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Iowa Caucus Game

Iowa Caucus Game, 1983

I’ve had a lot of fun covering the Iowa caucuses. It feels odd to be mostly sitting this one out.

Last week I noted that I think it’s time for Iowa to relinquish its place at the front of our nation’s political line (or for political parties or federal legislation to reform the process, giving other states a turn).

Today, as Iowans get ready to caucus, I’ll note that, whether the caucuses should be first forever or not, they’ve been a fun story to cover and I’ll share a few memories from covering caucuses in four decades. (Memories is a key word here. Most of these caucuses were long enough ago that news accounts are not easy to find online. I didn’t do extensive research to verify the accuracy of all my memories, though I did verify all the caucus results – and remembered them accurately.) (more…)

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I got a lot of high-powered help in calling George Bush The Elder the winner of the 1980 Republican caucuses. Seated next to me is Jim Flansburg. Standing from left are Dan Pedersen, Paul Leavitt, Merrill Perlman, Michael Gartner, Jim Gannon and Arnie Garson. That’s an astounding amount of journalistic talent and experience surrounding me. And I had more hair then, but not on my face.

Let’s bid farewell to the Iowa caucuses. They’ve had a long run, but it’s time for someone else to launch the presidential campaign process.

This state with far more hogs than people has hogged its place at the front of the political line far too long. It is past time for the Hawkeye State to practice the manners that Iowa parents and teachers have been teaching Iowa children for generations: Take turns.

Someone will need to wrench the spotlight away from Iowa, but I hope someone does. Iowans will not relinquish without a fight what they unreasonably regard as an entitlement. (I use that word because the Iowa Republicans who would never give up their spot at the front of the line hate entitlements, except the ones they receive.)

I voiced this view privately during the 2008 caucus season, though I never wrote it. I wasn’t using Twitter regularly yet. My only communication outlet at the time was a blog about journalism training, and the caucuses didn’t fit my niche, so I didn’t express my views publicly. (It’s not a perfect fit now, but I blog more broadly about media, and let’s face it, the Iowa caucuses are a creation of media hype.)

When I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette later in 2008, I wondered whether I would have the courage to voice this heresy from such a prominent Iowa forum during the 2012 caucus season. Other opportunities drew me away from Iowa, so I offer my opinion now, one week before the 2012 caucuses, from the safety of Virginia.

While I am no longer living in the state, I offer this view with a lot of love for Iowa and a ton of caucus experience. (more…)

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Today was my last day at Gazette Communications. Tomorrow morning Mimi and I will start our drive to Virginia, weather permitting, for my new adventure with Allbritton Communications.

This will be the fourth time I’ve bid farewell to Iowa. This state will always be special to me. I’ve spent more than 14 years working for three different newspapers in Iowa, and spent a lot of time over here in the 10 years I worked for the Omaha World-Herald.

I will cherish many memories of my time at the Gaz. All the best to the many colleagues, supporters and even critics I encountered during my time in Eastern Iowa.

-30-

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Being the spouse of a young editor at a morning newspaper doesn’t carry a lot of perks, unless you like being alone in the evening. I thought I had delivered a perk to Mimi in 1980 when I was an editor on the city desk of The Des Moines Register.

The Register was going to be hosting the only debate before the Iowa caucuses between President Jimmy Carter and his Democratic challenger, Sen. Edward Kennedy. (California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted in, but Register Editor Jim Gannon said he needed to be campaigning seriously in Iowa, and he wasn’t. Brown eventually campaigned and Ganon relented, but Brown remained largely a sideshow to the Carter-Kennedy race.)

The obituaries and eulogies for Kennedy today focus on his long career in the Senate and on the tragedies of his family and personal life more than on that one run for the White House. But at the time, it was a huge deal that the last of the Kennedy brothers was challenging the sitting president for the Democratic nomination.  (more…)

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This will be my column in Monday’s Gazette:

A couple lessons I did not learn easily in my youth were how to pick my fights and when to accept defeat gracefully.

Iowans who oppose same-sex marriage would do well to remember those lessons. Or to learn them.

Sincere Iowans who care deeply about our state can continue to disagree about whether the Iowa Supreme Court was right to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. If you supported the ban, you now need to decide whether this is the fight you want to pick or whether to accept defeat gracefully and turn your attention and energy to more important matters.

Our state’s Constitution wisely makes it difficult to amend swiftly on a whim. If you want to ban same-sex marriage, the soonest you can finish that job is 2012. That means you won’t just be deciding whether to keep trying to get your way. You will be deciding whether to bog down state politics in an ugly battle for three years.

That’s a fight this state should not pick.

Our state needs to strengthen our economy. We need to rebuild our infrastructure. We need to rebuild communities recovering from disaster. We need to protect communities against future floods. We need to decide how to pay for all that. We have more important fights.

I have seen up close how ugly disagreements over gay rights can get. I spent two years covering religion for the Des Moines Register from 1998 to 2000 and no issue caused more conflict within more churches during that period. Then I moved to the Omaha World-Herald and covered a state election over a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Opponents of same-sex marriage invariably claim to be defending traditional marriage. But the truth is that marriage has a tradition of evolution and adaptation to changing culture.

Our culture has rejected polygamy, which was practiced by such religious leaders as Abraham and David and remains common in other cultures. Arranged marriages and marriages of young girls used to be the norm and still are in some cultures. In our nation, women were once regarded as property of their husbands and not long ago, husbands could rape their wives with no legal consequences. Bans on interracial marriage persisted into the 1960s.

In 2007, Iowa had 7,622 divorces, 38 percent of the number of weddings. So if marriage needs defending, it faces threats more serious than loving couples of the same sex.

Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage comes from certain segments of Christianity. But that opposition reflects the political and cultural views of religious leaders more than it reflects any priorities that Jesus set in his teachings. Nothing is recorded in any of the Gospels about Jesus condemning same-sex relationships. He did refer to a man and a woman when uniting in marriage, but not in a context of excluding other marriage commitments.

In other places, the Bible does forcefully condemn same-sex relationships. The same Biblical writers, often in nearby passages, also condemn eating pork and shrimp and condone polygamy and owning slaves. Many of the same Christians hoping to embroil our state in a three-year battle over same-sex marriage have no qualms about eating shellfish and pork.

Jesus did frequently address other issues that are timely today: He blessed peacemakers, encouraged charity to the poor, halted a legal execution and told people not to judge one another and not to fuss about paying taxes.

I don’t begrudge anyone their religious beliefs. If you believe your faith teaches that same-sex relations are wrong, go ahead and lament last week’s decision. But don’t bog this state down in this divisive issue for the next three years. Jesus had more important things to focus on. And so does Iowa.

Final note: Thanks to all who responded to last week’s column. If you’d like to read some thoughtful advice on places to visit in Eastern Iowa, check out the 28 comments to that post on my blog.

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When my wife, Mimi, and I moved to Cedar Rapids last June, we were planning to explore and enjoy the fun places of Eastern Iowa.

This photo of the Blackhawk Bridge in Lansing, Iowa, was submitted by Diana Johnson, who explains in her comment on the blog.

This photo of the Blackhawk Bridge in Lansing, Iowa, was submitted by Diana Johnson, who explains in her comment on the blog.

This is my Monday column for The Gazette:

 

 

We knew western Iowa well from years living in Shenandoah, Essex and Omaha. We knew central Iowa well from years living in Des Moines. But Eastern Iowa was mostly a place we drove through, long ago a place to visit some relatives and occasionally a place to cover news.

Beyond the well-known attractions (we had been to the Amanas and Field of Dreams and were planning to visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum), we planned on getting to know the quirky cultural attractions, the pretty lakes and the small-town diners of Eastern Iowa. (more…)

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