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Discussion: Iowa Congressional District #3

posted on September 26, 2008 at 12:32 PM


Paul Yeager interviews two guests in the studio to discuss the 3rd Congressional District: Tama County native Dave Paxton, publisher of the Chariton and Albia newspapers, and Richard Doak, retired editor and columnist for The Des Moines Register currently teaching at Iowa State University and Simpson College.

Paul Yeager: So, here are a few of the questions that we're going to discuss tonight in our program. What sort of future lies ahead for the residents of the third district? How can its rural reaches be made to prosper? And how can its urban area maintain the gains it's experienced over the last generation? To take up these topics with us tonight Dave Paxton is publisher of the Chariton and Albia Newspapers and Richard Doak is a retired editorial editor and columnist for the Des Moines Register. Gentlemen, welcome to the program. So, Dave, first question to you is, is there anything to add more about the third district that we need to know?

Dave Paxton: The one comment from the farmers from Victor, I think that was interesting and Joe Judge and his brother Dean and I have had a lot of conversations about Democrat versus Republican. We think it's more urban versus rural and I think she alluded to that too and I think that's really true. Often times the similarities of being from a rural county overshadow the differences that we might have with our political parties.

Paul Yeager: Richard, anything you would like to add or think that needs to be added to that profile?

Richard Doak: The most striking thing about the third district is its diversity and it's not a very natural district in the sense that it is cohesive. Economically parts of the district are oriented more toward Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Iowa City, other parts oriented toward Des Moines. Des Moines is in the district but the other counties that are part of the Des Moines Metro area are not in the district so it's sort of a cobbled together district with diverse interests throughout.

Paul Yeager: Des Moines to points east but not west where the growth is mostly going, West Des Moines, Dallas County is in the fourth, so is Warren County and Story which is surrounded by it which you're talking about. So, how does that make it difficult for anybody to run a political campaign when it's hard to identify and put this group of people together and what issues they have?

Richard Doak: I think it's difficult for anyone to represent the district as well as to campaign in it. The diversity of interests and as one of the people interviewed noted the people out away from Des Moines are thinking don't forget us.

Paul Yeager: Is that the same thing you would say?

Dave Paxton: A great example is this winter we had one of the worst winters in southern Iowa history with 70 inches of snow I think in Oskaloosa, we had about that much. Our road system fell apart. It's not something that people from Des Moines would even understand. We move Iowa's economic engine, agriculture, and we're using huge pieces of farm equipment, big grain carts, semi trucks to move corn on gravel roads and the roads were all but destroyed because of the weather at a cost of millions of dollars. It's something that folks in Polk County everything is paid and yet those of us that live in rural Iowa understand how important it is to be able to move farm commodities.

Paul Yeager: You talk a little bit about farming and I want to get into that -- we talk about farming, the farm bill. If it's not Democrat versus Republican but rural versus urban why should the people of Polk County care about the ag interests or even the farm bill for that matter?

Dave Paxton: That's a good question. I think our economy is even if you live in Polk County a lot of your economy is based on agriculture. Johnston is one of the prettiest urban places I've seen and yet there is an enormous Pioneer Hi-Bred plant out here. I'm sure it provides lots and lots of jobs. Well, that is Iowa agriculture. And the farm bill is critical to what they do like Pioneer in research and in development of seed and it sits in Johnston, it sits in a lot of urban areas but it's directly impacted to agriculture.

Paul Yeager: But the farm bill also maintains a lot of things, it should almost may be recalled not the farm bill because it's a lot of other things. Has that changed the way that this district has looked over time where it's been farms, rural versus urban, farm bill versus the food assistance bill?

Richard Doak: There certainly are features of the farm bill and other legislation -- the urban folks benefit from just as much as the rural folks. I'm thinking the thrust toward alternative energy helps the entire state, not just the farm areas. And the conservation features of the farm bill have a role in improving the quality of life in Iowa and that's important to the whole state, not just the farms.

Paul Yeager: Our drinking water, our water table, we had a program a couple of weeks ago about Okoboji, it was the rural areas and the urban areas that were trying to work together. When you look back or think back in your career at the Register in writing and journalism, both of your careers actually, how has this district changed? Of course, it has added counties and moved things. But are these some of the same things that you talked about 20, 30, 40 years ago when you talked about politics?

Richard Doak: I'm thinking basically just a full county it's been in so many different district geographically. Sometimes it's been the southwest counties, sometimes with the counties to the north, now it's the counties to the east. Politically it's been a hard district to get to know, to have an identity of its own.

Paul Yeager: Especially knowing that every ten years it's going to change or contract which will probably happen in four years after the census and the realignment in 2012. Would you agree to how things have changed?

Dave Paxton: We're with Polk County now which is different but our land uses in southern Iowa are far different than land uses in Grundy County. They have rich, black -- they named soil after Grundy County. Their farmers have a little bit different take on the farm program. We have cow calf producers which typically don't benefit that much from the farm bill. We all raise corn and soybeans but we're probably more diverse down there than they are in Grundy County where they, you know, huge production agriculture, corn and soybeans and swine operations.

Richard Doak: And you have the owners who want to buy the land for recreation purposes.

Dave Paxton: That's a huge change in southern Iowa. The big buck was shot just over the hill from Albia from the southern part of the Albia city limits and it has brought nationwide attention to our county and Lucas County, really the whole southern tier there and out of state land buyers are driving up land prices whereas $7 corn is driving up land prices really in Grundy and Tama counties.

Paul Yeager: So, you have two big factors playing on farmers and their land that they own. Talk a little bit more about some of that hunting and fishing, that type of play on the land. Has that been good for the district?

Dave Paxton: You would have people really disagree on that. Yeah, on the face of it it has allowed some farmers to really get a nice windfall from their land that they work so hard on. There's some folks that aren't real crazy about people from Georgia and Pennsylvania coming in and a lot of the people that are sore are I guess guys like me that have hunted deer and quail forever and wherever we wanted to and now you have to find out who the owner is and different things. But there is a tourism and the whole sportsman's paradise thing I think in the long run can do nothing but good things for our part of the state once we figure out how to get along with new neighbors and understand what's going on.

Paul Yeager: It's very interesting to think that that's the way it is. Has it always been that way? Can you imagine 40 years ago you'd be talking about issues like conservation of the land or gun rights or hunting rights would be a part of a campaign? Have you ever asked that question to a candidate on some of your stories that you've done?

Richard Doak: Gun rights have been an issue for a long time. I think the issue of eminent domain, land ownership, the recreational use of land versus the productive use has fairly recent attention in Iowa.

Paul Yeager: Would you agree if we get into gun rights and that? Is that one that comes up every year that is one of those wedge issues? Is that even an issue this cycle around?

Dave Paxton: In our part of the state -- this is kind of a broad generalization -- but there's never an argument over 2nd amendment gun rights. We hunt deer and we shoot pheasants and hunt ducks at Lake Rathbun and it's just part of our culture and it's a wonderful part of our culture. So, you would have a hard time finding an argument between any different parties down there on that.

Paul Yeager: Let's talk about what it takes to win in a district like this. It's got a history if you just look at the third itself, not necessarily all the same counties, but H.R. Gross, Charles Grassley, Cooper Evans, Dave Nagle, Leonard Boswell have all held their jobs for quite some time and it's usually an incumbent that wins. Is that the way it always is going to be? Is it the incumbent or how does a challenger mount a challenge to win?

Dave Paxton: If Polk County remains in the district, in our district I think that it would be easier for a challenger because of the number of votes in Des Moines itself. If the incumbent did something really that made him fall out of favor with this kind of vast rural area I think it's easier for them to hold on. Leonard Boswell lives in Lamoni and has had a farm there forever. I think Republicans really thought he was vulnerable when he moved into Des Moines and they were proven wrong. He is one of these guys that he's a gentleman and he votes probably 90% with his party but the 10% that he votes with Republicans are on key issues that are very important to southern Iowans I think especially rural people.

Paul Yeager: Richard, you're shaking your head up and down yes. Do you agree with that?

Richard Doak: Des Moines, Polk County is the big kahuna of the district and whoever has a solid base there is going to win whether that be the incumbent or someone else.

Paul Yeager: How does a challenger, someone with low name recognition, Kim Schmett was not even really known much before the primary this year so how do you, if you're on the opposite side of that regardless, it's been a long-time Republican district but how do you mount that? They have to do a lot of door knocking I would think if they don't have a lot of money.

Richard Doak: Yes and especially this year if you assume the national trend is Democratic a Republican non-incumbent has got a really uphill chore.

Paul Yeager: Something that they may have to file and look at okay, we're just going to concede this and hope it's better in two years for us?

Richard Doak: That is often the pattern is to run twice and hope you win the second time.

Paul Yeager: What does it take from where you stand, how does Kim Schmett pull off a victory?

Dave Paxton: The one thing I think that probably Republicans I would think have learned is not to go negative on Leonard Boswell. He is a very pleasant man, he just is, he's a nice guy and to go negative on him was a disaster in the Democratic primary and I don't know, it's an uphill climb and he's the kind of guy that really hasn't made any big mistakes. There are people in his party that are extremely angry with him over his votes on the Iraq War and some of the other things where he supported President Bush. He's an old helicopter pilot and so I'd say there's more people on the left side of the Democratic Party that are mad at him than there are Republicans who, again, he's a gentleman, he's a likeable guy, he's an old farmer guy that relates to us. I don't know how he relates to the people in Polk County, apparently pretty well.

Paul Yeager: Final 30 seconds, Richard, other issues other than the economy that you think will be significant in this district this year?

Richard Doak: The economy is the only issue this year I think, not just the macro picture but smaller too in terms of economic development in Iowa, where a congressman can make a difference in getting the roads, getting the recreational amenities that you need to make your economy grow.

Paul Yeager: Very good, I appreciate your time. That's Richard Doak, he's a retired editor and columnist for the Des Moines Register and Dave Paxton, he's the publisher of the Chariton and Albia Newspapers. Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming in tonight.

Tags: agriculture campaign 2008 Congress economy floods interviews Iowa pheasants rural

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