Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. January 12, 2010.
During his first "Condition of the State" address back in 2008, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said, "(The) condition of the state is strong because last year you passed and I signed historic legislation. These new initiatives related to job creation, renewable energy, health care and education, will improve our quality of life and strengthen our economy."
Rather than being uttered just two years ago, those words -- and the accompanying optimism -- now seem like they were offered two decades ago.
Last year, with Iowa still drying out after the floods of 2008 -- and with the continuing national and international catastrophe of a financial downturn -- Culver adopted a more sober but equally optimistic tone: "The condition of our state is strong, because the people of Iowa are strong! I believe this, because Iowans are tough. We're never better than when our backs are against the wall. We stand tall, and we never give up."
When Culver gives his speech today, we're looking for him to do something more than put a hope-filled rhetorical gloss on what is still very rough time in the state's history. After polling some of readers and writers, we suggest the governor use one of the following phrases instead of "strong":
• "Recovering": The worst has passed, but there are still a lot of sacrifices to be made and the road to recovery will be long and steep.
• "In the same economic boat with the rest of our nation": The length of Iowa's recovery will depend in large measure on how well the nation recovers. But our leaders can't sit around waiting for the feds to make us whole.
• "At least better than California": As bad as economic times are in Iowa, the state is in better shape that most others. With hundreds of millions of dollars still in reserves and with a high bond rating, the state has options that many other states don't. And Iowa has much lower unemployment and foreclosure rates than most other states. These facts, however, offer little comfort to those Iowans who have lost their jobs or are losing their homes.
• "Watchful": Our state leaders need to watch and learn from the mistakes of others -- especially because there aren't many successes to learn from.
• "In need of strong leadership": This is time when Culver and other state leaders have to step up and make some very unpopular decisions. They'll need to focus on putting Iowans back to work and avoid partisan bickering over attempts to restrict the social rights of Iowans.
Today, we're looking for our governor to acknowledge the hard truth about the state's condition and then to offer a clear, practical vision for how to rally Iowa's amazing people and resources over the next 12 months.