Moderate Iowa Republicans meet in DSM

Former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning was first to speak, telling the small group that 120 people had signed up for the event but with today’s weather, she says, attendance will be sparse.  The first speaker is to be former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach.  Luncheon speaker will be Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor and former EPA administrator who has launched the National Republican Leadership Council to encourage moderates in the GOP to become more active.  In a conversation we had before the event started, she told me about 10 percent of "moderate" Republicans participate in party primaries.  She seeks to change that.  (She & Leach are here because they arrived last night in Des Moines, BTW.) 

Former Iowa Congressman Greg Ganske is now on stage, introducing Leach.  "This is the first time I’ve spoken in public at a political event," — since his 2002 loss to Senator Tom Harkin.  "I wish that it were nicer…for everyone to be here, nonetheless we have some very dedicated people who are here today." (Former State Rep. Janet Metcalf introduced dignitaries in the room.  Here’s the list at this hour:  State Auditor Dave Vaudt, Polk County GOP Chair Ted Sporer, State Representatives Libby Jacobs & Walt Tomenga, former State Representative Bryce Oakley, former State Senator/US Ambassador Mary Kramer, Polk County Supervisor E.J. Giovanetti.  Former Iowa Governors Bob Ray & Terry Branstad are due here later in the day.)

Leach takes the stage, as the folks in the room stand to applaud.  "It’s a tragedy he didn’t continue in the senate," Leach says of Ganske’s loss to Harkin. 

"It’s Des Moines’ boon to have you back in the practice of medicine," Leach continued, referencing Ganske’s practice of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.

"Our two party systm looks awfully fragile today," Leach said as he launched into his address.  "…Maybe something’s askew….It would appear the fault lines (in the Republican Party) are larger than they’ve been at any time in modern history."

Leach went on to suggest that about two percent of Americans control the Republican and the Democratic Parties.  "And that’s rather extraordinary…if you think about it."

"If I say two percent participate in primaries….party organiation is a diminimus proposition….Very, very few Americans go to a coutry Republican gathering and that means we have a two-party system in which participation is very slight."

Leach then suggested presidential nominees of the GOP "scoot to the right in the primaries and then hedge to the center in the general election."  He argued the Democrats do the same thing, scooting to the left in the primaries and then moving toward the center in the general election.

"In congress, that phenomenon doesn’t occur and that is why the tone of politics today is getting so skewed.  Once you’re elected, there is no incentive to move to the center," Leach said, suggesting those who do move to the center find themselves challenged in the next election in a party primary because that’s where the real contests for congressional seats occur since so many districts are dominant for one party or the other.

"And so you have a situation where the majority (of members of congress) are elected on the edges…and they have no incentive to move to the center.  Moving to the center means compromising…It makes for a very confrontational atmosphere," Leach said.

"…Increasingly, issues are described as moral issues.  Some of them are, some of them aren’t precisely.  If an issue is a moral issue….by definition your position (in opposition) is immoral," Leach said, adding that while there is a strong vein of "tolerance" within American society in general, that kind of tolerance is non-existent in congress.

(Insert:  A blast from the past:  former State Rep/Branstad administration legislative liason/Department of Natural Resources deputy director Don Paulin just walked in the room, followed by former State Senator Jack Rife.)

Leach is discussing Sir Issac Newton’s third law of nature, that for every action there is an equal and oppositve reaction.  Leach told the crowd that one day in the mid-1990s he discovered a fourth "Newtonian" Law — a "law" from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich:  "Social physics differs from natural physics in that quite often the reaction is greater than the action."

Leach went on to discuss the 30-year reign of Republican Governors Ray & Branstad, who he said had employed a low key approach, which according to Leach is much bretter than hard-charging.  "Terry became quite a consensus governor," Leach said of former Governor Branstad.

A few moments later, Leach offered this:  "Prospects for dealing with real issues for real Americans may be declining in the coming year because of the looming recession."  (Leach at one time was chair of the House Banking Committee.)

Leach then offered a rather harsh critique of the Bush Administration, suggesting there "is nothing compassionate about lax regulation" in the financial sector that has spawned the home mortgage crisis and he went on to suggest Bush’s foreign policy has been hijacked by the "neocons."

Leach offers this advice to his fellow moderates:  "We’re going to have to engage more.  There are a lot of things that can be done in Iowa because we’re an early Caucus state…I think it’s time to think about the basics and that comes back to a heritage and philosophy of the Republican Party."

Leach then launched into a bit of that history, mentioning Crawfordsville, Iowa, the site of the earliest meeting of Republicans in the country and then a brief discussion of how quickly the Republican Party came into prominence.  (Launched in 1853, by 1856 is had a "phenomenally impressive candidate for POTUS, followed by the successful Lincoln in 1860.

"The earliest Republicans were very individual rights oriented….rebelling against the Whig attitudes of upper crust classes that seemed to be a kind of arrogance in leadership…We were also the party of the suffragettes.  This was a progressive party."

Leach went on to discuss the judgment of Dwight Eisenhauer, who he called "one of the greatest presidents in American history.  All he did was end two wars….he also kept us out of wars…he didn’t go into the Middle East with the British and the French…We’re also the party of Ronald Reagan and an aspect of Reagan that I think is seldom talked about was his acceptance of the New Deal…that is might be modified, but it must bwe kept intact."

Leach wound up by analyzing each of the GOP presidential candidates (only saying positive things about each) and then wrapped up his remarks.  During a Q&A session with the audience, Gankse asked the following:  "There is an elephant in the room in this coming election.  His name is Michael Bloomberg….This is a man who could put $1 billion into an election."

Leach said he didn’t know what Bloomberg’s decision might be, but offered that the country is ripe for some kind of third-party.

"There could be a very serious third-party movement which may or may not involve Mayor Bloomberg," Leach said, also mentioning the "Unity ’08" group and its Internet convention.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.