Thursday, September 29, 2011

We’ll get right to the point.

In reviewing the map of the newly drawn 4th Congressional District in Iowa it becomes quickly apparent that the City of Carroll should be considered for a district office for our federal representative — which, until evidence emerges to point a different direction, is likely to again be U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.

Members of Congress have offices and staffs in Washington, D.C. King’s happens to be in the nicely situated Longworth House Office Building, in an easily accessible location a short walk from the front entrance. Congressmen also need to be close to their constituents on the ground in the actual districts to handle a variety of matters, from veterans’ benefits questions to military academy appointments to assisting seniors with Social Security and Medicare queries and farmers with ag programs.

Say what you will about his politics and ideological bombast, but King is skilled at hiring solid staff. It would be wonderful to have some of these staff members living and working in Carroll.

Bottom line: We think it makes sense for King, and more importantly, the people of the new 4th District to have an office in Carroll. King considered it years ago but apparently opted for Storm Lake instead. We won’t quarrel with that. For a variety of reasons that honestly makes sense — although I would welcome the chance to go toe-to-toe with my friend Art Cullen, the editor of The Storm Lake Times, on the relative merits of our two communities for Mr. King’s offices.

The equation has changed since King’s previous decisions, though.

There’s new geography to work with following Gov. Terry Branstad’s signing of post-census district lines for Iowa’s congressional members.

The new 4th District, a sweep of western and central Iowa counties that includes Carroll, stretches from the Missouri River east to Story County and Chickasaw County. Much of it is strongly Republican territory in which King has held a decade-long political stranglehold and used as a base to build a national conservative brand. But registered independents are a force as well, particularly in the more central reaches.

King loses some territory in the south of the existing 5th District, which means he’ll have to change his office locations if elected.

I already raised the matter with Congressman King at a dinner in Arlington, Va., in June with Carroll’s Access Washington delegation, asking him directly to please consider Carroll for an office. He was polite, interested but clearly not in a place to commit.

Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, promising a church-potluck civility, announced her campaign in July for Congress as a Democrat in the new 4th District. She’ll obviously have the same map should she become the first woman in the history of Iowa to be elected to Congress. Vilsack has some advantages over King’s past rivals to be sure, but King has to be considered a heavy, if not prohibitive favorite, at this point.

As it stands, King has district offices in Creston, Council Bluffs, Spencer, Storm Lake and Sioux City.

Two of those cities, Council Bluffs and Creston, are not even in the 4th District.

An analysis of the map shows some fairly obvious options for the location of five district offices in the new 4th. Ames, Iowa’s ninth-largest city and home to Iowa State University, is a clear selection as is Sioux City. It makes sense for King to have an office in Mason City, one of the larger cities in the territory and situated in its northeast section.

Now for our pitch: Carroll would be accessible to the southern part of the district, Shelby and Audubon counties, for example, and those who live in Sac and Calhoun counties to the north have strong connections to Carroll as well. We’re also in a nice spot for King constituents to our east and west, in Greene and Crawford counties.

What’s more, Carroll is among the more aggressive cities in western Iowa in leading regional economic development, We are a growing commercial hub that draws labor from area counties. We’re a driving force with the U.S. Highway 30 Coalition and Western Iowa Advantage, a collection of counties working to bolster our collective economic fortunes.

King would benefit from having staff right here in Carroll on the ready to be part of regional efforts.

Another factor to consider: Carroll is something of a political bellwether. The county voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 and President Barack Obama in 2008. Carroll Countians also have voted for both King and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a liberal lion in the same election years.

Having ears on the ground in Carroll County helps a politician and his advisers better understand swing territory, the independent-minded voter.

Clearly, all of the benefits we’ve presented would hold true for Mrs. Vilsack should she earn the seat in November of 2012.

In the coming campaign, we’d urge Carroll County voters to ask both King and Vilsack about the potential locations of their district offices.

It’s not a hot topic, but it’s a big deal.