Monday, April 25, 2011

Narcisse: Iowa's Perot, Nader or Ventura?

Originally printed July 10, 2010.

Spend some time with independent gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Narcisse and you'll quickly get a sense of the sheer size and scope of the government organization overseen by Iowa's governor as the state's chief executive.

Armed with a well-worn copy of the Legislative Service Agency's 2009 facts book and a book listing the members of every board and commission in the state, Narcisse is full of passion and detail as he explains his plan to fix the state's broken government by streamlining the executive flow chart.

"If he had his (markers and) white board, we'd be here all day," joked Rick Marlar, Narcisse's running mate, when the pair visited the Press-Citizen Editorial Board last week.

Narcisse's vision for an effective governor is someone who views himself as a commander in chief and his department heads as generals or czars -- people charged with implementing his vision for the state with military efficiency and effectiveness. While other politicians might appoint supporters or well-meaning policy wonks to those key directorships, Narcisse wants a governor to be committed to "operational integrity."

If elected -- and right now that would seem a big "If" -- Narcisse said he would appoint people who know how to organize and manage others. He's not interested in ideologues or advocates. He wants to put catalysts -- people who know how to get things done -- in charge. He wants people who aren't beholden unto the political parties. He wants people who, like him, are only focused on ensuring that the vision for good governance stretches from the governor at the top to the people at the bottom who actually deliver state services.

Narcisse said he'd prefer that the Legislature would make the organizational changes he has in mind, but governors already hold the power to streamline government through the appointment process.

In fact, the 46-year-old Narcisse -- who served a highly controversial term on the Des Moines School Board -- seems to have little room for the other branches of government in his vision for how to fix the state.

He focuses instead on all those boards and commissions within the state. That's where he thinks the governor could work to provide a truly representative sampling of all Iowans. If averaged out for age, gender and geography, he thinks this large group of everyday Iowans from every county and city would provide a check on what he calls "the foolishness of the Legislature."

Narcisse calls this an unprecedented style of governing. And as such, he was unable to name a single governor -- in this state or any other -- who has ever provided the type of leadership that he is envisioning.

Narcisse definitely does not see such leadership potential in either of his major party rivals. He said he initially was aiming to receive at least 5 percent of the vote so that his governance party could gain state recognition. But with Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad and Democratic current Gov. Chet Culver already waging such an aggressive attack-ad war against one another Narcisse now hopes he can pull off a Jesse Ventura-style third-party upset.

With Culver and Branstad tearing each other apart, Narcisse said he just has to raise enough money to ensure that voters recognize him as the best "none of the above" choice on the Nov. 2 ballot.

But that's still a lot of money to raise. Narcisse's latest campaign finance report indicates he has spent only $5,500 and has less than $3,000 in cash on hand.

As such, it's more likely that Narcisse -- at best -- will play either Ralph Nader to Culver's Al Gore or Ross Perot to Branstad's George H.W. Bush.

Whether Narcisse will have enough votes to sway the election -- or to earn him a seat at the negotiating table afterwards -- will depend less on his own fundraising efforts and more on whether Republican Bob Vander Plaats decides to jump back into the race and declare himself to be the best "none of the above" candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Press-Citizen Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at 319-887-5435 or

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