Living in Society

Off Year Caucus

Dan Feltes was elected First Vice Chair of the Johnson County Democrats on March 2, 2023.

The monthly central committee meeting was followed by the off-year caucus. The evening was intended to start us toward re-organizing the county Democratic Party to win in 2024. It was a somewhat chaotic meeting. We are Democrats, so that’s to be expected.

The best part of the meeting was the reunion with people met during previous campaigns. We talked about our work to elect Royceann Porter as the first black county supervisor. We talked about walking the walk. We talked about shared experiences. It was good.

I have no illusions about what is possible. The meeting was a chance to get out of the house and discuss politics with others. For a while, I’ve been participating via video conference rather than in person. There was a different dynamic to being there. If we did something to make a difference in our politics, that would have been a surprise benefit.

Conversations in person remain difficult after a long withdrawal from society beginning during the coronavirus pandemic and continuing as I write my book. As the engines of conversation ignite, I’m not sure we are at our best when we converse in person with strangers.

One person ranted about doing more door knocking to activate people to work on politics. They had what I would describe as a driving personality. Drivers tend not to be the listening type and just want to assert their point as gospel. That never goes well.

Why did Democrats perform so abysmally? The answer was at the doors, for those who were listening.

I door knocked during the midterm campaign and found people home. They didn’t want to get involved with politics. Some weren’t even interested in voting. I called it apathy at first, but that’s not right. People are dealing with complex lives and pressure from all parts of society. It is work enough just to deal with getting by. Politicization of schools during the pandemic was particularly on people’s minds. Politics seems unlikely to resolve situations like this. So people turn their back on politics, even if it goes against their self-interest, even if it means striking out on their own. Political organizing in that environment was challenging. Little seems to have changed less than a year later.

Much was made at the meeting of an “aggressive plan to rebuild the Democratic Party in Iowa under the leadership of our new chair, Rita Hart.” Here’s the problem: Hart lost her last two elections. The race for the Congress was a nail-biter and our best chance to hold the First District Congressional seat. We came up short. No question Hart is a decent person and a loyal Democrat. It will take more than that to turn this Republican state around. There’s little hope with Christina Bohannan either. She lost the first Congressional race in the district 46 percent to 53 percent. She should have won. The Democratic Party needs winners to lead us out of the woods. They are in short supply.

I have confidence in Zach Wahls and Jennifer Kofrst who are our senate and house minority leaders. They are two people when we need a legion of activist leaders.

By the end of the caucus, we talked about building infrastructure to activate people to work on campaigns. We have large geographies of the county represented by Republicans. It seems like we should learn about those precincts and do what it takes to turn them Democratic. For Pete’s sake, Democratic voter registrations in the Johnson County part of House District 91 outnumbered Republicans. We still lost that half of the district. Consensus was lacking in our group about this focus.

People talked about how Johnson County goes blue every election and how we might help people in the rest of the state with our excess capacity. We too quickly take the winning portions of the county for granted and project that on conservative areas like ours. I mean, I worked on campaigns outside the county before. While we try to be helpful, we don’t always know the turf or the culture of those foreign canvasses. When it’s all hands on deck to win a special election, not all hands are of equal value. It makes me gag when I hear and read of the reference to Johnson County as being solid blue.

We are supposed to follow up with our conversation via video conference in a couple of weeks. I’d like to find a replacement for myself on the central committee. Even the most active in my precinct want no part of that. At the end of the day, now is the time to finish my book and that will have to be my focus for the next 18 months. Good news is the first in the nation Iowa precinct caucuses were cancelled and that will free up my time.

We have to start somewhere and off we go.

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