Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jon Kyl's Rise and Iowa's Wane

Jon Kyl's Rise and Iowa's Wane

In a few days, U.S. Senate Republicans will officially anoint Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona to replace Trent Lott of Mississippi as minority whip, the number two post in the Senate GOP leadership. A few Iowans will recall that Senator Kyl's father, John Kyl (same name, different spelling) was an Iowa congressman. But in a way, you could argue that Jon Kyl cost his father his seat in Congress.

No, there wasn't some adolescent scandal in Bloomfield, Iowa. But the story of the Kyl family is, in microcosm, the story of Iowa's declining political influence as the American people, including a young Jon Kyl, have moved south and west.

The elder John Kyl was one of Iowa's first television personalities at KTVO in Ottumwa. He lost his first congressional bid in 1958 to Steven Carter, the first Democrat to win the 4th District in south central Iowa district in decades. But less than a year later Carter was dead, and John Kyl won Iowa's last (to date) congressional special election.

Iowa's glory days in the House of Representatives were the late 1890s, when we elected eleven congressmen, all Republicans, including Speaker of the House David Henderson. By 1959, when John Kyl was elected, Iowa was down to eight U.S. House members while Arizona, still a rural, ranchy state, had only two. That shifted to seven from Iowa and three from Arizona in 1962.

The elder Kyl was first a victim of Arizona in 1964, when Barry Goldwater led the GOP to a crushing defeat and Kyl lost to Democrat Bert Bandstra. Kyl beat Bandstra and made a return trip to Congress two years later.  They don't make landslides like those anymore: five Iowa Republican incumbents knocked off in 1964, four first term Iowa Democrats beaten in `66.  (The only surviving freshman: John Culver.)

But despite his return, John Kyl's days were numbered by the southward and westward migration of the American people -- including his own son.

Jon Kyl graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1960, just months after his father went to Congress. Jon went to the University of Arizona for college -- and didn't come back, settling in for law school and then a job at a Phoenix law firm.

As the refrigerated metropolis in the desert grew, Iowa shrank. The 1970 census, which officially counted Jon Kyl's move from Bloomfield to Phoenix, took yet another House seat away from Iowa and gave it, again, to Arizona. Seven congressmen don't divide evenly into six districts, and John Kyl got the short straw. His new district added both Democratic colleague Neal Smith and Smith's Polk County base. That trumped John Kyl's Ottumwa-Bloomfield turf, and Smith beat Kyl easily in 1972.

When the younger Jon Kyl was first elected to the House in 1986, Arizona had five House members to Iowa's six. Then, in 1992, it happened again: Arizona gained its sixth seat and Iowa elected only five House members -- the fewest since the Civil War. Jon Kyl moved to the Senate in 1994.

Iowa held its own in the 2000 census, but is expected to lose a house district in 2010. But Arizona gained enough population that in 2002, it elected eight House members. By that year, the elder John Kyl had joined his son in Arizona, and late that year he died in Phoenix.

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