Next For Iowa Democrats

Thanks to Democratic activist Paul Deaton, “a low wage worker, husband, father and gardener trying to sustain a life in a turbulent world,” for cross-posting these ideas from his blog. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The Iowa Democratic Party should be blown up and its structure re-engineered — from scratch.

There has been a lot of internet discussion about what’s next for the Iowa Democratic Party after three terrible election cycles. That is, terrible in terms of winning elections.

Here are my thoughts, most of which have been expressed previously.

Part of me says the Iowa Democrat Party has become irrelevant to most Iowans of voting age. According to the Iowa Secretary of State, 1,367,072 active voters (68 percent) were not registered as Democrats on Nov. 1.

Part of me says the Iowa Democratic Party is needed as a voice to counter Republican dominance in the legislature and governor’s office.

Part of me says the current Iowa Democratic Party should be completely blown up — new people, new office, new strategy, new tactics, new everything.

Part of me says I am getting too old to be investing much time in Democratic politics. I should let go and let the next generation take charge. I’m working on that.

The current generation doesn’t get to pick the next party leaders, nor do men and women in their twenties and thirties need a lecture from bloggers about what should or shouldn’t be next. They, and in turn we, will be fine.

I believe the strength of the Democratic party is it remains a big tent with people of all ages participating to some degree, if only by voting. We need to be less like a caravansary wandering in the desert and more like occupiers of the society Republicans have made on our historic turf. In that regard, age and experience in Democratic politics matters very little. What matters more is forgetting the anthropomorphism of “Democratic Party” and understanding our quadrennial coalition building relies less on political parties and more on the places we go every day: church, schools, work, daycare, the grocery store and in our neighboring yards, gardens and apartments.

What does that mean to the Iowa Democratic Party?

1) The time has come to compensate the party chair. Not a stipend. Not expense reimbursement. A salary with benefits.

2) Communications is the most important thing the party does and we need improvement. I subscribe to the news summary, read the press releases and listen to statements by the chair. While they have their high and low points, we are chasing the news rather than leading it. We need news people can use in places we go every day to talk about why we identify with the party. Party communications staff must spend some time figuring out what that means and making information easily available to party members.

3) Iowa Democrats have a paucity of large donors. There just aren’t that many in the state. The chair plays a role in party fundraising, but the effort would be better served by delegating it to prominent Democrats on a volunteer basis. The idea some have proposed of requiring the chair to spend a percent of time fund raising belies the chair’s more important role in party building.

4) The world won’t end if we ditch the caucuses. I see no reason to continue to collaborate with the Republicans in their party building. They are much better at using the caucuses toward this end, so why cede an advantage? I’d move the presidential preference vote to the June primary election and walk away from the notion that Iowa Democrats have any true influence. David Redlawsk disagrees with me, but I don’t spend any time in academia and almost all of my time in public with Trump voters drawn in as a result of Republican organizing during the caucus cycle. The Iowa caucus disadvantaged Democrats in 2016 and if it continues, it will get worse.

5) Data analysis is important to modern elections and some permanent staff is required to maintain it. Probably two or three people to make sure there is cross training if one gets recruited outside the party. What matters less is using voter history as the primary driver in targeted canvassing. In fact there is a case to be made targeted canvassing should be relegated to the dustbin of history. It is neighbors and friends who voted Republican this cycle. We need to get to know them better throughout the state and recruit them to vote for our candidates. The party can assist in this effort, but the importance of decentralizing the canvass and get out the vote effort cannot be overstated.

6) The party needs a bookkeeper and my preference would be to find a talented, bonded firm to perform that work on a contract basis.

So that’s it — four or five permanent staff, and the rest contracted out or drawn from volunteers willing to work on Democratic politics year-around.

While I appreciate the internet discussion hosted by bloggers in the state, most voters I know don’t read many blogs. To be successful in 2018 and beyond, our focus as Democrats must be on making sure we know what we stand for and then working within our community to create a climate of listening to divergent views, followed by accommodation where it is possible and persuasion that Democrats have something to offer.

Top image: Rural polling place in Iowa. Photo by Paul Deaton.

About the Author(s)

Paul Deaton

  • Funding the IDP - Unpacking the Idea

    Here’s what I wrote above:

    “Iowa Democrats have a paucity of large donors. There just aren’t that many in the state. The chair plays a role in party fundraising, but the effort would be better served by delegating it to prominent Democrats on a volunteer basis. The idea some have proposed of requiring the chair to spend a percent of time fund raising belies the chair’s more important role in party building.”

    The response was quick

    “That’s been tried several time,” Norm Sterzenbach (the younger) tweeted. “Problem is the vols don’t follow through and it just puts the party further behind.”

    And then the editor of Bleeding Heartland chimed in:

    “Who’s going to do the fundraising if not the party chair?” desmoinesdem tweeted.

    In response, here’s what’s inside this paragraph:

    What the heck is he talking about? The state party chair is traditionally responsible for fundraising.

    It is time to break with tradition. The chair will always be responsible for the major activities of the state party headquarters, including fundraising. The question is how should his or her responsibilities be prioritized? In my view the chair will continue to have a daily call list for those donors where the chair’s involvement makes a difference. Most of the fundraising work would and should be done by others.

    The main purpose is not to create a fundraising shortfall, but to get firm commitments from prominent Democrats who are also experienced fundraisers to help manage the financial need for income. That should enable the chair to work more on party building.

    Who the heck is Paul Deaton and what does he know about fundraising?

    My main experience in political fundraising was working with Dick Schwab in his campaign for state representative. Schwab had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for numerous enterprises including non-profits and businesses. When it came to raising over $100,000 for his political campaign he already had the network in place to tap people for donations. He lost the election but it wasn’t for lack of money.

    In the years after the election I was approached three times about raising money for other candidates in the district based on my experience with Schwab. What I told them is relevant to this post. “The donor list is a matter of public record, but Schwab had a relationship with most of the people who contributed to his campaign. Neither I nor likely you can replicate that.”

    Would Schwab be one of those “prominent Democratic volunteers” I mentioned? I don’t know but he serves as an example.

    The Iowa Democratic Party needs dozens of this kind of volunteer — that have a Rolodex and relationships — who are willing to commit to fundraising. Maybe they do one event per cycle. Maybe they work longer to hunt the elephant that will feed the whole village. Maybe they work in a decentralized group. Based on my experience, it is unreasonable to rely on the single Rolodex and relationships of a party chair for fundraising. Cold calling lists provided by others is no substitute for existing relationships. There is a need to broaden the fundraising base by recruiting the prominent Democrats who are willing to play.

    What the heck is all this money for?

    The main point of my original post was “our quadrennial coalition building relies less on political parties and more on the places we go every day: church, schools, work, daycare, the grocery store and in our neighboring yards, gardens and apartments.” The commitment needed to run this kind of campaign is much broader into the electorate and boils down to what kind of people will we be as Democrats and can we get to know and recruit people in our circle of influence to join us? How much money is needed for that? Not much.

    An eye opener for me came during the 2008 general election. One of my neighbors had a list of everyone in the neighborhood. It was her job to canvass them all, along with others persuade those she could, and get all of the Democratic supporters to vote early or on election day. Toward election day, we discussed every name on the list and made sure they either had voted or were still with us. It is election work as it should be, as I am proposing be supported by the Iowa Democratic Party.

    The main needs from the party headquarters to support such an operation are a strong communications team and a stronger information technologies team. If done right, this decentralized approach can come at a very reasonable price.

    Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump in campaign expenditures $450 million to $239 million. This broke the unwritten rule that the campaign with the most money wins the election — the origin of which is often attributed to Bill Clinton. Clinton was outspending Trump on TV ads 7-1 and 5-1 some weeks. After 2016 one should question the efficacy of political TV advertising, and every expense incurred during the course of the campaign. That is, if we want to elect Democrats to public office.

    I hope this explains the idea.

  • Last Thoughts on This Topic

    I sincerely appreciate the platform to present my ideas about restructuring the Iowa Democratic Party. I have no hope or illusions that anyone outside the blogosphere will pay much attention to what I say here but there has been some internet chatter about my post.
    This statement was curious:
    “This post does not say how to ‘blow up the party and start over.'”
    Let me make it clear.
    Withdraw from participation in the first in the nation caucuses and move presidential preference to the June primary.
    Reduce IDP staffing to 4-5 paid employees focusing on leadership, communications and information technology.
    Get rid of the targeted canvass and GOTV process.
    Decentralize control of the party to counties, hopefully reducing the Polk County influence.
    Empower local Democrats with information that can be used in our daily lives.
    Renew focus on party recruitment by local Democrats.
    Sixty-somethings like me should find another way to contribute and step back so young leaders can build the party they want to see.
    If that’s not blowing up the current structure, I don’t know what is.
    Thanks again to DesMoinesDem for providing this platform.