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The Elbert Files: Consequences


Elections have consequences. 

Sometimes they are immediate and obvious. 

For example, one assumes that after Gov. Kim Reynolds led the Republican Party to a crushing victory this year, she will get just about anything she wants when the new overwhelmingly Republican General Assembly meets in January. 

That includes more tax cuts and school vouchers, as well as abortion and book bans.

Such are the fruits of Reynolds’ 19-point election victory, one of the largest ever for an Iowa governor. 

Reynolds showed amazing coattails on election day, which is something no other modern era governor has done, helping to elect Republicans as attorney general and state treasurer, two positions the GOP has not held since Bob Ray was governor four decades ago. 

Republican control of the Iowa Legislature when it convenes in January will be by margins unseen in the last half century – 34-16 in the Iowa Senate and 64-36 in the Iowa House.

But there may also be consequences that aren’t so obvious today.

As Republicans move forward they should keep in mind that while their Iowa victories are unprecedented in modern times, Iowa is now an outlier from the rest of the country. 

With the exception of Iowa and a handful of other states, the red wave Republicans expected on Nov. 8 did not occur. And that is unusual, because typically the party that does not hold the White House makes significant gains in off-year elections.

This year’s results leave Democrats in control of two branches of federal government – the White House and the Senate – for two more years.

The consequences of Democratic control in Washington could mean problems for Republicans in Iowa on both economic and political fronts.

For starters, the economic boom that Iowa experienced coming out of the pandemic is over. 

Most economic benefits that Iowans experienced in the past two years can be tied back to the unusual largesse the federal government pumped into the state to counter economic unrest caused by COVID conditions.

It makes more sense, if you think about it this way: Before Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne was defeated, she was the only Iowa Democrat in Washington. Like it or not, she helped direct huge sums of post-Covid relief money to Iowa, and Democrats were happy to provide the assistance when they believed they might recapture part of Iowa. 

By Axne’s count more than $16-billion of federal pandemic relief money found its way to Iowa in the past two years.  

That’s twice the size of state government’s general fund budget. 

Those federal dollars should keep state finances in the black for awhile, although the windfall may also encourage additional tax cuts by Republicans.

In any event, there will also be political consequences to Iowa’s red wave. 

Iowa used to be considered a purple state with roughly equal parts Republican, Democrat and Independent. 

But not now. If you think of Iowa as a lake, it is now a red sea with a few blue islands in places like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Ames and Waterloo.

Given the red wave that washed across Iowa, it is inconceivable that Democrats will want to begin their 2024 nominating process in Iowa, as they have regularly for the past half century. 

But Republicans will. In fact, the Iowa Republican Party has already given the nod to Donald Trump to come here and resume his quest to reduce the nation to its lowest common denominator.    

The question in 2024 will be whether Iowa will become even more of an outlier than it is now, or if sensible Republicans will pull the state back from the edge.

In any case, Iowa’s current polarization could lead to legal fireworks when the state’s new Republican Attorney General Brenda Bird butts heads with Polk County’s new County Attorney Democrat Kimberly Graham.  

On social issues ranging from abortion to transgender rights and gay marriage, Bird and Graham are on opposite sides that could end up in court. 

And when that happens, we will truly know what the consequences of this year’s election are.


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