By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
COOPER, Iowa, Nov. 3, 2014 — Joni Ernst in this past year has become the most intriguing politician in Iowa. A Republican from Red Oak in southwest Iowa, she has great potential for our state, and maybe for our nation. But she is not ready to be a U.S. Senator right now. In two years, she can be, if she wants to run again.
Congressman Bruce Braley, whom I think has overcome an awful start to his campaign with a strong finish, is ready to be a U.S. Senator now. And that is why the Democrat from Waterloo has my endorsement in the general election tomorrow.
In other major races in the state, I recommend the re-election of Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds from the Republican ticket; and in the races for U.S. House, I endorse Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, in the First District; Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from Ottumwa, in the Second District; David Young, a Republican from Van Meter, in the Third District, and Jim Mowrer, a Democrat from Boone in my own Fourth District. In the statehouse races, I endorse Bill Northey, a Republican from Spirit Lake, as Secretary of Agriculture; Mary Mosiman, a Republican from Ames, as State Auditor; Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat from Waukee, as State Treasurer; Adam Gregg, a Republican from Johnston, as Attorney General, and Brad Anderson, a Democrat from Des Moines, as Secretary of State.
Honestly, it has taken me until now, the night before the election, to be sure where I stand on all these races. Hundreds of thousands of people have already voted, although I don’t know how they could with all that has been happening late in the campaigns. I publish my endorsements for two reasons: 1) I do put a lot of thought into them, after following the races closely, and 2) when you sound off occasionally on politics, as I do, then I think people deserve to know whom you favor in the end.
Now, we all know that the nation is watching this U.S. Senate race between Braley and Ernst. The outcome might well determine which party will control the Senate. Truth is, I don’t really care about that. I have sampled life in both parties — spent years in each — and I have never been as comfortable politically as I have been these past two years, as a registered “no party” voter. My interest in the Braley-Ernst race is this: Which of them will best serve the people of Iowa right now?
I believe that is Braley. He is a 57-year-old attorney who has served northeast Iowa in the U.S. House the past six years. He is a moderate, at least by the way I measure Democrats nowadays. He has learned a lot during this very contentious campaign. The chief thing he learned, of course, is the high regard all Iowans have for our other U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley. Braley’s boneheaded clucking about Grassley to a group of Texas trial lawyers nearly killed Braley’s own campaign when it was just getting started. He apologized,. He knew better then and he certainly does now. Forget it.
I have been following the political career of Ernst, a 44-year-old citizen-soldier and elected official, for about 10 years now. That goes back to when she was first elected Montgomery County auditor in my home area of southwest Iowa, where radio station KMA frequently had her in its news coverage. I’ve seen how her military experience has given her tremendous leadership training; she is a combat veteran who is now a Lieutenant Colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa Army National Guard. I was excited in 2011 when she stepped up and was elected to the Iowa Senate. I got to know her a little when we were both involved in a Southwest Iowa Student Leadership Conference later in 2011, and I was very impressed at the way she interacted with high school kids and other development leaders from around the region.
I was surprised she did not run for the U.S. House seat from Des Moines and southwest Iowa when Congressman Tom Latham announced he would retire at the end of this term. I was even more surprised when she decided she would run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the upcoming retirement of Senator Tom Harkin.
Her grand entry into the Senate race with her now-famous or notorious “hog castration” commercial; her motorcycle riding and pistol-packing, and her suck-up to Sarah Palin, all of that was a real turn-off for me. I thought Ernst was more substantial than that, although I’ve spent the rest of the campaign wondering about it. Her recent decisions to refuse appearances before editorial boards of several of Iowa’s largest newspapers, and her refusal to do interviews with some top political reporters in the state, told me that she is not yet ready for the U.S. Senate. Her campaign has been too packaged and too controlled. My hunch is that she needed to take more control of it herself.
Ernst has two years remaining on her Iowa Senate term. She should serve out that responsibility. While she does, she should stick close to Senator Grassley, become almost like an additional staff member for him, learning more about how Congress works, gaining more experience on national and international issues, building her own connections in Washington, D.C. The 81-year-old Grassley has already indicated he intends to run for re-election in 2016. Nobody admires him and his public service career more than I do, but I hope he decides to retire instead of running again. He could give Iowa another measure of real service, between now and 2016, by helping get Ernst ready to succeed him.
ONE MORE TIME FOR BRANSTAD. Let me be perfectly clear, this is the last time I will endorse and vote for Terry Branstad for governor. I like the guy. I am very impressed with all he’s done for Iowa. I’ve written many times that he is the most successful political figure in the state’s history, and probably the hardest worker ever in the governor’s office. But enough is enough. This will be his sixth term as governor.
This is also the “oldest” contest for governor in Iowa that I’ve been able to find, in a quick search of the archives. Branstad is 67, almost 68, and his Democrat challenge Jack Hatch, a state senator from Des Moines, is 64. This election cycle, I had hoped to be voting for someone in, say, their 40s. But many younger would-be contenders in Iowa have had to put their political lives on hold, while so many baby boomers try to linger on the public stage.
I endorse Branstad again this time because I believe he and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will do a better job running Iowa for another four years than Hatch and his running mate Monica Vernon, of Cedar Rapids, possibly could.
And I commend Reynolds for the growth she’s had as lieutenant governor, especially in economic development work, and her work in K-12 education. Four years ago, when Branstad surprised everyone by picking Reynolds to run with him, I thought it was a real reach. But she’s come a long way.
COMMENT ON U.S. HOUSE RACES. Pat Murphy, 55, whom I favor for the U.S. House seat in the First District, has been a solid state legislator representing the Dubuque area for 20-plus years, including serving as Speaker of the House.
It may surprise some that I would endorse Mariannette Miller-Meeks, 59, over incumbent Dave Loebsack, 61, in the Second District, since Loebsack has beaten her twice in earlier races. But I’ve always been impressed with her credentials. She’s an ophthalmologist who served 24 years in the U.S. Army, was on the faculty of the University of Iowa medical school, was president of the Iowa Medical Society, and was director of the Iowa Department of Public Health before she resigned for this campaign. I don’t think Loebsack has been a particularly strong Congressman; let Miller-Meeks have a crack at the job if she wants it enough to run a third time.
In the Third District, David Young, 46, former chief of staff for Senator Grassley, may wind up being Iowa’s strongest member of the House. He’s got a calm manner, is well-spoken, isn’t strident and knows how Congress works from all his Grassley staff experience. I’ve got this feeling Young could be around for a long time.
In our Fourth District, incumbent Steve King is 65 years old and has been in the House 12 years. Some say he hasn’t done anything; I’ve always contended he has done more than enough. Jim Mowrer, 28-year-old former combat infantryman, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the American Military University and a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University. After his military service, he worked as a civilian in the Pentagon tin he Army’s Office of Business Transformation, streamlining the service’s business practices. His election would mark a nice generational shift that we need to see happening in Iowa politics.
COMMENT ON STATEHOUSE RACES. Tom Miller is 70 years old and is just finishing his eighth term as Attorney General. He has been very effective. But it is time for a change, and 31-year-old Adam Gregg, a native of Hawarden and a graduate of Central College in Pella, looks like he’d be a good one. Michael Fitzgerald, 67, has been State Treasurer for 32 years, but I don’t think his Republican challenger Sam Clovis, 65, of Sioux City, a Morningside College professor, radio talk show host and former U.S. Senate candidate, has made nearly a good enough argument for replacing Fitzgerald.
CLOSER TO HOME. We have had a tremendous couple of years here in Greene County in west central Iowa. State, county and local governments have worked closely with private industries and businesses in setting the stage for what could be unprecedented growth here. We were declared the first “Home Base Iowa” site in the governor’s drive to recruit military veterans to settle and make careers in the state. We have a Hy-Vee Food Store being built in Jefferson and the Wild Rose Casino, with a hotel and conference center, being built on the north edge of Jefferson. The Greene County Medical Center is doing a $22.5 million renovation and expansion. Our six home-grown industries are all booming. The bottom line — hundreds of new jobs are becoming available here in the next year or two.
Our State Rep. Chip Baltimore, a Republican from Boone, has been a real advocate for Greene County through all this, and deserves re-election.
And I think two members of the Board of Supervisors who are up for election — Republicans Dawn Rudolph and Tom Contner — should be re-elected, too. Ditto for longtime County Treasurer Donna Lawson, a Democrat. Those are the only contested races on the county ballot.
EVEN CLOSER TO HOME. My most heartfelt endorsement is for the candidate running unopposed for clerk of the Franklin Township Board of Trustees. That is Carla Offenburger, on the ballot for the first time in her life.
You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.