by ART CULLEN
Managing Editor and resident Iowan
The Eastern elite is in full yammer about moving the first presidential nominating tests out of Iowa.
A bunch of bigshots from the Republican and Democratic parties met in the past few weeks to conspire on a strategy that would knock The Tall Corn State out of first place. They were backed up by Gail Collins of The New York Times, who wrote an insulting column entitled, "Forget Iowa." She described ours as a state where the chief entertainment is wrestling.
True, Iowa and Iowa State are perennial powers in NCAA grappling. We're proud of that. We're also proud that the Iowa State women's basketball team is ranked among the top 10 and sells out the 14,000-seat Hilton Coliseum in Ames. So we're not all about wrestling; we're crazy about other sports, too.
And we're crazy about the caucuses.
A poll said that two-thirds of the caucus goers on Jan. 24 had met a candidate. More than 70% got their information from newspaper accounts, not TV attack ads. A greater number still got their information from conversation and debate with their friends.
Yes, Iowa is white. That's the rap on us. But we're also among the most educated electorate in the country. There is a populist streak that runs just beneath the surface of both liberals and conservatives, which ain't all bad. Our state parties and government are generally free from corruption -- the biggest scandal in history was when some lobbyists got caught at a strip joint with a state senator who was promptly defrocked by voters.
Iowa is a place where you can run without spending an arm and a leg. It is a state where voters demand talk of issues. It is a state that detests cronyism, sleazeballs and liars.
The Eastern elite has been griping about the Iowa caucuses since at least 1984. That was the year the Democratic National Committee sued State Democratic Party Chairman Dave Nagle personally for refusing to give up the state's premiere spot.
The reason these fatcats want Iowa out of the way is simple: They don't like it here, and neither does the press. It's colder than a well digger's patoot in January, and there isn't much to do in Des Moines (other than go to a strip joint or a church meeting). Iowa is plain boring in the winter, but we do have cable TV.
They also don't like the fact that Iowans are a discerning lot.
The elite say they want to give other small states a shot, and put the other big states on a rotating basis so they can play a bigger role in delegate selection. Read that: New York and California want more of a say.
They have a say on everything else. Leave us alone.
If you think they're going to rotate the first primary to Kansas, North Dakota or Nebraska, think again. They don't want to hang out in any of those states in January, either. Nor do they want to be required to meet voters where they live.
Moving the first primaries around the country is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. First, Iowa and New Hampshire are known commodities. Second, their parties are fastidious about being fair and open to new candidates (a la Jimmy Carter, Dick Gephardt and Mike Dukakis). Third, the electorate really is informed -- Iowa has more newspapers than any other state.
Al Gore complained in 1988 that Iowa was "too liberal." This from a state that kept Terry Branstad, a Republican, as governor for 16 years? The real reason Gore didn't want to come to Iowa is because he knew he wasn't ready for a real campaign, just like John McCain isn't.
The point is, no one has made a compelling point why Iowa should not be first. Until they do, we should be allowed to continue making sensible choices as we have for better than 25 years.