“Our liberty we prize and our rights we maintain” – Iowa State Motto
Every four years Iowa receives a saintly amount of attention. Like the Olympics, Americans tune into the happenings and whatnots of the Hawkeye State for months leading up to the gold-medal night of the primary election. The Presidential Primaries are a process, not a moment, and although a victory in corn country doesn’t guarantee the nomination, not performing up to par relegates candidates to the forgotten annals of history (e.g. There is no medal for 4th place finishers). So, because of the high stakes, politicians and politicos flood Iowa and pander like they’ve never pandered before.
To Iowa’s jealously guarded first-in-the-nation caucus I say: good for you! Genuine kudos to any Iowan who would spend their day attending a political caucus held in a middle school gym during a blistering cold Iowa day in February. The voters of Iowa are self-important, active, and demand to be heard – qualities any democracy should yearn for in its constituents.
I am not from Iowa, and I have only driven through the state twice on my way to camping in Utah. I’ve been to Davenport, Iowa and stopped at the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott set on 220 acres and receiving 5,000 daily visitors –along the I-80. One of my best friends is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And I have a strong ~patriotic~ desire to visit 50 states before I turn 50 (I’m on 25). Living in neighboring Illinois has made relatively more keen to care about Iowa – and I’m glad I’ve learned a few things about the 29th State to join the Union.
For starters, Ashton Kutcher was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The current Chinese President Xi Jiping, the most powerful Asian leader, spent two weeks living in Muscatine, Iowa in 1985. Legendary actor John Wayne was also born in Winterset, Iowa. Current Governor Terry Branstad, the 39th (1983-1999) and 42nd (2011– ) Governor of Iowa, is the longest serving governor in American history. More importantly, Riverside, Iowa enjoys the unparalleled status of being the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship USS enterprise. Captain Kirk noted his solidarity with Iowa one time, as Kirk says, “No, I am from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”
Some were born great Iowans while others were molded by their Iowa experience. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop – often regarded as the country’s best and most famous MFA writing program – has helped produce the likes of some of my favorite authors such as Michael Cunningham (The Hours, A Home at The End of the World), short-story author Flannery O’Connor (A Good Man is Hard to Find), John Irving (The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules), Reza Aslan (religious scholar and frequent destroyer of CNN commentary), Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (Slaughter-House Five, Cat’s Cradle, UChicago undergraduate).
Iowa not only helps produce great works of literature, but its primary function is to help feed the country. Iowa has some of the richest and most productive soil in the world, leading Iowa to rank second, behind California, in total agricultural exports and farm cash receipts ($31.2 billion). Farmland accounts for more than 92% of total land in Iowa. Iowa is also the only state whose east and west borders are 100% formed by water (Missouri to the East and Mississippi to the West). Iowa leads the nation in hog and egg production. In fact, hogs outnumber the 3 million Iowans by approximately four to one. Iowa ranks 1st in the U.S. in corn production and second in soybean production (the two largest crops in the U.S.) and red meat production. (Facts courtesy of Agclassroom.org)
Also known for educational excellence, Iowa compares well nationally in student tests for, science, math, reading, and writing at all grade levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Furthermore Iowans rank at the top on SAT scores and second in ACT scores, even with national-average spending per student.
Last but not least, Iowa historically has been at the forefront of many liberal, progressive campaigns for equality. In Iowa, married women were granted property rights in 1851, and women’s custody rights in divorce were initiated in 1867. In 1869 the Iowa Supreme Court reversed policies that barred women from practicing law due to their gender, making Arabella Mansfield the first female lawyer in the U.S. In 1920, though women were granted the right to vote, in Iowa they went a step further and also granted jury duty eligibility.
And if you’re not already impressed, sliced bread was invented in Davenport, Iowa.
Though it’s great that Iowa receives so much attention (when after all, some states never even get attention every leap year) for its politics, there’s good reason to care about the state and its people beyond its utility for determining the next President of the United States. When it comes down to it, shouldn’t politics ultimately be about local places and people!? So care about Iowa even after February 1st or November 6th – if nothing else because your Sunday meal was probably grown from there.
Robin Ye is a fourth-year in the College from Portland, Oregon