Jesus wears a Dekalb hat

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Everyone probably experiences a level of puzzlement when national media attempts to label a place they have called home. For me it’s Iowa.

Now that the presidential caucuses are over in the Hawkeye State, I can stop rolling my eyes over the constant banter about the evangelical force that drives the populace there.

Those who were glued to cable network coverage of the battle for supremacy in the Republican Party were constantly reminded about how powerful the religious faction is in Iowa politics.

Visions of corn farmers pounding their hogs on the head with Holy Bibles were created.

I actually had an image of Jesus wearing faded bib overalls and a Dekalb tractor hat leaning on a corn silo with a glowing cross casting beams of light on a nearby manure spreader.

“It’s a battle for the evangelical voters,” was echoed time and again.

Those who don’t know any better would have assumed the good folks of Iowa split all their time between the church and the feed store.

Imagined conversations in this Midwestern patch of fertile land would go like this:

“Who you votin’ for, Earl?”

“Not sure, Rufus. Maybe I should pray on it.”

When the dust settled last Monday, the Good Lord apparently told Iowa Republicans to vote for Ted Cruz. Of course some of them did this after the good Cruz folks told them Ben Carson was tossing in the towel. Talk about spreading some manure.

Which is exactly what the masses are fed about Iowa in the coverage of the caucuses brought to us every four years — just to remind folks that Iowa actually exists.

Of course, those trudging off to a night of caucus craziness could also choose the Democratic candidate. Idaho Republicans know those folks were split evenly between Bernie the Commie and the Belle of Benghazi.

The coverage didn’t really let outsiders know that Iowa is not the same kind of Republican monolith as Idaho. Although Iowa voters have elected a Republican governor and the Iowa House of Representatives is tipped toward the GOP, 57-43, it has elected a Democrat for president three of the last four times. And the Iowa Senate has a 26-24 majority of Democrats.

In other words, Iowa has balance.

It’s true that one in four Iowans identify themselves as evangelical, but one in four also say they have no religious identity. Based on seven years in Iowa, my guess is the rest of them are Lutherans or Catholics.

In other words, the majority of Iowans go to church, but they don’t let their meals go cold while someone quotes 30 minutes of scripture before diving into dinner.

My take on Iowa is that it’s in the middle in many ways. A map of this country places Iowa close to the center both east and west and north and south. You could say it’s well insulated, and it needs to be in the winter.

It has always been part of America’s breadbasket with deep farming roots holding the land in place.

If you can find a high spot in Iowa your eyes will be greeted by an endless green blanket of corn and soybean fields in the summer, and a stark sheet of white quilted by fences in the winter.

One winter in Iowa will help you understand why a lot of people turn to prayer from time to time.

But it’s not a hotbed of extremely religious views and ultra-conservative politics.

To protect the environment, Iowa has had a 5-cent beverage container deposit law since the 1970s.

Iowa’s Supreme Court granted gay couples the right to marry seven years ago. It was the fourth state in America to do so and so far God hasn’t smote the place. Instead the U.S. Supreme Court has come to agree with the legal system in Iowa.

The Iowa Senate leader at the time, Democrat Michael Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, said this about Iowa’s move to grant same-sex marriage:

“Treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency. Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights.”

Iowa has also been strong in public education spending and it’s paid dividends.

Nearly 67 percent of Iowa high school graduates attend college and 59 percent of the adult population in the state has at least an associate’s degree. Twenty-six percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Last year Iowa came close to passing a bill to boost its minimum wage to $8.75.

The bill is back again. Iowans are a determined lot.

The real picture of Iowa is one of diversity and tolerance blended with hard work for  decent pay. Most folks there believe in God, but they don’t think that will get the back 40 plowed.

Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.