Every four years, the media spotlight shines on the state during the prelude to its first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and University of Iowa political experts are in serious demand. State, national, and international reporters call upon UI faculty to explain how the caucuses work, and to provide insight into how Iowans are responding to candidates and their campaign strategies.
One expert who is helping the University leverage this publicity opportunity is Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Over the past year and a half, Hagle has given nearly 250 interviews on topics ranging from the controversial ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices to the first whispers of former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s likely run for president.
With as many as three interviews a day already, he’s sure to beat that personal record as the caucus season ramps up—especially because he’s an expert on Republican politics, and all of the action will be on that side in 2012. Hagle spoke with fyi about why he makes time to provide analysis, his early thoughts on the candidate pool, and what a political junkie does for fun (besides follow politics).
What are your thoughts on the 2012 pool at this early stage? Any predictions on the caucuses?
Tim Pawlenty is putting together a strong Iowa team, but I won’t touch the predictions—it’s just too far out at this point. A lot of folks are dancing around for campaign finance and other reasons, but not officially declaring, at least not in terms of serious, top-tier candidates. Having said that, I recently read that we’ve had more than 100 potential candidate visits to Iowa, for book tours or lectures. The Republican straw poll in Ames this August will likely be the event that will thin out the field. At that point we’ll see who’s serious, because we’re talking only five months until the caucuses. If people aren’t getting traction then, they may drop out. Of course, there will be candidates who run to raise their profile because they’re looking for a slot in the cabinet, or because they hope to run in 2016.
What do you enjoy about providing political commentary? Why do you take time to do it?
Faculty members focus on research, teaching, and service, and the commentary really incorporates all three. I study and analyze American political practice. I get to teach reporters—depending on their level of experience—about the caucuses and other political topics, providing historical context or helping them explore a new twist on a story. And whether it’s live commentary on C-SPAN or providing 20 minutes of background to a young, student reporter at the Daily Iowan, I view it as a public service. The overall goal is to share knowledge, to provide some cogent thoughts that will help advance the story and provide some useful information for the readers, listeners, or viewers.
How do keep up on everything happening in politics?
When I start my day, I begin by looking at a dozen news sites. I have a list I go through, in the same order every time: first local news, then state media and partisan news web sites, and finally the national sites. I need to be ready to go as much as possible on virtually any topic related to politics.
Any funny stories about interviews?
Just the other night I had a good laugh because I was on my office phone with one Daily Iowan reporter, and then my cell phone rang with another DI reporter. As I was telling the one on the cell phone that I was on the other line with another DI reporter, they realized they were sitting next to each other in the newsroom and were both calling me for comments on two totally different stories.
What other research projects are you involved in?
A few of my favorite things…
Flicks with great special effects
Chinese historical dramas
The NCAA basketball tournament
My main area of research is judicial politics and behavior, and in particular I study the U.S. Supreme Court’s substantive decisions. I’ve conducted studies on search and seizure and on obscenity decisions, and more recently I’ve been gathering information for a huge data set on all of the cases filed on the court’s appellate docket. Also, I was just invited to write a book chapter on redistricting, how the electoral landscape changed in states like Iowa that lost or gained a congressional seat.
As an expert in judicial politics, what are your thoughts on the Iowa Supreme Court justices being removed because of the decision that legalized gay marriage? Were you surprised?
It was surprising, simply because it’s so hard to oust any justice, especially of the state’s highest court. Here in Iowa, we use what’s sometimes called the merit system, or the Missouri plan. Under our retention system, it’s a simple ballot question of whether each judge should be retained. Most people just say yes, and judges are approved by 70 to 80 percent of voters. We put that plan in place about 60 years ago, and until 2010 we had only removed four judges. They were low-level judges, and it was for behaviors that made them seem unfit for the bench. In this case, it was the perfect storm of dissatisfaction with the ruling, a Republican wave year that brought more conservatives to the polls, and a campaign to oust the justices that was run by an experienced politician.
What courses do you teach, and how else do you work with students?
I’m also a lawyer, and I recently worked for two years at the Department of Justice, so I teach pre-law courses on criminal justice, constitutional law, public administration, the judicial process, and legal research. Each is intended to introduce students to legal terminology, to get students ready for law school. I advise just shy of 100 pre-law students at a time, and we talk about getting into law schools, how to enhance your record to get into top-tier schools, and the pros and cons of various schools.
I’m also faculty advisor to the College Republicans, so I provide suggestions related to their activities and recruiting, give talks, and help ensure that they’re getting a good experience when they help out campaigns. Students are often the worker bees for the campaigns, doing the lit drops or the phone calling. I always want to make sure they’re getting the most out of the campaign experience, especially if they’re doing it for credit. Working on a campaign might sometimes require something basic like directing traffic at a campaign event, but there should be a balance between that and learning from the candidates and their staff.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Movies. I worked in a movie theater for a couple of years as an assistant manager, and it stuck with me. I’m choosy about which ones to see in the theater—it needs to be worthwhile. Netflix is great for catching up on TV shows that were a big deal, just so I can see what the fuss was all about. I have an extensive movie collection, and I often refer to movies in my classes. I’ll occasionally show a clip to illustrate a point. Sometimes, students are a little puzzled if they haven’t seen the movie…but often they seem to find it amusing.