Living in Society

Next for Iowa Democrats

Rita Hart

A letter-to the editor writer in the Cedar Rapids Gazette admonished readers this morning.

Wake up, Iowans, and get off the sidelines — because the next freedom they take away could be yours.

LGBTQ+ bills in Legislature a sign of what’s to come,” by Karen Butler, Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 20, 2023.

Wake up call noted, yet it wasn’t really needed. For people who still follow local news, we are quite aware of Republican hegemony in our state government. We are aware of political attitudes toward trans-gender surgery and support because our state legislators quote chapter and verse from the New Testament in support of their belief God assigned biological sex at birth. Describing something they call “gender fluidity” as a political movement, Republicans oppose it. As they remind us, they won the 2022 midterm election. As the recent Selzer poll found, “Majorities of Iowans support Republican legislation to restrict instruction on LGBTQ topics in schools and ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.”

What are we going to do besides wake up since most of us never went to sleep?

The Iowa Democratic Party elected Rita Hart as chair on Jan. 28, and she has been steady at it answering that question. She appeared on the March 10 edition of Iowa Press where she outlined her plans to stay in conversations about presidential preference during the 2024 Democratic caucuses. She approached the party’s future in a thoughtful manner typical of her management style.

She recently sent a letter outlining what’s been happening since her election as Chair. Hart wrote, “My focus is squarely on how we can start winning elections again.” She introduced a “Mandate for Change” to facilitate winning elections:

  • Reconnect with folks on the ground.
  • Rebuild our fundraising base — and make it sustainable.
  • Organize everywhere, all year.
  • Improve our data and technology.
  • Hold Republicans accountable in the media.

As part of the rollout of this new Democratic mandate, Hart appeared on Sunday, March 19, at Terry Trueblood Park in Iowa City at a fundraiser. Also speaking were Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. I discontinued donating to political causes because with the increases in utilities, groceries, property taxes, and other retirement expenses and living costs, the $50 requested donation was more than our budget could afford. Wahls posted two photographs of the event on social media, so we know it happened. The event was lost in the noise of the Iowa Women’s Basketball team advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA championship. I hope they raised a lot of money.

The problem Iowa Democrats have is we need to change how we relate to other members of society. While the five-point mandate Hart outlined includes essential requirements for the party infrastructure, we have missed the boat on messaging in media, and in relating to our neighbors. The latter is more critical, although media, especially radio and television, influences the electorate of which pollster Ann Selzer is taking the pulse.

Most of the people with whom I interact every day are Republicans. This is Iowa, and for the most part, that’s to be expected. I learned that lesson after the 1960 presidential campaign when Richard Nixon won Iowa. For those historically challenged, John F. Kennedy became president after that election. We Iowa Democrats took refuge in our national politics, not unlike what we did after the 2020 general election that brought us President Joe Biden. National politics doesn’t adequately help us win local elections.

I plan to do what I can to support Rita Hart in her newest role as party chair. She said, “I’ll level with you, we have a lot of work to do, and building up the infrastructure we need to win is not going to be easy…” We knew that, the same way we heard the wake up call from Karen Butler in her letter. There are limits to what we can do as individuals. There are few in my area interested in spending any time on politics, let alone building the Democratic Party. This doesn’t bode well for electing Democrats here, yet we Iowa Democrats are a tenacious bunch. I haven’t given up on Iowa, nor should readers.