Hubbell breezes in with solid sense of confidence

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Fred Hubbell is in about as good a position as a Democrat could be going into the November midterm elections. He says his polling shows him with a two-percent lead over appointed Gov. Kim Reynolds, which is a dead heat, and Republican strategist Doug Gross does not disagree.

At this time 20 years ago nobody knew who Tom Vilsack was for sure, but they all had a pretty good take on Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot. The congressman was a popular farm radio broadcaster, was great with a one-liner and held an infinite lead. Vilsack was not especially charismatic but he was determined to win. He is stubborn that way.

So is Hubbell, except he is already in a dead heat with a gubernatorial ascendant who does not have as good a feel as Lightfoot did.

Hubbell and his wife, Charlotte, were warmly welcomed by about 70 locals at the Democratic party headquarters on the second floor of the old Masonic Lodge. Also attending was Tim Gannon, a former Vilsack aide and farmer running for secretary of agriculture.

They were rolling down Hwy. 71 from the Clay County Fair to Carroll, and you sensed they felt some breeze at their back. Booth workers at the fair told them they had never seen so many Democrats sign up to volunteer. Hubbell wasted little breath on blue waves. He joked just a little at the start and smiled, and then he got serious quickly. His speech is like a legal brief. He states facts: “Medicaid privatization is an unmitigated disaster,” he said, explaining how healthcare providers in Spencer are having a terrible time managing cash flow.

He continues on, that mental health and substance abuse are the state’s biggest problem, especially among young students. “Nothing is being done about it. There is no youth-based mental health program.”

He rattles off the numbers. Hubbell says he can restore mental health services and education funding by resuming government management of Medicaid and eliminating corporate tax giveaways (which he says amount to $160 million per year).

He knows that Iowa is losing five tons of soil per acre per year on average, and that’s 10 times the rate soil can regenerate itself. “We simply can’t keep doing that,” Hubbell told the crowd.

And then he rattles off a dozen more facts and positions that all pretty much reflect the liberal line. But he delivers it in the no-nonsense style, basically stating that the Republicans have run Iowa off the rails, and that’s why he ran. He wants to straighten up the budget and provide for people’s basic needs, starting with education and health care. He cites the fact that Iowa is 46th in income growth — “That’s rock bottom, folks.”

Contrast that against the cardboard cutout of a governor in Kim Reynolds and the impression may explain his and the Republicans’ internal polling.

It doesn’t help that Reynolds aligns herself with an orange-haired buffoon and Congressman Steve King, who mainly runs against Mexico. King co-chairs her campaign.

A hard-nosed business manager who wants to sweep things up and organize the office properly is what is called for, and Iowans can sense it. Her ads aren’t that good, and Hubbell keeps clobbering them with his own rebuttals. Democrats might have nominated him with such a margin because they know he is loaded and can respond to every attack, and then some. He already has bought up the Sunday morning talkshow airtime.

It was hot at headquarters. Nobody cared. The desire to win was palpable. Hubbell talked for 15 minutes and then listened for another half hour as the loyal Democrats came up to shake his hand and cheer him on. It’s not that often you see 70 Democrats in Buena Vista County. Longtime organizer Diane Hamilton did not recognize a lot of them. There were a few young people, but most were grayhairs. And they were perfectly comfortable with every word. Not a lot of big applause. Just a lot of heads nodding yes. This was a get-down-to-business gathering. They did not need to be fired up.

They were equally appreciative of Gannon, a University of Iowa graduate who argued for the restoration of Iowa State University. “Ag research at Iowa State has flatlined the past five years,” Gannon said. He wants to increase it from $30 million to $35 million per year. He argued for the 3/8ths of a cent sales tax for natural resources and soil conservation. “We need to protect this lake and build on our efforts to make Storm Lake a destination,” Gannon said, scoring local points.

The Mingo farmer gave Hubbell, who is accused of being a city slicker, a nice county blacktop opening. Hubbell drove right in with his comments about increasing soil conservation. He told me that he wants to eliminate the corporate chokehold on Iowa State, but that will require a significant increase in state funding. Appropriations are down 20% at the Regents institutions over the past decade. “It’s going to take the Regents, the president and a governor who are focused on the best education and research. That starts with restoring the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and making sure we are not beholden to big corporations.”

Reynolds is owned by those corporate interests. The man who came out of the executive suite is the one who wants to dismantle the Monsanto-Koch Brothers cabal that runs this state. Every person in the room knew what was at stake.