Barnstorming the Midwest: Iowa City, Pt. 1

Following a week in Saint Paul and a scattered week between Ames, Iowa; Bloomington, Indiana; and Black River Falls, Wisconsin (the first two business, the latter pleasure); I packed my things for a few days in Iowa City, a brief interim trip to Grand Rapids (more on that coming), and another full week at the University of Iowa.

As such, I think this will post roughly in order of my bloggable trips, but if not, I did my best. I headed to Iowa as part of my summer research project funded by the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, in which I explore the emergence of female political candidates in the wake of the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment. The University of Iowa hosts the wonderful Iowa Women’s Archives, where Janet and the student staffers were incredibly accommodating of my forays into the 1982 gubernatorial candidacy of Des Moines lawyer and US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, Roxanne Conlin.

Conlin won the Democratic primary to face off against Lieutenant Governor Terry Branstad in the race to succeed popular outgoing governor Robert Ray, who led the state from 1968 to 1982. Long active in women’s rights initiatives, including the ERA, Iowa Women’s Political Caucus, and National Women’s Political Caucus, Conlin’s candidacy for governor was one of (even by modern standards) the most progressive candidacies in the entire 14-year sweep of my dissertation.

The Research


Roxanne Conlin papers (99.99%)
John Culver (.01%, time permitting, which there was not this time)


Taxes. It was taxes: Conlin’s admission in July 1982 that she and her husband paid nothing in state income tax during 1981–because of issues with their business and their exploitation of the state tax code–did more than anything else stated in the election to damage her chances of victory. She had polled competitively through the early months of the campaign, but the tax issue dug her a deep hole that she struggled to get out of until mid-October.

Her answer, later, was to propose a $300 million bonding plan for the state’s flagging infrastructure and farm economy. While Branstad and the Iowa GOP initially jumped to claims of its unconstitutionality, the issue allowed Conlin to climb back into the race. Her loss, 52.8-46.6%, was not entirely because of the taxation issue, but it dug her a deep hole and stunted moderate and independent support for her candidacy. It was the single-largest issue brought up in a set of August 1985 surveys in which Conlin’s campaign floated her name as a potential 1986 candidate for Attorney General or, once again, governor.[1]

The electability of female Democrats: From my time looking into Conlin, 1984 Minnesota candidate for U.S. Senate Joan Growe (stay tuned, again), and 1986 Wisconsin lieutenant governor candidate Sharon Metz, there is a(n unfortunately-)higher barrier to entry into politics for women–especially (sub)urban women–in the Democratic Party and perhaps the Republican Party as well (my work just deals more with liberalism, in this case). While Growe and Metz both grew up on farms and made that a central focus of their campaigns–that they understood and could legislate farm issues as the Farm Crisis reached its full throe–their “summers detassling corn” or “childhood on a farm” seemingly did not convince voters, particularly farm males, that they could effectively deal with agricultural policy.

This issue was even more pronounced with Conlin, who, as an urban lawyer, was attacked for being as far as possible from the farming issues relevant to a large percentage of Iowans, particularly in the state’s western half. While Conlin reached out to and won the support of unions in the eastern river towns, her gender may have played an issue with union men there as well. Regardless, for all her positive advocacy for women’s rights in Iowa and the United States–including a cringe-worthy 1978 debate with Phyllis Schlafly–Conlin was the first in a line of prominent Midwestern, female Democrats to fall in statewide elections. There’s more to study here.

Branstad (and Thompson and Janklow, oh my!): Remember when we talked about the populism of Bill Janklow in South Dakota? Well, imagine that but with a more consistently-conservative bent, and you’ve got Terry Branstad, the King of Iowa U.S. Ambassador to China. Branstad’s run to the middle after securing the Republican nomination (and a glowing endorsement from Ray) survived claims of loyalty to NCPAC money (again, see the Pierre entry under “Abdnor”) when he rejected outside money in the 1982 campaign. Branstad–still a young buck with a dark mustache–ran as a candidate of Iowan sensibilities, rejecting the progressive boat-rocking so many Iowans feared of Conlin.

I bring up Janklow and Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson because, were it not for the term limits of South Dakota (again, more on that later), these three men would likely have very similar career trajectories. Both served more than two terms and effectively became their states’ politics, cementing control over state bureaucracy and crippling the local Democratic parties in each state with their ability to wield party power. There’s a comparison out there to be drawn.

Go to Iowa, learn about South Dakota: As part of Jon Lauck’s seemingly never-ending journey to make a South Dakota historian out of me, even in the papers of a self-described “liberal feminist” I came across new material for my ongoing chapter on South Dakota liberalism, 1980-1986. This week was material on Mike O’Connor (who I later met–stay tuned!), the 1982 Democratic candidate for governor in South Dakota. During the 1982 election cycle O’Connor proposed an OPEC-style cartel of grain-producing states around the Upper Midwest and Great Plains to control grain prices and boost the flagging family farm economy.

He lost to Bill Janklow. Badly. Despite his claims that “we have a governor who has vetoed major farm legislation and has done nothing in four years to address the problems of the state’s number one industry,” the Sioux Falls state legislator could not convince even 30% of voters to break with Janklow and vote Democrat.[2] But the trip reveals, yet again, a regional conversation among agriculturally-oriented Democrats that persisted through failed candidacies in the early 1980s. Once again, we can see the groundwork which built and the threads which connected Midwestern Democrats, both urban and rural.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention this: You know how reporters ask stupid questions which lead Baylor players to explain things like getting rebounds? Well, it happens in politics, and Roxanne Conlin’s campaign apparently had enough at one point:

It’s worth noting that these were just prep answers for how she would handle the tax issue. But it’s a great window into just how frustrated the campaign was. Courtesy of Roxanne Conlin Papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, University of Iowa.

This was definitely worth a big chuckle in the archive.

The City


Less exciting. I stayed with one of my little brother Ryan’s high school friends, as one of his roommates graciously gave me his room while I was out of town. Located about a mile from the archive, it made for a nice bike ride to the archive up and down the rolling hills of downtown.


I was not nearly as adventurous in Iowa City as I’d been in Pierre. The road had gotten to me on both Monday nights, and travel concerns meant I did a lot of early-to-bed evenings along the way.

Biking the River: I was able to take a 10-mile ride from the guys’ place on Dodge Street down Sycamore Street, across to Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, and back up the Iowa River Trail to downtown, where I cut back up Burlington Street to the apartment. While I was bad this entire trip at taking pictures, I did take the cover photo over Sand Lake. I missed taking a really good sunset picture, though of The Cattleyard, a youth baseball field that is nested in against a cow pasture and calls to mind small-town baseball fields around the Upper Midwest.

Tuesday Trivia: I was biking back from a 7pm evening in the archives (on Tuesdays Iowa’s regular archive remains open until 7pm instead of 5pm) and saw Quinton’s, right in downtown Iowa City, which had a free trivia night. I stopped in for a beer (I’d spent 10.5 hours in the archive, sue me) and lucked into categories including “Baseball Movies” and “Friends trivia” (that’s just not fair). A too-bold wager coupled with the second-place squad’s conservative wagering meant that when we both missed the final question, I finished in second place. To be fair, though, a $20 bar tab was more than enough to cover my evening, and I didn’t need the encouragement to make the night any longer.

A Classy Wednesday: Agricultural History Society friend and Iowa lecturer Wayne Anderson had invited me to meet up with him for dinner when I was free. We met on Wednesday night at Clinton Street Social Club, just across the street from the Old Capitol, where whiskey was 30% off on Wednesday nights. Over Elmer T. Lee and a delicious cod dinner we chatted about research trips, sightseeing in Iowa City, and visions for the Midwestern History Association and AHS. It was a wonderful time catching up, exploring the future of our research into the Farm Crisis, and planning future panels and research projects. Thanks, Wayne!

The Beer

Like I intimated above, I did not do a great deal of beer-tasting or beer snobbery over these seven days in Iowa City. A number of friends have recommended and invited me various places, including Backpocket Brewing and nearby Kalona Brewing, though I had to decline this time. That’s why this is Part 1 of Iowa City, though!

The one beer that I tried early and came back to again later in the trip was Exile Brewing (Des Moines) Beatnik Sour. A Berliner Weisse, it packs a wicked, kettle sour-esque bite to it that I love in sour beer. I look forward to visiting Exile when I visit the Tom Harkin papers at Drake University this fall. The only other beer of note was Lion Bridge Brewing Company’s Centaurus IPA, which didn’t do a ton for me, but that’s in part because I think I’ve burnt myself out on IPAs for now.

The bit of bad news I’ll relay, per a few IC-area friends:

It’s a bummer to see a local brewery go out of business, though word on the street was that this wasn’t entirely unexpected. I’ll replace visiting IC Brewlabs with the Big Grove Brewing Company taproom just south of campus the next time I’m in town, though.

What’s Next?

In the grand scheme of my research trips, since I’m blogging a little behind here, my next blogged trip should be recaps of my trips to and presentations at the Working Class Studies Association Conference, Midwestern History Association Conference, and Agricultural History Society annual meeting. I think. Or maybe talking about Duluth. Or Sioux Falls. Stay tuned!

Past Trips

Saint Cloud and Saint Paul

[1] V. Hale Starr, Kipling Williams, and Patricia Boddy, “Focus Group Study: Conlin for Attorney General,” August 23, 1985. Box 45, Roxanne Barton Conlin Papers, Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

[2] “Governor O’Connor ’82,” not dated. Box 66, Conlin Papers. A number of records and clippings from the O’Connor gubernatorial campaign can be found interspersed in Conlin’s papers, as the two were contemporary Democratic candidates for governor in their respective states.

Barnstorming the Midwest: Bloomington, Indiana

Between my trips to Saints Paul and Cloud and Iowa City, I presented or participated at three conferences relevant to various aspects of my dissertation: the Working Class Studies Association Conference (Bloomington, IN); and the back-to-back Midwestern History Association Conference and Agricultural History Society Annual Meeting (Grand Rapids, MI).

Having realized halfway in how long this post would be if I recapped all three conferences, I’ll focus first on the WCSA. I left Ames, Iowa, at about 8pm CT after my day of research and writing on the National Family Farm Coalition was done, rolling into Bloomington around 9am ET the next day and taking in the conference before heading to Black River Falls for a weekend getaway.

The drive across Iowa is not my favorite, but there’s a grace to the rolling hills of eastern Iowa before it gives way to the rage-inducing monotony of non-metro Illinois and Indiana or, worse, the drive through Chicagoland. It gave me, however, plenty of time to think about the research I’d done, the work I would be presenting, and exactly what made up the Midwest.

Working Class Studies Association

Where: Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
When: May 31 – June 3
Paper Title: “’From Farmhouse to Townhouse’: Bridging Rural-Urban Divides among Democratic Voters in the 1980s Midwest”

I should note, first and foremost, that I was able to attend this conference thanks to a generous $250 award from the WCSA Young Scholars and Activists Fellowship. Thank you to Dr. Michele Fazio and the entire WCSA board for this immense honor.

Joining a panel on “Organizing the Working Class in the Upper Midwest,” I had the opportunity to present my research on how Midwestern politicians like Tom Daschle, Paul Wellstone, and even Russ Feingold bridged rural-urban divides in their Senate campaigns, positioning themselves as champions of the working class. I argued that this “economic progressive populism” brought together rural, suburban, and urban interests alike in a successful coalition while downplayed social issues in favor of working-class solidarities. A brief feature from each politician:

  • South Dakota, 1986: Tom Daschle’s “Farmhouse to Townhouse” program (at its zenith in 1983-4) was designed to foster conversations between South Dakota farmers and urban congressmen around the nation, who were seen as the largest opponents of farm legislation. This resulted, during the peak of South Dakota Farm Crisis activism, in congressmen from urban California and Detroit visiting various cities in northeastern South Dakota for Daschle’s listening sessions with farmers.
  • Minnesota, 1990: Paul Wellstone remains the icon of progressivism in Minnesota, and that began not with his 1990 campaign but with his nearly two decades of reaching out to rural interest groups from miners on the Iron Range to packers at the Austin Hormel plant to dispossessed farmers in Groundswell, a rural advocacy group. Most notably, Wellstone articulated a need for understanding between those groups and more traditional “urban” voters in the Twin Cities and actually facilitated meetings between all four groups.
  • Wisconsin, 1992: Russ Feingold ran a “Wellstone Lite” campaign in 1992, running goofy TV spots in which he proclaimed there were “no skeletons in [his] closet” as he literally opened his home closet. The Middleton (Madison-area) legislator wrote his campaign pledges on his garage, fought for dairy regulations to defend farmers in southeastern Wisconsin, and built a coalition beyond just Madison and Milwaukee–which were becoming increasingly isolated in Wisconsin politics. I compared Feingold’s 1992 run to his 2010 run: the decrease in his share of the rural vote across western Wisconsin was stunning. But it’s a good reminder that at one point, Midwestern Democrats commanded coalitions of the working class that stretched across the rural-urban-suburban divide.

Because one of the three papers on our panel dropped unexpectedly, it was just me and Mara Fridell, a professor of sociology at the University of Manitoba. After learning that she was from Red Wing, MN (just an hour and a half down the Mississippi from Inver Grove Heights), I was even more stunned when I learned that we were born at the same hospital (albeit a few years apart)! Her paper titled “Working Class Solidarity: Immigration to the Midwest, Internationalism, and the Red-Green Politics of Midwestern Foresters in the Early 20th Century.” Exploring the ecosocialism of the Iron Range labor unions, especially in forestry, Dr. Fridell made a convincing case for the internationalism–rather than the insularity or nativism–of rural Minnesota, where labor solidarity syncretized Native traditions with socialist principles and ethnic identities. It was a fascinating paper and one which forces me to consider how I historicize the Iron Range into the 1970s.

Moreover, a question from the audience prompted me to continue to think about where race entered the conversation in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Were African-Americans part of the “working class,” or did they effectively constitute an “underclass” in society, taken for granted by politicians? My research into Vel Phillips’ papers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee implies that African-Americans in Milwaukee voted Democrat reliably but not overwhelmingly, rarely inspired to participate in state politics. That thesis needs a lot of work, though.

My favorite part of the conference, though, was Brown sociologist Josh Pacewicz’s keynote address on “Trumpism before Trump: Rust Belt Populism during the 2008 and 2012 Elections.” Dr. Pacewicz highlighted the decline of political institutions like labor unions and city government in two cities in Iowa, arguing that the decentralization of political authority (and, indeed, groups’ desire to be “outside” politics) laid the groundwork for the conditions which made Iowa ripe for Trumpian populism. A couple rambling questions from the audience aside, it was an incredibly insightful and thought-provoking argument which I hope to better historicize in my research on the Midwest.

The Beer

The big brewery to check out in Bloomington is Upland, just on the north end of town. While I wasn’t able to make it there, I had their wheat ale, which was a fine if unspectacular wheat that wanted for some citrus or something to add a little taste. I also managed to track down their Ship Hop Hooray kolsch, which was light and drinkable; definitely top 10 kolsch beers I’ve had. Best of all, though, the wheat ale came in one of these cool mason jars featuring the old buffalo mascot for the Hoosiers:

Perhaps this is the answer to the question of what a Hoosier is.

There was also a jersey with a patch commemorating Indiana’s appearance in the 1993 Poulan/WeedEater Independence Bowl (they lost 45-20 to Virginia Tech), which I took a picture of just because it’s Indiana in a bowl game:

Behind a display case at Nick’s English Hut, home to a great deal of IU memorabilia. No, I did not “sink the biz.”

While waiting for my hotel check-in time, though, I did walk downstairs to Function Brewing, right in the heart of downtown. Their math-themed offerings paired with a gourmet-looking menu which had people coming in right when they opened at 3pm, and I settled on a flight: their Row Red Rye ale, Kite Farmhouse Ale, Reflection American IPA, and Theorem Milk Stout. While the Reflection didn’t do a ton for me (I don’t know the last time I’ve had a truly good IPA), the other three had unique flavors which I really enjoyed. The Row had notes of orange peel, which added a citrus flavor to the maltiness of the red, the Kite had the nice spiciness emblematic of a complex farmhouse, and the Theorem was just a quality sweet offering. Give them a look when you’re in town!

My last stop was The Tap, a beer bar and brewpub in downtown Bloomington. Their Bluebeard Berliner Weisse tasted every bit the sour blueberry it was supposed to, but best of all, for me, was their Witch Finger black IPA. I love a nice blend of malt and hops, and it obliged.

What’s Next

After a brief trip to Black River Falls for a weekend celebrating my friend Kyle’s impending wedding, I’m off to Iowa City for a four-day research trip to look in-depth into the papers of Roxanne Conlin.

Past Trips

Saint Cloud and Saint Paul

Barnstorming the Midwest: Saints Paul and…Cloud?

I needed a little break after a week of camping in Pierre, so a little time spent among familiar papers in the Twin Cities–those of Saint Paul Mayor George Latimer–seemed just fine by me. Of course, given that the Minnesota Historical Society is closed on Monday, I decided to head up to a collection that had always intrigued me, the papers of Gene Wenstrom, perennial Seventh District congressional candidate in the early 1980s.

Challenging incumbent Independent-Republican Arlan Stangeland, who won the vacated congressional seat of Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland in 1977, Wenstrom ran unsuccessfully three times, but lost each time by frustratingly close-yet-far margins. Apparently, though, according to Saint Cloud State University archivist Tom Steman, these papers have not been (or rarely been) accessed. Given the funding issues facing Minnesota system schools, I was lucky to visit SCSU on a day where they were open and able to help me. Tom was incredibly accommodating, and I truly hope they’re eventually able to get a little more of the funding they need to accession and acquire the political papers of still-relevant political figures in northern Minnesota politics.

After a Monday going through Wenstrom’s papers, I turned my attention towards Latimer, who led Saint Paul from 1976 to 1990 and ran an ill-fated campaign against incumbent governor Rudy Perpich in the 1986 Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) primary. As a heads-up, George Latimer is an incredibly important figure in the social and political history of urban Saint Paul. The imposing, friendly, bearded mayor became an icon in both the city and state politics and built the foundations for modern Saint Paul. Unfortunately, my treatment of him here focuses on his engagement with the DFL in statewide elections, not his work for the city. That’s something I assure you I’ve paid attention to, but it’s not addressed here.

The Research


Gene Wenstrom Papers (18%)
Central Minnesota Legislators’ Oral Histories (2%)
George Latimer Papers (80%)


Setting the stage for Collin: Wenstrom, a teacher-turned-legislator from Elbow Lake, Minnesota, went from representing Minnesota District 11A as a DFLer to challenging Arlan Stangeland for the Minnesota 7th District seat in 1978, 1980, and 1982. Running “on the issues” that Stangeland “ducked a challenge for a debate, voted against disaster aid for farmers and small business, and…continued his steady course of voting for and supporting legislation to aid big oil and the special interests,” Wenstrom’s positions look eerily similar to those of current 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson (DFL), who lost by a smaller margin to Stangeland in 1984 and a recount-worthy margin in 1986 before unseating him in 1980.[1]

Keeping with Peterson’s modern-day criticisms of the Democratic Party for falling out of touch with rural Democrats from traditionally-conservative districts, Wenstrom suffered from a disconnect with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Tony Coelho (D-CA). He sent a clearly-frustrated letter to Coelho in July 1982, noting that “for three months I have been trying to get your committee to make a contribution to my campaign, each time I’ve been told well perhaps in late July or August and lately now September.”[2] Eventually Wenstrom sent Bruce Vento (DFL-MN4, Saint Paul) to shake down Coelho on the House floor, but the lack of support has become a consistent theme from Minnesota’s Seventh, which has been reliably DFL since 1990.

As Wenstrom and Peterson supporters had clashed ahead of primaries in 1982 over whether it was Gene or Collin’s turn to run against Stangeland, we’re seeing familiarity breed a little contempt between supporters of two rather similar candidates. In a hypothetical world, I’d bet that if Wenstrom ran in 1990 he’d have won. Either way, we see the basis of support for a conservative Democrat from the Minnesota Seventh in Wenstrom and more generally in the oral histories of local legislators that the CMNHS was so kind to help me access.

Rural-Urban-Range politics: As soon as Latimer won yet another election as mayor of Saint Paul in 1985, talk heated up about his potential intention to run for governor in 1986. [Teaser: Don’t believe the “Aw, shucks” image given off by the Latimer campaign. His ambitions as early as the 1984 DNC were to run for governor.] The Saint Paul Pioneer Press‘ John Camp opined that “if Latimer held Perpich victory margin on the Range to only 2-1…,” he “would have to match Spannaus’ strength in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “devise a farm program with potential to help the agricultural segment of the state.”[3]

That was, however, easier said than done. While Perpich was presumably vulnerable in both the Metro and downstate Minnesota, his campaign made a concentrated effort to run stronger in the Metro in 1986, touting his business record and the state’s improving urban economy. While he was initially hurt by sending the National Guard on striking Hormel meatpackers in the 1985-86 strike, Perpich rebounded and used his business-friendly image to build a coalition that only lost three counties–Ramsey (home to St. Paul), Washington (immediately east), and Dakota (immediately south and my home country)–to Latimer, notably eking past him in Hennepin (home to Minneapolis). Further compounding issues were Latimer’s selection of Minneapolis First Lady Arvonne Fraser (wife of Mayor and 1978 U.S. Senate primary candidate Don) as his running mate. Having been turned down by Duluth mayoral candidate Shirley Swain, who surely would have added Iron Range credibility to Latimer’s candidacy, he settled on Arvonne as a means of exciting progressive turnout in the Twin Cities to offset Perpich’s support on the Range. That…backfired.

It was a coup for the governor supposedly only backed by the northeast Iron Range to run that well across the state, and it both demonstrated Perpich’s surprising ability to build a statewide coalition and destroyed Latimer’s statewide political career. While it was to the eternal benefit of Saint Paul’s racial, political, and business climate (Latimer truly bridged all sections of the capital city, though critics by 1990 contended he was operating as a wannabe urban boss) that Latimer remained mayor, the DFL’s Metro elites’ insistence that Latimer run likely cut short another promising DFLer’s statewide career.

Taking turns in the DFL: This had first played itself out in the 1982 DFL primary (and I’ll address it below), but George Latimer seemed to be the victim of an unfortunate tendency in the DFL hierarchy to dub a political figure–often from the Metro–the heir apparent to the governorship.

In any regard, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for Latimer, followed by intense annoyance at the DFL’s apparent desire to guide the gubernatorial nomination to whoever “deserved” it. Especially in the “Age of Reagan” (to use the historiographic parlance), social conservatives and “budget hawks” alike were given to intense suspicion of the “tax-and-spend liberals” of the urban Metro.

What to make of Rudy?: This leads, almost directly, into the buzzsaw that was Governor Rudy Perpich. The goofy Croatian dentist from the Iron Range confounded partisan loyalties in Minnesota politics for the better part of a decade, returning from work for Control Data Corporation in Vienna to challenge and defeat party-endorsed Warren Spannaus in 1982, then ride roughshod over Latimer in the 1986 DFL primary.

Here’s the thing: No one’s all that confident Perpich was that liberal…but he sure wasn’t conservative, either. The business-friendly governor, who feuded publicly with South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow and undertook everything from the Mall of America to an Iron Range amusement park and Northwoods cheese factory, was not popular with the elite of either party–but he was popular enough with Minnesotans to cruise to consecutive victories before extending himself too far in running again in 1990.

While I contend–so far–that Perpich is a primary reason DFLers have remained prominent in outstate areas given to the conservative turn in Iowa and Wisconsin, he also stunted the “take turns” approach of Minnesota DFLers, riding past the candidacies of Spannaus, Latimer, and Mike Hatch (all Metro-area candidates, it’s worth noting) and leaving the top of the party ticket vulnerable to a fiscally-conservative but socially-meh Independent-Republican.

Someday we’ll talk about Arne Carlson, Tim Penny, Dean Barkley, and Tom Horner. Someday.

The City


Home. Inver Grove Heights. More comfortable than having half a tent blow in on me.


I’m writing this nearly a month later, and as I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, I can assure you that what I did this week while I was staying at home did not stick in my head. Sorry to anyone I’ve wronged.

The Beer

Of course, as I say that, I do remember heading with my fiance Laura to a couple of breweries in Minneapolis for some occasion, though I don’t remember what.

Herkimer: Part of the Lynlake neighborhood just east of Uptown Minneapolis, Herkimer Pub and Brewery is a quality restaurant, bar, brewery, and nightlife spot (immediately adjacent to the best trivia in MSP at the Uptown VFW–go Roaming Herd of Cows). Having finished a long-distance run earlier that morning as part of her prep for Grandma’s Marathon, Laura opted for the lower-ABV Tooler’s Weiss, a solid weissbier, while I opted for a Schwarz. Both were just fine, and we enjoyed a sunny afternoon playing bags on the patio.

Utepils: Located just west of the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, Utepils was a large but very wonderful detour on a day in which–HANG ON, I REMEMBERED. We went to Lake Hiawatha because emerald ash borers prompted Minneapolis to cut down a bunch of trees and repurpose some. They made a few into cribbage boards, so Laura and I stopped by and played life-size cribbage (I won):

A tree felled by Minneapolis Parks staff was turned into a cribbage board for the public to use. This one is located on the eastern shore of Lake Hiawatha in South Minneapolis.

Anyways, Utepils. Big industrial space located over the tracks in Bryn Mawr, pushed right up against a park’s grove of trees to the west of the brewery and tucked away in a way that made it both urban and secluded all at once. I tried the Alt 1848, a sweet, malty altbier, which was just fine, but Laura’s choice–Ewald the Golden, a hefeweizen–was easily the winner in my book. Crisp and citrusy, that’s a summer beer I can get behind.

Bald Man Brewing: Located in an office park along MN-13 in Eagan, Bald Man has a rock-themed lineup of beers ranging from their flagship Tupelo Honey Brown to the Killer Queen IIPA. Their brown has a nice smoky, almost tobacco-y, flavor to it, while the Honey Hush Kolsch had a light sweetness to it. I’m not sure if this is really what I’m supposed to be looking for in a kolsch–after all, the lagering process is supposed to get rid of some of the beer’s sweetness–but it worked for me. Check them out if you’re headed down to the outlets in Eagan or merely want to try a new, interesting suburban brewery.

Saint Cloud? Hopefully next time I’ll take more than a day trip to Saint Cloud and have the chance to check out a local brewery or two. We’ll see what’s emerged up north that’s not Third Street Brewhouse (still an excellent option…Hunny-Do is a great summer beer).

What’s Next?

I followed up Saints Cloud and Paul with a whirlwind swing through Ames, Iowa (1 day); Bloomington, Indiana (2.5 days); Black River Falls, Wisconsin (2.5 days); Iowa City (2 days); Grand Rapids, Michigan (5 days); home (1 day); Iowa City (4 days); Duluth (2.5 days); and Sioux Falls (.5 day). I’ll be blogging about Iowa City, then Bloomington and Grand Rapids (conferences, both), then Duluth and Sioux Falls. I think. We’ll see.

Past Trips


[1] “Wenstrom Newsletter, Vol. 2,” Box 1, Folder 6 (2), Gene Wenstrom Papers. Central Minnesota Historical Collection, St. Cloud State University Archives, St. Cloud, Minnesota; election results accessed by year at “Minnesota Elections: Dates and Vote Totals,” Minnesota Legislative Reference Library,

[2] Wenstrom to Coelho, July 8, 1982, Box 3, Folder 4, Wenstrom Papers.

[3] John Camp, “Latimer’s chances add up,” Saint Paul Pioneer Press, January 30, 1986.

Rural Democrats? Don’t call it a comeback.

The 2016 elections, in addition to making what I am trying to get a PhD in about 100x more relevant than I ever could have done myself, have also led to a very, very obnoxious trend among national political outlets: a newfound fascination with rural or agriculturally-oriented Democratic interests, groups, and politicians.

Take, for example, the Washington Post‘s breathless exploration in November 2016 of “Why rural voters don’t vote Democratic anymore,” in which they suddenly rediscover Collin Peterson (DFL-MN7). In the article, Peterson notes that

Donald Trump owes his victory to rural voters who feel they’ve been abandoned by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly urban and liberal.

and that

We have become a party of assembling all these different groups, the women’s caucus and the black caucus and the Hispanic caucus and the lesbian-gay-transgender caucus and so forth, and that doesn’t relate to people out in rural America. The party’s become an urban party, and they don’t get rural America. They don’t get agriculture.

While not nearly offensive as the New York Times’ ridiculous exhortation to “Go Midwest, Young Hipster,” it is incredible to finally read a profile of Peterson, who was first elected to Congress when I was one month old.

Now, just this morning, rural interests in the Democratic Party have caught Politico‘s eye. Looking ahead to Tammy Baldwin’s 2018 reelection defense, not only the media but, inexplicably, the Wisconsin Democratic Party itself appears caught off guard by the fact that there’s a rural interest it needs to pay attention to:

The Wisconsin Democratic Party has already hired five outreach coordinators specifically focused on rural counties, ahead of Baldwin’s first reelection run and the 2018 gubernatorial race in the state.

Amusingly, I spent a few hours over 2 days at the Midwestern History Assocation Conference and Agricultural History Society meeting in Grand Rapids talking about this exact thing! There is suddenly renewed interest among national commentators in the rural (and especially Midwestern) Democrat, yet U.S. Representatives like Tim Johnson (D-SD), Dave Obey (D-WI), Tim Penny (then*-DFL-MN), Kent Conrad (DNPL-ND), Neal Smith (D-Iowa), and others, along with U.S. Senators like Tom Daschle (D-SD), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and to a lesser extent Paul Wellstone (DFL-MN) made up a not-unsubstantial part of the Democratic Party from the Midwest during the 1980s, 90s, and 00s.

Suddenly, politicians and (more damningly) the Democratic Party is suddenly realizing it needs to pay attention to rural interests; that it’s not enough to let candidates go it alone. Hence a suddenly-renewed interest in national investment in rural Democrats.

We’ll see if this is enough to reverse two and a half decades of, at best, lukewarm attention to farm policy and rural interests among national Democrats — but publications from Politico to the Washington Post would do well to stop treating this issue or politicians like Collin Peterson (to say nothing of Tim Walz, a 2018 candidate for Minnesota governor) as oddities or bygone phenomena.

Now, there are issues here. Certainly no Democrat or activist would want to see the groups Peterson lists (women, African-Americans, LGBTQ+, to name a few) take a diminshed role in the party or be steamrolled by rural (read: white, Christian, heterosexual, etc) interests. Moreover, the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and historic role of NAFTA that Peterson notes are issues that the Democratic Party–and, looking ahead to a relevant 2018 gubernatorial race, the DFL (I might start doing that more often)–needs to address. As 2016 laid all too bare, there are a number of endemic weaknesses in the national and state Democratic parties that have weakened their ability to run effective and winning campaigns in rural areas. Moreover, issues of gerrymandering increase barriers to Democrats making inroads with rural interests because fewer of them fall in competitive districts (breaking both ways! Ron Kind, in Wisconsin’s rural/exurban 3rd District, didn’t get a Republican challenger in his 2016 reelection bid).

But let’s not pretend this is a new phenomenon which we have no recent historical frame of reference to understand. Don’t call it a comeback, rural Dems been here for years.

Diverging Democrats: Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Farm Crisis Election

From Lawrence R. Jacobs’ “Right vs. Left in the Midwest,” New York Times, 23 Nov. 2013. Accessed at

Key Points:

(1) differences in strength of legislative affiliation between rural activist groups and urban legislators, and

(2) better development of a language of economic progressive populism which more effectively—though not completely—bridged the rural-urban divide in Minnesota.

Farmer’s Rally, State Capital, St. Paul, Minnesota, from the “Farm Families” project. Arndt, Thomas Frederick January 1985

1986 Wisconsin Lt. Gov and US Senate Primary

Comparing Minnesota and Wisconsin in 1986

Down-Ballot Elections in the Midwest, 2016

The following are excerpts from a larger panel titled “The New Midwestern Politics? The 2016 Election and Beyond” at the 2017 Midwestern History Association Conference, hosted at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus in Grand Rapids, MI, and hosted by the Ralph Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Feel free to contact me with questions about the maps, findings, or methodology.

Continue reading “Down-Ballot Elections in the Midwest, 2016”