Joseph Howe is a political strategist and former Libertarian Party of Iowa state chair with experience working on campaigns as a state director such as Gary Johnson 2016 as well as campaign director for Rick Stewart 2022 and Jake Porter 2018. He also served as the Polk County co-chair for Rand Paul’s campaign in 2016. In addition to his political work, Joseph is a financial services operations manager and resides in Beaverdale with his wife Amanda and son John.
Last week, Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation that will not only impact the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus plans but also have ramifications for the Libertarian Party of Iowa (LPIA). Although House File 716 primarily targets Iowa Democrats due to the loss of first in the nation status, it raises concerns for Iowa Libertarians as well, as I discussed in a previous Bleeding Heartland post.
While the final version of the bill did not include the initial requirement to register with your political party of choice 70 days before the caucus date, it did mandate in-person caucusing for major party presidential processes. The LPIA was the first major party to give options other than in-person caucusing via a hybrid online/county megasite strategy in 2018, a tradition that carried into 2020 and 2022.
Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, the LPIA lacks party affiliates in all 99 counties and precinct caucus organizers in nearly 1,700 precincts. In fact, the LPIA has been reduced to fewer than ten active county party affiliates due to the pandemic environment, which slowed party growth in 2020, and an embezzlement scandal by the former state chairman.
The LPIA regained major-party status when Rick Stewart received more than 2 percent of the vote as a 2022 candidate for governor, and has conducted mass community outreach at the Iowa State Fair and rebuilt the party's treasury. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine more than a dozen or two counties with caucus megasites, let alone precinct-level participation.
The new law's requirements could disenfranchise the vast majority of Iowa Libertarians, depriving them of the opportunity to participate in the party’s caucus to state convention process.
While the in-person requirement may not directly affect the LPIA's automatic ballot placement for the 2024 presidential election, it could hinder the party's ability to attract primary candidates and fill ballot vacancies down-ticket after next year's primary, thereby diminishing its impact on Iowa politics.
Additionally, a small party's ability to push the Overton Window on key issues may be jeopardized. Without Libertarian candidates on the ballot—like Bryan Jack Holder in Iowa's third Congressional district in 2018 and 2020—the legacy parties will feel less pressure to adopt libertarian positions or risk losing to a "spoiler candidate."
So, what can Iowa Libertarians do? Here are some proposed solutions:
Comply with the law.
Accept the terms of House File 716, resulting in a rump state delegation selected by a small minority of Iowa Libertarians. However, this path carries significant negative consequences, including reduced state convention turnout, decreased voter enthusiasm, fewer candidates, lower vote numbers, diminished fundraising, declining voter registration, and the likely loss of major-party status after 2024. (The Libertarian nominee for president needs to receive at least 2 percent of the vote in Iowa to preserve that status.)
Take legal action.
Consider suing, preferably in coordination with the Iowa Democratic Party, leveraging their relatively vast resources. The LPIA has previously succeeded in ballot access suits and survived challenges from the GOP regarding candidate placement, including the case of Governor Gary Johnson, the party's presidential nominee in 2016. There may be constitutional issues under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as political parties, on the surface, are private organizations, and their right to petition the government by fielding candidates may be affected.
Ignore the revised Iowa Code and conduct caucuses as the party sees fit. However, this approach carries the risk of lawsuits by GOP operatives. A victory for Libertarians could be significant, but that would entail a high risk tolerance for a party with a relatively tight budget.
Adhere to the in-person caucusing requirement mandated by the Iowa Code for delegate selection. However, similar to the Iowa Democratic Party's plan for a mail-in presidential preference card, utilize internet-based polling to select presidential candidates, as the LPIA has done in the past.
The poll could include a request to be seated as a county/district/state delegate. At the convention, the delegate body can then override the party bylaws and seat this additional delegation. There is precedent for that approach: in 2020, LPIA delegates voted to override convention rules to include a half-dozen online caucus participants who had initially decided not to be delegates but later chose to attend the convention.
It is imperative for the Libertarian State committee to thoroughly evaluate the available options and their potential implications. The committee must recognize the importance of finding a solution that maintains the party's integrity and its ability to actively participate in the political process.
Furthermore, it is crucial to promote and uphold the party's core values. The LPIA has always stood for individual freedom, limited government intervention, and personal liberty. Failing to find a solution to the problem of in-person caucuses may compromise the party's ability to effectively promote these principles and advocate for policy changes that align with libertarian ideals.
If you are a LPIA member, candidate, voter or interested party, I encourage you to contact the party's state committee with your ideas.