I've seen a lot of hippie-punching by professional Democrats, but the Iowa Democratic Party's attack on Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement yesterday was a particularly cynical example.
Here's the Iowa Democratic Party's August 31 press release in its entirety:
Iowa CCI continues to rely on outlandish behavior
"unproductive, embarrassing, and has no place in a serious debate"
DES MOINES - Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky released the following statement today denouncing the behavior of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI). The group has continued to obstruct town halls and other events, even physically blocking Senator Grassley from talking with the media and getting into his car after an event on Monday night.
"The behavior of Iowa CCI is unproductive, embarrassing, and has no place in a serious debate. Yes, we should be working to protect Social Security, doing everything to keep our air and water clean, and ask our elected officials tough questions. Unfortunately, this group has become less focused on results and more focused on creating chaos that gets their name in the paper.
"Iowa CCI is doing a disservice to the state, to true progressive values, and to their members who signed up to make a difference and change our state for the better. Instead of bragging about 'crashing' a town hall, designed to give citizens a forum to discuss their concerns, they could be educating Iowans about what's really at stake and actually make a difference.
"It's unfortunate that they continue to mistake screaming for persuasion and embarrass themselves in this manner."
This story by Carroll-based reporter Douglas Burns inspired Dvorsky to condemn Iowa CCI. The non-profit organization disputes Burns' account and quickly responded with their own press release. Excerpt:
CCI Members Stand by Principles
Independent media confirms critics accusations baseless
In a recent statement by Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky, Iowa CCI members were characterized as "less focused on results and more focused on creating chaos that gets their name in the paper." Specifically, Chairwoman Dvorsky references a recent Grassley town hall in Carroll that neither she, nor any official representatives of the Democratic Party attended, and relies completely on one account of the event.
"It's unfortunate that Sue Dvorsky and the Iowa Democratic Party have this view of the town hall based off of one reporter's distorted account of what happened," said Rosie Partridge, small business owner and CCI member from Wall Lake. "I was there. People raised their hands, asked questions, and it was anything but disruptive."
Iowa CCI members stand by their beliefs and their behavior at this event and others.
Without witnessing Grassley's forum in Carroll, I can't say whether Iowa CCI members tried to block the senator from getting to a media interview, or into his car, as Burns asserts. The Iowa CCI members I know don't resemble the "despicable" "angry mob" of "moon-howlers" Burns describes, "a collection of mad-eyed characters who should have their local pharmacies on speed dial so they can pop pills to silence the voices in their heads." He's entitled to his opinion, of course.
Dvorsky's statement merits a closer look. She deplores Iowa CCI's "outlandish behavior." But Democratic leaders didn't view the group as "unproductive" or "embarrassing" when Iowa CCI members disrupted Mitt Romney's speech on the Des Moines Register's soapbox during the Iowa State Fair. On the contrary, Democrats did all they could to make "Corporations are people, my friend" go viral. Romney's comment was featured in an advertisement by the Democratic National Committee and in multiple DNC press releases. I also received several Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising e-mails highlighting the quote.
Dvorsky herself tried to get this story into the media. Listen to her comments during Iowa Democrats' August 11 press conference (beginning around the 1:15 mark):
"Today at the Iowa State Fair, Mitt Romney stood and, in answer to a question from a voter that had to do with corporations paying their fair share, he told that voter that 'Corporations are people, my friends.' Well, corporations are not people, and the people that he was talking to are not his friends," Dvorksy said. "This was just absolutely a tone-deaf response, and yet, I'm afraid that maybe Mitt Romney accidentally spoke his mind. I'm afraid that he spoke the truth and actually articulated what the rest of the Republican field clearly believes."
But wait, wasn't it "outlandish" for that voter to "crash" Romney's stump speech?
Back to Dvorsky's press release from yesterday:
Yes, we should be working to protect Social Security, doing everything to keep our air and water clean, and ask our elected officials tough questions.
I couldn't agree more. Tell me, what tough questions has the Iowa Democratic Party asked Democratic elected officials in the past few years? Specifically, what did the state party say this summer when President Barack Obama begged U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to join him in cutting Social Security as part of a "big deal" on the debt ceiling? Nothing. Iowa CCI members called Congressional representatives, urging them to vote no on the debt ceiling bargain.
Never mind "everything"; has the Iowa Democratic Party done anything this year to keep our air and water clean? I save most of the umpteen press releases I receive from the state party every week. For all the times Dvorsky has bashed this or that action by Governor Terry Branstad, I cannot recall a single statement criticizing his terrible environmental record. Why hasn't Dvorsky said anything about cuts to the Department of Natural Resources budget, or stacking the Environmental Protection Commission with friends of agri-business? Maybe because some Democratic state legislators support Branstad's efforts to undermine Iowa's water quality programs.
Iowa CCI has been "educating Iowans about what's really at stake" on environmental protection for a long time. While the Iowa Democratic Party said and did nothing, Iowa CCI opposed bad bills on spreading manure in wintertime during the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions. The goal of "local control" or agricultural zoning never got through the Iowa House or Senate, but Iowa CCI members have stopped a number of factory farm (CAFO) projects. Most recently, the Department of Natural Resources denied a construction permit for a CAFO project in Adair County. Iowa CCI members had helped persuade the Adair County supervisors to oppose the CAFO and lobbied DNR officials.
Iowa CCI works on several economic and social justice issues. The non-profit mobilized activists against a proposed new Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Des Moines, which the city's zoning board recently voted down.
CCI members argued an expanded ICE facility would create an "atmosphere of fear" for immigrants.
"Des Moines does not need a bigger immigration detention center," said CCI member Judith Lonning of Des Moines. "We don't need more families terrorized and torn apart."
Iowa CCI backs real reform in mortgage lending practices. In contrast, the Iowa Democratic Party says nothing as Attorney General Tom Miller tries to negotiate a sweetheart deal for big banks.
Iowa CCI advocates for payday lending reform. In 2010, prominent Democratic legislators vowed to address this issue. Then the Iowa Democratic Party stayed silent as conservadem State Representative Mike Reasoner kept the payday lending bill stuck in subcommittee. Iowa CCI is part of a coalition that continues to advocate for payday lending reform, but Dvorsky and her fellow party leaders were nowhere during the fight to get this done in 2010.
Iowa CCI supports campaign finance reform. Democratic politicians used to say they did too, before they got back into power. Then very little happened on that front, which apparently suited the state party fine.
Dvorsky claims to stand for "results," not just getting your name in the paper, as if the Iowa Democratic Party hasn't staged its share of publicity stunts: rallies outside the state capitol, a thank Mitt Romney for health care reform event.
Dvorsky's predecessor Michael Kiernan came out swinging against any plans to primary incumbent Democrats who blocked pro-labor or environmental bills during Governor Chet Culver's administration. Yet Dvorsky claims Iowa CCI is doing a disservice to "true progressive values"?
Blogger John Deeth joined the chorus criticizing Iowa CCI this week, suggesting that the group does nothing but make useless public "demands." He doesn't like it when Iowa CCI confronts "Democrats with whom they 80% agree." He finds that approach counterproductive and believes "the most effective means to making the most positive changes is through contesting and winning elections."
That's a valid point of view, but Democrats controlled the governor's chair and both chambers of the Iowa legislature for four years. During that time, they did nothing on most of the issues at the core of Iowa CCI's mission. It would be dishonest for the group not to confront Democrats from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on down when those politicians fall short. Community activists lose credibility when they become surrogates for a political party.
Deeth didn't approve of Iowa CCI board member Barb Kalbach's attempt to replace Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge on the Democratic ticket in 2010. He wanted Kalbach to run against her Republican state representative or senator instead. In the end, state convention delegates changed party rules to allow the gubernatorial nominee to choose the lieutenant governor candidate. Of course Kalbach never would have won a vote on the convention floor, but I don't blame her for trying to make a point about the Culver-Judge administration's record.
Oh, and pardon me for splashing gasoline on a flamewar, but I doubt it's a coincidence that the three people attacking Iowa CCI were all early supporters of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Dvorsky, Burns and Deeth spent a lot of time and energy pushing the "Yes We Can" brand in 2007 and 2008. I don't hear them holding the president accountable for failing to accomplish or even attempt most of what he promised to do during his campaign. How convenient to denigrate committed activists as a bunch of crazy publicity hounds.
Iowa CCI speaks out for policies that would serve the public interest. Their tactics and media stunts may not be your style. I don't agree with every action by the group either. Give them credit at least for standing for something.
UPDATE: Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey responded to Dvorsky here.