Politics in the County Seat

Warm Winter Temperatures

Winter Warm Spell

With sun shining and temperatures above freezing, yesterday was a pleasant day to be out and about in the county seat.

Four interviews for the newspaper, a stop at a used bookstore, and afternoon conversation with friends over coffee. We discussed the world as we know it… and politics.

There was news in the political world. Governor Terry Branstad gave his inaugural address after omitting any mention of a key local issue—supplemental state aid to the K-12 school system—in his condition of the state address earlier in the week. He left it to analysts to figure out he plans to underfund schools this budget cycle. One of the local school districts is advocating for a six percent increase in funding. The governor proposed roughly one percent depending upon how the numbers are interpreted.

The Iowa legislature is open for business after the formalities of the first week, and K-12 funding is one of many issues they will consider this session.

Today, the Iowa Democratic party is expected to elect a new chair to replace outgoing Scott Brennan. Not having a dog in the race, I wish them well.

On Tuesday the president delivers his state of the union address to a joint session of congress. The television audience is expected to be the lowest of any of his state of the union speeches. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst has been selected by congressional Republicans to deliver a rebuttal immediately following.

There has been a lot of very public political action this month, but what I would like to know is what area families have to say about this political window dressing. I’d also like to identify the voters who were for both Dave Loebsack and Joni Ernst in 2014. I believe unlocking their motivations is key to understanding the electorate and determining a path forward after a disastrous general election.

During the 2012 campaign we door-knocked an enclave in northwest Cedar County. Because of the low number of homes, I decided we would knock on every door, rather than the lists created by algorithms in the party’s voter database. It was eye-opening.

What we found was families who were giving considered thought about candidates before voting. They were willing to listen and debate and be open minded. There was no presumption of voting for one or the other candidate, even if the voter had a party affiliation. If we had followed the algorithm, we would never have found them and the lesson therein.

The model used by Democrats to target voters has outlived its usefulness. The idea that outside organizers can invade the high population areas of the state and produce a victory may have worked for a while, but has grown stale and ineffective. What must happen is a return to the basics, where community political organizers—people who live in the community and are not hired consultants—canvass every voter in their geography and look for supporters. We haven’t been doing that for a couple of cycles.

The simple truth is Republicans have gotten effective at exploiting the every voter canvassing method, and the 2014 election results stand as evidence. Democrats are in a position of playing catch up, and my sense is in many cases they don’t realize what is going on.

So before we lock into the political stress and storm of the 114th Congress and the 86th Iowa General Assembly, let’s pledge to spend some part of each week talking to people in our neighborhood. By identifying issues important to people, we will gain information that can work toward winning the next general election, where like the one just past, a lot will be at stake.

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