Professor hopes to improve electoral system, involve third parties in Iowa legislature

April 21, 2014 6:54 AM1 comment

Story by Taylor Soule

Photo by Luke Nankivell

professor-w2000-h2000For a long time, David Courard-Hauri waited. If he voted for the right people with the right platform, something would move forward. Right?

After feeling frustrated by the glacial pace of Iowa’s legislature again and again, though, Courard-Hauri realized it wasn’t enough to vote for the right people. He had to get involved. That’s when the Drake University environmental science and policy professor decided to run for the Iowa House.

“I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with the way politics is working, and so a few years ago, I started thinking, ‘Here’s what somebody should do,’” Courard-Hauri said. “Then, more recently, I’ve started thinking, ‘Well, maybe, if I really believe that, it would be something I should do.’”

The Green Party candidate is running a campaign centered on electoral reform to facilitate third-party involvement. And he knows it won’t be easy.

With the meager history of third-party success against him, Courard-Hauri acknowledged the challenge ahead. But for him, the potential for change outweighed the daunting nature of third-party candidacy. While it’s easy to get lost in the field of Democratic or Republican candidates, a Green Party victory could catch Iowans’ attention — and highlight the problematic culture of two-party government.

“If I ran as a Democrat, I would just be one of, you know, 100 people, and this would be my little issue,” Courard-Hauri said. “Everybody has their issue, but nobody has to take you particularly seriously with your issue. If I can win as a Green, which is spectacularly difficult, which historically doesn’t happen, I think that the anger has led to an opportunity to actually win here. If I can win as a Green, then suddenly that’s important because it shows that people want to change the system.”

Collaborating beyond party labels is key for Courard-Hauri, and getting third-party candidates elected is the first step.

“I don’t believe that Democrats or Republicans can or will fix the problem because they benefit from the fact that there are only two parties and that many districts are perfectly safe,” Courard-Hauri said. “They never have to worry about the constituents because if you’re conservative in a conservative district or you’re liberal in a liberal district, you’re just going to keep getting elected. That fosters a disconnect that I think isn’t healthy.”

He’s ready to lead the charge, with a realistic attitude, of course. Courard-Hauri knows one Green Party legislator won’t fix the disconnect in Iowa politics — but it will get people thinking about the system’s pitfalls.

Before he can start restructuring Iowa politics, though, Courard-Hauri has to win a seat in November 2014, the initial stage in what he hopes is a long-term, systematic change.

“Get elected. Start talking about it,” Courard-Hauri said. “Make it a real issue that people across the state understand and know about. Try to get votes. I don’t expect that if I’m the only one, anyone’s going to listen to me just yet, but then go across the state and try to recruit people from all across the political spectrum to make this change. Then, I think, they’ll have to listen to us.”

Climate-change legislation is atop his priorities if elected. Though it’s an issue rife with complicated sub-issues, he said the potential for a positive impact across Iowa makes tackling it worthwhile.

“Doing something about climate change isn’t as hard as everybody says it would be, in terms of what the impacts would be,” Courard-Hauri said.

He’s particularly qualified to combat climate legislation in Iowa. With a master’s degree in public affairs and doctorate in physical chemistry, Courard-Hauri is prepared for both the scientific and political elements of climate legislation.

Courard-Hauri’s colleagues and students have already taken notice of how his educational background could shape Iowa politics.

“He is a thoughtful guy that is very engaged in thinking about how science can inform public policy,” said Keith Summerville, a Drake environmental science and policy professor. “He’s genuinely interested in not just environmental issues, but he’s genuinely interested in the human experience and in figuring out how the kind of work that he does as an environmental scientist or the kind of work that he’s done through his M.P.A. experience can make people’s lives better.”

Summerville said his colleague’s experience in academia could likewise create lasting change.

“I think one of the nice things about being able to come at issues from an academic perspective is that you don’t end up towing the party line in things you don’t know much about,” Summerville said. “It teaches you an inquisitiveness to do the research on your own and form your own opinions. I think that’s going to be tremendously advantageous.”

For Courard-Hauri’s students, a single quality leads the way: passion. Drake juniors Sara Brock and Mallory Rasky took the J-term travel seminar on eco-tourism to the Galapagos Islands, led by Courard-Hauri.

Though they had limited interaction with him before the January 2014 trip, both said his passion for students, teaching and environmental issues immediately caught their attention.

“Of course, his intelligence. That goes without saying,” Rasky said. “I think the fact that he can relate to people very easily. Also, it goes back to the passion. I know that’s a cliché thing, but when you actually do have it, it’s pretty cool, and you’re able to see it. It’s like he’s not even trying, and you’re able to see right through it.”

Courard-Hauri’s passion and intellect likewise stood out for Brock.

“He’s very passionate, very informed, and he’s willing to do a lot of the typical grunt work,” Brock said. “He’s willing and he’s able. He’s one of the smartest people you will ever meet.”

But for Courard-Hauri, it isn’t grunt work at all. It’s simply one step en route to a much-needed change in Iowa’s legislative landscape.

“What makes me particularly qualified is that I am passionate about making this change, and I’m willing to do what I need in terms of knocking on doors and talking to people and devoting my time to this,” Courard-Hauri said. “I think I can make it happen.”

1 Comment

  • One structural problem I hope Mr. Courard-Hauri can address is plurality voting. Duverger’s law states that third parties do not stand much of a chance. Approval or Range Voting would open up the field.