Times are changing

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

A couple of recent polls nearly blew our minds: The Des Moines Sunday Register reported in its Iowa Poll that 65% of Iowans — including 62% of those surveyed in the Fourth Congressional District — support a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, and not just Dreamers. Five years ago, the Iowa Poll reported 54% supported citizenship for the undocumented as a “worthy goal.” Ann Selzer, who conducts the poll, tells us that in 2013 a “majority” of those surveyed in the Fourth supported citizenship for the undocumented (without being able to share the 2013 number).

This is a big change, especially in the Fourth where Rep. Steve King perpetually sails to re-election and where Donald Trump holds a solid level of support.

If any other poll reported these numbers we would suspect an outlier. But this is by Selzer and Co., the gold standard in American political polling. Ann Selzer gets it right.

And so there was this other poll a few weeks back filled with omens. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, was running 18 points behind to a generic Democrat. And King held only a 5-point lead over a generic Democrat. Again, you wouldn’t believe it were it not for Selzer. It was a snapshot in time, but the bulb nearly blinded us.

You pick up anecdotes, about how the churches in Sioux County are starting to rally behind immigrants. State Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who certainly knows his district, abandoned the Republican Party and is running as an independent so offended he is by Trump and King and their attitudes toward immigrants. And then you hear a lot of comments about people being embarrassed and ashamed of public outbursts of racism directed at our new neighbors.

Hearts and minds are changing.

People have heard a lot about the tragic stories of Dreamers, children brought to the United States by undocumented parents. They started to hear about it in 2015, when Ofelia Valdez of Storm Lake confronted Ted Cruz. What would he do about the Dreamers? she asked. Cruz replied that he would deport the likes of her on his first day of office. The story went across the country. People started paying attention.

Despite Ofelia, Trump and Cruz came out on top among Iowa Republicans. Trump and King horrified people with their slanders against Latin Americans, Haitians and Africans. People feel sorry for the Dreamers. More than 80% of Iowans believe they deserve citizenship. And when they start thinking about the children, they start thinking about the parents. They work in the meatpacking plant or on your roof. They are nice people and hard-working. The USA has come to know the parents through their children, and we are recognizing that we need them and that we must be fair to those we invited in. We did invite them in. IBP ran billboards at the Mexican border begging them to come to Storm Lake. Gov. Terry Branstad and Sen. Chuck Grassley never tried to stop them. They wanted to brag up all those jobs. Iowa asked them to come, and then we turned on them. Grassley and King have said that citizenship for Dreamers amounts to “amnesty.” Clearly, they are out of touch with the Iowa electorate. They did not vote for Trump because he is a racist, they voted for him because they think the little people have been getting the shaft all these years. They figured out he really wasn’t for them.

The people in Sioux County have become more familiar with our brown brothers and sisters. That changes hearts and minds, and then politics. Either Steve King changes his tune, or he is not long for Congress. That is what the polls suggest.

If the national Democratic Party had an ounce of sense, it would drop a bag of cash on King’s head and smother him. He can be defeated. Iowa can make progress. We can get about doing our work and building communities with whoever wants to live out here far from the centers of power. There are serious and strong challengers to King bidding for the nomination. Nobody ever thought Berkley Bedell could defeat incumbent Rep. Wiley Mayne in 1974. But there was a wave of revulsion over dishonesty and trust. Mayne stood by Nixon as King stands by Trump and a belief that cynical racism can hold him in good stead. It cannot. The polls tell us that Iowans want to move forward. The question is whether the political machinery is too far beyond repair to respond to a moment of possibility.

For the moment, there is not much hope of progress. The latest idea from the US Senate is to punt the Dreamer issue into next year, after the elections. Of course, Republicans in the House oppose the idea. They want the protections to expire. Elections have consequences. It is high time to vote for progress and civility, for elevating people and not locking them out.