Into the Wilderness

Kate Revaux (left) and Monica Biddix at the Iowa Democratic Party Building Blocks Listening Tour March 7, 2017 in Coralville

The Iowa Democratic Party has its work cut out between now and the 2020 presidential election.

About 75 people gathered last night at the Coralville Public Library to air grievances, express hopes, make observations and promote causes to party representatives.

Almost everyone who wanted to speak got a chance at the Building Blocks Listening Tour event.

“We do have to pick ourselves up,” Congressman Dave Loebsack said at a December State Central Committee meeting. “We have to get up off the mat, folks. There’s no way around it. We just have admit that, you know, we’re not doing particularly well as a party in the State of Iowa right now and we know that for a fact and so we’re not going to give up. We’re going to pick ourselves up. We’re going to make it better.”

The series of Building Blocks Listening Posts represents the beginning of how the party will accomplish this.

People tend to hear what we are predisposed to hear at such events. In an effort to be objective I recorded part of the event and gave up after about an hour. I found no moments of inspiration or of brilliance, only the butcher block work of gathering ideas and culling them. A couple of themes emerged in the group dominated by Johnson County residents.

A number of attendees expressed concern that part of Johnson County was represented by Republican Bobby Kaufmann. I didn’t recognize the speakers and don’t believe they lived in the district. Kaufmann beat Dick Schwab of rural Solon in the 2012 election and David Johnson of West Branch in 2014. No one ran against Kaufmann in 2016. The attitude at the time was doing so would have been a waste of time and resources because of his deep popularity among district voters. Such concerns were more an airing of grievances than anything useful to local activists. Prior involvement by the Iowa Democratic Party in the House District 73 race has been consistently viewed negatively by district activists.

Many commented about improving Democratic Party messaging, and this is likely the most significant takeaway for the moderators. In short, the message was get a message and sell it.

Some spoke about the billionaire donor network using the Republican party as a tool to implement policy. Two suggested Democrats should take only small-sized donations. Others mentioned the influence of the funding network in the electoral process. Moderator Kate Revaux asserted Democrats will never be the party of big donors the way Republicans are.

Another recurring comment was about the supposed divide between rural and urban voters. Commenters tended to paint rural residents as monolithic voting blocks when anyone who spends time in rural Iowa knows better. One hopes other listening posts garner better feedback on this.

More than once Revaux mentioned pulling groups of activists who sprung up after the Jan. 20 inauguration under the umbrella of the state party. The party needs their help, she said. Whether this is likely, needed or possible remained an open question.

The question Revaux asked at the beginning of the meeting, “what is the Iowa Democratic Party doing right?” went without answer. To some there were no IDP positives.

There was not a lot actionable in the 90 minute session. I did catch up with some friends and met my county party chair, so not all was lost.

A report on the state-wide Building Blocks tour is to be published in April. Democrats may know who they are individually, but from this meeting, the party appears to continue to wander in the wilderness.  It remains to be seen if we will find our way.

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