Politicking in the rain

The Dallas County Republican picnic was held midday today in "Napa Valley" — a ritzy, gated housing development on the far west side of the Des Moines metro.  Lush green grass surrounded a gazebo and a putting green as families gathered for a BBQ.  About 80 folks were on hand, counting the candidates, elected officials and their families. There was face-painting for the kids and other lawn games.  Lacking a putter, small boys made a game of shoving their shoe-clad feet into the hole on the putting green.

Alas, the rain clouds we could see hovering on the western horizon arrived and drops of rain began to fall. There was a mad dash to move the sound system for the event into thegazebo, under a roof. Most of the crowd of families and elected officials and four of the five Republican gubernatorial candidates crowded under the gazebo's protective roof.  The fifth candidate — Chris Rants — stood just outside the gazebo under his golf umbrella with his daughter, Kate.  "This is the first time I've been able to use my golf umbrella all summer long," Rants, an avid golfer, joked to the crowd when it was his turn to speak.

The first elected official to speak to the crowd was Congressman Tom Latham, a Republican from Ames, who represents Dallas County and the western Des Moines suburbs.  "It is outrageous," Latham said of the proposals clearing the Democratic-led congress.  "….The American people are the backstop on all this..  I can see a tremendous change and it's been coming on now for months and months and months…This is not something new — the tea parties, the people turning out for town hall meetings, they really care, they're involved, they get it and they understand that we've got to stop what's going on today, but do it on a way that we can put forth a positive agenda for this country and we'll be successful next year.  I think we're going to have a 1994 election all over again next year.  Take it back."  The crowd applauded.

If you listen to the MP3 recording of the event, you'll hear children getting to come forward and select a name out of a hat to determine the speaking order for the five gubernatorial candidates.  During these interludes, you will hear the rain pouring on my umbrella as I pulled my arm out of the gazebo to rest, then stuck it back into the gazebo to hold it out in front of the next candidate as he spoke.  (Sort of a radio reporter's "hokey pokey" in the rain.)

The first candidate to speak was Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids. Fong praised Matt Strawn, the Iowa GOP chairman who was at the event with his family.  Then, Fong recognized Isaiah McGhee of Waukee, a member of the Republican Central Committee who was running the soundsystem and who served with Fong on the Generation Iowa Commission.  "How am I going to talk abovethis rain?" Fong asked the crowd as the rain became a deluge. He laughed.  "It's going to get really loud."  

Fong advocated cutting state income taxes and sketched a brief bio for the crowd, describing himself as "the son of an immigrant — an immigrant who was here legally." Fong's son wanted to say something to his dad, during his dad's speech: "Luther, you're going to have to wait," Fong said, with a laugh and he ruffled Luther's hair.

"We need a state government that reflects the core values of Iowa's hard-working families," Fong said.  "It's what I'm offering as a gubernatorial candidate and what I want to bring back to state government."

Fong talked about his work in the private sector and promised to balance the state budget "without playing clam shell games." 

The second candidate to speak was State Senator Jerry Behn of Boone who represents Dallas County in the state senate.  He began by talking about an event last night in Marshalltown which featured the five candidates.  "It was the first time I got to hear some of the other candidates talk," Behn said to begin (an odd statement since I've seen Behn at events with the other candidates on at least three other occasions.) 

Behn said his goal, as governor, would be to create an Iowa where kids could find a job or start a business after they graduate from college.

"And our current governor has got three things he likes to do: he likes to tax and spend; he likes to borrow and spend; and he likes to bail-out and spend.  Do you notice a common theme there?" Behn said.

The third candidate to speak was State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll.  "As we travel the state, one of the things I emphasize….this campaign and the race for governor is really about who's in charge of government in the state of Iowa….The people are in charge of their government here in Iowa. It's not the governor. It's not the legislature and it's not the Iowa Supreme Court.  It's the people of Iowa who are in charge and as governor I will always respect that truth….We're here to serve the people of Iowa."

The fourth candidate to speak was Sioux City business consultant Bob Vander Plaats. "There's three points I want you to remember about this speech: one is leadership; two is freedom; and three is winning." 

Unlike the other four gubernatorial candidate, Vander Plaats talked about the national debate on health care reform and seemed to suggest he'd cut the state's ties with programs like Medicare (government-run heath care for the elderly) and Medicaid (government-run health care for the poor and disabled). 

"This health care debate's a debacle. They're trying to sell you something good and they're hoping that you buy it because then they can have total control. It'll be a complete loss of your freedom. It's time we havea governor who will stand up for the 10th amendment and Iowa's sovereigntyfrom the federal govenrment and say, 'We will run our own health care in the state of Iowa. We will not let the government run our health care for us."

As Vander Plaats concluded and turned his microphone back to Pete Jeffries, the event's emcee, he said: "I yield the remaining three seconds to Chris." 

The fifth and final candidate to speak was State Representative Chris Rants of Sioux City.   His first remark, as noted above, was about his umbrella.  "The neatest thing about today is to see so many families out," Rants began. "…It used to be you'd come to a Republican event and it was all people with white hair.  Not that there's anything wrong with people with white hair — I'm getting some myself — but the fact is: why are we all doing this?…We've all got kids and we all care about the kind of state we leave for our kids."

Rants was the only one of the five to mention unemployment, a sort of segue to his biographical sketch of his time working in the private sector.  "We need a governor that's going to be focused on job creation," Rants said.  Rants advocated changes in Iowa's tax and regulatory climate and concluded by talking about education.

"It's been a pleasure to be here; hopefully the rain stops," Rants said to close. "If it doesn't, I have a really big umbrella and Kate and I will walk you to your car if it means getting your vote."

UPDATE:  Here's the Radio Iowa story of the gubernatorial candidates.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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