Is Iowa Necessary?

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is a Republican, and he supports Mitt Romney for president. But he isn't very happy about Romney's opposition to tax credits for wind power. Iowa is a pretty windy place, and it has benefited from federal wind subsidies; Branstad wants that to continue.

Branstad told Radio Iowa he agrees with Romney that money used to support Solyndra, the solar panel manufacturer, was "wasted" but that the wind tax credit is "a way different thing."

What's so great about the wind credit? Well, according to Branstad, it has encouraged the construction of wind turbines all over Iowa, which means jobs for Iowans and rental income for Iowa farmers. If that sounds to you a lot like the arguments for subsidizing solar power -- and the arguments for every industrial subsidy ever -- you're not alone.

Of course, the really important difference between wind subsidies and solar subsidies is that Iowa is windy and not especially sunny. If the purpose of the federal government is to do nice things for Iowa, then obviously it should prioritize wind over solar.

Branstad's attitude isn't new. Iowa has long leveraged its status as the first caucus state to hold politicians hostage, demanding their support for good-for-Iowa, bad-for-the-country policies from farm subsidies to ethanol mandates and now the wind energy tax credit.

Not every powerful state behaves this badly. I don't recall New Hampshire's electorate ever bullying presidential candidates into supporting tax credits for ... snow, or whatever it is they make in New Hampshire. New England voters are mature enough to realize that making presidential candidates spend months trudging all over your state, pretending to be interested in your communities, is reward enough; asking to be paid off on top of that is tacky.

We could reduce Iowan tyranny by taking away its status as the first state to hold presidential caucuses. But Iowa would remain a swing state with outsized influence in the general election. The only way to really be safe is to revoke Iowa's statehood, returning it to a territory whose representatives in Washington, D.C., would play a purely advisory role -- and whose residents would have no part in choosing the president.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Josh Barro and other Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.

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