marijuana. (The vote in DC comes with an interesting caveat. CNN writes that, “Because of its unique status as a district, not a state, Congress has the authority to overrule D.C. laws and some lawmakers have signaled that they would likely work to overrule the popular vote.” Sad, though painfully ironic since conservatives often defend bans on same-sex marriage because they are “the will of the people.”) Despite the fact a medicinal marijuana initiative failed to get the needed 60 percent supermajority in Florida, a majority of Floridians (57 percent) favored it. Slowly but surely, the country is moving past its draconian drug policies. Though it has been a long time since I got stoned, I look forward to the day when I can buy marijuana products without having to do it covertly, without having to deal with the sometimes shady, self-destructive, lowlife scum that sell it in the dark, secluded corners of our country. It would be very reassuring to know exactly what I was buying, where it came from, how it was grown, and who grew it — much as I do when buying beer.

It was a forgone conclusion that Terry Branstad would win yet another term. Branstad even carried Lee County for the first time, and I am sure the massive fertilizer plant project and its massive state tax incentives had a lot to do with that. That means Johnson County remains the only county Branstad has never won.

Much like Grassley and Harkin, as well as the state’s treasurer (Michael Fitzgerald) and attorney general (Tom Miller), Iowans stay loyal to what works and respect people who quietly get their job done. Though I did not vote for him, probably never will, and think he has become a little too comfortable in Terrace Hill, Branstad is a throwback to an era of workmanlike compromise — or at least that is my perception of the past. He is, relatively speaking, much more moderate. He does not ram a crazy, right-wing agenda down people’s throats, à la Sam Brownback and Scott Walker — though it would be interesting (and maybe even scary) to see what the Mustache would do if the Republicans had taken control of both the Iowa House and Senate.

On that note, the Iowa Legislature will remain split for another two years. It has apparently worked well for the last four, enacting legislation to reform commercial property taxes and the education system. Will both ultimately benefit the state in the long-term? Probably not the commercial property tax reform. The state will be “backfilling” cities’ lost tax revenue for years to come. I am not sure if that will end at some point, but Iowa will be depleting its nearly $1 billion rainy day fund to pay for a tax cut for commercial property owners. Bye-bye budget surplus.

City tax rolls will receive another blow when rental units can no longer be taxed as commercial property sometime in the next couple years. That was one reason why I voted in favor of the local option sales and services tax (Measure E). (It did not pass.) Cities across Iowa will be hit hard and limited in the ways they can make ends meet: raise property taxes, increase the cost of services, cut services, or collect money through local option taxes. (Iowa City and West Des Moines are the only large cities in the state that do not have a LOSST.) People in Iowa City enjoy some pretty nice city and county services, and they will not like the consequences if there is no money to pay for them. (The SEATS paratransit system will probably get axed.) With funds likely to fall drastically over the next decade, the state and its counties and cities probably will need to make some tough decisions. If the economy tanks again, things could get bad.

But I suppose we have that education reform going for us…

The bond referendum that would have funded an expansion and renovation of the aging and outdated county courthouse failed to garner the 60 percent supermajority it needed to pass. The majority of Johnson County voters have favored jail expansion and courthouse renovations the last two years, but county officials cannot get that majority above 60 percent. The facts remain, though: the county’s jail and courthouse are inadequate for current needs, the Board of Supervisors is dead set on doing something, and drug policy reform at the state and federal levels, which presumably would alleviate pressure on the justice system, seem unlikely in the near future. What’s next? A story in yesterday’s CRG asked just that, and a sidebar even profiled a possible combined law enforcement facility. I think it would be pretty extreme to create an entirely new government entity just to get a referendum passed, but would not put it past the Board of Supervisors, who are becoming increasingly desperate with each failed bond referendum.

Honestly, it did surprise me that the courthouse expansion/renovation did not pass, especially since there were zero additional jail beds associated with the project. Apparently, people in Johnson County like sharing the courthouse elevators with people accused of murder and rape, having their court cases delayed due to a lack of court space, and waiting in line at the bathroom during recess (that is exactly what I would want to do as a juror [thick, thick sarcasm]).

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