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The Elbert Files: K.C.’s long view


The Iowa Legislature was in overtime with a bunch of stuff up in the air when I saw my old friend K.C. on the sidewalk east of Terrace Hill, Iowa’s governor’s mansion.

“What’s up?” I said.

“I’m trying to get the long view,” he replied. 


“It’s amazing,” I said, “when you think about how much this particular long view has changed over time.

“See that mass of tall buildings,” I said of the Des Moines skyline. “One hundred and fifty years ago, B.F. Allen, the banker who built Terrace Hill, could walk out his front door and see all the way to the Des Moines River and beyond. 


“If he looked this way,” I said, pointing directly at the city’s two tallest buildings, “he would have had an unobstructed view for more than two miles, all the way across the river and up the hill to where surveyors were staking out the foundation of the Iowa Capitol building.

“The Capitol’s cornerstone was laid in 1871,” I said, “and the rest was history.”  

“Until now,” K.C. responded. “That’s the long view I’m trying to get: What happens now? We’re at a pivotal point that could wind up being as significant as the 1930s Great Depression.”

“If you mean that people are agitated and at each other’s throats, that’s certainly true,” I said.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a legislative session that’s handled so many hot-potato issues – guns, abortion, transgender people, biofuels, COVID masks, vaccine passports, voting restrictions, unemployment cuts, tax cuts. You name it, it’s come up this year.

“It’s like there is no tomorrow, and everything has to be done today,” I said.

“It’s what you get when you have one-party rule in a two-party state,” K.C. replied. “Politicians get bolder and bolder. They know the clock is ticking, and they wind up cutting off their noses to spite their faces. 


“Iowa’s been a two-party state since the 1960s, with neither party gaining too wide of an advantage for very long. But Republicans have controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office since 2017. That’s as long a stretch of one-party rule as we’ve had going back to the 1950s.

“It’s allowed Republicans to become confident, even arrogant. They pushed through social engineering laws that crippled collective bargaining for public employees and decimated funding for cities and public schools. Now they want to dictate public school curriculums and tell merchants how to run their businesses.

“Republicans don’t realize it but they’ve become socialists; they want to control everything.

“Their response to the pandemic was as goofy as their public-carry gun laws, which are turning Iowa into the Wild West. They say they support police, but they make it legal for almost anyone to carry guns. How does that make a police officer’s job easier?

“In fact, a lot of what the Legislature has done or wants to do makes no sense and is counterproductive. 

“Republicans used to be the party of local control,” K.C. continued. “But this year, they overruled local school boards and punished school administrators who used their best judgment about the pandemic and held online classes to protect the health of their communities.

“How is that local control?

“They unilaterally overturned long-established policies in the Des Moines school district that were designed to increase diversity and prevent white flight. They advocated curriculum changes that would prohibit students from learning about slavery and how it still affects us 150 years after it was abolished.

“Their transgender rules and anti-abortion efforts are what you get in an authoritarian state. Real Republicans, like Bob Ray, Art Neu and Mary Louise Smith, are rolling over in their graves with shame.

“The only good news is that there will be payback for their voting reform efforts that remove people from voting rolls when they miss one election cycle and make it harder to vote by mail. They will disenfranchise both young and old, and it will only take one election cycle for voters to figure out what happened and why.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“Then we return to two-party rule,” K.C. said

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