The Iowa Starting Line post of December 23 – “Many Important Topics Missing From IDP Chair Discussion” – prompted the following thoughts from this Chair candidate. Paragraphs from the original blog appear in italics, with my responses posted below.
I don’t believe I heard anyone, not a candidate nor a SCC member in the audience last Saturday, talk about the importance of retaking the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House. … While it’s true they take the lead on the targeted districts, the state party should also be a close partner in advocating for and highlighting the state’s most crucial legislative races.
My sense is that our Party won’t fare well on any of these fronts if we don’t first take swift action to place paid political organizers in the field in each congressional district, which I have proposed since becoming a Chair candidate. Talented staff members will be an important “face” of the Party throughout the state and will connect local activists to the IDP as well as to others who share an interest in a particular issue. There’s no question about the state party partnering with House and Senate leaders for maximum impact. In my case, I would be building on durable, longstanding relationships with our legislative leaders.
One of the ideas that garnered the most discussion and interest from many of the candidates and SCC members was a proposal to run Democratic candidates in deep-red districts and have the state party help them with funding. But my concern is that it seems the top priority for many, coming before a host of much more dire needs. For example, … if we don’t immediately reverse the trends in Northeast Iowa and blue-collar towns along the Mississippi River, this party is sunk. Iowa Democratic activists have always loved to talk nonstop about Western Iowa… but there are other regions of the state I see as a much higher priority right now.
There will never be enough hours in the day, dollars in the bank, or personnel in the bullpen to accomplish all the Party might hope for in the next cycle. The greatest rewards for the IDP will come about when we make strategic, well-reasoned, future-oriented choices. I strongly agree with prioritizing and focusing on tasks where potential returns are greatest. This requires decision-makers with knowledge, experience, and a long-term perspective.
Another topic I hope gets more discussion: our new opportunities. If … counties move out of reach for Democrats, we need to start making up for it (by) flipping legislative seats in once-red areas of Ankeny, Johnston, West Des Moines, Hiawatha, Marion, Bettendorf and Cedar Falls. … One other area of opportunity: downtown Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Younger, more progressive Iowans… have moved into a three-mile radius of new apartment complexes and condos in downtown Des Moines. The party must find a way to cultivate this vote base… You could potentially boost your statewide turnout by thousands of votes with an intensive effort here.
There are opportunities in every corner of the state to identify, inform, cultivate, register, and win over Democrats. These are classic party-building activities and we’re not now accomplishing any of these tasks as well as we’d like. While the IDP should encourage activities like these, these tasks are generally undertaken by local volunteers and should remain largely volunteer-driven. And although numbers will not always be large, there are meaningful outreach and connection opportunities in rural counties where relatively small numbers can make a significant difference, especially when Democratic voters are added to the rolls year after year.
The legislative session is soon upon us, and it will be one that could define the future of Iowa for decades. A new team will come in weeks after the legislative session has begun. They’ll have to immediately implement a communications and grassroots activist strategy to push back against the Republican legislature. … If the new chair spends the first few months having long conversations with constituency caucuses about party building ideas instead of actually leading them into battle at the Statehouse, the party will have missed out on a very unique opportunity. I have so far seen little to no discussion from the chair candidates over what they’d do in their first two weeks or how they would approach this monumentally important legislative session.
We have a state party operation in place until a newly-elected chair takes over on January 21. Meanwhile, Statehouse battles, which have already begun, are and will be championed by our legislative leaders. The Chair transition is akin to the passing of a baton, with the new Chair’s first few weeks devoted to a smooth leadership transition. That said, significant changes will take place in programs and priorities. New initiatives will be launched; longstanding programs will be reviewed and in some cases altered. Personnel decisions will be made. Strategic planning will begin in earnest and timelines will be set.
There is an obvious desire to “hit the ground running”. At the same time, many threats surface during times of transition: three that come to mind are reaching conclusions without careful consideration, thinking that any one person has all the answers, and failing to engage others willing and eager to help. Steady leadership is required to guide our Party during this time of transition.
There’s a number of other topics I could toss out as well, like: how do we keep the Iowa Caucus, … how can the party expand its donor base, … and are we ever going to get a new IDP headquarters office that isn’t a complete dump?
Keeping our first-in-the-nation caucuses has been discussed by Chair candidates but perhaps not as much as the topic merits. The Party obviously needs to implement recommendations brought forward by the Nagle Task Force, primarily aimed at greater accessibility and participation. I have outlined plans to expand the donor base by reaching out creatively and persistently to small and large donor prospects across the state. I am convinced we need to take the long view on this, investing the necessary dollars, time, and energy required for this effort to succeed.
On the question of a new headquarters, I will appoint a task force with knowledge and talent to flesh out various facility options in an effort to launch a meaningful discussion on this topic.
The issues discussed during the IDP chair race so far are important ones. … But now’s the time to expand the dialogue, because there’s a ton more challenges that the next IDP chair will have to confront, some of which (in my opinion) are more pressing than those currently discussed. 2017 and 2018 could be years of great opportunity for Iowa Democrats, or they could be years of debilitating defeat that sets the party back a decade or more. We need to make sure the next chair – and the party that will support him or her – is fully prepared for everything the IDP has to do going forward.
It’s time for a serious assessment of whether the next chair is as ready as possible to face an uncertain future. Signs of readiness include experience implementing a new course of action, selecting priorities, helping people coalesce around goals, and seeing projects through to completion. Being prepared means having coped with complexity, having approached challenges from a strategic perspective, and having achieved plans that require a long-term horizon.
Yes, a “ton more challenges” will confront the next IDP Chair. Selecting the next Chair is an important decision that requires careful evaluation of candidates’ plans and approaches, traits and qualities, background and experiences. I welcome attempts to broaden this discussion and will do my best to respond to questions about my leadership plans for the Iowa Democratic Party. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Kurt Meyer