More on the Iowa Democratic Caucus

R. T. Rybak in Iowa City

R. T. Rybak in Iowa City

Last night I attended a local food exhibition at Montgomery Hall on the Johnson County Fairgrounds, hosted by the county supervisors. Lots of people I know were there, including some mentioned in my last post.

It was an hour to catch up, caesura after the intense final week of working on turnout and planning for our Iowa Democratic caucus.

The caucuses produced a maelstrom of social media commentary in both parties. Because the Democratic caucus was a statistical tie, all kinds of claims are being made. My thoughts on this tempest in a teapot is it’s over and the state party has certified the results.

Since all of the people who led the more than 1,600 caucuses reported their delegate counts to the party, it would be easy to count them again and compare them with what candidate precinct captains reported to their respective campaigns. There’s no reason not to. In my case, I listened while our caucus chair phoned in his results and they match mine. The Sanders and O’Malley precinct captains were offered the same opportunity. At the same time, it was not a straw poll or election that can be audited. There was no voting even if some in the corporate media want to characterize it as such.

I am neutral about whether Iowa is first in the nation or not. There is plenty of good work to do outside politics if we aren’t. Nothing lasts forever, including Iowa’s first in the nation status.

George McGovern did Iowa a great service after the 1968 Democratic convention when he led the effort to revise a broken nominating process. Back then, presidential candidates were decided in smoke-filled rooms. How could we forget Chicago Mayor Richard Daily’s suppression of protesters outside the convention? That was the year Harold Hughes ran for president and I’ve discussed the convention with someone who was with Hughes in Chicago. The nominating process was controlled less by votes and more by aging white men behind the scenes. Eventual nominee Hubert Humphrey was the last of the old-style nominees, and McGovern’s work produced a superior process.

I don’t think the Iowa caucuses are broken, as some have asserted. Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan suggested people don’t understand the process, and I agree. As a precinct leader for Hillary Clinton, I must have explained parts of the caucus math and delegate process to people in our corner a dozen times. They still didn’t get it. The tactics of caucuses require a bit of arcane preparation and execution, as I described previously. Most important to party building is getting the turnout and having the conversation.

The close result between Clinton and Sanders this cycle, combined with consistently great Democratic turnouts in 2008 and this year highlight a need for the Iowa Democratic Party to fix its outdated process. Caucus yes, but continue to make the process more accessible and less byzantine.

Party leaders should focus on party building. That means continuing to bring people into the Democratic party, a purpose the caucuses are serving well. It also means developing funding streams less reliant upon the presidential nominee and grounded in the people in Iowa. The latter is tough to do in this donor poor state, and tough to do with the rise of the paid political class of organizers, consultants, advertising agencies, data crunchers and logisticians wanting compensation.

Can volunteers drive the election of a president, federal offices and governor? I’m not sure if that is a nostalgic filter on life, taking the current reality out of focus, or a real possibility. In any case, I continue to believe the coordinated campaign, in which presidential resources come to Iowa to prop up the donor poor Democratic party should be blown up.

I know change is possible and needed. I also know I’m not the only one in the party that thinks so.

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