Rita Hart Had to Take One for the Team

John Deeth on the historically close Second Congressional District race after Rita Hart dropped her challenge, pushing to count 22 ballots in a race she lost by six-vote margin:

Hart had the worst possible luck. It wasn’t just that she had the closest congressional race in at least 40 years, and that it turned on minor clerical errors. It was that this happened at the same time as a defeated president lied about massive voter fraud, refused to concede, and gave aid and comfort to criminals who invaded our Capitol and murdered police officers. If it weren’t for that, the 2nd District challenge would still have been bitter and partisan and controversial. But it would have been possible. Instead, we had an environment where immeasurable imaginary fraud and 22 very specific examples of minor mistakes were treated as Both Sides Identical.

It’s always worth reading Deeth on Iowa politics, but I want to call attention to the media piece here, because this is what stuck out to me. “Both sides do it” is, in this case, malpractice.

The Republicans who were pushing this through a “Pelosi is trying to steal a seat” tale where many of the same characters who were silent or vocally supportive of Trump’s Big Lie and deadly riot incitement. And, yet, they got their he-said turn uncritically reported.

The Power of Political Disinformation in Iowa

Peter Slevin for The New Yorker:

Whatever their emerging record, Democrats must also overcome a fearsome wall of mistrust, and a broad willingness among Republicans to believe the worst about them. Nowhere is this clearer than in Iowa, where Republicans rolled to one victory after another last November, powered by support for Trump and disdain for the Democrats. Trump beat Biden there by eight points, a dozen years after the Obama-Biden ticket carried the state by nine. Senator Joni Ernst, once considered vulnerable, was outpolled by Trump, but still collected fifty-two per cent of the vote to defeat her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield. Democrats lost six state House seats and two congressional seats, including one by an excruciating six votes out of nearly three hundred and ninety-four thousand cast. (The Democrat, Rita Hart, is continuing to contest the results.) The other seat belonged to Abby Finkenauer, an energetic first-term Democrat, who was blindsided by her defeat.

Any Iowan paying attention knows how true this feels.

I keep returning to this:

In 2018, Bobby Kaufman, who’s dad is the Iowa GOP chair, defeated Jodi Clemons, who later was an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, by 11 points and 1,700 votes.

In 2020, Kaufmann faced Lonny Pulkrabek, Johnson County’s Democratic sheriff for 16 years.

Kaufmann ran a TV ad suggesting Pulkrabek stood by while rioters defaced beloved Kinnick Stadium (meanwhile, Pulkrabek caught heat in his jurisdiction for a Facebook post expressing sadness at the spray painting).

Pulkrabek was relatively well funded and objectively a good fit for the district.

Kaufmann beat the Democrat by 20 points and 3,700 votes.


Our Great Reopening is Stressful AF for Some of  Us

Matt Richtel reporting for The New York Times:

When the pandemic narrowed the world, Jonathan Hirshon stopped traveling, eating out, going to cocktail parties and commuting to the office.

What a relief.

Unlike Hirshon, I’m not diagnosed with anxiety, let alone severe social anxiety, but, despite the stress of the pandemic, I’ve found comfort in my introversion and staying home.

My ideal pre-pandemic weekend was, well, staying home. I hope very much to hold on to that as much as I can, and get anxious AF when I think about what returning to the wider world.

A Reporter Arrested while Covering a Protest Faces Trial Monday. Here’s Why You Should Care.

Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of USA Today:

Over the summer, six USA Today Network journalists were taken into police custody while doing their jobs, reporting from various racial justice protests. Three were jailed. They yelled, “I’m press, I’m press,” as they were tackled. Forced to the ground. Pepper sprayed. Handcuffed.

One of them, Andrea Sahouri, is going to trial Monday. The Des Moines Register reporter, eyes still burning from pepper spray, spoke about her arrest on video as she sat in the back of the police van last May. […]

“It’s clearly sending a signal, whether it’s intentional or not, to other reporters,” Ardia said. “Don’t cover protests in Des Moines.”

Iowa Told Counties 8 Minutes Before Expanding Vaccine Access by 1 Million People

Ethan Stein reporting for KCRG:

An email KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit received shows the Iowa Department of Public Health only alerted county health departments it was expanding eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccinations 8-minutes before the announcement was made.

Iowa’s response has been, um, chaotic. Much of the work has fallen to underfunded, “exhausted” county public health departments to deal with shifting requirements, mandates and policies.

An Oral History of the Indoor Rainforest Iowa Almost Built

Peter Rugg writing for Inverse:

Picture this:

A glass dome a sixth of a mile long and 20 stories tall buffers a lush canopy against the windswept winters. Beneath it free-roaming bonobos, toucans, sloths, and piranha, shanghaied from the jungles of Central and South America, form a free-wheeling menagerie among ferns and vines and hundred-foot-tall-trees reaching towards the expansive sky.

That is what Townsend wanted, what some big thinkers back east wanted, and what the U.S. Senate thought might be crazy enough to work.

I think about this oral history of the Iowa Child Project’s proposed rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, which was a thing while I was finishing high school and into my college years and was planned for what is now Xtreme Arena and the Iowa River Landing, surprisingly often.

A Cynical Change in Accounting

Last week, on a Friday of course, Iowa changed the way it counts COVID-19 cases, suddenly adding 27,398 confirmed positives. It was a significant jump, representing more than 7 percent of total positives in the state.

And while it looked really bad — leading to games of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web — this wasn’t another case of poor pandemic management, at least directly, even though it felt like it fit that narrative. (I shared, and then deleted, social media posts of my own.)

Cynically, it was a shrewd move.

To be sure, the change was completely defensible: an overdue adjustment bringing Iowa into line with the the CDC’s method of calculating positivity rate. Who could argue with that?

But it was set against the backdrop of Gov. Kim Reynold’s equally sudden decision to drop almost all required mitigation two weeks prior, and a new mandate that schools open to face-to-face learning five days a week that had just started earlier that week.

These changes, which seem to have been made without even bothering to pretend to check in with the state’s public health experts, were widely criticized on, again, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web.

But this new accounting change was a perfect cover to the policy changes. How can you critique the immediate, sudden rise in case counts when its obviously and admittedly not representative of reality?

But what’s the point of all this “data and metrics” if they don’t actually reflect reality? If they don’t allow you to assess the impact of your policies? (Look, we know the answer and it’s not reassuring.)

This change in accounting, dressed up as the one thing Iowa is doing aligned with the CDC, offers an easy way to dismiss and discredit any complaints that Iowa will just add to its pile of 5,400 dead.

Gov. Reynolds Regrets Shutting Down Schools

KWWL anchor Ron Steele:

When asked if there was something she wished she hadn’t done during the pandemic, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds replied, “I would not have shut schools down. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that.” Governor Reynolds made the comments Friday in her office, as part of an interview

It’s hard to look back nearly a year and remember how little we knew about the pandemic, how it worked and who it would impact. Leaders wishing they’d made different choices is understandable.

It’s valid to regret the decision to close schools, realizing the impact to had on families and students, thinking about the vital role they play in our communities and in our social support system.

We could have — and should have — prioritized schools. No one opposes safely opening schools.

But you only get one top priority. And this governor’s pandemic response has failed to ask for scarifies — besides illness and death — for her priorities.