Thursday, April 10, 2008

Culver Should Consider Smoke-Ban Veto As Winning Message To Rural Iowans

Gov. Chet Culver won’t veto the ill-conceived, anti-rural and laughably hypocritical imposition of Prohibition-era busy-busybodying ban on smoking in Iowa’s taverns.

In fact, two of Culver’s top spokespeople already are on record heralding this week‘s passage of the strict smoke ban that, of course, exempts the money-minting casinos, but tells owners of bars in Audubon and Carroll and Storm Lake and Denison, places often peopled with a majority of smokers, to get health-club, celery stalk-sucking religion by July 1.

Culver’s surrogates tell us to expect Iowa’s Democratic governor to sign House File 2212 next Tuesday amid much fanfare and here-heres.

But Culver is missing a defining opportunity to reach out to rural Iowa, to show with a veto (or a silent pen) that he understands there is a difference between Clive and Carroll, Iowa City and Storm Lake, that there is an urban nannyism, a know-bettering in this legislation which clearly will hit long-standing taverns in shot-and-a-beer rural Iowa more than the city establishments.

Stick with your initial instinct, governor, and don’t sign this legislation. Send it back to the divided chambers (the votes were close) and ask for a local-control bill, the plan you talked about in your Condition of the State speech — and the one you told me in Carroll a few weeks ago still made the most sense.

Use this high-profile bill to send a message to rural Iowa: We matter. Our small businesses are important.

We don’t want to live like automatons in the Des Moines suburbs.

Show lawmakers in both parties that you are relevant. Be a maverick. Don’t sign this bill. Much of rural Iowa will not forget it — and where are the anti-smoking forces going to go in 2010 — to U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, or another conservative, free-market Republican challenger who will use the ban against you?

Already challenged by well-documented population loss, higher gas prices and other factors, the smoking ban likely will be a death blow to small town institutions.
How can you exempt Prairie Meadows, who will turn more millions based on that loophole, and then force it on small-town bar owners, who are fighting for hundreds of dollars.

The bill fails to take into account a reality of life in small-town Iowa.

When the smokers are chased out of the taverns (they are addicted so quitting overnight is not likely) there is no replacement class of non-smoking customers waiting in the wings to fill the bar stools. It’s not like New York City or Chicago where a ready population of non-smokers can compensate for the business losses.

What should anger all Iowans is that legislators used the smoking debate as a diversion from truly meaningful work that would lift our state.

With the potential to turn Iowa into something of a Saudi Arabia of renewable energy, and pressing educational concerns, the signature accomplishment of the 2008 session is a law that will take a cigarette out of the hands of a working stiff in Le Mars who is just trying to get through a tough week with the comfort of a few Buds and a convivial smoke.

Legislators can count.

There are more non-smokers than smokers.

This one is a crowd-pleasure for the majority of Iowans for whom broader issues like property rights and individual freedom and rural-versus-urban dynamics don’t register.

But many of us in rural Iowa are paying attention. Culver could make a huge political statement with a veto of the smoking by casting it as an attack on rural freedoms.
Governor, at least consider this: buck conventional wisdom, show the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate it’s your show — that the Senate majority leader isn’t the shadow governor.

Kill this bill.

It will not be forgotten for a generation of Novembers in small towns out here in western Iowa, governor.

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