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The following questions come from a range of Democrats in Iowa. Some were candidates in the last cycle or worked on campaigns, others are activists or volunteers, some are lifelong Democrats, others are completely new to politics. I have tried to condense the questions that were similar in nature, though some have been left unaltered. I appreciate everyone that submitted questions, as well as the candidates that took the time to respond.
The Role of the Chair
The next IDP Chair will need to stand as the voice of Democrats in the State of Iowa. What are the responsibilities you will take up as IDP Chair? What do you see as the role of the IDP Chair?
To address the reality of two devastating election cycles in succession, the Iowa Democratic Party must act quickly to a) listen, assess, and incorporate lessons learned from recent cycles; b) outline plans to chart a different course; and c) enlist and empower leaders at all levels to help us accomplish our plans. The Chair must champion and lead this effort and must do so quickly. The new Chair should immediately work with the State Central Committee and with engaged Democrats from throughout the state to draft a long-term, strategic plan. Implementing this plan is the Chair’s primary duty… gathering the forces and the resources needed to meet both short- and long-range goals. My fervent desire is that our Party’s plan will identify several key initiatives to build/rebuild our Party, with most direct action taking place at the county level. For this reason, I propose plans to deploy locally-based organizers throughout the state – talented staffers who will invest in relationships, engage individuals with interest and talent, “fly the flag” for the IDP (and eventually for our candidates) and work with people in their communities. (“With” is key, since it enables us to build local capacity.) In each of these steps, the Chair must be visible and engaged as a visionary, a collaborator, an advocate, a champion, an implementer, and a leader.
What is your political ideology? Do you identify as liberal, progressive, neoliberal? Democratic Socialist, Social Democrat, New Deal Democrat, Clinton Democrat? What role do you think the IDP Chair has in pushing their own ideology as leader of the Party in Iowa?
Unfortunately, these terms are relatively meaningless and, it should be noted, this is NOT the kind of question voters ask when I encounter them at their doors. It’s far easier to tell you who my political heroes are: Hubert Humphrey & Walter Mondale – while both would have been superb presidents, my admiration is primarily based on what they accomplished for working families in the Senate; Senators John Culver (IA) & Paul Wellstone (MN) – for their remarkable political integrity; Senator Harold Hughes (IA) – for bringing the Iowa Democratic Party back from decades of “wondering in the wilderness”. I am an ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) Democrat and currently have important national leadership responsibilities for this organization, founded 70 years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter Reuther, Hubert Humphrey, and others. Having grown up in a union household among Norwegian farmers, I proudly identify myself as a “Lunchpail Democrat” as well as a “Farmers Union / Scandinavian Co-operative Democrat”. Lastly, as an outgrowth of my faith, I am a “Social Justice / New Testament” Democrat committed to doing what I can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, etc.
My political ideology is central to who I am; it is natural for me to gravitate to those who most strongly align with my political philosophies. To an extent, the choices one makes are always an extension of core values and beliefs, however, it is not the role of chair to recast the Party to conform to one’s ideology. As noted above, my primary roles are those of visionary, collaborator, advocate, champion, implementer, and leader, and not ideologue.
The Chair as Chief Fundraiser
The IDP Chair has been the chief fundraiser for the party. What experience do you have as a fundraiser? What are some successes and challenges you’ve had fundraising?
Most of my career has been devoted to helping non-profit organizations secure the funding they need to achieve their mission. Primarily as a consultant and, in some cases, as a volunteer, I have helped hundreds of organizations and political candidates raise more than a half-billion dollars. In 2015, I headed an ad-hoc group – the Finance and Fundraising Task Force – that suggested ways IDP fundraising could be expanded. We must revisit and carry out recommendations noted in the Task Force report, which included a series of new approaches to increase our funding base (see below). In politics, fund-raising success is generally rooted in a meaningful relationship with the candidate and/or the cause – ideally both – and a clear understanding of how funds contributed will advance the candidate/cause. An approach that works well is to get more people involved: for example, an event with six or eight “co-hosts” is more likely to succeed than one with only two. Challenges invariably emerge when relationships with prospective donors are weak or non-existent, when messages are blurred or inconsistent, or when integrity of the candidate/cause is in doubt.
What are your plans to increase fundraising? What plans do you have that don’t follow traditional models used by the Party in the past?
In 2015, at the invitation of the State Central Committee, I outlined two specific fund-raising initiatives for the IDP: one, to work more closely with county parties to raise money (Operation: True Blue); and two, to intensify efforts aim at increasing our donor base, primarily by appealing to smaller, first-time donors (Building our Base, or “BoB”). Outlines of these programs and 14 recommendations of the Finance and Fundraising Task Force are appended at the conclusion of this document. Unfortunately, neither initiative was launched and very few of the recommendations were enacted. I would review these proposed programs with the intent of implementation as swiftly as possible.
What would you do with an increase in funds to the state party?
As noted, it would be a high priority for me to place two top-flight organizing professionals in each congressional district. Talented staff members will be an important “face” of the Party throughout the state and will connect local activists to the IDP as well as to others who share an interest in a particular issue. As I have noted many times, we all tend to throw around the term “party building” without doing anything meaningful about it. Organizers will be front-line party builders and, as such, are essential to our future success. Any significant increase in funds will be used to support their grassroots efforts.
Many people identified the conflict between neoliberal ideals and progressive ideals in the Democratic party. This played out not only at the national level between Sen. Sanders and Sect. Clinton, but in some state primaries and even the state convention. What do you see as the role of the donor class in the Iowa Democratic Party as compared to the rank and file? Do you think the party should prioritize requests from their biggest donors over the requests of the rank and file?
Everybody has a role to play in the future of our Party and there is a mutual dependency between the two groups cited. Simply stated, if one group “steps up” while another “steps back,” we’re unlikely to experience much progress. The Party, and especially the Chair, must listen, be sensitive, and respond appropriately to every constituent group, including donors in all gift ranges. And constituent groups and donors must engage with the Party in a similar manner, knowing that we must find new, more successful ways to work together for the greatest good. (It’s essential in my mind that we begin to think of the Party as “ours” and not “theirs”… so when this question asks about “their biggest donors” – meaning the Party’s – my distinct preference is that we say “our biggest donors. Mere quibbling over a word? Perhaps… but I’m also making a point.)
Party Building Role of the Chair
Party building has been a major point of discussion for years in Iowa and nationwide. There is some consensus that the Democratic Party hasn’t been successful in this effort in Iowa. The Secretary of State’s statistics for November 2016 show that 92% of Iowans are active voters, but only 31% of those active voters are Democrats. What are your plans to increase the number of registered Democrats? How do Democrats reach out to the majority Independent (No Party Affiliation) Voters? Please include specific programs or initiatives you would undertake as IDP Chair.
There are opportunities in every corner of the state to identify, inform, cultivate, register, and win over Democrats. These are classic party-building activities and I agree with the consensus: we’re not now accomplishing any of these tasks as well as we’d like. While the IDP should encourage activities like these, these tasks are generally undertaken by local volunteers and should remain largely volunteer-driven, with whatever staff assistance can be provided. And although numbers will not always be large, we cannot neglect meaningful outreach and connection opportunities in rural counties where relatively small numbers can make a significant difference, especially when Democratic voters are added to the rolls year after year.
Specifically, county parties will be challenged to create and implement plans to accomplish the five steps mentioned above (identify, inform, cultivate, register, and win over voters). Organizers will assist them to the best of their abilities and schedules. Together, working with county parties, we must establish numeric goals and begin to track our progress. We’re all going to measure… and we’re all going to learn.
Reaching independent / no-party voters is best accomplished through messaging and outreach efforts. Some of this will take place when we gather in forums focused on relevant issues and topics, generally what I regard as “future of Iowa” priorities: the economy, health care, education, and the environment. I strongly agree with our legislative leaders; key tests for our Party are about (more / greater) opportunity, fairness, equality, and justice – four primary issues, four key tests. I am confident that if our messaging is successful, we’ll begin to see independent / no-party voters come back to our column.
There is also a consensus that the Iowa Democratic Party has focused on the most populous cities and counties in the state to the detriment of Rural Democrats. Do you have a plan to bring all 99 counties in Iowa into a statewide strategy moving forward? What is that plan?
Efforts to place and support organizers throughout the state are designed to include all counties in moving our Party forward. While I will not impose a specific plan on county parties, I want them all to have one or create one (with IDP assistance as needed); of greater importance, I want them to take intentional steps to implement their plans, again with assistance as needed and available. (These plans and how to implement them will be a key topic at the 2017 district workshops.) An essential element of any plan is enlisting those interested in implementation and making assignments. The IDP has not traditionally been a major player in identifying and recruiting local party talent… for example, county chairs or co-chairs, finance chairs or committee members, website designers or webmasters, etc. I envision the Party playing an expanded role in raising expectations and in helping recruit the talent needed to meet higher standards… in activities, in numbers of people engaged, and most important, in (yet-to-be-defined) outcomes/results.
Many rural voters feel abandoned by the Democratic Party. As a result, many chose to vote for Trump in the last election. What policies would you propose to reach out to people who voted from Trump out of disgust with the ‘system’, rather than in support of his policies or personality?
Without putting too fine an edge on the matter, voters all over the state, in both rural and urban settings, abandoned our party last cycle. Issue-related gatherings are one way to begin outreach, in some cases in response to anticipated “overreach” by the other party. We also need to clearly state our Party’s vision, values, and goals… something we have not done with sufficient clarity recently. These steps should be undertaken in collaboration with our legislative leaders. Finally, we must demonstrate that each and every one of our Party’s systems, processes, and behaviors are consistent with the highest sense of integrity, transparency, and respect for all involved. We cannot afford to say one thing (“we are inclusive,” for example) and act in another manner (“you’re really not welcome here” or “your input is less important than others’ ”). Just as individuals strive to lead lives of integrity, so must a Party committed to opportunity, fairness, equality, and justice.
Do you see a value in distinguishing between the progressive, or classical liberal, wing of the party and the neoliberal wing of the party? If so, what is the value? Do you have a plan to bring these two sides, which are often in opposition, together?
There is so much more that we share as Democrats that it’s hard to envision much value in determining or defining various party wings. In my experience, factional lines emerge, then morph, then resurfaces, then disappear, often based on personalities, particular issues, emerging challenges, individual priorities, etc. Political parties are more like a river, with motion, movement, and change, than like a pond, with depth but also stagnation. Some of the oppositional approaches will subside over time; some will erode as people come to know each other better and have the opportunity to work more closely together. Some will be diminished when all people, regardless of the wing they most identify with, receive the full measure of respect and fairness they deserve.
“Polls don’t mean The Disability Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party sh!%. Organize!” – Robert Becker
Mr. Becker isn’t the only person interested in the role of organizing moving the IDP forward. Do you see organizing as an important tool in party building? What is your experience organizing? What are some successes and challenges you’ve had organizing in the past?
Yes, of course, organizing is an important tool. And every person interested in advancing our great Party should be asked to engage in organizing. I have organized entire campaigns in serving as a campaign manager; I have also organized “field” for a congressional campaign and “funding” for a U.S. Senate campaign. I have organized candidate forums and campaign workshops. I have organized and built crowds for campaign events and organized precinct caucuses across several counties. Some of the most important organizational work I have done is finding dedicated county central committee members.
My greatest organizational successes are finding people who discover how very good they are in the role they find themselves playing within the organization… when they find fulfillment and satisfaction, so do I. Challenges include working with volunteers only nominally committed to the Party or to carrying out their particular assignment and not having ready replacements or solutions.
What is your plan, if any, to improve organizing in the future? What specific steps will the IDP take under your leadership to turn voters into volunteers, allies into advocates, and citizens into civic leaders?
We will cast a broad net in seeking new, talented volunteers and will ask people who are already involved to step up and do more. We will provide high-quality training and will provide support and assistance to organizational volunteers whenever possible. We will acknowledge volunteers when a task is completed and express gratitude for a job well done. We will continually chart our progress against agreed-upon goals and will celebrate when we achieve short-term progress and long-term success.
What do you see as the role of young people in the Party? Would you do anything to increase their participation or to motivate them to run for office? If so, what?
Young people are not only important to our Party’s future; they are vitally important to our Party’s NOW. The IDP must increase our talent pool by recruiting hundreds of people with drive and skills and passion for advancing our Party in the hope that many of these will be young people. I have proposed an initiative to identify, recruit, train, and support activists and potential candidates approximately 40 years of age and younger: individuals with the capacity for party or campaign leadership or for seeking elected office. I have set a target of working with at least 250 people in this age cohort in the next three years. The Chair must work closely with Senate and House leaders to recruit and support the strongest possible legislative candidates, which in many cases will be individuals who are young(er). This is about “building our bench”; at the same time, we must also be mindful of supporting the bench we already have. For example, we must prioritize high-quality training programs for young candidates without a deep background in politics. Finally, because many young Democrats rely on social media as a primary source of information, we must develop an overarching social media strategy with clear implementation steps and appropriate staffing to convey our Party’s vision and vitality.
This cycle saw a sharp rise in demands for ideological ‘purity’. Nationally and locally, Democrats saw Demexit occur, in part, because of conflict with members of the party that felt more beholden to ideas rather than party. There were also many people more established in the party than some of Sen. Sanders’ supporters arguing that he wasn’t a Democrat and shouldn’t even be allowed to run as one. How important is political ideology to your worldview and any effort you might undertake as IDP Chair?
I touched on this earlier. I have an ideology and it colors and my worldview… but truth be told, it’s not just MY Party. My personal ideology is not a major factor in how I would carry out my duties as IDP Chair. In all my conduct as Chair, I would seek to be fair, open-minded, even-handed, responsive, and attentive, regardless of my or anyone else’s ideology.
How do you propose to reach out to people that have left the IDP to become an Independent or Green Party member because they felt Democratic leadership had abandoned the ideals they thought represented the Democratic Party?
In all ways and at all times, I would seek to represent the highest ideals of the Party and to conduct myself in a manner consistent with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. This is a first step. If and when we connect with people who may have fallen away from the Party on issues, they must also see that we are serious about living our ideals.
How can the IDP increase accessibility? This question came from people with a variety of perspectives. Some were concerned with accessibility in regards to people with disabilities. Others were focused on accessibility for people that can’t afford to travel to Des Moines to be involved in Party activities, both for issues of time and money. A few specifically reference the choice of venue, and that there often isn’t enough space for everyone that might like to attend an event, or that there isn’t enough information in the form of promotion or an agenda to let Democrats in Iowa better decide if the trip to the event is worth making.
Technology, including video conferencing and telephone meetings, can help overcome some access issues. While not a complete solution, technology is a useful tool and a good start. So is education that raises our collective awareness of barriers to accessibility and how to overcome them. Because I am accustomed to traveling for meetings, I am sensitive about decisions regarding whether travel time and expense is worth the trip for what may be a brief or routine meeting. It’s also a reminder of the importance of effective meeting planning and wrestling seriously with questions of whether any meeting has a purpose sufficient to justify the expenditure of time and energy.
Political Role of the Chair
What role does the state party have in the primary process? Should the state fund a single primary candidate to the disadvantage of another?
The Party, and particularly the Party Chair, should be “actively neutral” in the primary process. Active suggests being informed and knowledgeable; neutral means not favoring one candidate over another, with the understanding that kindnesses shown toward one candidate/campaign must be available and demonstrated for all. In all contested primaries within the Tri-Counties in recent cycles, my goal has been to be fair, even-handed, responsive, and attentive. On behalf of our local organization, I invited candidates, I hosted candidates, I welcomed them with open arms… but as Chair, I did not favor one over another. Furthermore, I reached out to campaign staff members; I worked with them and supported them to the best of my ability. But I did NOT do so with one while ignoring others. This is a fundamental belief of mine and consistent with my interpretation of the Chair’s role. I believe this is at the very heart of our Party’s integrity. And no, the Party should not fund one primary candidate to the disadvantage of another.
Many people are concerned that the IDP does not have a solid candidate for Governor in the upcoming election. What qualities would you like to see in a candidate for Governor? Would you involve the party in advocating for one candidate over another in the primary? Once a candidate is selected, how would you like the IDP to assist that candidate?
Qualities I would like to see in a candidate for governor are a demonstrated ability to grasp complex issues, the capability of leading our state’s executive branch, and a track record that suggests the capacity of being an effective governor. As noted elsewhere, I would not advocate one candidate over another. I would like the IDP to assist our nominee by having in place a strong, durable, eager-to-help grassroots organization throughout our state.
What are your plans to help the IDP retake the House in 2018?
I would do whatever I could to help House leadership recruit high-quality candidates, to boost House campaigns through strong grassroots organizational support, to collaborate with House leadership when possible in securing funds and in sponsoring candidate training, and in pointing the spotlight on House candidates who demonstrate exceptional capacity or who are in races vital to the future of our Party. In all instances, these efforts would be closely coordinated with House leaders’ plans and priorities.
Do you support HJR 2009, the bill before the Iowa Legislature to call for a limited Constitutional Convention to address the issue of money in politics, specifically intended to counter the ‘Citizen’s United’ SCOTUS ruling?
We must do everything we can to counteract the disastrous “Citizen’s United” ruling. I don’t know the likelihood of success of this particular strategy – or, quite honestly, of any other approach – but the only truly unacceptable response is that of doing nothing. At this point, I am supportive of most meaningful efforts aimed at campaign finance reform. That said, we must be wise, strategic, and focused. I would need to know more about HJR 2009 before giving my unconditional support; at this point, I am inclined to say yes.
The next IDP Chair will likely have to take a public stand in support of legislation in the coming Legislative sessions. This has not traditionally been the role of the Chair, but with no other high profile leader it will be a new responsibility thrust on the chair. What legislative agenda would you like to help Democratic Legislators in Iowa develop? How would you support their agenda?
My strong sense is that the Party’s legislative agenda basically will be set before the new Chair takes office and, as noted elsewhere, my desire is to work in close collaboration with House and Senate leaders… perhaps in some cases, taking a frontline role, in others, being more in the background. It’s important that our agenda focus on “future of Iowa” priorities: the economy, health care, education, and the environment, with the key question being, “Does this legislation (or this particular vote) help bring about more opportunity, fairness, equality, and justice for Iowans?”
Iowa is, at its heart, an agricultural state. What problems do you see in Iowa’s current attitude toward regulating agriculture? What changes would you like to see made at the legislative level?
We must do a better job of protecting and, unfortunately in many cases, cleaning up Iowa’s waterways. I strongly believe that “voluntary compliance” is not the answer. I would support legislative changes aimed at ensuring our water quality is better within five years, significantly better within a decade, and much, much better for all future generations.
Do you support allowing Iowa farmers to grow industrial hemp?
As IDP Chair, you would have a vote as a superdelegate. If this system continues for the next Presidential primary cycle, how would you use your vote as a superdelegate?
First, I don’t believe in the current superdelegate system and would support efforts to either eliminate superdelegates or, if this change lacks the necessary support, to significantly limit the number of superdelegates. If the question is, how would I vote as a superdelegate in a presidential selection process, I would be inclined to vote for the candidate who ran strongest in Iowa.