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American Voices: Michael Gartner on Iowa

This is Iowa. It’s a state with more than 3 million people, 19 million pigs and 57 million chickens. None of the hogs or chickens vote.  Lots of the people don’t, either. It’s a state where people take pride in their first-in-the-nation caucuses and take offense if they haven’t had a cup of coffee in the church basement with every candidate — but only 10 percent of registered Republicans and independents likely will show up for the GOP caucuses on January 3.

It’s a state that is almost evenly divided politically. There are more independent voters than Democrats and more Democrats than Republicans. But the numbers are pretty close. Republican Chuck Grassley, in his sixth term in the United States Senate, is very conservative. Democrat Tom Harkin, in his fifth term, is very liberal.

It’s a state that, above all, values dignity and equality, a pattern set by the very first Supreme Court decision in 1839 that freed a black man named Ralph who was captured and was being returned to his former owner in Missouri. It’s a state where, two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that equality means people of the same sex may marry one another. And where the voters then threw out three of the justices who made that ruling.

It’s a state that produced Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug, who through his Green Revolution saved more lives than any person on earth — but who regretted all his life that he never played second base for the Chicago Cubs. It’s a state where Bob Feller was born and Amelia Bloomer died. He was a fastball pitcher who threw three no-hitters. She was a suffragist who popularized pantaloons.

It’s a state with 99 counties, 951 towns and cities and 347 school districts. It has 25,000 bridges and 27 million acres of cropland, but the most famous field is the Field of Dreams.

It’s a state whose two big universities forgo millions of dollars by naming their stadiums not after big corporations or donors, but after great young men: a Heisman Trophy winner who died in World War II and a black tackle who was trampled to death in a football game in 1923. It’s a state where Meredith Willson grew up to write “The Music Man” and to note that Iowans are so “by-god stubborn we could stand touchin’ noses for a week at a time and never see eye to eye. But we’ll give you our shirt — and a back to go with it — if your crops should happen to die.” That’s Iowa.

Watch the rest of the segments from this episode.