Story County GOP Chairman Decries “Medication Misuse” As His Local Party Promotes Trump’s Handling of COVID-19 Crisis

Chairman Brett Barker, who also serves as Nevada mayor, has opposed the use of an unproven anti-malaria drug promoted by the president as a member of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy

City of Nevada

As the Republican Party of Story County boasted of President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has included his repeated promotion of the unproven anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine against the advice of his own medical advisers, the party’s chairman, Nevada Mayor Brett Barker, spoke out against “medication misuse.”

“Even before the current COVID-19 pandemic, I felt strongly that medication misuse is rampant in our healthcare system and that pharmacists, and in particular community pharmacists, are uniquely suited to make a significant impact on the health and wellness of our patients,” Barker wrote on the online publishing platform Medium on April 4.

Meanwhile, the county party Barker leads has made no public statements about Trump’s promotion of the drug as it’s repeatedly approved of the president’s response to the crisis. On March 20 — the day after Trump promoted the drug’s “very, very encouraging early results” — the Story County GOP retweeted a Republican consultant who shared a link to a poll showing that Trump’s approval rating in responding to COVID-19 had risen significantly. Since then, as recently as this afternoon when it encouraged party member to help re-elect Trump “with our socially distanced campaign efforts,” the county GOP has repeatedly endorsed the president and his handling of the crisis, which he initially dismissed as the Democratic Party’s “new hoax” as his denial of its severity set the stage for disastrous consequences.

In addition to his roles as Nevada mayor and chairman of the Story County GOP, Barker is also the vice president of operations of Ames-based NuCara Pharmacy, as well as a member of the Iowa Board of Pharmacy along with former county GOP chairman and Nevada city council member Dane Nealson.

On March 26, the board issued a joint statement with the state’s medicine, nursing, physician assistants, and dentistry boards that discouraged the use of hydroxychloroquine, citing concerns about “stockpiling of medication, inappropriate use and potential drug shortages for patients with a legitimate need.”

The statement was issued five days after Trump promoted a French study by a discredited researcher that is now under review by the journal that published it for not meeting its “expected standard.” Based on the study, Trump claimed that hydroxychloroquine, taken together with another drug called azithromycin, had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” Three days after the board’s statement, Trump claimed on Fox News that it would be known “within days” whether the combined treatment would work, even though experts said it would take months and most of the research centers testing hydroxychloroquine were looking only at it, not the other drug.

So far, there is no reliable evidence the hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19. Medical professionals have warned of the drug’s dangerous side effects; a hospital in France, for example, recently stopped using it as part of an experimental trial because of the “major risk” it posed to a patient’s cardiac health. Trump’s own top coronavirus adviser, Anthony Fauci, has said there’s no scientific evidence that the drug is effective at treating the virus. Despite this, Trump has continued to promote the drug. During an April 5 press conference, he touted it at length but also said, “What do I know? I’m not a doctor,” and prevented Fauci from rebutting his unsupported claims.

None of this appears to be of concern to Barker’s Story County GOP, which has continued to promote Trump’s handling of the pandemic. The county party has ignored Fauci’s skepticism about the president’s support for hydroxychloroquine despite citing the doctor’s positive words about Governor Kim Reynolds’ handling of the crisis in Iowa in order to rebut critics who argue her response has been inadequate. This included a tweet the county GOP shared from the governor herself saying she appreciated Trump “for being a partner in our efforts to fight #COVID19.”

Barker did not respond to a request for comment about his tacit support of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in light of his apparent misgivings about hydroxychloroquine.

This isn’t the first time that Barker’s personal views appear to directly contradict those of the politicians he’s supported as chairman of the Story County GOP, nor the first time the Nevada mayor has remained silent about the contradictions.

As the Informer has previously reported, Barker sat on a panel hosted by the Story County GOP three weeks before the 2016 election whose focus was “discussing how we can bring civility back to our discourse in this toxic political climate,” he told the Ames Tribune. The panel was part of an annual fundraiser at which Congressman Steve King was a featured speaker. Just over a year later, Barker called comments caught on a hot mic by a Forest City radio announcer that mocked Latino students on a rival high school basketball team “one of the most disgusting things I have seen in a while.” But as head of the Story County GOP, he’s stayed silent about King’s routine promotion of white nationalists as the local party worked to re-elected him.

Barker was also chairman of the county party when it endorsed Ames lawyer and slumlord Patrick Anderson for state attorney general in 2018. Anderson’s campaign was centered on the exploitation of the murder of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts by an undocumented immigrant, despite the fact that the Tibbetts family’s views on immigration were directly at odds with Anderson’s.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.