The Elbert Files: Iowa's 'Thunderbolt Governor'
Friday, May 16, 2014 6:00 AM
I was walking east on Grand Avenue on a warm day last week when I saw my old friend K.C. headed toward me.
I had a fleeting thought that I might avoid him if I ducked down Terrace Road, but before I reached the corner, he saw me and picked up his pace.
“Isn’t state government something,” he said as he approached. Before I could answer, he launched into a monologue.
“It’s like watching a Laurel and Hardy movie,” he said. “You never know what kind of high jinks is coming next. In fact, somebody ought to make a movie. They could call it “The Thunderbolt Governor.” Kind of like Bill Bryson’s book about growing up in Des Moines, only it’s about an aging governor who keeps getting hit by lightning.
“I love the way the hush money scandal, which wasn’t much of anything, has mushroomed into a dome full of bickering politicians.
“First there were allegations that oodles of money was being paid to Democrats who were being fired from state jobs so that Gov. Thunderbolt could hire more Republicans.
“When that proved not to be true, it didn’t matter because Thunderbolt had already taken the bait and fired one of his top lieutenants.
“Normally, that might have worked,” K.C. said. “But in this case it backfired because Thunderbolt had already gotten rid of too many others. He’d pushed out the head of public safety because the guy couldn’t keep the highway patrol from complaining about having to drive the governor around the state at warp speed.
“And there was the natural resources chief who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment.
“Then, there was the way Thunderbolt handled the girls’ home, where they were locking children up in isolation cells. He appointed a blue-ribbon commission, but instead of following its advice, he closed the home. I still can’t figure out that one.
“Plus, Gov. Thunderbolt has Mike Gartner reminding him every month about how many jobs he has failed to create and the half million dollars he’s spent on legal fees trying to get rid of the workers’ comp director, whose only fault seems to be that he’s gay.
“Don’t you just love it?” K.C. said.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” I agreed.
“Now, the hush money scandal has expanded to include the state universities, where you actually do have some significant amounts of money and people with big enough egos that something significant is sure to shake out eventually,” K.C. said.
“And don’t forget the blacklists of ex-employees who are supposedly barred from future state jobs. The bickering between Democrats and Republicans on that one alone is worth the price of admission.
“The blacklists have Republicans demanding disclosure and Democrats lining up with union bosses to oppose it. Funny how disclosure is always a good idea until it’s your people who are asked to do it,” he said.
“My favorite was a couple of weeks ago when Doug Gross weighed in against his former boss and Thunderbolt told him to butt out,” K.C. said.
“That’s quite a plateful of problems,” I said. “Do you think any of this is going to matter in November?“
“Not really,” K.C. said. “Do you remember 1978 and all the scandals Bob Ray was facing that year?”
“I covered a couple involving the National Guard and the liquor department,” I said.
“How did that work out for Ray?” K.C. asked.
“I believe that was the year Jerry Fitzgerald was the Democratic nominee,” I said.
“Yup,” K.C. said. “Ray beat him by 17 points.”
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