SIOUX CITY -- When considering names for the Navy's littoral combat ships, Ray Mabus focused on a number of variables.
He wanted to name the new class of warships after smaller cities located not on the nation's coasts, but far away from the seashore. He researched how long it had been since each state had had a ship named for a city within its borders.
The former Secretary of the Navy determined that Iowa, with a long history of sending men and women to the Navy, deserved a ship bearing the name of one of its cities.
Looking at a list of Iowa cities, Sioux City was the right size, Mabus said. Other than that, he can't say what led him to choose it. He'd never been here before, had no knowledge of the city, other than there had never been a ship named for Sioux City before.
It just felt right.
"Sioux City fit really nicely in this," Mabus said. "I can't give you any 'a-ha moment,' but Sioux City just seemed to fit."
What a fit it's proven to be.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of current and former Sioux Cityans will travel to Annapolis, Maryland, this week to witness the USS Sioux City's commissioning at the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday.
And high-ranking Navy officers will see an outpouring of pride from a city thrilled that a ship bearing its name soon will join the Navy fleet.
"I think it's a source of pride for us. It's additional recognition for a community that we're all collectively proud of," said Chris McGowan, Siouxland Chamber of Commerce president and co-chairman of the ship's commissioning committee.
That pride was apparent from the very beginning. On Feb. 15, 2012, Mabus, who was Secretary of the Navy from 2009-17, announced that the 11th ship in the LCS series would be named after Sioux City.
Four months later, he made his first-ever trip to Sioux City to formally introduce the ship at a reception at City Hall.
Mabus remembers seeing so many people at the reception that many of them had to stand on the staircase leading up to the second floor.
"The turnout was overwhelming," Mabus said. "You want the city to have that connection and you want them to continue to have contact with it."
Ever since that day more than six years ago, that connection has only grown stronger.
McGowan has watched it grow from day one. Standing at that City Hall reception, he said he could tell by the enthusiastic crowd that Sioux City was going to be one heck of a namesake city.
"We certainly recognized that this was significant for our community," he said.
From that day, the interest and excitement built. A sizeable group of Sioux City residents traveled to Marinette, Wisconsin, for the ship's christening and launch on Jan. 30, 2016. That day, McGowan said, gave him a good idea of the area's support for the ship. Mayor Bob Scott shot video of the USS Sioux City splashing into the water and posted it on Facebook. Within 24 hours, the video had some 30,000 views, McGowan said.
"That was a strong indication for the robust interest our community has in this ship," McGowan said.
As work on the USS Sioux City concluded and testing commenced, preliminary preparations for commissioning began. In January 2017, the Navy announced the ceremony would take place in Annapolis at the Naval Academy. The USS Sioux City would be the first warship ever commissioned there.
Not long after that announcement, retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp was named chairman of the commissioning committee, tasked with raising $800,000 to pay for a week's worth of commissioning celebrations. An Annapolis native and Naval Academy graduate, Thorp had never been to Sioux City and wasn't sure what to expect when starting the campaign to raise all that money.
"I didn't know a lot about Sioux City," he said.
Thorp figured he'd have to do some serious arm-twisting to get businesses and individuals on board as sponsors and donors. What he found was a community more than willing to be a part of a historic event. As McGowan ushered Thorp into meetings with business leaders, many were ready with proposals, and commitments. Thorp's job wasn't so much one of convincing people to donate, but more about informing and educating the people he met about Navy commissioning traditions and what the week of activities would include.
"After 28 years in the Navy, I am absolutely overwhelmed by the positive response and the enthusiastic relationship by the people of Sioux City," Thorp said. "I've not seen a community that's stood together for a cause like this."
McGowan proudly says that Sioux City was asked to raise about $250,000 of the total commissioning budget. More than double that has been raised. A number of area food processors are taking part in the post-commissioning reception, sending their products to Annapolis to be tasted and enjoyed by those unfamiliar with Sioux City.
"The community has responded in a way that has exceeded the expectations of salty veterans who have done this many times," McGowan said.
Though he was unfamiliar with Sioux City, Mabus perhaps foresaw something like this. Lots of cities support the Navy, he said. But name a ship for a city far from the coast, a city that's never had a ship named after it before, and you'll see an enthusiastic response.
Mabus won't be attending the commissioning, and he hasn't been back to Sioux City since he introduced the ship. He's aware, however, how this city and its residents have adopted this ship and its crew.
"I know that the support has been overwhelming," he said. "That's a nice feeling, that you managed to make a decision that touched people."
SIOUX CITY -- I love a hometown-kid-done-good story.
Paul Buchheit, Bishop Heelan High School and Buena Vista University graduate, makes it even better. While basking in the glow of a World Series title, Buchheit tips his cap to folks back home who helped him get there.
Chris Bork. Chris Todden. Joel Malsam. Steve Eddie. Brendan Burchard.
And, his mom and dad, Kathy Stowick and the late Bob Buchheit, who battled brain cancer until his death in 2002. He was 57.
Paul Buchheit, 36, serves as assistant trainer for the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. As a member of the organization, Buchheit gets a ring, most likely on opening day next season.
Buchheit has rings from the club's World Series wins in 2007 and 2013, but he wasn't with the parent club throughout those campaigns. This season? Buchheit traveled with the team, staffed its games home and away, worked long hours in the training room, on the field and in the dugout, from pre-spring training until the last out.
"You do build friendships with these guys," he said, days removed from riding with the team on the parade through Boston. "You're with them during the seven weeks of spring training, all through the season and then for a month of postseason games. You're with them more than your family."
Family. It's a primary reason Buchheit entered the world of athletic training. He recalled being at home as his father fought cancer.
"I was going to go into physical therapy as an undergrad (at BVU) as my dad had cancer and was disabled at home," he said. "We had physical therapists come into our home and work with him. And since my mom was a nurse, she'd work with him and I would help, too."
The family was also big into sports. Older brother Dave Buchheit played for the Crusaders and went on to pitch for Coach Jim Scholten at Morningside College. Paul, who wasn't as gifted athletically, toiled at the junior varsity level at Heelan for the bulk of high school stay.
"I played varsity baseball and football at Heelan," he remembered. "I tried to play basketball, but it didn't go anywhere. I wouldn't say I was a good player at anything, I worked really hard with the skills I had. I wasn't big or strong; I worked to contribute in any way I could."
As a senior, Buchheit's best chance came on the mound and he recalls his most memorable game, a substate triumph over the Storm Lake Tornadoes in which the right-hander pitched for a team coached by Bork, who noted Buchheit remains one of his favorites.
Bork, Malsam and Burchard all played roles as his prep days advanced, helping him to understand concepts like commitment and being a team-first teammate.
Buccheit headed east and attempted to play baseball for the Buena Vista Beavers while studying pre-physical therapy.
"I joined the baseball team at BV, but rarely got to practice as I often had clinical duties for my major that conflicted," he said. "I'd throw on my own until the winter season I was staffing ended. But, by then, I was so far behind. After two years of playing, it was just an uphill battle for me."
He gave up playing baseball, but still followed it. He and Steve Eddie, who became the BV baseball coach when Buchheit was a freshman, remain in contact, maintaining a great relationship. "Coach Eddie turned things around so quickly there," he said. (The Beavers went from 10th in the conference in Buchheit's first year to second in the league his sophomore season.)
Buchheit was staffing a Beavers volleyball practice one afternoon when Todden, then the professor of athletic training at BVU, approached and asked if he wanted to work for the Boston Red Sox.
"We had a class of something like five at BV and I didn't even have the best grades of those five students," Buchheit remembered. "But I really liked baseball and Todden knew that. He said there was an opportunity for an internship with the Red Sox."
Todden wrote a letter of recommendation, helped arrange for his student to interview with the organization. Buchheit borrowed money from his mother for a flight to Florida for the interview. He ended up landing the position, a 6-month internship with the parent club's minor league team in Sarasota, Florida. A second internship followed as Buchheit worked with the organization's Class A affiliate in Lowell, Massachusetts, a position he filled while earning a master's degree in athletic training at the University of Northern Iowa.
The Red Sox hired him full-time in October 2006 and he worked his way through every level of minor league baseball, serving as athletic training coordinator, then medical coordinator, at the club's spring training site before earning a promotion to Boston in October 2015.
It's a dream job, blending therapy, training and baseball. Buchheit is often at Fenway Park seven hours before the opening pitch, coordinating plans with fellow medical staff members as players file in, some doing post-surgical rehab with others focusing on pre-game preparation.
He's in the dugout during games, talking to players between innings, examining arms, sharing tips on hydration, making trips to the mound, at times, and getting some TV time, which his mother, now Kathy Stowick, of Chicago, will notice and email him about the next day.
The family's hero, he said, is his wife, Allison Buchheit, an analytical chemist and native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, who stays home to care for their three young children, Hayden, Noah and Heidi, ages 8 to 15 months.
If there was a seminal point in the season, Buchheit said it might be traced to a July win streak. Players were raving in the clubhouse about team chemistry. Brandon Workman, a player Buchheit had grown close to during Workman's comeback from Tommy John surgery told the Sioux City native that the team reminded him of the 2013 club, which won the World Series.
"At that point, I said, 'Wow! Let's go!'" Buchheit remembered.
The Red Sox would go and go and go. They cruised to the American League Eastern Division title, then blasted foes in the postseason, topping it off by claiming four of five games in the World Series. The Buchheit clan was in Los Angeles as the team popped the champagne, spoils for the victors.
"Allison and I talked about the World Series and taking the kids," he said. "We thought we might as well because we might not ever experience this again."
DES MOINES — The last time Iowa had a race for governor without an elected incumbent, the Democratic candidate won 62 counties and the blue counties dotted the map from river to river.
In this week’s midterm elections, even though the Democratic candidate lost by just 3 points, only 11 counties were blue, and they were all in central or eastern Iowa.
The divide between rural and urban voters in Iowa continues to sharpen. Democrats dominate in the state’s biggest cities, while Republicans own the rural areas. It's existed for more than a few election cycles, but the contrast has grown increasingly stark.
In the past six gubernatorial elections, starting with Democrat Tom Vilsack’s first victory in 1998, Democrats won 49, 68, 62, 9, 1 and 11 counties.
From 1998 to 2006, Republicans won counties almost exclusively in the western quarter of the state along the Missouri River. Since 2010, however, Republicans have branched out and Democrats have been relegated to winning largely in the big population areas: Polk, Story, Black Hawk, Linn, Johnson, Dubuque and Scott counties.
Iowa Democrats long have sought to drive up their advantages in urban areas to win statewide elections. But as the trending data shows, their opportunity to supplement their advantage with at least some victories in rural Iowa has shrunk.
Driven in part by demographics --- rural Iowans tend to be older, there are fewer minorities and a lower rate of college-educated adults, populations that tend to vote for more conservative candidates --- Iowa’s increasingly sharp rural-urban divide is not going away anytime soon, experts said.
“Just by demographics shifts, it is polarizing the rural-urban divide,” said David Andersen, a political science professor at Iowa State University. “I think that has been exacerbated by, it’s a well-known fact people get to choose their media these days. Since so many people who look and think alike live together ... it’s putting these giant bubbles around communities.”
The ever-shrinking success in rural Iowa has made it difficult for Democrats in statewide elections. They have not won a race for governor or U.S. Senator since 2008, Tom Harkin’s final victory before he retired from the U.S. Senate. Since then, Iowa Democrats are 0-for-6 in gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a pair of entrenched Democratic incumbents, have won their statewide re-election bids during that time. And the state went for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
After suffering significant electoral losses in 2014 and 2016, especially in rural Iowa, Democrats pledged to make a better effort with voters in rural areas of the state. Fred Hubbell, the Democrats’ candidate for governor this year and a former Des Moines business leader, campaigned throughout the state’s 99 counties. But he was only able to win in 11.
The areas of the state that have gone from blue to red do not necessarily represent voters who changed their political allegiances, experts said. It could be that Democratic voters have moved into the cities, leaving an increasingly conservative voting base in the rural areas.
“I still think it’s a larger trend in terms of the changing demographics,” said Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. “It seems like that’s where we’re headed, where you’re really seeing the divide as part of a larger pattern. ... For the short term, I think you’re going to see that rural-urban divide stay pretty clear.”
The split showed up on a micro level in races for the Iowa House. Democrats fell short of flipping the 10 seats they needed in order to gain a majority in the chamber, but were successful in urban areas --- particularly the Des Moines suburbs, where Democrats flipped five seats formerly held by Republicans.
Democrats were unsuccessful in flipping seats in eastern Iowa, where they had hoped to win back districts that voted for Obama in 2012 and Republican President Donald Trump in 2016. Most of those districts are in rural counties.
State party leaders acknowledged the state’s growing urban-rural divide but neither, unsurprisingly, was ready to write off any parts of the state.
“I think as the population moves around, as the messages move around, the priorities, I don’t know if perhaps we have greater opportunities in different parts of the state where perhaps we didn’t see those opportunities before --- perhaps that’s true,” Republican Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said. “But I think we always have elections that behave differently from the previous elections. That’s not unusual and the good news is we take nothing for granted. We’re working in all the districts in every campaign, every election to make sure that we’re doing our job at being good candidates. We choose good people, we encourage good people and then we help them to be as successful as they can.”
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price noted victories in southeast Iowa as evidence Democrats are attempting to bounce back and expand the blue on Iowa’s electoral map.
“We still have work to do, but I think we ran some great candidates,” Price said. “What happened (Tuesday) is we got a great foundation to build upon and 2020 starts today. We’re going to start working and we’ll take a look at what happened Tuesday.”
The split seems likely to play a role in future Iowa elections, but it’s not all bad news for Democrats, experts said.
If the demographics shift continues, urban areas may become packed with Democratic voters and statewide Democratic candidates could have an easier time gaining enough votes to overcome their losses in rural pockets, which could continue to become more sparsely populated.
Dallas County, just west of Polk County and Des Moines, offers an example of Democrats’ hopes. Dallas is the fastest-growing county in the state and one of the fastest-growing in the country. In 2014, Branstad won Dallas County by 6,683 votes; this year, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds won Dallas County by just 1,415 votes.
Andersen drew a comparison to Illinois and New York, where Democrats do not have to venture outside their states’ biggest cities in order to win statewide elections. Iowa could be headed in a similar direction, Andersen said.
“Iowa is not that drastic right now,” Andersen said. “But ... as (urban areas) continue to grow it may become harder for Republican candidates who have to travel all over the state to round up their voters than Democrats who can stay pretty central.”