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Inslee Tours Flood Damage In Davenport, Touts Climate Change Policy

Kate Payne/IPR
Washington Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee (right) tours flood damage in downtown Davenport with State Senator Jim Lykam.

Washington Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Jay Inslee visited flood-damaged businesses in Davenport Wednesday. Fighting climate change is a cornerstone of his campaign for the White House, and Inslee says communities like Davenport are already seeing the negative impacts of excess greenhouse gas emissions.

The recent floods in the Quad Cities crested higher and lasted longer than any other on record in the area. Two weeks after the Mississippi River broke a temporary flood barrier and swamped parts of downtown Davenport, those in the affected area are still grappling with what comes next.

A couple of business owners have said they won’t re-open in downtown Davenport; others are still mucking out basements and tearing out waterlogged drywall and flooring. They’re racing to clear out the damage before mold sets in and to scrub away the river silt and the stench of the sewage that was pumped into the floodwater when the wastewater treatment plant became overloaded.

Jay Inslee met with some area business owners affected by the flooding, including board members of the non-profit Dress for Success which provides professional clothing and life coaching to women in need.

Founder and Executive Director Regina Haddock says the organization’s landlord is forcing them to leave their 2nd street location because of the flooding.

“This is a watershed moment for us,” she told Inslee. “It’s hard.”

Inslee pulled two $20 bills out of his wallet to help the group with their recovery. He says Davenport is already seeing the impacts of global climate change and that the federal government isn’t doing enough to help. 

“We oughta have a government that is smart enough to realize that if we don’t fight the climate crisis, these floods are just gonna keep coming over the tops of these barriers, and they’re just gonna keep flooding out our  businesses, and they’re just gonna….keep taking people’s lives," Inslee said. "And that’s maddening to me!”

Inslee also met with state lawmakers Rep. Monica Kurth, D-Davenport, Sen. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and Jerry Schnoor, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Iowa.

The group also visited Matthew Osborn, the owner of a new restaurant called The Half Nelson which was slated to open the day the temporary flood barrier broke. It's located just a couple of doors down from the line of failed HESCO barriers. Osborn says it’ll likely be another month before he finally opens.

Osborn says it’s painful that the worst impacts hit a part of downtown that has seen considerable investment in recent years and was one of the city’s up and coming neighborhoods.

“It’s a possibility like I’m going to be like the only one on the block for a little while. And I think that all my neighbors will recover, but they have sort of a taller hill to climb,” Osborn said. “I don’t know when the vibrancy that this neighborhood had just a couple weeks ago is gonna happen again.”

Inslee has built his campaign around his promise to combat global climate change, which he compares to fighting fascism in World War II and he says depends on a “complete mobilization of the United States.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday he called on the rest of the Democratic field to pledge to divest the country from fossil fuels in less than two decades. Inslee says communities like Davenport that have been battered by natural disasters deserve action.

“We need to get off coal by 2030. We need to be off fossil fuels in our electrical grid by 2035. These are commitments to the people of Davenport, Iowa. They are commitments to the people of Paradise, California. Anything less than that is a half measure, and half measures will not cut it,” Inslee said. “We did not beat fascism by fighting half the war.”

Restaurant owner Matthew Osborn says he’s more receptive to Inslee’s messaging on climate change after his experience with the recent floods, saying it’s an issue he feels “much more strongly about” now than he did three weeks ago. But he says he has no plans to leave downtown Davenport. After a slate of renovations in the 1920s-era building, Osborn says he’s looking forward to opening up the place, despite the risk.

As Inslee headed out the door to his next stop, he complimented the décor and asked Osborn if he’d be open to potentially renting the space for a presidential event once the place is dried out and back up and running.

“Absolutely, look forward to it,” Osborn said, laughing. “I’ll put you in the book, as soon as I dry the book out.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter