Yepsen completes fellowships
By DOUGLAS BURNS
The University of Chicago’s renowned Institute of Politics is placing a major emphasis on Illinois’ western neighbor as 23 candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for president with most playing for position in the February Iowa caucuses. What’s more, President Trump captured Iowa in 2016, and Republican developments in the Hawkeye State are drawing national interest as well.
So it makes sense that the university would invite the dean of Iowa political journalism, Jefferson native David Yepsen, for a dual fellowship this spring on the Chicago campus. Yepsen just completed a two-month stint as a Pritzker Fellow and a David Broder Fellow.
“It was a lot of fun,” Yepsen said in a phone interview as he prepared to leave his temporary Chicago apartment and head back home to Des Moines. “I like being in the classroom. I did that for seven years in Carbondale.”
Yepsen wrote for The Des Moines Register from 1974 to 2009. He then served as director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
When Dean Borg, host of the Iowa Public Television show “Iowa Press,” announced his retirement, Yepsen jumped on board as the new “Iowa Press” host in early 2017.
“I’m here the spring quarter slipping back to do the show a couple of times but Kay Henderson is filling in while I’m gone,” Yepsen, graduate of the Jefferson High School Class of 1968, said.
The talk of the Institute of Politics is Iowa, Iowa, Iowa.
“They’ve got 60 interns who are doing work this summer in various campaigns and for news organizations so Axelrod invited me to come do this and help with mentoring those students in all things Iowa,” Yepsen said, referencing political guru David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama.
“The big thing is you do a seminar each week for eight weeks,” Yepsen said. “In my case, it was talking about journalism, being a political writer.”
Yepsen brought in former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Obama’s secretary of agriculture, as a guest speaker.
One of the University of Chicago’s goals is to bridge the rural-urban divide. Yepsen played a role in that.
“Iowa is not a stereotypical Grant Wood painting,” Yepsen said. “It’s not ‘American Gothic.’ And yet that’s a stereotype a lot of people have.”
So what’s Yepsen’s take on the Iowa caucuses to this point?
Well, first, he noted that the field is basically just set.
“Now it’s a firehouse primary,” he said. “Wear good shoes and bring a great cushion because it’s going to be a long night.
“To me, that’s healthy.”