A look at Jefferson County, Iowa

A former southeast Iowa resident shares insight into an unusual rural county, where Trump supporters campaigned on a unique message. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Given the increasing attention being paid to the continuing decline of rural Iowa, Jefferson County is an interesting absurdity among these conversations and the 2016 presidential election.

Jefferson County, population 16,843, is a mesh of traditional rural Iowa and a hot pot coalition of Transcendental Meditation followers from around the globe. Fairfield, the county seat, is more than 60 miles to the nearest urban center and stands out as the rare rural Iowa community that has gained population in recent years: a 4 percent population increase between 2010-2014, according to a questionable census report. (Questionable because a portion of the census’s reported increase in residents may be international students who took classes in Fairfield, but live in other states for the majority of their student/work visa.)

Fairfield is also known for its progressive views on organic farming and green energy, as well as residents’ higher than average educational attainment and religious diversity. Given those facts, Jefferson County should have been an easy win for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton coalition in 2016. As it has been reliably, other than in 2000, when the Natural Law Party’s John Hagelin won 15 percent of the vote, shifting the county from the Al Gore to the George Bush column. Instead, Clinton lost Jefferson County to Donald Trump by 38 votes.

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A year's worth of guest posts, plus tips for guest authors

One of my blogging new year’s resolutions for 2016 was to publish more work by other authors, and I’m grateful to the many talented writers who helped me meet that goal. After the jump I’ve linked to all 140 guest posts published here last year.

I encourage readers to consider writing for this site in 2017. Guest authors can write about any political issue of local, state, or national importance. As you can see from the stories enclosed below, a wide range of topics and perspectives are welcome here.

Pieces can be short or long, funny or sad. You can write in a detached voice or let your emotions show.

Posts can analyze what happened or advocate for what should happen, either in terms of public policy or a political strategy for Democrats. Authors can share first-person accounts of campaign events or more personal reflections about public figures.

Guest authors do not need to e-mail a draft to me or ask permission to pursue a story idea. Just register for an account (using the “sign up” link near the upper right), log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit “submit for review” when you are ready to publish. The piece will be “pending” until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares. You can write under your own name or choose any pseudonym not already claimed by another Bleeding Heartland user. I do not reveal authors’ identity without their permission.

I also want to thank everyone who comments on posts here. If you’ve never participated that way, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so lately, you may need to reset your password. Let me know if you have any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password. My address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Democratic Party rebuilding edition

Having spent most of this week buried in the Iowa Board of Regents internal audit of Iowa State University’s Flight Service during President Steven Leath’s tenure, I’m catching up on the campaign to become the next Iowa Democratic Party state chair. We should all be thankful eight good people are interested in the job after this year’s horrendous outcome, especially in what used to be Iowa’s “blue” eastern half. Barack Obama carried 53 Iowa counties in 2008 and 38 counties in 2012, but Hillary Clinton won a plurality in just six counties this year. The coming midterm election will pose additional challenges for Iowa Democrats.

The brave souls hoping to lead the party forward, in the order that they announced their candidacies, are Kim Weaver, Sandy Dockendorff, Kurt Meyer, Julie Stauch, Blair Lawton, Derek Eadon, Mike Gronstal, and Bob Krause. I posted background on the first six candidates here. All of them decided to stay in the race after longtime Iowa Senate Majority Leader Gronstal declared he would seek the position. Krause was the final candidate to join the race. UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: A reader thought I was implying that other candidates should have bowed out for Gronstal. I did not mean to suggest that anyone should have stepped aside and do not plan to endorse a state party chair candidate. I welcome a robust competition to lead the party. For too many election cycles, the State Central Committee rubber-stamped one political heavyweight’s opinion.

Seven of the eight candidates spoke at a forum in Des Moines on December 16 and presented to State Central Committee members the following morning. Pat Rynard shot a video of the forum and wrote up some highlights at Iowa Starting Line. Rynard and Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson both tweeted highlights from the SCC meeting. Recurring themes included the need to improve messaging and outreach to rural areas. UPDATE: Videos of each candidate’s presentation to the SCC meeting are available on the Iowa Democratic Women’s Caucus Facebook page. Henderson posted an article at Radio Iowa.

Gronstal was absent because of a trip planned long before he decided to run for state party chair. Ingrid Olson, a Council Bluffs resident who was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, spoke to SCC members on Gronstal’s behalf. She emphasized Gronstal’s long work in the trenches, fighting for many causes. One of the plaintiffs in the Varnum v Brien case that led to the Iowa Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, Olson praised Gronstal for being willing to “put a target on his back” in order to defend marriage equality. To his credit, Gronstal immediately welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. He forcefully and repeatedly rejected Republican calls for a vote on a constitutional amendment to overturn it.

Olson’s support for Gronstal is understandable, given her strong personal investment in a cause he championed. On the other hand, after reading her harsh post-election assessment, I didn’t expect her to back one of the longest-serving Iowa Democratic politicians, who also happened to be a DNC superdelegate for Clinton, for state party chair. In that commentary, Olson slammed the insiders who (in her view) “anointed” Clinton “because all the ‘good old boys’ in the Dem elite knew it was ‘her turn’.” Speaking to the SCC yesterday, Olson acknowledged Gronstal “has been around a long time, but it’s because he’s weathered more storms than I can even imagine.”

Representative Dave Loebsack, the only Iowa Democrat left in Congress, announced near the end of the State Central Committee meeting that a committee will “systematically” review what went wrong for the party here in 2016. Outgoing state party chair Andy McGuire indicated that the effort will be more in-depth than a “typical analysis.” The committee members will include “Loebsack as the honorary chair, his campaign manager, four SCC members, three campaign professionals, a member from the Iowa House and Senate and members of the IDP staff.” Members will “conduct a listening tour of activists, volunteers and party stakeholders” and “hold a professional focus group” before submitting their report in April.

Among many angles that need to be investigated, I hope to learn more about what happened with the early vote program. We need to understand why Clinton didn’t carry absentee voters by a larger margin. Whether because of poor targeting or inadequate persuasion, Democratic field organizers and volunteers appear to have mobilized a lot of early voters who ended up not marking the ballot for Democratic candidates.

Bleeding Heartland has posted guest commentaries by Stauch, Meyer, Eadon, Dockendorff, and Lawton. I’ll publish Weaver’s contribution soon. UPDATE: It’s online here. You can read Gronstal’s announcement message to SCC members here and Krause’s case for his candidacy here.

No one has a monopoly on understanding what went wrong and how to fix it. I welcome viewpoints from any Iowa Democratic activist. So far Pete McRoberts, Sue Dvorsky, Tim Nelson, Ben Nesselhuf, Claire Celsi, Tracy Leone, John McCormally, Paul Deaton, Bill Brauch, Laura Hubka, and Jeff Cox have shared their insights here. It’s easy to create a Bleeding Heartland account; the link to register is near the upper right corner of the front page.

This post is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Mika Covington for Vice-Chair

All candidates for Iowa Democratic Party vice chair are invited to make their case at Bleeding Heartland. -promoted by desmoinesdem

My name is Mika Covington and I am running for Vice-Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party because I want to give back to the party that has had my back in the fight for my civil rights and the fight for health care. I am running because I want to help rebuild the party.

My passion for politics stems from the fact that I know that if I want to have rights, I need to step up and fight for them. I am transgender, and I live with a very rare genetic disorder that causes many of my organs to fail, which means that I must have health insurance. Because of this, I know that I need to fight to build a strong Democratic Party because the Democrats are the only ones who have had my back.

I believe that being who I am and the life experiences I have gives me a unique experience to help lead and strength our party.

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Iowa’s Outdated Medicaid Ban Fails Transgender Iowans

Thanks to One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing for explaining a little-known problem for transgender Iowans. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Amerigroup, one of Iowa’s private Medicaid providers, agreed last month to cover gender-affirming surgery for Andrew Evans, a transgender Iowa man and client of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

While we are happy Evans will receive the surgery he needs, we realize that it means only one thing: Evans’ surgery will be covered. The Medicaid provider refused to acknowledge the medical necessity of the surgery, instead agreeing to coverage in order to “amicably resolve” the situation. In plain English, they didn’t want to tangle with the ACLU.

Exclusions for transgender surgery and other trans-related health care continue. Iowa’s Medicaid ban on transition-related surgeries remains.

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