Olson must explain to Iowans why new is necessary

Todd Dorman
Published: July 11 2013 | 4:30 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:40 am in
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It was tough to miss the theme, even if you were born yesterday.

The youthful candidate was introduced by his youthful wife, with their two young children fidgeting in their arms and at their side. There was talk of a new vision, new ideas, a new generation. This is a very different Iowa than the one Gov. Terry Branstad started governing 30 years ago, we were told.

So, maybe, we should try something, you guessed it, new.

“Iowa needs a leader who understands the speed at which the world is changing and strives to keep up with it,” said state Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, as he announced his candidacy for governor at Paulson Electric, his family business. He spoke near a big stack of ladders, but not the kind you can climb from the Legislature to the governor’s office.

That’s going to take more than a beautiful family and promises of the next big thing. Freshness on the surface has a limited shelf life. If Olson really is going to win the nomination and give Branstad a run for all his campaign money, there’s going to have to be a real meaty change agenda underneath all those generational appeals.

Olson tossed us some hopeful bones.

He pointed to the need for a new approach to economic development, one that is less focused on throwing the farm at every flirty smokestack that saunters in looking for bucks. Olson talked about the stubborn lack of broadband access in some parts of the state, which, coupled with our apparent inability to fix even traditional infrastructure, adds up to a real problem.

Olson, who has been active in local conversations on grass roots educational transformation, criticized the top-down nature of big school reform measures handed down from the golden dome. It will be intriguing to see if Olson champions the kind of innovative approaches that might rankle his party’s education allies.

While Republicans argue over whether seeking to divide us on issues such as same-sex marriage is still good politics, Olson said the state’s growing diversity and welcoming spirit are among its best assets.

How he fills in these outlines, with bold strokes or politically timid shades of gray, will tell us a lot more than one announcement speech. It also will tell us what sort of campaign we’d get if Olson gets the nomination.

It’s one thing to say we need a new vision. It’s another to actually convince Iowans that new is truly necessary. That’s Olson’s task, and it’s a daunting one.

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