Weekend open thread with events coming up this week

The Iowa caucuses take place this Saturday, January 23, beginning at 1 pm. Democrats can click here and enter your zip code to find your caucus location. If you’ve never attended an off-year caucus, I recommend the experience as a way to meet some of the most committed activists in your precinct and have input on the party platform and party machinery. Polk County Democratic Party executive director Tamyra Harrison explained the benefits of attending an off-year caucus in more detail here. The level of energy and excitement won’t match the 2008 caucus, but on the plus side, you won’t be packed like sardines into a stuffy room.

Some non-profit advocacy organizations have drafted resolutions for supporters to offer at their precinct caucuses. If adopted, these resolutions will be forwarded to the county platform committee. For example, 1000 Friends of Iowa is encouraging supporters to offer this resolution on responsible land use.

This thread is for discussing anything on your mind this weekend.

There are Martin Luther King Jr. remembrances going on in many Iowa cities today and tomorrow; check your local news outlet for details. To mark King’s birthday, Democratic Senate candidate Bob Krause pledged to develop “a comprehensive strategy for alleviating the Iowa incarceration disparity,” in light of the fact that “Iowa has a per capita incarceration rate for blacks that is fourteen times the incarceration rate for whites.”

I appreciated this letter to the editor by Frank McCammond of Redfield, which the Des Moines Register published on January 15:

Marian Riggs Gelb’s Jan. 3 guest column (“Protect Iowa’s Liquid Gems”) calls for thank-you notes to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for designating a few streams in northeast Iowa for protection as “outstanding waters.”

It was a nice suggestion. However, where do I write the note about letting the rest of the state’s river systems be turned into open sewers by the farm and livestock interests and by towns that won’t fix their sewage systems?

(Gelb’s guest column is here, and the Iowa Environmental Council has more information on the “outstanding Iowa waters” designation here.)

After the jump I’ve posted more about events coming up this week. Roxanne Conlin began her 99-county tour last week, but I couldn’t find any event details or calendar on her campaign website.

UPDATE: Duh! Forgot Johnson County’s special election on Tuesday. Go vote for Janelle Rettig for county supervisor. John Deeth has been providing great coverage of the race at his blog. Lori Cardella is like school in the summertime–no class.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Caucus system still needs serious reform

The Iowa Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Iowa have agreed to hold their off-year caucuses on the same Saturday in January 2010, according to the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich. She says the date will be announced soon. UPDATE: The caucuses will be held on Saturday, January 23, starting at 1 pm. A joint statement from both parties is after the jump.

For those who wonder why anyone would attend a caucus in a non-presidential year, caucuses help build community and give ordinary people both access to the party machinery and influence over a party’s platform. Obradovich notes that next year’s caucuses will be particularly important for Republicans, because the GOP nominee for governor may be decided at a state convention if no candidate wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary. Precinct caucuses select delegates for county conventions, which select delegates for district conventions, which select delegates for the state convention.

Obradovich also writes,

Both parties have a good track record of working together to make decisions regarding the caucuses. This one is a good example that should help secure Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status for 2012.

Iowa leaders will show national party officials they are doing what they can to improve the process as decisions are being made about the primary calendar for the next cycle.

Improving the caucuses will require a lot more than moving the date to a Saturday. While many Iowans will find it easier to attend a precinct caucus at that time, others will be excluded because they work weekends or have religious beliefs that preclude politicking on a Saturday. In addition, disabled people who find it hard to leave home, or caregivers who are unable to find substitutes during the caucus time, will continue to be left out of the process.

Before the 2008 caucuses I wrote a series on the Iowa Democratic Party’s caucus system, linked here. Part 2, part 4 and part 9 discuss the barriers to participation in precinct caucuses. Part 5, part 7 and part 8 discuss some of the problems created by caucus math.

Obradovich suggests that some kind of absentee ballot should be introduced to accommodate religious Jews if the 2010 caucuses are moved to a Saturday afternoon. That’s a step in the right direction, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be done. Maine already allows absentee ballots at caucuses. Absentee ballots would require some changes in the realignment rules during caucuses used for presidential selection, but in my opinion that’s a good thing.

Although I enjoy attending my precinct caucus, I would like to see substantial reforms to the process. This post discussed seven ideas that David Yepsen proposed last year, along with two other rule changes I advocate.

Please share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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