IDP and the 2018 Midterms

Election Night Nov. 6, 2018

Part of me wants to get outside my wheelhouse and talk about the Iowa Democratic Party’s performance during the just finished midterm elections. Part of me does not.

After the last presidential election I had some specific ideas about how the Iowa Democratic Party should be blown up and re-built: eliminate Iowa’s first in the nation presidential caucus, reduce staffing, work toward better communications, and so on. Under Andy McGuire’s leadership the party drifted and Republicans eclipsed Democrats in Iowa by their support of the current president and their down ballot candidates. The sorry times will continue in the 88th Iowa General Assembly as they retained control of both chambers of the legislature and Terrace Hill.

I have just a few points to make.

I met IDP chair Troy Price, during the Obama campaign. I’ve always liked Price although I don’t know him personally. Democrats didn’t want for resources during the midterms and that’s attributable to him. Price made a worthy effort to be inclusive, appearing across the state in a multitude of events and meet ups. He worked to let the grassroots organization in counties lead. We’ve had diverse chairs and Price is the kind I like to see. Unlike McGuire, he knew the grassroots issues with IDP and worked to address them in his leadership.

In Janice Rottenberg the party hired an experienced political consultant to lead Campaign for Iowa and, from my perspective, the effort was solid, laser focused on very specific objectives proven during the Obama campaigns: identify and turn out infrequent voters and expand voter registrations. It was a little annoying to be asked to “volunteer” up to a half dozen times each time I entered a local CFI office. When I did offer to volunteer, in my precinct, or at the office, such offers didn’t fit the very specific niche they were trying to fill, walk and call shifts. Rottenberg was largely unseen during the midterms but her fingerprints were on everything. Strict and focused discipline is what IDP needed to get us back to being competitive in the state. Janice Rottenberg delivered.

The majority of my volunteer work during the midterms was writing walk and call lists for the House District 73 campaign of Jodi Clemens. Clemens decided to use Vote Builder to track our canvass effort. My first experience with Vote Builder was in 2004 and it’s come a long way. The tool is user friendly and useful to campaigns operating on a shoestring budget. Once we got through the getting to know each other phase of our relationship, I worked well with IDP information technology staff and we had reasonably accurate information with which to work. This technology contributed significantly to Clemens’ achievement of winning 6,330 votes, a 57 percent increase over the performance of the last Democratic candidate to run for the seat in 2014. Vote Builder is something IDP does well.

During the Democratic primary candidate John Norris repeatedly said the process of Democrats regaining strength in Iowa would be a multi-cycle effort even if we won the governorship or one of the legislative chambers. That remains true. Were the midterms a success for Democrats? How responsible is IDP for the results? It’s hard to call them successful with Republicans maintaining their trifecta of control. All the same, statewide voter turnout at 61.0 percent, according to the Iowa Secretary of State, is much better than the 53.3 percent in 2014, the last midterm election. Increased voter turnout is partly attributable to reactions to politics in Washington D.C. and in Des Moines. The Democratic part of it is due to a concentrated, focused effort on the part of the Iowa Democratic Party under Troy Price.

If Iowa Democrats will get more control of our government, the work of specific campaigns like Campaign for Iowa will remain important. However, there is a broader, cultural picture here. One that is beyond the scope of a political party. I continue to believe the best thing Iowa Democrats could do would be deny Republicans their key organizing tool and eliminate the presidential caucus. It’s not a popular position, but I believe it is a substantial part of the remedy Democrats need to regain political control of Iowa. And no, I’m not deleting my account as some have recommended after hearing my position.

Well done in the midterms Troy Price and the Iowa Democratic Party.

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Red Chile Sauce

Part of my barter agreement at two Community Supported Agriculture farms was participation in fall shares. I pick up the final share this afternoon and sweet mother of Mary that’s a lot of vegetables.

Now that I’ve learned to make corn tortillas at home we need something to put in them. Something different — black beans, kale and Guajillo chile sauce. It didn’t use up many of the vegetables in the ice box, but that’s where I am after the frustrating results of the statewide election contests became known.

I watched more than a dozen YouTube videos on red pepper sauce, notably two by Rick Bayless, before arriving at this recipe.

Guajillo Red Pepper Sauce

Ingredients

Four ounces dried Guajillo chile peppers
Tablespoon Mexican oregano
Two head of garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt
Black pepper
Sugar
Water

Process

Stem and seed the chile pods, tearing them open. Toast them flesh side down in a frying pan with vegetable oil until the flesh turns a lighter color. It doesn’t take long. When the chilies are toasted, place them in a bowl and submerge them in hot tap water. Re-hydrate them for about 20 minutes.

Transfer the chilies to a blender and add about a cup of the soaking liquid. Add the Mexican oregano, crushed garlic and black pepper and blend together until the mixture is incorporated and as smooth as can be. Strain the contents of the blender into the frying pan used for toasting and simmer on low heat until the sauce is reduced to a thick consistency between tomato sauce and tomato paste.

Add salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Add a half cup of water and stir until the mixture is incorporated. Simmer over medium heat to enable the flavors to meld and the sauce is complete. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Guajillo chile sauce can be used on almost anything. I made a taco filling with green kale and black beans cooked in this sauce. I also served the finished kale, black bean and chile sauce as a side dish at the end of season potluck at the orchard. It was well received and our tractor driver asked me for the recipe.

I put a batch of the sauce in a squeeze bottle. While there’s no way to pour the sauce on the election, it will make many dishes in our kitchen taste better.

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Did Big Grove Swing Back?

Desserts donated to the election call center

There was only one new face at the Democratic election night call center for Big Grove and Solon Precincts. Five of the six of us are regulars at this biennial event.

Six people doesn’t seem like many but between us we finished every phone call needed an hour before the polls closed. Experience pays, leaving more time for refreshments while waiting for results.

While the group wanted to know the night’s winners, my question was whether Big Grove Precinct would swing back after Joni Ernst and Donald Trump won here in 2014 and 2016. The answer is yes.

Fred Hubbell won the precinct by two votes over Kim Reynolds in the governor’s race. Of 1,107 votes cast, Hubbell won 545 to Reynolds 543. Libertarian Jake Porter got 11 and Communist Workers Party candidate Gary Siegwarth got 8. Democrat Zach Wahls won 650 of 918 votes cast over Libertarian Carl Krambeck with 264. These wins were expected.

Of the four general elections since redistricting after the 2010 U.S. Census, two baselines measure Big Grove Precinct’s performance: Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republican Bobby Kaufmann (HD73), who won seven of eight races against different opponents. Here are some numbers indicating votes cast in their specific races:

Loebsack’s results:

2012: 1,123 votes cast, Loebsack 588 to John Archer 496.
2014: 948 votes cast, Loebsack 484 to Mariannette Miller-Meeks 463.
2016: 1,147 votes cast, Loebsack 576 to Christopher Peters 571.
2018: 1,099 votes cast, Loebsack 592 to Christopher Peters 480.

Kaufmann’s results:

2012: 1,089 votes cast, Kaufmann 528 to Dick Schwab 561.
2014: 937 votes cast, Kaufmann 611 to David Johnson 325.
2016: 866 votes cast, Kaufmann 837 to Write-Ins of 29.
2018: 1,091 votes cast, Kaufmann 591 to Jodi Clemens 500.

2014 was a midterm election and overall votes cast in these races dropped from 2012 and in Loebsack’s case regained in 2016. Kaufmann ran unopposed in 2016 and many voters skipped the race rather than fill in the oval for a Republican. 2018 was also a midterm election although turnout was roughly 16 percent higher than in 2014. The political climates in Washington, D.C. and Des Moines motivated Democrats to get to the polls as indicated by Loebsack’s midterm increase from 484 to 591 votes (22%). Republicans best year was 2016 when Trump won the presidency, Christopher Peters lost to Loebsack by only five votes, and Kaufmann had his highest vote total ever. Based on this analysis, 2018 marked a return to normal voting patterns in Big Grove Precinct. Including the Kaufmann win, voters swung back.

Democrats had competitive races for House District 73 in 2012 and 2018. In 2012, Dick Schwab was well known in the precinct where a couple of us encouraged him to run for the open seat. His involvement in the community provided a deep base of support, especially his work for Dollars for Scholars, the Bur Oak Land Trust, and his contributions to building the Solon Public Library. Subsequent Democratic candidates had to work harder for votes here. David Johnson hitched his wagon to the politics of Bernie Sanders in 2014 and hardly campaigned in the precinct. His efforts helped precinct swing voters get used to voting for Kaufmann. When Democrats failed to nominate a candidate in 2016, Kaufmann found additional voters willing to fill in the oval for him, yielding the high water mark of his appeal in the district. Jodi Clemens found herself in a position of having to persuade Kaufmann voters to switch back to Democratic and she didn’t get to enough of them to win the precinct. Clemens did the work of a campaign, but damage was already done in 2014 and 2016 as Kaufmann gained support equaling that of Dave Loebsack. 2018 results are likely the new norm going into 2020, the last election before re-districting. If a Democrat runs and wins House District 73 in 2020, it will again be a tough row to hoe.

After the aberrations of 2014 and 2016, Big Grove Precinct swung back to normal. Democrats don’t like the new normal with Bobby Kaufmann as our state representative. It’s hard to fathom how Governor Kim Reynolds garnered so many votes given the failure of privatized Medicaid and the egregious bills she and Terry Branstad signed during the 87th Iowa General Assembly. The almost identical number of votes for Dave Loebsack and Bobby Kaufmann indicates a belief among voters that both are less partisan, can work across the aisle, and perhaps are unbeatable here. Such belief belies the reality of the candidates. In order to create an environment that recognizes the partisan reality it will take a lot more cultural support than knocking doors and making phone calls from phone banks will ever provide.

Eventually the septuagenarians among us at the call center will take the path of our octogenarian friend who first campaigned for Aldai Stevenson. She didn’t make any calls this cycle but talked the election up among friends and baked a pie for election day. Hopefully new people will step up and get involved in local Democratic politics in 2020 and beyond. I’m reasonably confident they will.

Note: 2018 vote totals had not been canvassed by the county auditor at the time of this writing. They may change once the canvass is completed.

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After the 2018 Midterms

Big Salad for Dinner the Day After the Election

According to a screen time app my mobile device addiction moved from obsessed to habitual after the election. That sounds somewhat better, although I am not fully recovered now that voting is done.

I was coughing like a fiend during the days leading up to Nov. 6 and could hardly speak. Because of this, my role on election day was to knock doors of people I know who hadn’t voted Tuesday morning, drive people who needed a ride to the polls, and run between our call center and the two nearby polling places for Solon and Big Grove precincts.

An hour before the polls closed our team gathered and determined every call that needed to be made had been.

I’m waiting for the canvassed results of the election before analyzing my precinct but wanted to mention the campaign to which I devoted many hours this cycle. 5,265 Johnson County voters cast ballots in the House District 73 race between incumbent Bobby Kaufmann and challenger Jodi Clemens. This compares with 3,821 ballots cast in 2016 when Kaufmann ran unopposed and many voters, presumably Democrats or Democratic leaning no party voters, skipped the race. Clemens won Johnson County 2,832 to 2,430. Sadly she lost the district 6,330 to Kaufmann’s 7,992. For now I’ll say we fought the good fight with Jodi Clemens.

The Iowa Secretary of State lists all the race results here until the official canvass. I have a couple of comments before getting ready for my shift at the home, farm and auto supply store.

Iowa flipped two congressional districts electing Democrat Abby Finkenauer in the first, and Democrat Cindy Axne in the third. Democrat Dave Loebsack was elected for a seventh term in the second as well. At the same time voters picked three Democrats in four races for the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Fred Hubbell lost his race for governor. On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. My reaction is that voters delivered a nuanced message, repudiating the 45th president by helping Democrats take control of the House, while maintaining much of the outlook that turned Iowa into a red state in 2016. Like many first impressions, I may change my mind about this after a deeper dive. I may not. There is a difference between “swing voters” and a “nuanced message.” The more I engage in politics, the latter looks like the future of politics, especially at the local level.

Iowa Republicans maintained control of the statehouse. The mix of senators and representatives changed but Republicans will write the agenda. I expect the 88th Iowa General Assembly to be another barn burner. However, one has to believe they got many of the major tasks on their agenda accomplished in the 87th. Our district elected an outstanding new senator in Zach Wahls. I’m confident he will work with colleagues in the general assembly, including Mr. Kaufmann, to accomplish what good we can and hold back extremism Republicans demonstrated last session. We knew the consequences before the election. Failure to win the governor’s office or one of the two legislative chambers will make life more difficult in the coming two years.

Our work will continue.

There are countless analyses of the election available. Thanks for stopping by On Our Own for mine.

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Just Vote

On the Sunday before the 2018 midterm elections all I have left to say is vote. I mean it the way JFK did when he made this video.

Just vote.

I’m ready to accept the election results and move on to important matters that have been too long neglected. Issues of social justice, hunger, poverty, discrimination, education, equal opportunity, and civic responsibilities are all important. So are the overarching, existential threats to humanity of climate change and use of nuclear weapons. There’s a lot to work on and we are the people to do this work.

I understand the dynamics of political campaigns as well as anyone in my community. In every race there will be a winner and losers. It may seem like a zero sum game, but this cycle it must be something else. Too much is at stake for it not to be. The work requires all hands on deck regardless of our politics. It means reaching out for people to join us.

It may be easier to work on issues with government on our side. There are better prospects with Democrats controlling our government but that is impossible in Washington, D.C. until the 2020 election, and unlikely in Des Moines when the new legislature is sworn in next year. We must work together to find meaningful solutions for the problems that face us, at least partly by breaking gridlock in government even if it doesn’t seem a likely outcome.

Community-based solutions are a necessary part of our effort to move the needle toward social justice. That means working with everyone in the community to drive injustice from society. If we persuade anyone to do anything, it will be to join our efforts to the extent they are capable. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it is worth a try. That’s what I’ll be doing when the polls close on Tuesday.

For now, just vote.

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Week Before the Midterms

Kale and Black Beans Cooking in Guajillo Chili Sauce

People are edgy about the election.

I live on the fringe of a blue island in a sea of red politics that was Iowa in 2016. This election may be the only chance to turn the tide to a more comfortable shade of purple for a long, long time.

The stakes are high.

Based on my hundreds of voter contacts this cycle it seems like people have had enough of Republican excesses and are ready for sensible change in the right direction. Or, as our gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell said, “change, the right way.” The polls show a tight race between Hubbell and Governor Kim Reynolds.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad gave Democrats a gift when he privatized Iowa Medicaid. The entire operation was so poorly run patients couldn’t get needed services and treatment, providers couldn’t get paid, and administrative costs soared. An unseen story is of families trying to place patients in nursing homes who wouldn’t take them if they were on Medicaid or if they had certain types of diseases. There are other unseen stories like this. Whether there is a role for private insurance companies in managing Medicaid is an open question. The way Branstad did it was an utter disaster. His successor, Kim Reynolds, did not correct the problems. As I’ve written elsewhere, if Democrats can’t win the midterms on this, they had better just fold up the tent and go home.

What about voters?

Others have had more voter contact than I have but I see two simultaneous effects of the negative public environment that has characterized the 87th Iowa General Assembly and the first term of President Trump. Some are motivated to resist the policies of Republican rule and have. Some have withdrawn into a tight circle of friends and family, church and work, and volunteer only in roles where politics is not a topic of discussion. In the latter is the seed of a new style of politics where people can find more to connect them than separates them. That is hopeful.

It is easier for people to connect via social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter particularly) than it was during the 2006 election cycle, the recent Democratic surge election. To some extent we can become isolated at home, and in cells, because of our addiction to computers. I believe social media has created some divisions yet the physical proximity we have in our communities will prevail in the election of government representatives. Much of my community work is with people who register to vote differently. We can easily agree about many topics — things like the Republican grave digger is probably a good choice to work as a township trustee where the board manages two cemeteries. Social media is influential, but person-to person relationships trump it.

It is good to be on edge just before the election. People who have been outspoken about problems with the Democratic party have pretty much clammed up… for now. Local writer Jeff Cox, in the Fall 2018 edition of the Prairie Progressive, asked, “What is the Democratic agenda for Iowa?” The better question is who are we as a society? Answering my question is more likely to bring people together to work on common issues. A lot depends upon what questions we ask after the election. First priority is to make sure our friends and neighbors vote on or before Nov. 6.

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Withered and Whining

Prairie Grass in Late Summer

Bobby Kaufmann is not a victim. He may be an aggrieved party from time to time, but victim? No.

His latest grievance was expressed in a letter to the editor of multiple House District 73 newspapers as follows:

“I had warned the organizers of all of the debates this cycle that my family was in a serious bind right now. My grandpa is now living in a memory unit and my uncle had emergency triple bypass surgery. This left me to fill a huge void in the family farming operation. Events would have to be missed.”

In the letter Kaufmann focused on the Monday, Sept. 10, Johnson County Task Force on Aging candidate forum. He chose to miss it.

Lyle Muller, executive director of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org moderated the forum. At the beginning he said the empty seats left for Kaufmann and one other candidate were not a statement of any kind. He hadn’t heard back from them after the invitation and hoped they were running late and would appear before the end of the forum. Neither did.

All Kaufmann had to do was give Muller the courtesy of a phone call or email to say he couldn’t make it to the forum because of family concerns. We all experience those things and I for one would understand. Most reasonable people would. Instead he blew off the forum like a speck of dust after working a field, failing to show common courtesy warranted for a public figure.

It’s not that Kaufmann would have had anything new to say. We know him well. Since Kim Reynolds assumed the governorship Kaufmann repeatedly expressed his support for her and parroted talking points about why there were revenue shortfalls during the 87th Iowa General Assembly. When it comes to the final vote on bills before the House, Kaufmann has been there for the Republican majority on most of them. Where was he as chairman of the government oversight committee when Medicaid began heading south soon after the decision to privatize was made? He was in the back pocket of the Republican governor.

It is hard to say whether Kaufmann will hold his seat in the legislature this cycle. Democrat Jodi Clemens has been doing the work of a campaign — putting in the planning, volunteer organizing, fundraising, and voter contact needed to win people over. There is a lot of excitement about her campaign in the district. Beating three-term representative Bobby Kaufmann has always been a steep hill to climb. Kaufmann got 12,388 votes (73 percent) of 16,889 cast in 2016 running unopposed. When he last had an opponent in 2014, Kaufmann got 8,448 (66 percent) of 12,825 cast. He has the incumbent’s advantage this cycle and midterm voter turnout is expected to be better than in 2014 but less than 2016. All of this is to say if readers care about flipping the house, get out there and help Jodi Clemens win.

In the end it’s the voters of House District 73 who have reason to be aggrieved about our politics. Republican votes on a host of issues, combined with malpractice on the privatization of Medicaid, created a partisan environment no one asked for. Instead of bucking up and taking the heat that comes with being a public figure Kaufmann withers into a whining persona full of righteous indignation that rings hollow in the homes of people hard hit by Republican policy. Kaufmann a victim? Suck it up buttercup.

~ Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2018 edition of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

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