Trust, confidence, and progress

A guest commentary by Brett W. Copeland, who chairs the Dickinson County Democrats and is a candidate for Iowa Democratic Party state chair. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since our election loss, I’ve sat in on a lot of conversations about what happened. I’ve heard some folks say our tools failed – whether it was the app on caucus night or the fact that we didn’t have useful data when contacting voters. I’ve heard that our tactics failed – that we didn’t knock doors, or that we didn’t have enough accessible events. I’ve heard that our messaging failed – that the way we talked to voters didn’t connect.

While I believe there are grains of truth in all those assessments, I think the bottom line is that there is a failure in trust with the Iowa Democratic Party.

Iowa voters simply do not trust us to do the job we say we will, nor do they believe that we are strong enough to make progress. And we can’t blame them for that. Through my calls and conversations, it has become evident that there is a lack of trust within our Iowa Democratic Party.

Our leaders do not trust that their local expertise will be heard or that they’re empowered to act. Our activists do not trust that, as a party, we take their concerns seriously or act with forthright intent. Our volunteers do not trust us to use their time wisely or that we can offer them practical actions to take. Our candidates do not trust us to have their back – whether that backing is financial or merely moral support.

Iowa Democrats can win. According to Progress Iowa, the public largely agrees with progressive policies. We have plenty of volunteers motivated to take action. We have talented candidates and community leaders. But until we, as a party, recognize that we must rebuild trust among each other, we will continue to lose. 

Iowa Democrats’ backs are against the wall. As Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley likes to say, Iowa Republicans “have representation in 97 of Iowa’s 99 counties.” There are national and state-based calls to do-away with our first-in-the-nation caucus. That choice, however, may not be up to us. We are feeling the pressure from the Democratic National Committee and dealing with abandonment from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the political arms of U.S. Senate and House Democrats).

We must build trust and confidence for the Iowa Democratic Party by building it within the Iowa Democratic Party. And that job must begin with the new state chair.

I’ve been told by multiple leaders that the modus operandi of The Iowa Democratic Party has been “things happen.” Voters can tell when an organization lurches from crisis to crisis. Twitter, Facebook, and national events will always demand our attention. The Iowa Democratic Party’s leader must set the tone, keep us focused, and keep us moving forward.

We need a new state chair who is decisive, well-organized, and committed to an effective organization’s basic best practices. They’ll need to take stock of our losses, reassure donors, and convince the candidates we abandoned to run under our banner again. They will need to get a diverse group of people with many different priorities and beliefs to work toward a common goal: winning elections.

As a rural Democrat, I often hear other Democrats blame the voter for our losses. They believe our state is a lost cause, and the people here deserve what they get.

I reject that thinking. I believe it’s an excuse for our own neglect of voters and our core constituents. We failed to make the case that the GOP is only interested in their own financial well-being, not Iowans’ prosperity. We didn’t challenge the Republican slurs on “Defund the Police” despite their long record of gutting municipal budgets and failures on mental health and education. We haven’t delivered progress for our core constituencies, so why should we expect them to turn out every last voter for us?

And we didn’t connect the dots between Republican failures and our solutions that would make everyday Iowans’ lives a little better.

We need a state party chair who will relentlessly advocate for Iowa Democrats and be loud enough to inspire activists living in rural “red” counties and urban “blue” ones.

When I became chair of the Dickinson County Democrats, I’d often have people come to me in the grocery store or on the street. “I’m a Democrat, too” or “I agree with your party,” they’d whisper. I always made a point to loudly say, “That’s great! There’s a lot more of us here than you’d think!” before inviting them to the next meeting and getting to know why they’re a Democrat.

We need a state party chair who is going to live our values loudly. To bring people in, earn their trust and respect, and inspire them to organize in the places we need them most.

The next Iowa Democratic Party leader must recognize that it is their job to project confidence, competence, and service to Iowa Democrats and all Iowans. Our options are limited, and our nationwide allies are in short supply. We will win by getting on the same page, working together, and showing our value to all Iowans by creating relentless and meaningful progress in their everyday lives.

The first step in rebuilding that trust begins with closing the book on the 2020 Caucus. I hope our leaders do not linger too long on the forthcoming final report. We’ve already spent too much time, money, and energy looking back. It’s time to lead forward.

Brett W. Copeland is a native of Sioux City and currently resides in Milford, Iowa. He chairs the Democratic Party of Dickinson County and is a candidate for Iowa Democratic Party state chair. Learn more about his platform and management experience at

Editor’s note: Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest commentaries by candidates for state party chair or by any interested Democrat on how the party can rebuild. Please contact Laura Belin if you are interested in writing.

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