Monday, May 8, 2017

Mayor's book tour testing waters for statehouse run


Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett talked more philosophy than electoral politics when he sold and signed copies of his newly-published book, Beyond Promises (CreateSpace, 2017), the story of his life in and out of politics, written in collaboration with Rick and Jody Smith. The event was held at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, in a section of the main stacks near a large window overlooking Greene Square and, beyond it, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. The library was constructed during Corbett's administration, Greene Square was thoroughly remodeled, and the exterior art museum had a major facelift, so whether intended or not, the venue was a powerful indicator of how far Cedar Rapids has come in Corbett's eight years as mayor.

A small (50-60 by my inexpert count) and friendly crowd attended.

Corbett stressed the importance of a collaborative approach. Drawing on his background in sports--he was a star running back at Cornell College--he said team victories mattered far more than individual statistics. Cedar Rapids's recovery from the 2008 flood, as well as the mobilization in advance of the 2016 flood, were group efforts not individual achievements. Corbett later added that witnessing the 2016 preparations made for his proudest moments as mayor.

Collaboration in politics means bipartisanship. He discussed his inclusion of project labor agreements in city construction contracts, which led to a 2011 conflict with a fellow Republican, Iowa governor Terry Branstad. (In a harbinger of 2017's "year of pre-emption," the state voided the city contracts.) Corbett defended the agreements as part of defending local workers and companies, fulfilling his 2009 campaign promise to "buy local, build local, employ local," rather than as taking sides in a "red versus blue" ideological battle.

He recalled his tenure in the 1990s as speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, "looking for things in common" with the Democrats who controlled the state senate, and establishing an ongoing working relationship with Senate Majority Leader Larry Murphy of Oelwein. Divided government is "no reason not to do anything," he asserted. Today Iowa, like the United States, is under unified Republican control, so I asked during Q-and-A how he would approach unified government. He stuck to his bipartisan guns, saying that everyone who was elected had the right to be at the table. He added that businesses are flustered when successive Republican and Democratic governments pull policy in wildly opposite directions, and that collaboration produces the most consistent and sustainable policy over the long term.

He did not commit to running for governor, but was not coy: He said he would decide in the next month or so. He mentioned Kim Reynolds, about to succeed to the statehouse when Branstad is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China, as his opponent, implying he would run as a Republican not as an independent. In response to a question from KCRG's Dave Franzman, Corbett said he could examine the sales and library circulation of Beyond Promises, but mostly would rely on "personal reaction" at events around the state such as his next book tour stop in Des Moines. He has traveled the state giving speeches (70-80, by his count) on policy issues like water quality, infrastructure and tax modernization. He said "you don't have to be in office to make a difference," but clearly a potential governor has a lot more star attraction than a former mayor.


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