They're off and running

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

The Plymouth County Republican Committee should be commended for being the one county to pull together a forum of all four candidates for House District 5.

As the only appearance by all four candidates, Plymouth County pulled off an event to be envied by the 31 other counties in the newly formed district. As north-central Iowan Tom Latham can no longer serve in this area, the district that now includes all of western Iowa is wide open.

While some of the 100-plus party faithful in the audience might have wished for a wide open debate, the forum's structure gave each candidate an opportunity to state his response briefly and civilly. The truth, as the candidates noted themselves, is there are not wide disparities in their philosophies.

All four are fiscal and social conservatives. Redwine's background as a physician does lead him to support parity for mental health coverage as simply a part of health care. King calls himself "the conscience of the Iowa Senate," which sometimes lead him to more extreme measures, such as suing the governor.

Siegrist relies on his 18 years experience in the Iowa Legislature, especially his leadership roles. Voted Majority Leader in 1992 and Speaker of the House in 1999 by those who work with him, Siegrist obviously knows how to collaborate in government circles -- something necessary, although often criticized.

A disdain for the skills of government leaders was most often expressed by Jeff Ballenger, who cites his experience expanding the family business, headquartered in Council Bluffs. He told the crowd he knew what it felt like to get a loan from a bank, he knows what it's like to meet payroll before paying himself, he's had to live under the laws that these other men had been creating.

Government is probably the only career where an applicant for a job outlines his experience outside the field rather than skills required in the job. Ballenger referred to the other candidates as "seeking a promotion." He contrasted with, "I want this job. I don't need this job."

Wanting a job and having the background and skills needed for it are two very different things. Any modern-day candidate will need to have the ability to raise large sums of money. King has stated that he takes no special interest money. What he does have is groundwork in getting delegates elected at the county and level.

If no candidate gets 35 percent of the Republican voters in the June 4 primary, a special convention must be held to select a majority candidate. King may be setting that stage now by working with individual delegates.

Although usually party activists are selected as delegates, a candidate who strikes a chord with individuals willing to commit can make a surprising total. Conventional wisdom -- of political party conventions -- is that candidates who have towed the party line, have risen through the leadership, and "done their time" are seen as deserving of party support. In that case, Siegrist would be seen as the leader.

However, Siegrist didn't seem to get as much audience response Saturday. It is still early in the game when most party members are not really paying attention. Siegrist's experience and connections may play out better over the long haul and across the district.

It will be difficult to forecast who will win the primary. As Don Kass, Plymouth County G.O.P. chairman, noted, whoever wins the primary, wins the seat. The extreme majority of Republicans in western Iowa makes that scenario likely.

The local party leadership gave us in Plymouth County a front row seat early in the race and should be commended for firing the starter's pistol.