My 2018 “WRAPs”

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! So far, so good. Let’s hope this deep winter cold continues to tromp the life out of some of Iowa’s most despised insect pests.

I’m excited about our first talk show of 2018. On this coming Monday’s Forum, we’ll talk with Des Moines Register investigative reporter Kevin Hardy. Hardy and Grant Rodgers wrote about workers at Newton’s wind blade factory who were sickened by chemicals. Listen live from 11:00 – 12:00 noon in Des Moines on 96.5 FM or online in the known universe.

Against the wisdom of better judgement, here are my Wishes, Resolutions and Predictions (WRAPs) for 2018, wrapped up in one tidy mess. If you want to make a game out of it, circle W, R or P indicating whether you think the item is a wish, resolution or prediction. If you get the most correct answers, I treat you to lunch on Ground Hog Day.

1. Trump will no longer be president by the end of 2018 . . . but with Mike Pence ready to assume the mantle, don’t don the party hats quite yet. W R P

2. The growing threat of climate change will become so evident that the full-scale mobilization humanity needs to survive will finally commence. W R P

3. Democrats will regain control of the U.S. Congress but not the Iowa Legislature . . . unless the IDP embraces an entirely new image and direction. W R P

4. Landowners and the Iowa Sierra Club will win their lawsuit against Energy Transfer Partners, and that victory will have huge ramifications not just for the Dakota Access pipeline but for other eminent domain battles. W R P

Over 200 march in frigid conditions, December 14, 2016.

5. I will finish my book, which way less than half of you will read and slightly more than half of you will like. W R P

6. Winter will mostly end by February 1st, regardless of what any groundhog says. W R P

7. By the end of the year, the Fallon Forum will air on twelve stations. W R P

8. Tom Brady will again win the Super Bowl, with the rest of the New England Patriots roster doing its bit part to help Brady out. W R P

9. I will not walk more than twenty miles at a time. W R P

10. A bear, a cougar, and a moose will walk into a bar in Des Moines, and . . . W R P

Ok, so that last one is in a class by itself. But I won’t be surprised to see at least one of those critters make it’s way into Polk County this year.

At any rate, we’ve got work to do on a number of levels, especially in response to the growing crisis of climate change. Remember to support the local businesses that make the Fallon Forum possible. I hope to see and/or hear from all of you in the New Year. Yeah, even you, Troy.

Onward! – Ed

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Democrats Need Corporate-style Shake-up

Dear Friends,

In an unfortunate holdover from primitive times, instinct often inclines humans to believe serious problems aren’t that bad. “That smoking volcano will never blow its top and bury our village,” finds its modern equivalent in, “Melting Arctic ice can’t possibly affect us here in Iowa.”

As much as I’d like to light a fire under you about climate change, today I’ll focus on another burning topic: the Iowa Democratic Party.

Curmudgeon. Gadfly. Self-serving phony. Debbie Downer. And my favorite: Doddering old socialist wind bag.

These are just a few of the compliments my fan club lavished upon me after my recent critique of the IDP Fall Gala. Just as the guy warning that Mt. Vesuvius would erupt proved an easy target for pummeling by the pampered people of Pompeii, we modern messengers of political reform are popular targets for defenders of the status quo.

Some of these defenders had great fun dissecting the critique point by point. Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard even labeled it “ridiculous garbage.” (Read Rynard’s column and my rebuttal.)

But not a single critic confronted my core message: the IDP is out of touch, and not just with rural voters but with low- and middle-income working people, too.

With its ever-shrinking base, the IDP is headed toward permanent minority-party status. One only has to examine a few hard numbers to verify this diagnosis:

  • In December 2006, there were 19,110 more active Democrats than Republicans.
  • Today, there are 48,539 more active Republicans than Democrats — a shift of 67,649 voters!
  • In 2006, Democrats controlled the Iowa House, the Iowa Senate, the Governor’s office, three of five congressional seats, and one US Senate seat.
  • Today, Republicans control the Iowa House, the Iowa Senate, the Governor’s office, three of four congressional seats, and both US Senate seats.

The old guard wants you to believe the IDP will rise from the ashes if everyone in the Party simply learns to get along.

Don’t be fooled! “Get along” is code for “retain the status quo.”

What the Party needs is a complete shake-up, a head-to-toe makeover. It needs new blood and a radically different strategy. I’m encouraged that a fresh wave of energetic, progressive leaders now holds influential positions within the Party. But the old guard won’t give up without a struggle. They’re persuasive. They have money. They’re mostly nice people. And they’ll fight like mad if you try to take away their power.

But that’s exactly what needs to happen. We need to politely but firmly tell the old guard, “Thank you for your service. Here’s a beautifully framed certificate for your wall, but sorry, you need to step aside.”

Perhaps a comparison to the private sector would be helpful. A corporation fails badly. The board hands the CEO his head on a golden platter. The new CEO apologizes and changes the company’s logo. Public and shareholder confidence is restored. The corporation again becomes viable and profitable.

The same kind of purge needs to happen within the IDP. Campaigning on the issues people care about is meaningless if politicians don’t deliver on them. Voters aren’t fooled by that, and they’ve seen a lot of it from Democrats over the years. (For example, review the 2007-2010 Iowa Democratic trifecta and lack of any action on campaign finance, corporate hog confinements, workers rights, and other key priorities important to Democrats and most Iowans.)

Words and symbols are at least as important as issues. A “gala” doesn’t resonate with the shrinking middle class. Neither does a coastal comedian making fun of the guy most Iowans voted for for President. And few of us are going to pay $50 to eat dinner, let alone pay $50 to watch other people eat dinner.

I’m hardly the only one presenting this analysis of the IDP. Constructive criticism abounds. Consider this comment from Justin Yourison, one of many I received in response to my blog:

“I don’t understand this push by the left to rename everything, rewrite history, and shame people for being straight and white…then parade around Alec Baldwin because he makes fun of Trump in front of all the ivory tower Dems and wonder why you lose elections.”

More “ridiculous garbage?” If you think so, well then, we can just move on from this conversation. But if Democrats are serious about regaining relevancy, they’d better start taking the clamor for reform seriously.

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Gala doesn’t connect with most Iowans

Dear Friends,

Maybe the Iowa Democratic Party’s (IDP) big annual event was a success in terms of generating funds for the Party and enthusiasm for its candidates. But in several signifiant ways, it was a colossal failure.

1. The sound system performed horribly, with much of the speakers’ messages lost in an echo chamber of garbled sound waves.

A typical gala. Whew! No poor people!

2. Not allowing the Events Center’s wait staff to stay and hear Alec Baldwin reeked of elitism. The decision was made by the facility’s management, but the IDP should have objected. Heck, the wait staff should have been paraded up to the stage and thanked with a standing ovation.

3. The Gala was clearly a pay-to-play deal and the IDP milked candidates with the most money, notably Fred Hubbell and Nate Boulton. From what I could tell, these two purchased hundreds of tickets and spent possibly tens of thousands of dollars. Kinda reminds one of the much-maligned Republican Party of Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which Democrats have never been hesitant to slam.

4. Beyond the cost of admission ($50 just to sit in the bleachers and watch the higher-paying attendees eat), scheduling the Gala on a Monday excluded many rank-and-file voters, especially those far from Des Moines. As Paul Deaton of Johnson County tweeted, “#IDPFallGala schedule (Monday evening) not viable for working Ds outside Des Moines. Maybe that’s the point.”

5. Finally, the IDP’s decision to change the name of the event from Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to Fall Gala shows that the Party is pathologically out of touch with big chunks of Iowa’s electorate. A gala — defined as “lavish entertainment or celebration” — is not what the vast majority of struggling Iowans want or need right now. For further details, see Kevin Hardy’s excellent story in The Des Moines Register detailing the ravaging of most Americans’ incomes to benefit a thin upper crust.

From what I was able to catch of the candidates’ speeches, they all performed reasonably well — with the glaring absence of any discussion about the urgency of climate change. So far, Cathy Glasson has been the only gubernatorial candidate to speak out against the Gala’s pandering to money and privilege, saying, “People in our movement holding down two or three jobs and still struggling to make ends meet don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend for a fancy dinner.”

That’s not an endorsement of Glasson, but I appreciate her willingness to challenge the IDP.

Democrats are giddy with enthusiasm at their electoral prospects next fall. But the fact that many promising young progressives won nonpartisan city council seats this month means little if the IDP can’t connect with those who feel abandoned by both major parties. For now, the smart money remains on continued Republican dominance of the Iowa Legislature, statewide offices, and Iowa’s congressional delegation.

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Dems Must Toss Out Establishment

Dear Friends,

As a kid, I would watch with a mixture of wonder and horror as my Irish kin butchered chickens. Spellbound by a headless hen running around the yard, I once asked, “How can she do that, run around like that. Isn’t she dead?”

Wicked_Witch_of_the_East_is_dead“Well, Eddie,” said a cousin in his lilting brogue. “It’s like that movie you watch back in the States, where your good witch drops a house on your bad witch, and the little coroner man comes out and declares, ‘She’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.’”

For the record, I would never butcher a chicken that way. But the memory conjures up an appropriate metaphor for the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP). The corporate “Establishment” that has controlled the Party is not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Cartoon chicken running around with head cut offYet the Establishment doesn’t realize it — or perhaps it’s simply pretending not to realize it. The Establishment hopes you won’t notice. It hopes you’ll buy the lie that conflicting elements within the Party simply need to come together and everything will be fine. It hopes somehow that its hegemony will continue, despite all signs that it is headless and hemorrhaging.

But we know better. The Democratic Establishment is defunct. It has been for years, running around in circles, creating the illusion that it’s still alive and viable. But the reality is now too obvious to ignore.

From a political perspective, a quick look at numbers and election results make it clear that the IDP is a failure. Of even greater concern, from a policy perspective, the IDP is a failure as well.

Under Establishment control, the IDP has turned its back on populist concerns while kowtowing to big business. The Party platform reflects the will of the grassroots, mostly. Yet the Party’s elected leadership has ignored that platform and pursued an anti-populist agenda. As a result, Iowa has moved from a slightly blue state to one that is as solid red as Nebraska.

But hope is on the horizon. The number of progressive populists within the IDP’s leadership is increasing. It is time for them — and for all rank-and-file Democrats, plus those of us who left the Party in disgust — to call out the Establishment’s lie.

It’s time to turn the page on this sad chapter of IDP history, when corporatists took control and ran the Party into the ground.

It’s time to ignite a revival that unites rural and urban concerns under one progressive, populist banner.

It’s time to stop pushing an agenda for the economic and political elite, and instead focus on the concerns of the vast majority of Iowans who have seen their influence grow less and less as the grip of monied interests grows stronger.

The first step in this revival comes on January 21. The 49 members of the IDP State Central Committee (SCC) will vote that day for a new Party chair. If SCC members elect an Establishment candidate (former State Senator Mike Gronstal being the most glaring example), then expect continued exodus from the Party.

Expect continued losses in elections and Republican dominance.

Saddest of all, expect continued failure of the policy changes Iowans are hungry for, changes that are long overdue, changes opposed or ignored by the Establishment in both parties.

Changes like:
* Restricting the influence of money in politics;
* Reining in the abuse of eminent domain;
* Defending local livable-wage ordinances;
* Returning control of Medicaid to the public;
* Allowing local control over the siting of corporate-owned hog confinements.

If the 49 members of the IDP State Central Committee get it right, citing another avian metaphor would be in order:

The Phoenix rising from the ashes.

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Dems’ caucus review panel a joke

Dear Friends,

Last fall, Dr. Andy McGuire, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP), approached me to discuss how to build a bridge to progressives and other disaffected voters who’d left the IDP. A few weeks later we met over lunch at Hoq Restaurant, where Dr. McGuire offered to convene a statewide meeting to hear the concerns of these voters. We stayed in touch and agreed to move forward with the idea after the Caucuses.

On February 1st, the Iowa Caucuses saw a virtual tie between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, followed by a slew of complaints about cramped venues, long lines and other glitches. That led to a clamor across Iowa and beyond to examine what went wrong and institute reforms. The IDP announced a task force. I told Dr. McGuire on two occasions I was willing to serve on it, and received encouraging responses that she would get back to me.

Well, she didn’t get back to me. A caucus review panel was indeed established, and its membership announced last Saturday.

Disaffected voters are nowhere in the mix. Of the committee’s 25 members, nearly every appointee is an IDP insider.

And the goal of the committee? As quoted in the Des Moines Register (April 2): “{P}arty officials — including those now serving on the committee — have all but ruled out major changes to the Democratic caucus process.”

That’s code for, “We’ll pretend to care, but let’s stack this committee to make sure nothing of substance gets done. And let’s minimize exposure by sending-out the press release on Friday — the slowest news day of the week.”

Like the Democratic National Committee and, presumably, state Democratic parties around the country, the IDP doesn’t get it. If Dr. McGuire was sincere about wanting to rebuild the Party and stem the hemorrhage of voters from its rolls, setting-up a rubber-stamp committee of insiders only digs the Party’s hole even deeper.

How deep is that hole?

– In Iowa in 2009, there were 111,000 more D’s than R’s.
– There are now 28,855 fewer D’s than R’s.
– “No Party” voters have solidified their spot as the largest voting block.
– Five of Iowa’s six congressional representatives are Republican.
– The Iowa House is solidly Republican.
– The Democratic majority in the Iowa Senate is razor thin.
– Four of six statewide elected offices are held by Republicans.
– Even my chickens have switched their affiliation to “No Party.”

If Party officials think they can woo back disgruntled former Dems with platitudes and rhetoric, they should think again. Want examples of what’s actually working?

Bernie Sanders. Look at the enthusiasm and political revolution his candidacy has sparked! Though it makes the corporate element of the Democratic Party quake in its gucci boots, THIS — not your phony caucus review panel — is the future of politics in Iowa and America.

– Speak-truth-to-power grassroots organizations like Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. These folks have a solid string of victories for the people Democrats say they represent, but too often don’t.

– New grassroots efforts like the Bold Alliance, which is building rural-urban coalitions to oppose Big Oil and the abuse of eminent domain while working for clean energy solutions.

On June 7th, I’ll vote in the Democratic Primary for Rob Hogg for U.S. Senate and Desmund Adams for Congress. On June 8th, I’ll switch my voter registration back to “No Party” . . . unless Party officials demonstrate that they’re prepared to change their ways.

I’m not holding my breath.

Listen to the Fallon Forum Mondays, broadcasting live from the Cultural and Culinary Cross-roads of America (a.k.a., Des Moines, Iowa) from 11:00-12:00 noon CST on La Reina KDLF 1260 AM and online. The number to call to add your voice to the conversation is (515) 528-8122. The program re-broadcasts Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 a.m. on WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans). Check-out podcasts here.

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

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