DES MOINES — The message, it seems, was received loud and clear.
Democrats, in particular those running for office this year, are making the effort to engage with rural Iowa voters in an attempt to regain some of the support the party lost in the past two elections.
That’s according to Democrats in the state’s rural areas, many of which swung wildly from voting for the Democratic nominee for president in 2012 to the Republican candidate in 2016.
“They’ve been here quite a few times,” said Tim O’Brien, chairman of the Fayette County Democrats. Fayette County swung more than 30 percentage points from Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. “But the proof will be when they start making policy that impacts northeast Iowa.
“But, yeah, they’re listening anyway.”
Obama won 38 Iowa counties in his 2012 re-election. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee in 2016, won only six Iowa counties.
Of the 32 counties that flipped from the Democratic presidential candidate in 2012 to the Republican in 2016, a majority were in rural eastern Iowa.
Rita Hart is a Democratic state senator who represents Clinton County, which swung from Obama to Trump by more than 25 points. She is one of the few remaining Democrats representing rural areas in the Iowa Legislature.
“I’ve really spent a lot of time talking about that, thinking about that and listening to people to see why there is that feeling out there that people have been left behind. I think there’s been a lot of discussion around it,” Hart said. “When it comes down to it, people want to see that things are moving in the right direction for them and their families. How to see that concretely taking place, I don’t know that. ... I think that discussion continues to go on.”
The 2016 defeat of Democrats in rural Iowa called into question whether the party’s statewide candidates should focus on its urban centers, where most Democratic voters are concentrated, at the expense of the state’s rural areas.
Party leaders, including former governor and federal agriculture department leader Tom Vilsack, have said the 2016 election results prove Democrats need to perform better with rural voters.
Vilsack joined a national organization dedicated to spreading Democrats’ messages in rural areas across the country, and in October of 2017 spoke at an event in Des Moines hosted by another group established to expand Democrats’ appeal in the Midwest.
“We stopped understanding the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, and yes, the frustration and anger of those who live, work and raise their families in rural areas,” Vilsack said at the event. “We forgot how to talk to folks, and when we did we often talked down.”
With the Iowa’s 2018 primary election just more than a month away, Democrats in rural Iowa say the party’s candidates for office seem to have received the message.
“They’re out there, and I think they understand that while we may not have the super numbers, it’s still just as important,” said Tod Bowman, a state senator who represents Jackson County in eastern Iowa.
Kurt Meyer chairs the Mitchell County Democrats and a three-county coalition in northern Iowa. One of the counties in the coalition is Howard, which experienced the state’s biggest blue-to-red swing: it went for Obama by 21 points and then for Trump by an almost identical 21 points.
Meyer said the Democratic gubernatorial candidates have been making their way to northern Iowa despite its relative lack of voters compared to the state’s biggest cities.
Meyer said what rural areas lack in pure numbers, they make up for in providing credibility to candidates’ campaigns.
“I think the candidates are doing a better job this time, and you have to bear in mind that our votes up here are not all that great,” Meyer said. “Does that justify a great deal of time (spent campaigning in rural areas)? Only if you believe, as I do, that it works much more effectively to develop and articulate and then prioritize a rural strategy, and then take that and sell it, if you will, in our big counties.”
Meyer said while voters in urban areas may not have rural-centric issues at the top of their list, they understand Iowa is an agricultural state and any candidate seeking to represent Iowa on a statewide or even regional level must have an in-depth understanding of the issues facing rural Iowa.
“And if you can then say, ‘I have been to Worth County or Mitchell County, (a candidate can say), ‘I understand those issues,’” Meyer said. “I think it’s kind of an outside-in strategy, if you will. ...
“It’s almost disproportionately important that not only do you go to those rural areas to generate votes, but to understand and basically root your run for office on the fact that Iowa, while many, many things, is sort of the undisputed agricultural leader and to understand agricultural issues is to be important for anyone who is going to represent us as governor or in Congress.”
The renewed attention to rural Iowa has even been noticed in conservative western Iowa, according to Democrats there.
Mark Sturgeon, who chairs the Plymouth County Democrats, said the gubernatorial and Congressional candidates have been visiting his area and voters are turning out to hear from them. Sturgeon said he was pleased when one local event drew three gubernatorial candidates, which he said is unusual for the area.
“When we had actually three of the candidates together in the small town of Hinton for a Plymouth County forum, I was plenty happy,” Sturgeon said.
Party leaders in rural Iowa said candidates do not necessarily have to tailor their message to rural voters, and that voters there care about mostly the same issues as their counterparts in the state’s urban centers, with perhaps a few exceptions.
“There’s some commonality: the economy, good paying jobs, good schools,” Bowman said. “The only difference is some of the problems we’re facing. How are you going to address rural communities losing population, whereas the urban areas seem to be gaining it. And with that comes some jobs and growth and all the positive things that come with that.”
Said Hart, “It still always comes down to the economy and what kind of jobs there are. I do think that in the rural areas, we’re just really struggling with the fact that our wages have not gone up and our cost for services has been (going up).”
The need for Democratic candidates to reach out to rural voters will magnify after the primary when the party will seek to reclaim some of the offices they have lost to Republicans.
“I know there’s been several appearances in the smaller areas,” said Don Paulson, who chairs the Muscatine County Democrats. Muscatine is among the 32 Iowa counties that flipped from supporting Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. “Whether that will correspond to votes or not is anybody’s guess.”
WATERLOO — The century-old former Waterloo Masonic Temple at East Park Avenue and Mulberry Street is the coolest building Waterloo has never seen.
Hardly anyone, anyway.
The building’s upper two levels were never finished, leaving one large cavernous space with a series of walkways and catwalks, with massive iron-girder structural work.
“Isn’t it incredible?” developer Brent Dahlstrom said. “It’s never been anything. It’s been an empty room for 100 years.”
He plans to make it something.
One of his companies, Park Avenue Lofts LLC, has been awarded $1.17 million in historic preservation tax credits from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for a $5 million project at the former temple building.
The developers are creating 27 residential units to be known as Park Avenue Lofts.
“Some of them are two-floor units,” Dahlstrom said. “You’d have a living room and then an open loft to where you’d sleep on the second floor.”
Park Avenue Lofts LLC purchased the five-story, 50,000-square-foot building at 325 E. Park Ave. for $550,000 in 2013; the Masonic lodge relocated to 607 Bishop Ave. Loft apartments will be installed on the building’s third and fourth floors. Half will have upper-level space and the rest will be single floor units.
Restoring the old building is a new kind of development for Dahlstrom in Waterloo.
“There aren’t that many old buildings left,” he said. “This is one of my favorite buildings. The fact you have, after all these years, the entire half of a building that was just never able to be finished.”
The building is a landmark structure near Lincoln Park and the Waterloo Elks Club. In past years it has been a stop and reception location for Main Street Waterloo’s “Tour de ‘Loo” events. Most recently the lower levels have been used by Faith Temple Baptist Church for worship space. That church has now relocated to 243 S. Hackett Road.
The old Masonic building’s second floor will contain common space for tenants as well as a co-working area for personal or professional use. The common space area will include a fitness center and common lounge available to tenants. The co-working space will include offices available for lease, a computer work space area, a conference room and a kitchen.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority registered the projects to receive those tax credits via the Historic Preservation and Cultural Entertainment District tax credit program. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. During the renovation, crews found a 105-year-old wall hanging hidden in the corner of the building — 9 feet wide by some 20 feet long with a Nativity scene with like-new coloring. Dahlstrom plans to display it in the building.
The program provides a state income tax credit to projects for rehabilitation of historic buildings. The program is designed to promote the retention of unique, character-defining buildings and building features that contribute to a community and neighborhood. Rehabilitation must meet the federal Secretary of Interior standards.
Construction will continue through the year. Some exterior work has already been completed, and a large crane looms over the structure.
Given the meticulous standards required for renovation, Dahlstrom’s not speculating on a completion date.
“It’s hard to say. We’re just taking one day at a time,” he said.
CEDAR FALLS — When the Cedar Falls Farmers’ Market received permission from the City Council to expand its footprint in downtown Cedar Falls in the fall of 2014, they didn’t need it.
Organizers knew they’d eventually need more space in downtown Cedar Falls, but at the time their 40 vendors were just rotating in and out — not growing substantially.
“It’s taken a while to expand,” said Lindsay Kaiser, a Waverly grower who has operated her organic vegetable stand at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings for the past five years. “We thought every year we’d get new vendors and lose some. But every year since then, we’ve received just enough new ones to replace the ones we lost.”
This season is finally the game changer.
The Cedar Falls Farmers’ Market, which opens its 2018 season Saturday at 8:30 a.m., will continue to operate along West Third Street between Franklin and Clay streets near Overman Park, and will now expand east on Third Street past Clay Street to make room for the roughly 45 vendors it has scheduled every week.
“This year we finally had enough vendors retained from years before and new vendors,” Kaiser said. “We’re also able to have spots for community tents and more permanent vendors, so this will be more of a smoother set up for the seasonal vendors.”
New this season will be a ready-to-eat breakfast bowl vendor, a family-run baked goods stand, a homemade soap vendor and a made-to-order acai fruit breakfast bowl vendor.
Other than that, patrons can expect the same seasonal Farmers’ Market — just more of it.
The Cedar Falls Farmers’ Market runs on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday through Oct. 27, excluding Sturgis Falls weekend.
SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told his South Korean counterpart at their historic summit that he would be willing to give up his nuclear weapons if the U.S. commits to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North, Seoul officials said Sunday.
Kim also vowed during his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday to shut down the North's nuclear test site in May and disclose the process to experts and journalists from South Korea and the United States, Seoul's presidential office said.
While lingering questions remain about whether North Korea will ever decide to fully relinquish its nukes as it heads into negotiations with the U.S., Kim's comments amount to the North's most specific acknowledgement yet that "denuclearization" would constitute surrendering its weapons.
U.S. national security adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.
Asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" whether the U.S. would make such a promise, Bolton said: "Well, we've heard this before. This is — the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource."
"What we want to see from them is evidence that it's real and not just rhetoric," he added.
The long awaited meeting between the United States and North Korea is likely to occur before the end of May, President Donald Trump suggested Saturday evening during a rally in Michigan.
“I think we’ll have a meeting over the next three or four weeks,” Trump said. “It will be a very important meeting.”
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said of the meeting, noting he may go in and ultimately leave. “I’m not going to be a John Kerry who makes a horrible Iran deal.”
Seoul officials, who have shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to broker talks between Kim and President Donald Trump, said Kim has expressed genuine interest in dealing away his nuclear weapons.
But there has been skepticism because North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of "denuclearization" that bears no resemblance to the American definition. The North has long vowed to pursue nuclear development unless Washington removes its 28,500 troops from South Korea and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan.
During their summit at a truce village on the border, Moon and Kim promised to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula but made no references to verification or timetables.
Kim also expressed optimism about his meeting with Trump, Moon's spokesman Yoon Young-chan said.
"Once we start talking, the United States will know that I am not a person to launch nuclear weapons at South Korea, the Pacific or the United States," Kim said, according to Yoon.
Yoon also quoted Kim as saying: "If we maintain frequent meetings and build trust with the United States and receive promises for an end to the war and a non-aggression treaty, then why would we need to live in difficulty by keeping our nuclear weapons?"
The Korean Peninsula technically remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War was halted with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
In another sign of warming relations between Seoul and Pyongyang, South Korea said it will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the border with North Korea.
Seoul's Defense Ministry said today it will pull back dozens of its frontline loudspeakers on Tuesday and expects Pyongyang to do the same.
South Korea had turned off its loudspeakers ahead of last Friday's summit talks, and North Korea responded by halting its own broadcasts. Seoul had blasted propaganda messages and K-pop songs from border loudspeakers since the North's fourth nuclear test in early 2016. The North quickly matched the South's action with its own border broadcasts.
The closing of the nuclear test site would be a dramatic but likely symbolic event to set up Kim's summit with Trump. North Korea already announced this month that it has suspended all tests of nuclear devices and intercontinental ballistic missiles and plans to close its nuclear testing ground.
Still, Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said Kim's comments were significant because they are his most explicit acknowledgement yet that denuclearization means surrendering his nuclear weapons.
"Questions remain about whether Kim will agree to discuss other nuclear technology, fissile material and missiles. However, they imply a phased process with reciprocal concessions," Mount said in an email. "It is not clear that the Trump administration will accept that kind of protracted program."
Analysts reacted with skepticism to Kim's previously announced plan to close down the test site at Punggye-ri, saying the northernmost tunnel had already become too unstable to use for underground detonations following the country's sixth and most powerful test blast in September.
In his conversation with Moon, Kim denied that he would be merely clearing out damaged goods, saying the site also has two new tunnels that are larger than previous testing facilities, Yoon said.
Some analysts see Moon's agreement with Kim at the summit as a disappointment, citing the lack of references to verification and timeframes and also the absence of a definition on what would constitute a "complete" denuclearization of the peninsula.
But Patrick McEachern, a former State Department analyst now with the Washington-based Wilson Center, said it was still meaningful that Moon extracted a commitment from Kim to complete denuclearization.
"The public conversation should now shift from speculation on whether North Korea would consider denuclearization to how South Korea and the United States can advance this denuclearization pledge in concrete steps in light of North Korea's reciprocal demands for concrete steps toward an eventual peace agreement," McEachern said in an email.
North Korea has invited the outside world to witness the dismantling of its nuclear facilities before. In June 2008, international broadcasters were allowed to air the demolition of a cooling tower at the Nyongbyon reactor site, a year after the North reached an agreement with the U.S. and four other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package worth about $400 million.
But the deal eventually collapsed after North Korea refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods, and the country went on to conduct its second nuclear test detonation in May 2009.