Life Over Politics in Columbus Junction

By Mike Brunette
Iowa Presidential Politics.com

"Gray Davis, Gray Davis," Eustogio Giovera passionately repeats as a reporter presses him about the upcoming Iowa presidential caucus, on a fall day not long before the California recall election.

Giovera, who speaks little English, moved to Columbus Junction, Iowa, seven years ago after falling in love with the small packing town while on vacation. After 22 years at a bakery in Brooklyn, NY, it was time for him to move on. The growing Hispanic population and the opportunity to be his own boss made the decision to move to Iowa an easy one.

As he rolls another panache under the watchful eye of the Mother Mary, looking down from a brightly colored wall hanging, Gioevera says, “I happy 'cuz, you know this is my business, and I work for myself. I ain’t working for nobody.”

His priorities do not include politics.

“No, I only work and don’t bother with that, more important to do work," he says. "A lot of time 6 in the morning to 9 at night every day seven days a week. I have no time for nothing, no time to look at the ladies.”

Giovera switches from lemon to blueberry and continues to roll.

A few doors down, Don Orr is happy that his new home has only three stairs, a step up from his old apartment above Orr Electric, which had 23 stairs. Orr, the former mayor of Columbus Junction, still considers himself a Democrat and attends the caucus at the local and county level.

However, Orr is more concerned with running his ever-adapting retail business and enjoying life than thinking about politics. Over the grinding of the key machine, he admits he doesn’t follow politics like he used to.

“No, not really, haven’t sat down and thought about it," he says. "I suppose Gephardt would get my vote if it were today.”

“Everybody makes promises on health care, but our expenses keep going up," says his wife, Bonnie Orr. "Don just got a full knee replacement, and it has been quite expensive. Don informs me that the caucus is held at the high school and only 15 or 20 people participate. For a town of over 1,600 that seems small, but Don assures me that’s all that come.”

Across the street, 23-year-old Lionel Perera unloads a truck in front of the La Reyna Mexican grocery store and restaurant where he works.

“ I care, but I don’t know anything about that," he says. "I’ve never seen anybody around here, and I don’t find any information about it around here.”

Perera says he has heard of Howard Dean, but knows nothing about him or the upcoming Iowa caucus. Perera moved to Iowa from Cabeche, Mexico, and loves everything about living in Iowa. Around town, more signs are posted in Spanish than English, but nothing in either language promotes the upcoming caucus.

Down the road, 28-year-old Mark Sulentich laments that “workers pay a shitload of taxes. Work more, pay more. It gets me annoyed.”

He is cleaning up a job he just completed for his budding construction business, only hours after spending the night building trusses at his third-shift job 17 miles away in Washington, Iowa. Sulentich, a lifelong Republican, says he is unaware of the Iowa caucus process and feels that working hard is his only chance to succeed.

“There’s not much to pick from," he says. "I don’t pay a lot of attention to who is going to get paid to sit on their ass and bullshit me.”

As the caucus date approaches in Columbus Junction and throughout the state, Eustogio Giovera, Mark Sulentich and Lionel Perera will continue to work, Don Orr will attend to his store, and Bonnie Orr will be readying tuxedos for all the quinceanera celebrations coming up.

E-mail Mike Brunette at michael-brunette@uiowa.edu.

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