Democratic candidate for governor John Norris makes the case that he has the strongest credentials on rural issues during a recent event in Carroll at Swan Lake State Park.
Democratic candidate for governor John Norris makes the case that he has the strongest credentials on rural issues during a recent event in Carroll at Swan Lake State Park.

May 18, 2018

John Norris brought a fact-and-resume filled case to Carroll-area Democrats.

Norris, a gubernatorial candidate with Red Oak roots who served as chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said he’d bring the knowledge to Terrace Hill to turn around some disconcerting figures — chief among them that Iowa’s rural population is down 5 percent over the last eight years.

“I have been a chief of staff to a governor,” Norris said during a town hall with two dozen people, most of them Democratic activists, at Swan Lake State Park. “I know what that job is Day 1.”

Democrats, to be successful statewide, must perform in rural areas, Norris said.

In 2002, former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, won 82 counties. Vilsack, in a re-election bid for governor, captured 68. Four years ago, Norris noted, Democratic candidate for governor Jack Hatch, a Des Moines state senator, won a single county — and Hillary Clinton pulled only six of Iowa’s 99 counties in the 2016 presidential election..

“If we do the same thing in 2018 we did in the last two election cycles, try to make up for our increasing losses in rural Iowa by just doubling down in the urban areas and expect to win, we’re crazy,” Norris said. “We’ve got to be a party that addresses the entire needs of this state.”

The full state benefits with a reinvigorated agricultural economy, Norris said.

“I’m unapologetically passionate about rural Iowa — it’s my roots,” Norris said.

Moving to interaction with the audience, Norris said the Republican Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds made it more difficult for Iowa to attract a talented workforce with the passage of the fetal heartbeat bill — a strict anti-abortion policy already facing legal challenges.

The legislation labels Iowa where many are concerned, he said.

“A lot of young people around the country are talking right now — there’s no way they’re going to live in that state,” Norris said.

The signal is Iowa is becoming a right-wing state, Norris said.

A similar problem exists with the treatment of teachers in Iowa who have seen diminished power to push for better salaries and benefits, a fact that is allowing other states to poach good teachers, Norris said.

“I’ve met several who are going to Minnesota,” Norris said of Iowa teachers.

Other key issues, according to Norris:

— Almost half of babies born today in Iowa come into the world eligible for Medicaid. Income disparity is a major problem in Iowa, Norris said.

— The No. 1 concern Norris said he hears from voters around Iowa is with what they see as the state’s failing mental-health system.

Norris said Reynolds is vulnerable in November on the matter of fiscal mismanagement. A budget surplus that stood at $927 million five years ago is now a $130-million deficit.

Iowa is headed down the road of a terribly mismanaged Kansas, Norris said.

“If I want to go to Kansas, I’ll drive there,” Norris said. “I don’t want to step out my front door and be in Kansas.”

Norris said the June 5 Democratic primary should turn on policy credentials.

“I think we have the opportunity to be the more sensible party,” Norris said.

The funding for the general election will be there for the Democratic nominee — regardless of his or her identity, Norris said.

Democrats should look to ideas and energy, not fund-raising prowess alone.

We are the shoe-leather and tire-rubber campaign,” Norris said.