Listen now (78 mins) | ...Episode 2: Listen to what Iowans are saying
I have just finished listening to all of your podcasts to date. For context, I grew up in Iowa, went to undergrad at the University of Iowa and law school out of state, and lived in Minnesota for about five years after law school before returning to Iowa. I came back because I thought it was a pretty "live and let live" place and would be a good place to raise my family. Recent developments are making me question that decision.
I believe a major factor in "what the hell happened to Iowa" that you haven't really considered in depth is the "brain drain." When the state cannot keep its best-educated in the state, it isn't all that surprising that there's a backlash against education. When I consider who from my graduating class stayed and who left, more well-educated people left (though some tried coming back and couldn't make it work) and more people who quit school after high school stayed. More liberals left, more conservatives stayed. No one has really been trying to make this an attractive place to live for a very long time--a lot of politicians have TALKED about making it a more attractive place to live, but always through emphasizing the things they're inclined to do already (credits for ethanol vs. credits for renewables, cutting taxes vs. increasing funding for education, etc.). I haven't ever heard either political party talking to people to see what would make them stay or bring them back--at least not people who aren't already going to their party events, who are by definition the wrong people to ask.
I find it heartening that high schoolers now are making their feelings clear, supporting LGBTQ classmates, expressing their feelings about book bans and the private school scholarships (for one example, see https://newrepublic.com/post/172319/clementine-springsteen-kim-reynolds-trans-rights). But I think that in the end all it indicates is that the brain drain is going to accelerate. The people who were yelling things when I was in school have mostly left the state, and I see no reason to think these kids won't do the same. Why stick around when the state is so far out of sync with your values and affirmatively dangerous to so many people?
I am captivated by your question; it is one I have pondered. The changes in the state stump me. I want to offer the possibility of one contributing factor: the demise of certain women’s groups. My first statewide political involvement was the Iowa ERA campaign in 1980. About 50 organizations, some statewide and some local, formed the Iowa ERA Coalition. Most of them were active, dynamic groups with strong rural connections. The Iowa Women’s Political Caucus had thousands of members, with local organizations in about 90 counties. LWV, BPW, IBWA, AAUW, and other group had both urban and rural affiliates totaling thousands of women members. Many of the leaders of these groups knew each other, met informally, and were friends. The rural and urban members sometimes saw issues differently, but they communicated and worked together, influencing their local and political representatives. Those networks of women were powerful. When we went looking for those networks in preparation for the 1992 campaign to pass the ERA, they had evaporated and left few clues about where they had gone or how to pull them together. By the 1998 campaign, even the ICSW had trouble identifying leaders of these groups. I know, I worked with Charlotte Nelson to try to find them. My point is that a significant communication and organizational infrastructure that contributed to so many advances for women in the 1970s and 1980s disappeared and was not replaced.
Women’s organizations played extraordinary roles in every area of American life beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, grew in numbers and sophistication in the 1880s and 1890s, and became powerful in the 1960s and 1970s. I find it fascinating that while dominantly white women’s organizations have all but disappeared, some Black women’s organizations have become increasingly vibrant. Especially Black women’s sororities, as well as other groups.
I think one of the things that happened in Iowa was the loss of women’s organizations and the myriad benefits of women working together on their priorities.
Such a powerful piece! Shared with a core of retired teachers, D’s and friends. We are gearing up to “arm” our public voices for the next “legislative forum” and for recruiting candidates to replace both our senators (past and present due to redistricting) and representative.
It won’t happen soon enough, but we are combatting that awful statement: “you knew what you were getting and you voted for me.” NO!!
Excellent broad deep dive into a sensitive area not available from any other resource. Thank you. Congratulations on the new podcast from two long term Iowa journalists with sensitivity and substance.
Great conversations, looking forward to more. I’m an independent who has lost respect for the Republican party. They aren’t working for Iowa.
Seems to me the voucher business that hasn't been paid out to a private school should go to the public school system if they aren't going to complete their education with the private school, however, it goes back to the general fund of the state instead, that is just wrong!