Background on Tyler Olson, next Iowa Democratic Party chair

State Representative Tyler Olson told Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson that he has enough support on the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee to be chosen as state party chair this Saturday. Some background information on Olson is after the jump.

Senator Tom Harkin has not publicly endorsed Olson, but he informally chooses the Iowa Democratic Party leader during cycles when he is due to appear on the ballot. No other candidates are openly running for state party chair ahead of this weekend’s vote. Outgoing party leader Sue Dvorsky enthusiastically backs Olson for the job.

Olson is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Appropriations Committee, a position he held during the last legislative session as well. He also currently serves on the House Commerce, Ethics, and Judiciary committees.

Olson was recently elected to a fourth term in the Iowa House from the new district 65, covering parts of Cedar Rapids. The Iowa House Democrats published this official bio of Olson during the 2012 campaign.

Tyler Olson is serving his 3rd term in the Iowa House of Representatives, representing House District 38 which includes most of southeast and some of northeast Cedar Rapids.  He is a ranking member of the Appropriations committee.  He also serves on the Commerce and Judiciary committees.  Tyler previously served as the Vice-Chair of the Ethics and the Ways and Means Committees. He also served on the Administrative Rules Review, Commerce, Human Resources, Judiciary, and Rebuild Iowa, Economic Growth and Environmental Protection committees.

Tyler was born and raised in Cedar Rapids, and has lived in House District 38 for almost his entire life. Tyler is married to Sarah Halbrook Olson, who works at the United Way of East Central Iowa.  Tyler and Sarah have a son and a daughter.

Tyler is a sixth generation Iowan and fourth generation Cedar Rapidian. Tyler graduated from George Washington Senior High School in 1994. Tyler earned his law degree from the University of Iowa in 2003. At the Iowa College of Law, he served as the Senior Note and Comment Editor for Volume 28 of The Journal of Corporation Law and President of the Iowa Student Bar Association.

Tyler works at Paulson Electric, a fourth-generation family business with offices in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo.  Paulson Electric is celebrating 80 years of service in Eastern Iowa in 2008.  Prior to joining Paulson Electric, he was an attorney at Bradley & Riley, PC, a law firm with offices in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, where he had a general practice, including, but not limited to, business and corporate and real estate law.

Tyler is a member of the American Bar Association, Iowa State Bar Association, Linn County Bar Association and serves on the Iowa State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Justice for All Committee. He also is a member of the Linn Law Club, where he served as Treasurer in 2006.

Olson endorsed Barack Obama for president months before the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

Olson will have his hands full as state party chair during the next election cycle. Iowa Democrats struggled during the 2010 elections, and many Iowans who backed Obama’s re-election do not vote in midterm elections. Apparently Olson isn’t ruling out running for governor in 2014, according to this report by James Q. Lynch:

Election to the party chairmanship will not end Olson’s consideration of a run for governor.

“There are obviously a lot of folks who will make decisions about what they are going to do in 2014 over the next few months,” he said. “After that shakes out, people will have to decide what opportunities to take advantage of.”

I’d be surprised to see Olson try to run for governor while running the state party. As party chair, he will need to help make the case against Branstad, though, and he’s already trying to undermine Branstad’s narrative.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad repeatedly says he had to “clean up” a budget mess when he took over in January of 2011. Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says the actual numbers tell a different story.

“It’s very clear that the strong financial situation that we’re in began with tough decisions that were made in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions,” Olson says.

Olson says that’s when Democrats were in control of the legislature, and Democrat Chet Culver was governor. Olson points to data from the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency that shows the budget plans those Democrats drew up in 2009 resulted in a $335 million surplus by July 1st of 2010 – more than six months before Branstad became governor.

“The facts are clear that Democrats in 2009 and 2010 set the table for the strong financial situation that we’re in today,” Olson says.

Olson is correct, though I would add that the federal stimulus package played a big part in keeping Iowa’s fiscal condition healthy during the “great recession.”

UPDATE: Earlier this month, Olson was a guest on WHO-TV’s Sunday morning political show “The Insiders.” Olson sidestepped reporter Dave Price’s question about running for governor, saying “there’s a place” for bigger-picture thinking about the economy and education policy. In this clip, Olson confirmed that he had been talking with Senator Harkin and State Central Committee members about becoming state party chair. My partial transcript:

I really think that there’s a lot of opportunity ahead. […] I think the role of political parties are changing a bit as well with different campaign finance rules. One of the things that I took from the last two election cycles, the presidential election cycles, is that there’s a lot of folks out there that are passionate about an issue, or passionate about a candidate, and really need the tools and the support to get involved. That’s something that I think the Iowa Democratic Party can do more of, and something that no matter what role I’m in, I plan on focusing on.

I don’t know what Olson means by better “tools” and “support” for activists. I would guess that he’s mainly interested in recruiting more volunteers and donors. In recent years, Iowa Democratic Party leaders have been quite selective about taking on fights that matter to the Democratic base. The state party communications shop sends out lots of press releases about certain issues: health care reform, state funding for education, public employee salaries and collective bargaining rights, and occasionally equality for women and LGBT Iowans. Meanwhile, I am struggling to think of any environmental problem or funding dispute that ever inspired a press release from Sue Dvorsky, or her predecessors Michael Kiernan and Scott Brennan. You can count on the state party to say nothing against corporate-friendly bills that Democratic grassroots activists overwhelmingly oppose (such as MidAmerican’s pro-nuclear power bill or the “ag gag” law). You can count on the state party to say nothing about real campaign finance reform in Iowa.

Those are some of the reasons I stopped donating to the Iowa Democratic Party a few years ago. I was more than comfortable with the decision when party leaders stuck an unnecessary thumb in the eye of progressives seeking to caucus “uncommitted” at last year’s Iowa caucuses. The quality of political advertising paid for by the Iowa Democratic Party has been uneven as well, with some strong ads but also some embarrassing and misleading ones. Whoever’s in charge for the 2014 campaign, I hope they hire different advertising consultants from the ones used in 2010 and 2012.

SECOND UPDATE: Forgot to mention that unlike just about every candidate these days, the Iowa Democratic Party refuses to upload its campaign advertising to YouTube, doesn’t release scripts of its radio and tv commercials, and doesn’t release its direct-mail pieces. Those practices should change before the next election. As things stand, it looks like the Iowa Democratic Party is ashamed of its messaging and unwilling to hold its negative advertising up to scrutiny.

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