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Politics in Person

North Liberty Lightning logo in bricks on April 23, 2022.

The Iowa First District Democratic convention was held at North Liberty High School on Saturday, April 23. It was a hybrid affair with 50-60 attendees on Zoom and another 85 or so people in person. The technology worked and could serve as a model to make Democratic gatherings more inclusive going forward.

I attended in person and was thankful to connect with people I’ve known since 2004 yet haven’t seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The garden was too wet to work the soil, so what else would I do?

Reports from around the district were that traditionally Democratic strongholds flipped to Republican in 2020. It’s a problem for Iowa Democrats. My precinct in Johnson County flipped to red, although as a whole, the county remains a liberal bastion. Attendees had ideas about how to address this issue, yet there were no definitive answers.

A number of candidates sent a video message that played on screens. Among them were Deidre DeJear for Governor, Rob Sand for State Auditor, and John Norwood for Secretary of Agriculture. Christina Bohannan, presumptive nominee and whose district this is, chose to drop a video and skip the convention while campaigning with former Congressman Dave Loebsack in Lee County. If there were only video messages, it would have been better to join the delegates on Zoom.

Three remaining Democrats in the race to become the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate — Abby Finkenauer, Michael Franken and Glenn Hurst — spoke in person and worked attendees. Of the three, Franken and Hurst seem more grounded in the reality of what needs to be done to win the general election. Franken recounted likely parts of his resume Republicans are expected to attack, including his rural roots, military service and even his coaching a Special Olympics team. Hurst is a physician and member of the Minden City Council. He is also chair of the Iowa Democratic Party rural caucus and well versed in what faces Democrats working to regain a foothold in Iowa. Both of them have an active schedule of events around the state.

Finkenauer’s way of speaking may play well among liberal audiences, yet there are not enough liberals in the state for Democrats to win without bringing like minded non-Democrats into the fold. To the extent urban areas favor Democrats, Finkenauer has a strong base there. She is leading the primary race in recent polls.

I would feel better about a Finkenauer nomination if she had won her last congressional race. I do not support her campaign position of term limits. If we get a good, Democratic U.S. Senator, why would we arbitrarily say after two terms they are done. Each election could limit time in office. It was annoying that she disregarded the time limit on her speech to the convention, but she’s a politician. What are you going to do? She is not my first choice. I told Franken I would be in his corner for the primary.

Whoever is our nominee, Republicans are expected to rally around incumbent Chuck Grassley, and political action committees will dump millions of dollars into a campaign. If Grassley doesn’t die first, he will be difficult to defeat.

I ate lunch with a number of long-time Democrats, including John Dabeet who is well-known for promoting international cooperation and understanding. He recently received the Palestinian Person of the Year award from the Palestinian Lady of the Earth Foundation. His brother, who lives in Palestine, accepted the award on his behalf due to travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

We shared stories of our interaction with Grassley and my question was whether the senator was his own person on international affairs or took his guidance from others. At an event, Grassley told me he took his advice on nuclear weapons issues from then Senator Jon Kyl who was the Republican advocate during Senate ratification of the New START Treaty. Grassley said he didn’t invest much time in the issue and followed Kyl’s lead. Dabeet said he had been having personal conversations about Palestinian issues with Grassley for 20 years. Dabeet believes Grassley takes his guidance on Palestine from others, including the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. No argument at our lunch table that Chuck Grassley needs to go.

The two Democratic Secretary of State candidates running in the June 7 primary also spoke in person. Joel Miller of Robins spoke first and had good ideas to undo parts of recent Republican restrictions on voting. Eric Van Lancker of Clinton spoke later and assessed how to fix voting laws Republicans passed. Van Lancker discussed issues with delegates in the convention hall for quite a while after his speech. I am leaning toward Van Lancker yet could support either in the general election. Incumbent Paul Pate needs to go.

After voting for state central committee members I packed my bag and headed home. The only remaining item was platform, something which seems increasingly irrelevant in 21st Century politics. The electorate has become so diverse, and we need substantial support from non-Democrats to win elections. The usefulness of having a platform has seen better days.

I can’t say I read the entire platform since the ancient days when I was newly married and on the platform committee. Once we regain a more permanent majority in governance we can talk meaningfully about having a platform. It wont be during the 2022 election cycle.

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