Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve probably at least heard mention of Iowa and the first-in-the-nation caucuses. It’s that event every four years that brings hordes of journalists, celebrities, campaign workers and, of course, politicians to the Hawkeye State to kick off America’s presidential election season. It’s a uniquely Iowan experience and one I couldn’t be more proud of.
I’m not alone. Ask any long-time Iowa resident about their state, and you’ll probably tap into a mix of humble, but sincere pride. Iowans are proud of their state. They’re proud of their roots. They’re proud of their place in the political history books. Sure, Iowa might be a flyover state for most of the country, but to those of us who live here, it’s a special kind of place that holds a very special spot in our hearts.
As a flyover state, many Americans don’t get to see much of it until it’s shoved into the national spotlight during the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses. Between the nationally televised debates and the hundreds of stories pumped out by local, network and international reporters, Iowa gets a lot of air time. And I, for one, couldn’t be more proud of how the state has represented itself.
I’m proud of how the people of Iowa handled the flood of media and attention. In the weeks leading up to the caucuses, journalists descended into every corner of the state, where Iowans welcomed them with open arms. I have nothing against the media, in fact, I worked in TV news for nearly a decade, but it can get a little overwhelming. News vehicles filling the streets. Live shots on every corner. Reporters looking for soundbites. There were times it seemed like there were more journalists in Des Moines than residents. But locals took it in stride, not only realizing the importance of their presence but also viewing it as an opportunity to show the world who we really are.
I’m proud of how the people of Iowa handled campaigns and politicians. As a steady stream of campaign volunteers spread out across the state to make calls, send text messages and knock on doors, Iowans let their hospitality shine through. In fact, I heard of several instances of people offering door-knocking campaign workers a hot chocolate and a chance to warm up from the sub-zero temperatures. While no one would probably blame them for being a little exhausted by the campaigns, Iowans did their best to make everyone feel welcome and heard. Call it that Iowa hospitality.
I’m proud of the cities and towns of Iowa. Residents weren’t the only ones who welcomed the thousands of guests with open arms. Living in Des Moines, I got to see things from the capital city perspective. Aside from the streetlight banners and welcome signs, the city also literally and figuratively opened its doors, clearing public spaces, setting up media centers, making room for live trucks, arranging events and activities, giving tours and working with area hotels and restaurants to accommodate the influx. The city, businesses and Visitor’s Bureau did an amazing job of making everyone welcome and making a good impression.
I’m proud of Drake University and its students, faculty, and staff. My alma mater became a center for politics this caucus season, playing host to a number of candidates and political events including a democratic debate, a town hall forum, and one candidate’s headline-making anti-debate rally. I’ve never seen my university look more beautiful or present itself in a better light. The faculty, staff, and students all represented Drake University with the utmost professionalism and enthusiasm. While both walking around campus and watching the broadcasts from home, I got chills knowing the place I graduated from was not only receiving worldwide attention but also for all the right reasons.
Those are all great reasons to be proud, but perhaps what I’m most proud of when it comes to Iowa are the things that no research, polls or cameras can show – the uniquely Iowa spirit. Not every state gets an opportunity like this – a moment in the global spotlight. It would certainly be easy for people around the state to get fed up, to shun the attention, or perhaps worst, turn it into a spectacle. But true to that Iowa spirit, they did just the opposite. I’ve seen example after example of just how welcoming, kind and accepting Iowans have been to their temporary guests. Not because they have to or feel obligated, but because it’s what Iowans do.
To Iowans, the caucus season isn’t just about being the first people in the nation to cast their votes in what will be a lengthy presidential race. It’s about showing the world who we really are. It’s about welcoming thousands of journalists, campaign workers, and onlookers into our state for a few weeks and making it feel like home. But most importantly, it’s about taking the time to vet the candidates and make an informed decision. And while everything, at least this caucus season, culminated on a chilly February evening, Iowans have been taking their responsibility very seriously for weeks.
DSM 15 Dem caucus is PACKED! Started 30 minutes late & counted by going outside. Turnout: 561! #IAcaucus2016 pic.twitter.com/X0UgtPC0go— Tony Tandeski (@TonyTandeski) February 2, 2016
It’s all part of how we’re brought up. Iowans are taught to dream big, but also that the best way to accomplish those dreams is to work hard. We’re taught to open our doors and our hearts to strangers, to offer a hand to anyone looking like they need one and to be as kind and caring to someone you just met as you would be to your friends and family. We learn early on that every person – every voice – matters and that being an informed and engaged citizen is not only a right but a responsibility. Okay, we might be a little Iowa stubborn, but we also know the value of being able to see any debate from both sides.
Sure, I might be a little biased in my opinion. I’m a proud Iowan like so many others out there. But I also purposely engaged in the process as much as possible to witness first hand how my state handles its time in the spotlight. I talked to locals and out-of-towners alike, and I think one of my good friends – a journalist from Indianapolis in town to cover the caucuses – put it best when he said:
“You know, people here really are nice. It might sound a bit cliché, but they’ve all been so great this whole time we’ve been here.”
That simple statement spoke volumes about how outsiders not only viewed Iowa during their time here but also how they experienced it – something they’ll carry with them long after they leave.
I’m writing this as I sit in one of my favorite coffee shops downtown. As I look around the room, I see that mysterious, almost magical, element that brought me back to Iowa after years away. That sense of community. That sense of belonging. That sense that we’re all in this together and no matter who you are, you matter. The notion that whether you’re a close friend or complete stranger, we’re here to help, here to listen, here to welcome you. I’m not saying Iowans are unique in these qualities. There are amazing people all over the world. But that mix of pride, compassion, kindness, and love of life is uniquely Iowan. It may not be for everyone, but it’s the reason I couldn’t be more proud to be an Iowan.
Thank you to all the media, campaigns, volunteers, politicians, celebrities, pundits and tourists who came to visit. I hope you see in Iowa a lot of the same things I see. And thank you to all the Iowans out there who make me proud to call this state home.
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