Rest in peace, Paulee Lipsman

People who choose a career in politics tend to fall into one of two groups: the “hacks” who work on campaigns, and the “wonks” who immerse themselves in public policy. Paulee Lipsman, who passed away on Thursday in Des Moines, was a rare person who excelled in both fields. She worked on many election campaigns and was a dedicated volunteer for the Iowa Democratic Party at all levels, from the Scott County Democrats all the way up to representing Iowa on the Democratic National Committee. Arguably, she had more influence on the state during more than 20 years of work on the Iowa House Democratic research staff (the later years as director). Staff rarely if ever receive public recognition for any legislation that comes out of the Iowa House or Senate, yet lawmakers could not do the job without them.

I didn’t know Paulee well, but when I talked with her, I was always impressed by her deep knowledge of state government and policy. She enjoyed spinning scenarios as much as the next political junkie, but her passion didn’t end with getting Democrats elected. She was driven to improve public policy, and her views were grounded in facts.

Over the past few days, Iowa Democrats have posted many tributes to Paulee on social media. I enclose some of those words below, along with excerpts from her obituary. Several staffers, lawmakers, or lobbyists expressed gratitude for how Paulee helped them learn the ropes when they were newbies at the State Capitol. She was a role model for women working at the statehouse and a strong supporter of Democratic women running for state office.

Phil Specht’s words in one thread rang especially true: “One of the things I loved about her was even though both of you knew she was smarter and knew more (about practically anything) she would never talk down to anyone.” Presidential candidates sought out Paulee Lipsman’s support–both John Kerry and Joe Biden bragged about her endorsement in press releases. But she wasn’t the type to drop names or pull rank on anyone.

Until I read the Des Moines Register’s piece on Paulee’s passing, I did not know that she had been raped or that she filed an influential lawsuit related to that case during the 1980s. Roxanne Conlin was one of Paulee’s closest friends and represented her in that lawsuit. I’ve enclosed some of her comments about the case below. Paulee retired from the Iowa House Democratic research staff in 2010 to work on Conlin’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

UPDATE: During a stop in Des Moines on September 17, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Paulee Lipsman was a remarkable, remarkable woman. She was not only a friend of mine, but she was a tireless advocate for fairness and equality. I know that she will be greatly missed.”

From Paulee Lipsman’s obituary:

Paulee Lipsman, 67, passed away peacefully at Bright Kavanagh House, Des Moines, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, after a long and valiant fight to recover from pneumonia, surrounded by beloved family and friends. […]

Paulee served as the In-State Finance Director for Sen. Tom Harkin for his first campaign bid for the U.S. Senate in 1984. She later worked to elect Tom Daschle to the U.S. Senate. This would be the beginning of many years and many campaigns with which Paulee would assist, perhaps the last being her role as Deputy Campaign Manager for her dear friend, Roxanne Conlin, in her bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010. In 1998, Paulee received the Jim Lodwick Award from the Iowa Democratic Party in recognition of her dedicated involvement with the Iowa Democratic Party. This had also included serving eight years as a representative on the Democratic National Committee for the State of Iowa.

In addition to the work Paulee did with caucuses and for campaigns, she was appointed Deputy Secretary of State for the State of Iowa and served in that capacity from January 1987 until April 1989.

From April 1989 until her retirement in June 2010, Paulee served as a member of the research staff, and then director for the Iowa House of Representatives.

From the Des Moines Register’s report on Paulee’s death:

“I have known Paulee my whole adult life almost,” said Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, who previously served in the Iowa House. “She was small in stature, but had a big heart. Because of Paulee, I believe many Iowans have a better life. She was an incredibly thorough staff person and made sure that everyone understood issues well, and what the options were, and helped people make better decisions.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said of Lipsman: “She was a stalwart proponent of the ideals of the Democratic Party and a tireless advocate for the rights of women. Paulee has been a friend of Ruth and mine for all the years I’ve been in public service. We’re saddened by her loss.” […]

Iowa House Democratic Leader Mark Smith Marshalltown, issued a statement Friday regarding Lipsman’s death: “I’m terribly saddened by the passing of Paulee Lipsman. She was a dedicated public servant, a great friend to many Iowans, and never stopped fighting for progressive values. For 20 years, she worked in the Iowa House and was a mentor to countless legislators and staff. She will be missed. My thoughts are with her friends and family during this difficult time.”

Facebook comment from Abby Finkenauer, Democratic candidate for Iowa House district 99:

I first met Paulee in 2007 when she was director of the caucus staff and I was Speaker’s Page. She was always kind and was one of the many in the Iowa House that year who reached out and showed an interested in my thoughts and ideas and treated me with as much respect as a seasoned staffer. We sat down together again around the time that I had decided to run for Iowa House. I remember sitting across the table from her in awe thinking about all she had seen in Iowa politics and campaigns -especially from a woman’s perspective. She looked at me and said quite frankly that it would be tough and I would be fighting against a lot of set norms. After I shook my head that I understood, she put her hand on top of mine and looked at me and said “But, I have no doubt you can do it.” I just read from other young female candidates that Paulee supported them from the start as well. I’m honored to have known her and I’m in good company of all those she touched during her very meaningful life.

Facebook comment from Phil Specht:

I’m sure many of my friends will feel the same way at hearing of the loss of Paulee Lipsman. Someone with that much ability to make the right thing happen, crafting words, encouragement, uncompromising in her values without being stubborn, sharp, everything you want in a leader and friend. Democrats are a great big family so our loss is widely shared, but who we are in this state is on a course charted by Paulee in so many ways. The idea that good government is good politics if you enact careful legislation doing the job intended to help people with something they can’t do themselves. Good politics if you say that’s what your going to do and then do it which is much harder out of office, so you win elections and govern. Paulee’s influence was greater when Democrats were in control but didn’t end there I never once heard bad advice from her, the tides of politics rise and fall and you don’t win them all, but when you do, and real world problems are solved it is because of souls like Paulee’s that will live on.

Comment from State Representative Chuck Isenhart:

With a smile on her face and her patient personality, Paulee Lipsman dropped what she was doing to help me with her voluminous knowledge and experience whenever I walked through the door, including after she retired and including the first time I showed up and she didn’t even know who I was. She just knew who sent me, and that was all that mattered. Loyal friend. That was Paulee.

To which former state lawmaker Tom Fiegen replied, “Paulee made all of us better legislators and Iowa a better state.”

Eric Bakker, an aide to Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, posted on Facebook,

Paulee Lipsman had a profound impact on my life and I remain very indebted to her. I was a snot-nosed kid who did not know the difference between a study bill or a water bill when I arrived at the State Capitol to be the legislative liaison in the Secretary of State’s office. Paulee took me under her wing, spent countless hours explaining the legislative process, how to lobby effectively, and provided invaluable knowledge about political campaigning. Although she was extremely busy running the House Democratic Caucus, whenever you had an issue/question and stopped by her office (especially the little one on the 2nd floor mezzanine) she would greet you with that warm smile, set her work aside and give her full attention to your problem. Democrats lost a wonderful person last night, but countless Iowans are living a better life thanks to her compassion, advocacy and dedication. Alav hashalom.

From Roxanne Conlin’s essay about Lipsman’s case:

When the phone rings at 3:30 a.m., you know it’s not good news. The Des Moines police were calling to tell me that my dear friend Paulee Lipsman had been raped.

I went immediately to the apartment building where Paulee lived. I learned that her assailant had come through a horizontal sliding glass window in her ground-floor apartment and attacked her in her own bed. She had escaped after the rape by entangling him in the blankets and running to a neighbor’s apartment.

The rape happened on September 1, 1984. Paulee was in the middle of a political campaign as finance director for Tom Harkin’s first run for the U.S. Senate. She went back to work immediately.

Paulee was a strong woman. She had been a TV reporter working a police beat in the middle of the night, a highly successful radio executive, and now an integral part of an important and ultimately successful political effort. She was incapable of anything but her best continued effort.

But a few days after the campaign was over, all Paulee’s armor dropped away, and she entered along, debilitating depression.

Even during that time, she wanted to try to make her apartment building and others safer for women who live alone. The window through which her assailant had entered was clearly defective. Three times in writing and several times by phone, she had complained to her landlord that the window would not lock. No repair was effected.

In 1984, only a few civil cases had been brought nationwide against negligent third parties for intentional criminal acts. We had a slim chance to prevail. We filed the lawsuit against Paulee’s landlord, called a press conference, and Paulee-in her own name and with her own voice- called on landlords to take steps to protect women from rapists.

In 1984 in Des Moines, as in so many other places, rape victims were stigmatized and silenced. Paulee refused to be either. At a time when her own life was disrupted, she was determined to try to help others.

Ultimately, Paulee’s case was settled for a satisfactory amount. Her attacker was never caught.

Because she was my friend and was intent on doing something about what happened to her, I was thrust into a new area of the law, which has since developed remarkably. The first speech l ever gave at an ATLA [American Trial Lawyers Association] event, the Mid-Winter Convention in 1985, was about third-party criminal liability. I talked about Paulee’s case. I gave that speech-about a topic that was little known and infrequently considered-hundreds of times. I became an evangelist, even writing an article on the subject for Am Jur Trials. (Roxanne Barton Conlin, Landlord Liability for Criminal Attack on Tenant, 35 Am Jur Trials 1(1987).)

Paulee Lipsman was a driving force behind ATLA’s focus on third-party criminal liability. Indirectly, she inspired the formation of the Inadequate Security Litigation Group, which has been so successful in bringing together lawyers working in this difficult arena.

UPDATE: Dozens more people have shared their remembrances in this Facebook thread. I appreciated this comment from former State Representative Nate Willems:

I want to mention one additional thing. At least in the old offices, when a person would wander into the Democratic Caucus staff offices as a page or clerk not really knowing who was what or what was going on, Paulee’s desk was right up front. She, of course, was very kind and helpful to younger people starting out in politics. But I was always struck that as the director of the caucus staff, I remember her desk being right up front and she was the first person you would see in that office. She was not protected or insulated by staff. She made herself accessible and gave time to people she did not need to give time to. I miss her greatly.

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