Iowa Dems Ask Blair Lawton Questions

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?

The role of the IDP chair is to grow the party. The goal of each chair should be to leave the party in a better place than they found it. If elected I will plan to focus on training at all levels, travel, and fundraising.

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?

I think the IDP chair position, especially at this particular moment, should be an organizing position rather than an ideological one. We need a chair who can re-build the party, and bring together all Iowa Democrats in that effort. I think I am the candidate who can best do that.

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 fundraising has been focused on grassroots fundraising, focused on small dollar amounts and house parties. I have put together multiple house party events that have brought in between $1500-2000. Additionally, I have held close contact with fundraising staff on multiple campaigns and realize the importance of making fundraising calls and building relationships with donors.

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?

I would plan to spend at least 40 hours a week doing fundraising; with most of that being making fundraising calls, along with taking time to meet with donors to build relationships. I would focus my fundraising asks on specific programs, rather than asking individuals to make a generic donation to the IDP.

What would you do with an increase in funds to the state party?

I would use the increased funds to support training programs, hire staff, and pay my salary. I think it’s crucial that we have off-year field staff to support county party organizing between elections.

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?

The party should have the goal of bringing in as many new people as possible. It’s important to keep current donors engaged, while at the same time growing the grassroots. As we spend time traveling the state and sharing our vision, we will start to see more $25-50 donations coming in.

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.

We need to be spending some time out in areas that have been Democratic in the past, but went red in 2016, as well as areas that have traditionally been Republican, meeting with voters, hearing their concerns, and talking about how Democrats can help.

We have an opportunity to engage community members in 2017 to fight back against what are state Republicans will try to do. Issues like education, collective bargaining, mental health funding and others are issues that we can organize around. These are issues that affect lots of Iowans, not just Democrats.

There is also a consensus that the Iowa Democratic Party has focused on the most populace 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?

I grew up in Lyon County and am proud to call myself a rural Iowan. We need to have a renewed focus in the rural parts of the state. We need to make sure rural Iowans are hearing our message and that we are tweaking it as well. Rural Iowans and urban Iowans have similar concerns, but rural voters are also concerned about their schools consolidating, their main street shops closing, and having their family farms being replaced by hog confinements.

We need to be spending time meeting with our county chairs in rural areas, hearing their thoughts and goals, and finding out how we can best be a resource to them. We also need to set a goal of contesting every legislative race in 2018. Not running Democrats in rural areas is counterintuitive to party building and sends a message to voters that Democrats don’t care about their concerns.

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?

We need to be spending time out in rural Iowa hearing the concerns from voters. We need to be training and empowering our county parties to have conversations with voters and to offer educational opportunities about issues that will be impacting Iowans in 2017.

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?

If we’re going to successfully re-build the party, we need to allow a diversity of opinions within the party. While recognizing that there are real differences of opinion on specific policies, different factions of the party need to communicate with each other. We can’t work together until we start to communicate. I think I am the candidate who has been trying to facilitate this communication between Iowa Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders and Iowa Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton, and would continue to do so as chair.

“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?

The main reason I’m in this race is because I’m an organizer. We need to make sure our next state chair has an organizer mentality. Organizing is an important role in party building. Party building needs to be our main goal in 2017. I have spent the past six years organizing; for President Obama, Mark Begich, MoveOn.org, Bernie Sanders, and the IDP. I view my biggest successes being the organizers and volunteers that I brought into a campaign that have continued to be organizers after the campaign ended.

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 need to make sure that we are leading by example. Leaders at every level should be organizers (i.e. state chair, SCC members, county chairs, etc). We should be training Democrats at all levels to be organizers and then empowering them to organize their communities, as well as bringing new people into the process.

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?

We can only be a great party if people of all backgrounds feel like they have a place. The important thing is that individuals stay engaged, rather than how they get involved. We need to be looking at ways to involve younger people that are social and action-oriented.

This cycle saw a sharp rise in demands for ideological ‘purity’. Nationally and locally, Democrats saw Demexit occur, in part, because of conflict over members of the party that felt more beholden to ideas rather than party. There were also many people more established in 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 was always raised that our party needs to be a big tent. We need to get back to being a welcoming party. There’s always going to be a diversity of opinions on policy. We need to recognize that while also recognizing that we have to work together to elect Democrats.

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?

One thing we need to do in 2017, is reach back out to everyone who caucused for the Democrats in 2016. We need to be getting their input on what they think the party should be focused on and how they would like to be engaged going forward.

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.

If we are going to get back to being a big tent, we need to make sure that everyone can participate. That means we are doing things to make sure that events, venues, conference calls, etc are accessible to everyone. We need to make sure that we are being proactive when dealing with accessibility, rather than waiting for someone to address an accommodation issue. We also need to make sure that IDP events are being held at times that are convenient for working class Democrats.

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 state party chair should not be endorsing a candidate in a primary process. Everyone benefits from having contested primaries; the party, the candidates, and the voters. The state chair should be encouraging all potential candidates to be in the race. Each of those candidates will bring in new supporters and new volunteers that will help grow the party.

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?

The state chair should be encouraging as many quality candidates to run, as everyone benefits from a contested primary. When I look for quality candidates, I’m looking for individuals that will be serious about traveling the state and meeting with voters. Once someone wins the primary, the party at all levels should be focused on helping them get elected.

What are your plans to help the IDP retake the House in 2018?

My top priority is making 2017 the year of party building. We need to make sure that we are training, empowering, and keeping individuals engaged this upcoming year to put us in the best place possible going into 2018. We need to get serious about contesting every legislative race and then make sure our candidates are trained and have continued guidance to run quality campaigns.

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 ‘Citizen’s United’ SCOTUS ruling?

To be honest, I don’t know much about the current bill. However, I do support the overturning the Citizen’s United decision in order to get big money out of politics.

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?

In my opinion, our elected Democrats should be meeting with voters in their districts and then using that information to pursue legislation. The state chair should be meeting with leaders in the state senate and state house and working with them to be as helpful as possible in making legislation that can help Iowans become a reality.

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?

I see the disappearance of our family farms and their replacement with hog confinements as an issue. I would like to see Democrats up and down the ticket focus on investments to family farms, rather than CAFOs.

Do you support allowing Iowa farmers to grow industrial hemp?

Yes.

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?

If I am still chair in 2020, I would plan to vote for the winner of the Iowa caucuses.

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