At least seven people hope to lead the Iowa Democratic Party forward after two brutal election cycles. Outgoing Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has made no public statement but e-mailed State Central Committee members on December 1, William Petroski reported first for the Des Moines Register. Gronstal lost his bid for a ninth term last month after leading his caucus in the chamber for two decades.
Gronstal instantly becomes the front-runner, but he doesn’t have a lock on the job yet.
I expect some heavy hitters in Iowa Democratic circles to back Gronstal, as happened for Andy McGuire during the last leadership campaign. To my knowledge, former Governor Tom Vilsack, former Senator Tom Harkin, and U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack have not endorsed anyone yet for state party chair. If they come off the fence, it will likely be for Gronstal. The Senate majority leader will have backing from major donors too.
On the other hand, as Gavin Aronsen pointed out at Iowa Informer, State Central Committee members from the Bernie Sanders wing may strongly resist Gronstal, who has “taken cash from groups viewed unfavorably by progressives.” The e-mail Gronstal sent yesterday (enclosed below) listed “some awesome progressive legislation” passed when Democrats controlled both chambers of the legislature. However, even in those days, many liberals were disappointed by the lack of action on campaign finance reform and some other issues. For instance, lawmakers passed almost none of the recommendations from Iowa’s Climate Change Advisory Council, and environmentalists periodically had to fight bad legislation, especially when agricultural interest groups or a major utility company got involved. So Gronstal will get some tough questions when he and other candidates address the State Central Committee.
This morning, I reached out to the other six people who had announced plans to run for state party chair. All told me they are staying in the race.
Kim Weaver: “We have an opportunity right now for a bold path forward and I’m encouraged to see so many talented and dedicated people willing to step up to lead the Party.”
Sandy Dockendorff: “My decision to run has not changed. […] I’ve been meeting with democrats across the state so that I can listen to their concerns and ideas.”
Blair Lawton: “I’m still running, and I welcome Mike to the race. I’m looking forward to a open and robust discussion with all of the candidates about how we’ve failed as a party, what we need to do better, and how we’re going to bring a whole lot of new people into the party.”
Derek Eadon: “I am still running. On the road talking to SCC members yesterday and the next few days.”
Julie Stauch: “I am definitely still in. I view this as a great opportunity to present a plan and show how we can come out of this stronger than ever before.”
Kurt Meyer: “I welcome all candidates. An ill-defined role in a fluid situation frees all applicants to interpret what they think is needed and what they bring to the table. To be sure, it leads to an interesting discussion; for the sake of our state, I hope it leads to wise decisions and the ability to chart a new course of action.”
Sean Bagniewski, who had been considering a campaign for state party chair, told me today, “I’m all in with Mike [Gronstal]. I created the We Need Mike page [on Facebook] and was thrilled he decided to jump in.”
State Central Committee members will hear from all the contenders on December 17 and will vote for a new party chair in January, using successive ballots as was done in early 2015.
I have invited everyone running to share their vision for the Iowa Democratic Party in a guest post here. So far Julie Stauch and Kurt Meyer have submitted their commentaries. Weaver, Dockendorff, Lawton, and Eadon all plan to post later this month, and I haven’t yet heard from Gronstal.
I’m impressed so many talented people are willing to take on this challenge. From where I’m sitting, Iowa Democrats are in a deep hole, and the next two election cycles could be extremely challenging.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
I encourage other activists to share their suggestions on urgent tasks for rebuilding the Iowa Democratic Party. So far Pete McRoberts, Sue Dvorsky, Tim Nelson, Claire Celsi, Tracy Leone, John McCormally, and Paul Deaton have contributed. More guest posts are in the pipeline. It’s easy to create an account here; the link to register is near the upper right corner of the front page.
December 1 message from Mike Gronstal:
>> Dear Members of the IDP State Central Committee,
>> Forty four years ago I voted absentee for George McGovern for president and Tom Harkin for Congress. They both lost. I was just finishing up at college in Ohio and I came back home and began my career in social work in Council Bluffs and got involved in the Pottawattamie County Democratic Party.
>> My first project was to go door to door and register the new residents that the state party had identified through the Postal Service’s National Change of Address lists that had been matched against their previous registration as Democrats in the states they had moved from. I learned from that effort and from Tom Harkin’s second run for Congress the power of grassroots organizing.
>> In 1974 Tom Harkin, undaunted by his first loss, and committed to a true grassroots organization, won his seat in Congress and went on to an incredible career that we all cherish. Two years later, Jimmy Carter became president. We’ve had our ups and downs over the last 42 years, but most of our successes have been built on great grassroots organizing and building a stronger Democratic Party.
>> Fast forward to 2016: I believe our Party has a tremendous opportunity to build and I believe I have the experience and background — with your help — to lead that effort. I built a team of Senate Democrats that went from a deep minority to a tie, a majority, then the largest majority in modern history. We kept that majority in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
>> When we had the majority in the Iowa House, Senate and the Governor’s office, we passed some awesome progressive legislation.
>> We raised the minimum wage, passed anti-bullying, civil rights, and alternative energy legislation. We passed the clean indoor air act, same-day voter registration, and many other pieces of progressive legislation that I am proud of. I believe that when we have majorities in our party, we have an obligation to use them to make our state a better place — not just to hang onto our majority.
>> Great education, job training programs, civil rights, a growing middle class and workers with a voice in their workplace. All Connie and I ever wanted to do was leave the world a better place whether through social work or politics.
>> While this last election was a disappointment for all of us and for me personally —- I am persuaded not to give up on what I’ve spent my life pursuing and to continue this work.
>> After much thought and discussion with family and friends, I have decided to pursue the position of Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.
>> Tom Harkin did not give up after his first loss and neither am I. I believe with your help we can lead the Party back to successful campaigns and make a real difference in people’s lives.
>> Over the next couple weeks I will be calling each of you and asking for your support. In the mean time, if you would like to contact me, please find my numbers below: […]
>> I look forward to talking with each of you, hearing your ideas of how we can move our Party forward, and what our next steps are.
>> Thank you for your time and I look forward to talking with you soon.
>> Mike Gronstal