Diversity lacking on Iowa Democrats' new governing body

Both major parties held district conventions on April 28. One encouraging sign from the Iowa Democratic Party’s proceedings: activists are much more energized this year than usual. Every delegate slot was filled in all four Congressional districts. Quite a few alternates (including myself) did not receive credentials. According to former State Senator Jack Hatch, it was only the second time in 40 years that an IA-03 district convention “packed a full slate of delegates.” State party chair Troy Price observed in a Facebook post, “Typically, in a non-Presidential year it is a struggle to reach quorum, and this year we had more people than spots available.”

All of the district convention delegates elected at county conventions in March are automatically delegates for the state conventions in June. So the main order of business yesterday was choosing members of each party’s State Central Committee.

Both Democrats and Republicans will have lots of new faces on their governing bodies. But Democrats mostly missed an opportunity to elect leaders who reflect the diversity of the party’s base.

District conventions elected 32 of the more than 50 people who will serve on Iowa Democrats’ SCC for two years, starting in June. In addition to the eight elected from each Congressional district, the governing body includes Democratic National Committee members, the president of the College and Young Democrats of Iowa, and the chair and vice-chair from each of twelve party caucuses (Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus, Black Caucus, Disability Caucus, Labor Caucus, Latino Caucus, Native American Caucus, Progressive Caucus, Rural Caucus, Seniors Caucus, Stonewall Democrats Caucus, Veterans’ Caucus, and Women’s Caucus).

The structure of the SCC guarantees some seats for people from marginalized groups. Even so, it’s disappointing to see how few people from minority populations contested or won elections to the body from district conventions.

IA-01

SCC members elected on April 28: Ray Feuss, Shelley Parbs, Rosemary Schwartz, Kelli Harrison, Sunny Story, Pete Hird, Patrick Loeffler, Joey Zahorik

Feuss, Parbs, and Schwartz are current SCC members; the rest are newcomers.

The voting in IA-01 took much longer than in any other district and was controversial for several reasons. First, delegates affiliated with various labor unions managed to elect all eight people on the “labor slate.” Second, the body suspended the rules to speed up the SCC voting in the early evening, although a motion to suspend the rules earlier in the day had been ruled out of order. That left some IA-01 delegates feeling unrepresented, or that union members had “steamrolled” other delegates who didn’t know how to control the process.

Finally, the convention elected an all-white, all-straight contingent, even though the 20 counties in IA-01 include some of the state’s most diverse communities (Cedar Rapids in Linn County and Waterloo in Black Hawk). Most of the slate was middle-aged or older, though Zahorik is in his 30s.

I sought comment about the process from Tammy Wawro, an IA-01 delegate who is the state party’s current Labor Caucus chair, as well as president of the Iowa State Education Association. Did anyone consider putting together a more representative labor slate, recognizing either the principle that diversity in leadership strengthens our party, or at least the reality that it’s terrible optics for unions to run an all-white group?

Speaking by phone today, Wawro noted that the statewide labor slate did include people of color. She mentioned Paula Martinez and Carl McPherson, both of whom were elected to the SCC from IA-03.

At the same time, Wawro acknowledged, “Looking bigger picture, it is a serious issue. As a labor leader, as a teacher, I look in that room. There were two people of color in that whole room that were delegates. So if you look at the delegate list, it’s disturbing.” The two African Americans present at the IA-01 convention did not run for SCC. One of them was Bernard Clayton, who already serves on the body as Black Caucus vice-chair.

What about Marcos Rubinstein, a former Latino Caucus vice-chair and current SCC member from Dubuque, who wasn’t elected to another term this weekend? Wawro said he “never reached out to talk to me or to labor–never has.” No one deliberately excluded Rubinstein from the labor slate, Wawro told me. They were focusing on people who sought to run with labor’s support.

She added that Iowa does not have nearly enough educators of color.

It’s wrong. Our teachers don’t look like our kids, and our delegates there [at Democratic conventions] do not look like our voters. But that is absolutely not something I think we can blame the Labor Caucus for trying to get people to the State Central Committee. […]

I’m not sure what in the first [district] could have been done different with that slate.

Editor’s note: at least four IA-01 convention delegates were African American. Wawro was correct, though, that no people of color sought election to the SCC other than Rubinstein.

The IA-01 convention rejected a motion to suspend the rules around 2:00 pm, but a separate motion to suspend the rules to speed up the SCC elections passed after 7:00 pm. Some delegates saw changing the rules in the middle of process as a power play by unions. Their reasoning was, if the rules had been suspended initially, delegates would have been able to vote for only two people, with the top three men and women advancing. That might have led to only six members of the labor slate getting on the SCC, rather than all eight.

Wawro denied any orchestrated union effort to prevent a suspension of the rules during the early afternoon. She said that before any SCC voting occurred, two ISEA members asked to suspend the rules, but they were ruled out of order. As for why the body was allowed to suspend the rules later, Wawro said delegates were under pressure to finish up official business, because the party had only rented the building until early evening. If they didn’t complete the SCC elections, they would have to call the convention delegates back a different day, when it would have been extremely hard to get a quorum.

Sarah Hinds, an IA-01 delegate who repeatedly objected to rule changes, is working on a commentary for Bleeding Heartland, which will discuss in more detail how the voting rules were applied at the IA-01 convention.

IA-02

SCC members elected on April 28: Shawn Harmsen, Marty O’Boyle, Ryan Drew, Tanner Halleran, Melinda Padley Jones, Jean Pardee, Kate Revaux, Allison Ritchie

O’Boyle and Revaux are current SCC members representing IA-02, and Pardee chairs the Seniors Caucus. The rest will be newcomers on the governing body.

Organized labor did not sweep the SCC voting in IA-02, but Jones, Ritchie, Drew, and O’Boyle are “labor leaders.” Harmsen is also a union member, and Revaux works for Cathy Glasson’s gubernatorial campaign, where staff unionized earlier this month.

One well-known labor activist was unsuccessful in his bid for an SCC seat at the convention in Fairfield. Chris Laursen won a Democratic National Convention delegate slot from IA-02 in 2016 as a Bernie Sanders supporter. A member of the “Bernie or Bust” contingent, Laursen walked out of the DNC for some of the proceedings and led Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s Iowa campaign after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination. Ed Fallon could have told him that there’s no coming back to Iowa Democratic insider circles after endorsing a Green Party candidate for president. UPDATE: Laursen did win a seat on the state convention Rules Committee, so he wasn’t shut out of a leadership role.

No people of color were elected to the SCC from IA-02. Melva Hughes was the only African American to run in this district. Jordan Pope, an Latino Asian American who is the Iowa Democratic Party’s current 2nd vice chair, sought another term but did not win. Latina Shelly Servadio also didn’t win an SCC slot from this district, though she has a chance to stay on the governing body as Veterans’ Caucus chair. CORRECTION: Servadio is Italian, not Latino. She is also a disabled veteran. “No matter how we frame this, there were many more diverse and qualified than me who could have been elected,” she told me. Servadio noted that leaders of constituency caucuses “do not need to hold two SCC seats.” If they are re-elected as chair or vice-chair of those caucuses at the state convention in June, “the next two in line by the ballots should get the seats” on the SCC.

Scott and Johnson counties are among the top five in Iowa for number of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American residents. Many of the smaller counties in this district also have significant Latino populations.

IA-02 delegates did increase the geographical diversity of their SCC representatives. Only Harmsen and Revaux live in Johnson County, covering the Iowa City area, whereas four of the district’s current SCC members are from that county. Recognizing the importance of bringing younger people into leadership, IA-02 delegates elected Halleran, a high school senior who heads the Keokuk County Democrats. He is also our state’s youngest current Democratic chair at the county level.

IA-03

SCC members elected on April 28: Bill Brauch, John McCormally, Carl McPherson, Al Womble, Mary Jane Cobb, Annaleah Moore, Bonnie Louise Brown, Paula Martinez

The third district saw the least turnover; Brauch (who is also IA-03’s Central Committee chair), McCormally, McPherson, and Moore currently serve on the governing body. Womble is a labor union member, while Cobb has been the Iowa State Education Association’s executive director for ten years. As mentioned above, Martinez and McPherson were also on the labor slate for IA-03.

IA-03 was also the only district to elect any people of color to the SCC yesterday. McPherson and Brown are African American, while Martinez is Latino and Womble is a person of color. The Des Moines area has the state’s largest African-American, Latino, and Asian-American populations.

This district has the least geographical diversity among its SCC representatives. All four men are from Polk County, as are Brown and Cobb. Martinez lives in Carlisle, a town partly located in Polk County and partly in Warren. (UPDATE: Apparently Martinez lives on the Warren County side of that town.) Only Moore is from another part of the district (Council Bluffs in Pottawattamie County). No one from a rural county won a seat on the SCC.

Granted, about two-thirds of the registered Democrats in IA-03 live in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs. But party leadership should come from all parts of the district.

IA-04

SCC members elected on April 28: Penny Rosfjord, Jeremy Dumkrieger, Chris Petersen, Jon R. Klein, Doug Neys, Amanda Malaski, Emma Schmit, Landra Reece

Rosfjord and Dumkrieger, both from Sioux City (Woodbury County), currently represent this district on the SCC, while Petersen (a longtime leader of the Iowa Farmers Union) serves on the committee as vice-chair of the Rural Caucus. The rest will be newcomers.

No people of color ran for the SCC from IA-04. Many of the 39 counties in this district have large Latino populations. In addition, Story and Woodbury counties are among the top ten in Iowa for African American and Asian American residents.

Reece, a high school senior from Boone, will have the distinction of being the committee’s youngest member beginning in June. (Halleran is about a month older.) Wawro told me that labor delegates were encouraged to support Reece, among others, in the fourth district.

To sum up, 28 of the Democratic SCC members elected yesterday are white, two are Latino, and two are African American. The party should do more to encourage people of color to attend precinct caucuses, become county and district convention delegates, and seek leadership roles.

Any comments about the district conventions or Iowa Democratic leadership are welcome in this thread. One final point related to diversity: newly-elected SCC members from IA-02 and IA-04 include some who identify as part of the LGBTQ community. A few SCC members not elected from districts identify as LGBTQ as well, including Stonewall Caucus leaders Devin Kelly and Taylor Van De Krol, College and Young Democrats President Olivia Habinck, and Progressive Caucus chair Jason Frerichs.

P.S.- For those who haven’t had a chance to hear secretary of agriculture candidate Tim Gannon yet, here’s the audio clip of his speech to the IA-03 convention in Greenfield. He was the only Democratic statewide candidate to speak at all four district conventions. CORRECTION: Gubernatorial candidate Andy McGuire also appeared at all four conventions.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will include some of yesterday’s remarks by candidates for Congress or governor.

P.P.S.– A few thoughts about yesterday’s Republican conventions. Only eighteen people serve on the GOP State Central Committee: four from each Congressional district, plus our state’s two Republican National Committee representatives. Shane Vander Hart listed all the newly-elected SCC members at Caffeinated Thoughts. Notable comings and goings:

• David Chung returns to the SCC from IA-01 after rotating off for two years. He will be the only person of color on the committee. To my knowledge, Chung and Gopal Krishna (a former state party treasurer who briefly was co-chair of the party in 2014) are the only people of color who have served on the Iowa GOP’s governing body in recent memory. There probably have been very few African Americans, Latinos, or Asian Americans elected as GOP district convention delegates.

• State Representative Jarad Klein and three-time Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks (who is now running for the Iowa Senate) were re-elected from IA-02.

• One new Republican member from IA-02 is David Barker, a major donor whom Governor Kim Reynolds attempted to appoint to a powerful state board in March. She had to withdraw the nomination because of Iowa’s partisan balance rule.

• State Senator Dan Dawson will be a new SCC member from IA-03. Brenna (Findley) Bird did not seek re-election from the third district. She’s been serving as the Fremont County attorney and is running for Guthrie County attorney this year.

• John Thompson lost his bid to be re-elected to the GOP governing body from IA-04. He made the news last summer after his ex-fiancee obtained a restraining order against him; that case was dismissed.

Top image: IA-01 district convention delegates, captured in a photo Troy Price posted on Twitter.

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