Monday, May 09, 2011

Rastetter and the Gang jeopardize First in the Nation status

Yesterday's disclosure that ethanol executive Bruce Rastetter and a group of Iowa donors travelled to New Jersey could not better demonstrate the extent to which the small but powerful donors display contempt for the Caucus process and the importance to Iowa of our "First in the Nation Status" (FINS)

Bruce Rastetter
As a backdrop, let us remember who is making the trip.  Mr. Rastetter runs a business that is almost completely dependent on government largesse.  Ethanol claims it cannot compete without government assistance (usually known as "corporate welfare").  As a capitalist myself, I am of the mind that businesses that need tax dollars to survive probably should not exist.  At the same time, all of the other energy industries should not have their tax subsidies and special tax status either so ethanol gets a more fair market in which to compete, but I digress. 

Mr. Rastetter and the gang are smart people and they know that the mood of the GOP primary electorate, even in Iowa, is increasingly hostile to crony capitalism; they also know that Republican candidates will mirror that mood if they want to win.  Ultimately, the direct benefit that Mr. Rastetter derives from your tax dollars is not the point.  The Rastetter Mission is an appropriate exercise of its participants First Amendment rights-but at what cost?

Back in my Party days, working on the 2008 Caucuses and the 2007 Ames Straw Poll I recall our battles to belie the meme, constantly iterated, by foes of our first in the nation caucuses, that Iowa is a small insider state and the Caucuses are an unfair representation of a candidate's strength. 

The labor was neither easy nor pleasant.  Everyone who wanted to steal our prized "First in the Nation" status repeated the same attack line, best described by our former Political Director: "the Iowa GOP had a reputation for being a political juke box-put your money in and we would play any song you want."  By early January we had to essentially remove our then Chairman for promising to terminate staff members who crossed the Romney campaign. 

FINS is entirely dependent on not just the integrity of the process but the perception of integrity itself.  All that blood, sweat and tears last cycle disproved the national image of a desperate juke box.

Now, with Republicans in control of much of the apparatus of state government our position is much stronger for local issues.  Unfortunately, so are the facts that can form the basis of a meme that Iowa is in the pocket of a few oligarchs close to a virtually regnant Republican governor.  Even if the Rastetter Mission was wholly altruistic the image and spin it will generate does nothing but load the shells about fifteen other states will fire at us.

After all those battles and skin shed over 2007 and 2008 this one image of Iowa oligarchs picking the candidate our state will support in the Straw Poll to Caucus cycle could provide the justification for any number of candidates to withdraw or minimize their effort in the Hawkeye State.  Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain both used a similar argument to justify their respective minimal efforts and participations in Iowa.

If we lose FINS our state will be as interesting to Republican Presidential candidates as Kansas and Wyoming. 

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