Sen. Jack Hatch
Sen. Jack Hatch
Can a state legislator from the heart of Des Moines, a Democrat, with a big, unapologetic "D" after his name, and before his hometown, have a shot at connecting with voters in rural Iowa to the degree necessary to have a sporting chance at becoming the next governor?

Well, Hatch said, we're not all that different in Carroll and Des Moines, Coon Rapids and Cedar Rapids, when it comes right down to it.

"I think we should be really proud of our capital city," Hatch said. "If this was Illinois, you could have some jealousies about Chicago. But Des Moines is a big, small town, and we should be proud of what they have done."

It's a winning answer from Hatch in the sense that he's owning who he is. He's sure not pretending to be one of us, a rural guy. What's he's saying is, wait, this is Iowa, through a national lens, we have more in common than what separates us.

Stylistically, Hatch can play in rural Iowa. His liberalism is not the stuff of effete equivocation. It's more of the old-school, rolled-sleeves, land-the-first-punch approach of the populist Tom Harkin - for whom Hatch once worked as state director.

Hatch passionately defends the working poor in Iowa (and there are many in our rural reaches).

Gov. Terry Branstad apparently looked at the Mitt Romney presidential campaign as something of Sociology 101 course in his evaluation of Iowans on Medicaid.

But he gets it dead wrong, Hatch said.

Iowa's Medicaid recipients aren't lazy, couch-sluffing, potato-chip eaters, or, in the Romney-Branstad worldview, takers, Hatch said.

They're generally working one or two part-time jobs - something the governor doesn't want to see, admit - or more important, respect, Hatch said.

"Maybe he thinks those people could do better by driving longer distances," Hatch said. "Maybe he blames them for dropping out of high school so they can't get the knowledge and the skills they need. I don't know what he's thinking, but I know enough. I've been getting around. These people are working poor who most of them, 80 percent of them, are employed. Eighty percent of the people who are eligible for Medicaid are employed."

Hatch, who in 2009 chaired the White House Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform, is a leading advocate for expansion of Medicaid in Iowa. All signs point to that view prevailing.

"Bottom line, we're going to have Medicaid expansion because there are enough of us, and I believe even with Republicans, that they can't go back home and look at all these people in the eye and tell them they're not good enough to have medical care," Hatch said.

In terms of his own job prospects, Hatch said he's considering a bid for governor but wouldn't make a decision at least until the end of the legislative session.

"I'm making contacts and working through this with my wife," Hatch said.

Hatch, 63, and his wife, Sonja Roberts, operate Hatch Development Group and a property management company, Perennial Property Management Services. They have two grown daughters. If they can square away business issues, look for him to run.

"I can't be doing two things at once, so that is clearly an issue for me, and we're moving toward resolving that," Hatch said.

He said an announcement on a gubernatorial bid could come in the fall.

Hatch is already going on the offensive, challenging Branstad's economic priorities.

"We're kind of stuck in second gear," Hatch said. "This governor is not really developing industries that we should here. We should have more biofuels. We should have more emphasis on the creative economy, spending more time in our communities, spending and investing in areas that draw people to their towns. I look at big city neighborhoods and small towns as having a lot in common."

For example, festivals that draw people to cities for jobs and entertainment can be advanced statewide, Hatch said.

"The governor is spending a lot of time giving money to smokestack industries to have them build jobs through building companies as opposed to building jobs through developing communities and that's the main difference," Hatch said. "I'd put more emphasis in western Iowa on education and creating more opportunities in the western part of the state."

Hatch said he'll roll out a complete platform with big, innovative, imaginative ideas if he enters the race.

It's still possible, but unlikely, that former Gov. Tom Vilsack, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, or his wife, Christie Vilsack, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the 4th District congressional seat in 2012, will run for Terrace Hill in 2014. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, is also on the pundit lists. As are a host of other state legislators.

The author W. Somerset Maugham described himself as being in the first row of the second tier of writers.

In talking with Hatch, I joked that such a line may very well define his position in the emerging Democratic gubernatorial field.

He laughed.

Which is a good sign.