My policy of live and let live most generally is extended to Des Moines. Even though it is our capital city, I really don’t care what they do or how they govern themselves. Frankly, I don’t spend a lot of time in Des Moines; a yearly sojourn to the State Fair, an occasional Civic Center performance, maybe a couple of state tournament basketball games and a day at the state wrestling meet and stops in Altoona at Bass Pro Shop on the way north to visit relatives.
A number of years ago I got fired up with Superintendent Dave Sextro when West Des Moines bragged that they would be using a penny sales tax for schools to build an opulent football stadium and most of the money would come from people living outside the Des Moines area. Dave went to war over this arrogance and won in the legislature what we commonly refer to as the S.I.L.O. penny sales tax, which was spread evenly throughout the state.
I remember Dave’s refusal to accept rural students being second class to urban school students because urban areas had a Sam’s Club and big box stores to win most of the penny option sales tax. It was one of the greatest victories, rural over urban, in our state’s history.
Now comes the added penny sales tax vote in Des Moines and five of its suburbs (including Altoona, home of Bass Pro Shop). After losing only a few months ago, it passed by wide margins, and mostly I don’t care, except for this.
The movers and shakers supporting the added penny used the same arrogance and condescension that people in Des Moines schools used to manufacture the reasons to vote yes. Their advertising in favor of the tax (which will fix roads, build parks and lower metro property taxes) said bluntly that over 30 percent of the tax will come from people outside the Des Moines metro area. In other words, rural rubes who need Des Moines so they can get refined and cultured.
At some level, they are correct. I had a heart attack and to continue to remain vertical I had to go to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines and my family spent money there during my hospital stay. There is only one Iowa State Fair (that I could blissfully stay away from forever if not for the ingrained cultural pull). There is only one state capital. The Good Guys car show is only in Des Moines (at the fair grounds). The televised state tournament basketball and wrestling meets are so terrible, you about have to go to Wells Fargo to enjoy those opportunities.
But as far as regular shopping and spending that extra penny, I’m not so sure. As much as I dislike Amazon and Internet shopping, the fact is, we don’t have to go to Des Moines anymore to get stuff we need or don’t need. We don’t need to visit the Nike store, or a Des Moines Walmart, or Target and there’s nothing sold at Jordan Creek Mall we can’t get delivered directly to our homes in Albia or Melrose or Avery.
And as much as I love to touch the fishing lures I am buying, or feel the grip of a Browning over and under shotgun, I can catalog or computer shop Bass Pro and wait patiently for the UPS man to deliver my stuff to my door.
What’s more, if I do need to kick tires, take my wife out for dinner or look for work boots, there is more than the “Golden Circle” surrounding Des Moines. If you drew a circle in a 50-mile radius around Albia, you’ll find retail value in places like Centerville, Chariton, Ottumwa, Fairfield, Knoxville, Pella, Carlisle and Oskaloosa. Within that area are Amish communities in Monroe, Appanoose and Davis Counties with cool stuff.
I can name at least five gun shops within a 40-minute drive of my rural Albia home. There are Walmarts encircling our community. Antique stores? Oh yeah.
If we, as rural counties and county seat towns, could figure out how to lay down our swords created from years of beating each other up in high school football and basketball, it’s likely we could form new bonds of friendship and commerce.
Why spend a couple of hundred bucks (dinner and the show) to attend a Civic Center performance when you have terrific concert societies in Chariton, Centerville, Ottumwa and Fairfield and amazing theaters in Oskaloosa, Pella and Albia? Why purchase cars along the Merle Hay Auto Mile when there are dealerships spread through South Central Iowa that offer better, closer and likely cheaper service? Why make a big deal out of staying at the downtown Marriott in Des Moines when we’ve got the Honey Creek Resort in our back yards?
The penny Des Moines, Altoona, West Des Moines and the rest are raising the sales tax isn’t going to kill me. In fact, there’s a lot to be said about the fairness of the sales tax, basically because a person can choose not to buy. But I hate the urban, “you must worship at my feet” attitude. It gives me another reason to think locally before I do anything else.