It was a whirlwind year of politics



The Iowa Caucuses are past and the campaigns are gone with media in tow on to New Hampshire and points beyond, much to our relief.

It’s been a crazy couple weeks capping a captivating year for Storm Lake and the caucuses.

It started with John Delaney digging through a snowbank at our office door one Saturday morning in December 2019 and sitting for an hour talking about the 40-year decline of the working class. We immediately struck up a rapport.

Elizabeth Warren came in January to Our Place. A Trump supporter from Minnesota who got unruly with a selfie stick was quickly rushed into a nearby evergreen tree by Chris Cole, then assistant police chief. Warren had read the book Storm Lake and was using my own words on me in a brief interview with son Tom and brother John. She has an incredible mind that masters detail and a personal warmth that you don’t see on TV.

Warren and Delaney were back in March for the Iowa Farmers Union Heartland Forum, which I moderated at Buena Vista University. They joined Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro and Tim Ryan where we talked about anti-trust and reshaping the farm program to support regenerative agriculture. Every campaign make agriculture a leader in the climate crisis battle. That was the biggest overlooked story of the Iowa Caucus cycle — that climate change is a leading issue, and that campaigns realize agriculture’s promise.

Beto O’Rourke dashed through Storm Lake shortly thereafter. Peach the Newshound stole his coffee cup he set on the floor. Dolores fetched it back and O’Rourke drank the rest. It might have been the highlight of the season. Beto became a favorite because he is genuine. He has no airs. He would text me from the trail when he met someone from Storm Lake or spotted a Dorothy Skewis woodcut. He has a great future.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg marched in the Big Parade on the Fourth of July and we were honored to sit with him for an interview. He discussed race relations with candor, and was moved by the diversity he saw in Storm Lake. He referred to Storm Lake through the campaign, and talked about a new sustainable agriculture during a televised debate. He struck a chord during a December visit to Buena Vista University and earned the rural vote by sheer number of appearances.

John Hickenlooper of Colorado was the friendliest politician I have met. He decided to quit after driving around Clear Lake with Michael Bennett. Tom Steyer is fun to be around, and you can’t help but feel his excitement and outrage. You could have heard a pin drop when Joe Biden talked in Storm Lake about the Vilsacks losing a grandchild.

The final few weeks were a zoo. Reporters were calling from Holland, Germany and France, plus the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Politico, the Boston Globe … My cornpone opinions were featured on cable talk shows with SE Cupp on CNN, Chuck Todd of NBC, Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC, Brian Stelter of CNN and Thom Hartmann Radio. Many of these appearances were conducted through the good graces of KBVU at Buena Vista, and media professor Jerry Johnson. Students got to work with network pros in New York.

I was fortunate that the Washington Post wanted my commentaries on rural politics. I have been able to write a semi-regular column for The Guardian, which reaches millions of readers in the US, Australia and the United Kingdom. I was delighted to moderate a labor forum in Cedar Rapids co-sponsored by The Guardian and the Teamsters Union. Son Tom got a master’s lesson working with veteran Ed Pilkington of The Guardian interviewing candidates that day.

The week before the caucuses I found myself on stage with best-selling author Michael Pollan for the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California in Berkeley. We talked about Corn Belt Politics to a full house.

While I was in Berkeley, we were in a crisis having not heard from our son Joe. We finally heard from him following a public appeal. As I parked to head into the event with Pollan, my cellphone rang. It was John Delaney. He wanted me to know that he was praying for Joe. He had already decided to drop out of the race. He had nothing to gain by calling me. But the next time people tell me that these are not decent people who are worthy of our sincere attention, I will think of John Delaney. And Beto O’Rourke.

When I got home from Berkeley a documentary crew was waiting to get a peek of caucus night. Now everyone is gone and we are back to waiting for the girls state basketball tournament.

The klieg lights have gone dark and the phone isn’t ringing as much. Brother Bill and I have resumed arguing over Hawkeye basketball and moved on from Warren v. Sanders. I got in a good nap or two last weekend. Obscurity is something to relish if you are lazy. But what a surreal experience it has been. Our goal was to use whatever leverage we had in elevating the discussion of rural issues nationally, along with folks like radio newsman Bob Leonard, who represented the Iowa perspective in The New York Times. We would like to think we made a difference.

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