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  • "No Labels" Deserves A Good Look

    • Posted on Feb 08, 2015

    Former Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning and curent Iowa State Senator Jeff Danielson at the "No Labels" meeting yesterday morning at University Book and Supply in Cedar Falls.  

    Yesterday I spent 90 minutes  listening to and talking with about 25 local citizens who came to hear about “No Labels.”  Thanks to University Book and Supply in Cedar Falls, UNI, and Gerri Perrault,  who hosted the event.  

    Democratic Iowa Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican Lieutenant Governor (former) Joy Corning each spoke and took questions.  They presented their support for “No Labels,” a group that was formed in 2010 in response to our failed congress.  

    Like all of us, they’re frustrated by the utter inability of government to not only not solve current political problems, but to not even discuss them.  As Danielson put it,   “We’re headed for a generation of lost opportunities” which will inevitably create long-term problems for the entire country.  If we do nothing now, nothing will change. That’s big trouble.   

    Current politicians in Washington are behaving like feuding enemies, and continue to be unable to agree on where to begin.  They simply aren’t speaking, as Danielson noted.   

    No Labels ultimate purpose is to encourage politicians to behave more like problem solvers and less like Hatfields and McCoys.  

    Both Corning and Danielson agreed that the current political attitudes, combined with media pressures to sensationalize issues and events, has created a toxic environment for solving problems.  And of course there’s big money flowing in, and with it, big influence.   

    Is there any hope?  

    Danielson made the point that “Iowa was part of No Labels before there was a No Labels,” meaning our state’s political system has always encouraged political 
    compromise to solve the state’s problems.  And until recently, both a Republican and a Democratic Senator.    For the most part, it has worked better here than in other states.  So Danielson expects that Iowans will support No Labels more than most, since we’ve had a divided house and senate for decades. 

    The group has undertaken a process whereby they designate those politicians who agree to become “problem solvers” as “No Labels” and encourages them to generate solutions that may or may not agree with their party’s position.  Good luck with that, eh?  But it’s really the only way, and it’s going to infuriate the ideologues in both parties.  

    By the way, Iowa's Dave Loebsak and Joni Ernst are both designated as No Labels  Problem Solvers.  

    Whether they actually start behaving as problem solvers remains to be seen.   

    “No Labels” has come up with four core goals: 
    (1) 25 million new jobs in the next ten years 
    (2) Make Social Security and Medicare solvent for the next 75 years 
    (3) Make the U.S. energy secure by 2024
    (4) Balance the budget by 2030  (This is not as controversial as it sounds—it mostly means getting the deficit under control.)  

    The No Labels founders believe these four goals to be doable and worthwhile, and will all require intra-party cooperation to become policy and law. 

    So we’ll see.  I’m encouraged that this group even exists, and offers some hope 
    that we might see small movements toward cooperation—if the problem solvers 
    get rewarded by getting elected and by hearing from supportive constituents.  

    I left the meeting feeling at least marginally optimistic, but still sad that it’s come to this: solving problems should not have to be a major goal of an influence group.  It should be standard operating procedure for all political parties.   

    For more information, check out the No Labels website:  and the Wikipedia entry:

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  • Bread Bags Not a Rebuttal

    • Posted on Feb 08, 2015
    Here is last Sunday's Courier column on Joni Ernst's "rebuttal" speech to the State of the Union address.  Working now on an essay on the "No Labels" group that hopes to get Congress working again, with Republican Joy Corning and Democrat Jeff Danielson leading the Iowa group.     Joni Ernst is part of that group, so if she's able to live up to the goals of No Labels, she might contribute to some actual positive change. 

    Her "bread bags" speech, however, doesn't make me optimistic.  


    Opening her response to the State of the Union address on Jan. 20, Iowa’s new Senator Joni Ernst added another image to her folksy appeal:  bread bags over shoes for poor Iowa kids.   

     Word for word:  

     “You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed, because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.”   

     So millions of Americans were treated to an image of Iowa that represents—well, what? The ingenuity of Iowa parents? The durability of bread bags? How many poor kids lived in Iowa?  

     Whatever it means, it provokes an image of the American dream-- “look how lowly I began, and how far I’ve come.” 

     But how does her living the American dream connect to a state of the union rebuttal? 

     It does not.   When you don’t have a good response, change the subject, which is what Ernst did, and what Republicans do constantly these days.  

     What a shame. What an embarrassment.   Ernst blew a real opportunity to (1) present images of growing up in Iowa beyond that dirt-poor stereotype, and (2) actually refute some of the President’s points.  

     Here’s what I remember growing up in Iowa, two decades before Ernst:   

    • Delivering the Courier in Cedar Falls by dragging a wagonload of papers down the alley before sunrise in below zero cold.  The only sounds arose from my banging and slamming wagon down the bumpy alley in the dark.   I learned about chilblains, daily and Sunday. The work ethic was alive and well in Iowa paperboys and girls. 

    • Terrifying thunderstorms where the sky opened up and rain cascaded like vertical rivers, accompanied by howling winds, lightning, and thunder that shook foundations. We knew people whose homes had been severely damaged by those lightning storms, and tornadoes always loomed.  We survived, but learned to respect nature’s power.   
    Either of those would have been true, and might have conveyed an Iowa childhood that made us tough and resilient. 

    After the bread bags? Republican talking points—dump Obamacare, pass the “Keystone Jobs Bill,” and the standard anti-abortion line about protecting innocent life.    

     In fact, if anything, she sounded conciliatory:  “Even if we may not always agree, it's important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the president sharing his.” 

    Never mind that the President was doing his constitutionally mandated duty, as every President must every January.  She appreciated him sharing anyway.  

    Her response included truisms no one could disagree with:  the need to close tax loopholes, lower trade barriers, fight the growing threat of terrorism.  Yes, yes, of course, we all say.    

    Most unsettling is how often she ignored or reversed what’s actually happening out there.   The Affordable Care Act seems to be lowering costs, and insuring millions of the formerly uninsured.   No credit given there, and no alternative but “No,” as usual.  

    She asserted, “We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they'll be able to leave to their children.”

     The President’s plan for subsidizing two-year college tuition, the Affordable Care Act’s allowing parents to keep their children insured for years more, and a robust economy is what’s actually happening.   Oh yes, and much lower fuel prices that are putting money in all our pockets. 

    If Ernst’s GOP had accomplished even a portion that, they’d be dancing in the streets and looking forward to winning another election. 

    Instead, it’s non-responsive responses and false American Dreams. 

    Deliver us.   

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