Past IDP Chairs Weigh In On What Next Chair Should Focus On

Interviews with past and present Iowa Democratic Party Chairs provides a fascinating inside look at how they see the requirements of the job. Following the crushing Democratic election losses in Iowa, the role of the next IDP Chair will be crucial in rebuilding the Iowa Party. The new Chair will likely need to play a larger role since other Party leadership is gone. Democrats suffered a double blow. First by losing control of the Iowa Senate and then a second punch to the gut with the loss of our Senate leader, Mike Gronstal. Gronstal’s loss means the new Democratic leader, Senator Rob Hogg, will need a strong and professional partner in the new IDP Chair.

The Chairs were asked about some or all of the questions below. Nearly all of them talked about the essential role of fundraising by the new Chair. The Party simply can’t do any significant rebuilding without adequate finances.

One of the most glaring obstacles to any rebuilding is the continuing divide between the Sanders and Clinton factions of the Party. This deep split is very obvious in the State Central Committee membership.  The SCC is the governing body of the Party and bringing the two factions together is essential to provide a united front.

The election losses in 93 of the 99 counties makes Iowa a very red state. Rebuilding rural Iowa for Democrats must be the primary goal of the SCC and the new IDP Chair. Developing a powerful and motivating message will be a key factor for the new IDP Chair as well.

The interviews included current IDP Chair Dr. Andy McGuire as well as former IDP Chairs Sally Pederson-2005, Scott Brennen-2007 and 2013, Michael Kiernan-2009, Sue Dvorsky-2010 and Tyler Olson-2012.

The questions included:

  1. How important is fund raising and how much time should be devoted to it?
  2. How will the new IDP Chair unite the Clinton and Sanders factions?
  3. How do Iowa Democrats reach out to rural Iowa?
  4. How will the election results affect the IDP Chair position?
  5. How do we develop the Democratic message?
  6. Should the Chair be a paid vs. unpaid position and is it a full or part time job?

1. How important is fundraising and how much time should be devoted to it?

Current IDP Chair Dr. Andy McGuire says she devotes two days a week to fund raising. There is no magic formula; it’s simply hard work. You must get to know the donors by building a relationship and you must maintain that relationship. She has set up a system establishing a profile of donors that will make it easier for the next Chair.

Sally Pederson answered, “we can’t do much without funds, so this part of the job description is critical.”

Scott Brennen spent 40% of his time on fundraising. He said he focused on the big donors but the Chair can’t forget to engage with small donations as well.

Mike Kiernan devoted four days a week to raising money. He indicated he expects it will be harder to motivate donors following these big losses. He warned that the new Chair can’t be fearful of donors.  “We should be proud of people who give.” He offered assurance that there is no pay-to-play with Iowa donors. The donors’ only expectation is that we win and drive our agenda.

Sue Dvorsky spent four hours a day every day raising money. She echoed Kiernan’s comments about donors. Iowa large donors’ only expectation is pushing the Democrat’s progressive agenda.

Tyler Olson responded that the IDP Chair must be comfortable asking for money.

2. How will the new IDP Chair unite the Clinton and Sanders factions?

McGuire is convinced it will take time. The primary was very divisive. She pointed to the fact that we have the most progressive platform in recent history and that should be a uniting element.

Brennen suggested that the Clinton and Sanders folks still don’t know each other. His suggestion was a retreat for SCC members to get acquainted.

Kiernan agreed with Brennen that SCC members must find common ground. They should list all the areas of agreement and put aside their differences. “They will find they agree on far more that what divides them.” Kiernan believes a part of this divide is new vs. old. The veterans must listen to new ideas and the new members must be patient.

Dvorsky offered an interesting suggestion on unity. She recommended the SCC put their heads together and figure out how to end conventions before 1 am in the morning.

Olson suggested the factions can be united by working on the Party priorities together.

3. How do Iowa Democrats reach out to rural Iowa?

McGuire spent a significant amount of her time traveling in rural Iowa. She believes the IDP Chair must get to every county. When she was elected there were counties with no organization. Many counties still feel they have no representation and Des Moines doesn’t listen to them. McGuire is convinced we need four regional folks doing outreach in each District.

Pederson suggested that we need to call on Vilsack and Gronstal for advice on winning in rural Iowa.

Brennen would develop a rural message.  He says we depend too much on others to create our messages. His advice for the IDP Chair is to work closely with Loebsack, Hogg and Mark Smith.

Kiernan believes the IDP Chair will need to be a counselor to counties. He suggests conducting a county listening tour because all politics is local. It’s critical to determine the needs of each county.

Dvorsky mentioned two successful past outreach efforts. She recalled former Senator Harkin had a county grant program for a couple years. The money was awarded based on county performance assessments and the counties appreciated the help. The other successful county creation was Kurt Myers. Tri-County Democrats in Northeast Iowa. These are both successful examples of listening to counties’ needs and acting on them.

Olson mentioned the Tri-County Democrats as well, as an example of listening to local needs. He talked about the successful Polk County neighborhood groups as a model for the counties.

4. How will the election results effect the IDP Chair position?

McGuire suggested the new IDP Chair will need to return to the basics and be more vocal.

Pederson advised that the new IDP Chair reach out to other Democratic leaders like Vilsack.

Brennen believes the IDP Chair’s responsibility will grow because of the lack of other leaders.

Kiernan wants the new Chair to generate excitement, be aggressive and declare they are not running for another office. It will be the Chair’s responsibility to establish short and long term goals. He cautioned you can’t ignore either one.

Dvorsky wants the SCC to ask the potential Chairs several questions. What is their vision? What is their mission? What are their priorities and how will they accomplish each of these?

Olson would like the IDP Chair to set specific priorities.  He would set the number one goal as retaining Iowa’s first in the nation status.

5. How do we develop the Democratic message?

McGuire believes the message is more than urban vs. rural. There is no cookie cutter rural message. Every area has different needs and the message must be tailored to those individual needs.

Brennen wants the Chair to take more responsibility to develop Democratic messages.

Kiernan reminds Democrats that Obama won with a message of hope and change. Our message must inspire, motivate and energize Democrats.

Dvorsky wants us to call on our allies to develop a message. She identified unions, education leaders, Planned Parenthood, Progress Iowa and House and Senate leaders. They will be under attack, and we must reach out to each.

6. Should the Chair be a paid vs. unpaid position and is it a full or part time job?

There was a consensus among the Chairs that it should be a paid position if the Chair needs the income. However, the Chair should be responsible for raising the money for their own salary. McGuire cautioned that there is nothing in the By-Laws about the amount of salary, and advised the SCC that they may want to discuss that issue. Most of them agreed it is a full time position.



by Rick Smith
Posted 12/1/16

17 Comments on "Past IDP Chairs Weigh In On What Next Chair Should Focus On"

  • Pretty good. One thing about fundraising – it is how it is raised not how much time it takes. If Iowa was one of the 33 states that made a deal with Hillary’s Victory Fund so she could launder money then that had better change immediately. As for the rural area that is what I am most familiar with. Hopefully some of the Democrats are still there. We progressives have been leaving the party pretty fast. We do not want anything more to do with corporatism so we are looking for a party we trust. And that doesn’t include the DLC or whatever name they are using. You are not going to get young progressives (or old like me) to buy into that line of thinking ever again. We have had enough. Our country is in a shambles and it is not all the Republicans fault. Time to take a look at our own issues. The good news is that progressives love FDR, LBJ and the safety net including Social Security. Real Democratic issues.

  • I think there are so many issues to address. First we have to have candidates that are well liked. Hillary was never well liked. We have to have candidates who can make their audiences like them. Hillary never had a good message (like Obama’s message of hope), logo, signs, television, or radio advertising. But the real question is why did we loose? That is the question that needs to be answered and we need to look at all the reasons. Big money, Citizens United, the block of Christian voters who are told by their churches to vote for Republicans, the conservative media that saturates Western Iowa. I for one am truly frightened by what the Republicans can do now that they are in total control of the Federal government and the State government in Iowa. Watch out because I fear changes to Social Security, Medicare, women’s rights to health care, environmental protections, job benefits, pensions, health insurance prices, isolationism, and war. So I am frightened by what the future holds in store for us and I think we are seeing what Bernie Sanders warned us about the Koch brothers agenda.

    • honestly curious why “Hope” is an adequate message but “Stronger Together” when running against a xenophobe who wants to divide us is not? Neither is particularly substantive, both are positive, both respond to specific issues with the opponent in a given year?

      I also have a problem with the notion HRC wasn’t well-liked. That was because of a 20 year smear campaign by the right. If we legitimize that, they’ll simply smear all of our up and coming candidates early and often. We shouldn’t let the other side create a veto over our qualified candidates.

  • The problem is really simple: the party with the most votes wins. Democrats need to concentrate on getting more voters in more places and turn them out on election day over and over again. Rural counties need new residents, preferably Democrats who want to become citizens and vote. College counties need more students willing to vote locally for Democrats. While Democrats carry few counties, the counties tend to be high population counties. It doesn’t take many of them to carry the state. Winning is the only thing. It keeps the maternal programs of big government working. And that is where Democrats have power.

    • “It keeps the maternal programs of big government working. And that is where Democrats have power.”

      I am gad to see you embrace the many state attitude Henry. That is one of the reason Democrats lost. People want jobs and security not government dependence that holds them down.

  • We did a very poor job communicating why our PARTY should be in power. The National Party Chair and our State Chair were part timers against full time GOP Chairs. We squadered the Affordable Care Act in 2010 mid terms, and were ineffective in messaging in 2014 mid terms. We need people with marketing expertise to combat the lies that were messaged by GOP.

    • Excellent ideas!
      We have GOT to be able to reduce some of these complex issues to sound bits.
      First one should be “Republican’s are coming for your Medicare”. Have ads showing seniors not being able to afford care, being bankrupted, etc. Don’t lie, but don’t hold back, either. Have some GUTS!

    • “We need people with marketing expertise to combat the lies that were messaged by GOP.”

      Maybe the Democratic Party should work on these lies:

      – The nominee setting up an email server to “deceive” the people.

      – Repeatedly lying about the email server, especially about not handling national security information.

      – Saying you support fighting terrorism while behind closed doors promoting open borders and illegal immigration.

      – Supporting Black Lives Matter and cop killing. Doesn’t help to have the Mayor of Chicago tell criminal illegal immigrants, “You are safe here” when there are 4,000 shootings and 700 murders in Chicago. Rotting inner cities is a product of Democratic party leadership.

      What is needed is introspection not attacking Republicans.

  • First, we MUST rebuild the bench. Start with city councils, school boards.

    Second, leave no race unchallenged. Ignoring rural “unwinnable” races drives down the turn-out that we need to win in statewide and congressional elections.

    Third, quit ignoring those who are willing to take on “unwinnable” races. Allow them full access to GOTV resources, etc.

    Fourth, encourage people to at least run for State House Seats first. Example: Jim Mowrer, Desmund Adams, Mike Sherzan, all jumping right to Congressional level (Adams ran but lost Senate race). We are going to need name recognition and reputation for being good stewards of the public trust to overcome some of the money advantage the R’s have.

    Fifth, do a better job of vetting candidates. Example: Konfrst and Celsi in western burbs. Konfrst’s tax issue, she is/was in denial about how toxic that issue was, and how naive to think that Hagenow would not lie. Celsi with the profane rant about getting ticket being left up on a blog for years!?

    Sixth, quit picking stale boring low energy candidates like Patty Judge. OMG.

    It’s not going to happen overnight. We may be in the weeds for a while.

    • Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes (particularly people in their 20s & 30s). Maybe (not even Trump was a perfect candidate). Yes. Agree, now’s a good time to start whacking away.

  • 1. Bernie proved that with the right message schmoozing “big donors” isn’t required to run a viable campaign. People who automatically contribute a few bucks a month online may be more likely to volunteer & vote.
    2. If you’ve been the for the past 20 or 30 years, maybe it’s time to train your successor. The IDP can’t develop a “bench” if the old leadership won’t budge. Tom Miller: Who are you grooming?
    3. The IDP needs staff to organize (and raise funds) at the county level and with the state-wide caucuses.
    4. After several cycles of state & Federal election losses, the IDP leadership needs to accept that we need a major shake-up. Don’t expect the same people who got us here to turn around the IDP.
    5. Decide who the audience is, then get them to help develop the message. And, don’t just talk to people who are long-term, loyal Democrats. About 1/3 of Iowa voters are registered as No Party.
    6. Paid well for a full-time job. “…if the Chair needs the income” should not be a consideration for selecting a Chair, unless you only want independently wealthy or comfortably retired people as Chair. Oh, and imagine this phone call: “Hi, Danny, I’m raising money to cover my salary & benefits for next year. Can I put you down for $25,000? Great! Thanks. I appreciate your support. Call me any time.” Is that how the Chair should be funded?

  • Replicate Bernie’s message!! He connected with voters. Polls showed him winning easily against Trump. Hillary did not. I think the Dem establishment thought they could still win with the weaker candidate. Once again “use Bernie’s messages.” Learn them. Repeat them. Get every candidate singing out of the Bernie hymnal. One last thing: In 2014 Dems ran against Obama’s record!!! …. after he brought the country back from the depths of the Bush Recession (jobs, GDP growth, cutting the deficit, etc.) This was a catastrophic blunder. Even in 2016 Hillary seemed to be afraid to run Obama’s turnaround of the economy. Enough said.

  • I like Tyler Olson’s idea of replicating some of the things that the Polk County neighborhood groups and Tri-County Democrats have done. All politics is local and we need to cultivate it. Finding ways for more rurel folks to get involved. Shorten our district and state conventions. It turns folks off after they have been to either of those conventions and it ends at 1:00 am. Start with shortening of platforms and have a short meaningful and inclusive statement of principles. Maybe even eliminate most of the platform as many of the platform participants just like to hear the sound of their own voice. We are tired of those long platforms. We aren’t winning because of platforms. We win because of our candidates. Let’s not hang a heavy platform around their necks.

  • Concentratell on folks volunteering. Phone calling, door to door canvassing. One or two consistent volunteers cannot be expected to canvass an entire county, esp if it’s mostly Republican. Local County Central Committee members should lead the example by being sone if the first to volunteer. And get those former State elected Senators & Rep’s in the mix to volunteer as well. If they can’t be bothered, why would the average citizen be interested either?
    It was disheartening, to say the least and I thought Hillery Clinton was an excellent and viable candidate. Bruce Braley, in the mid terms was another story, but Dem’s had a great candidate in Hillery Clinton.

  • Dawn Oliver-Wiand, ED of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, held focus groups in 18 locations around the state in 2014. The purpose was to identify barriers to economic self-sufficiency for women in Iowa. Issues brought up included education, transportation, healthcare. etc. This summer she went back and helped each community pick their top issue to work on. Many of these communities chose to focus on increasing the availability of childcare.
    Hello! Now that’s an issue that working men and women can connect with and which personally affects them every single day.
    I would encourage the CC to check out the report and mapping tool on IWF’s website and talk to Dawn about what she heard. If you want issues that speak to Iowans, there’s a rich trove of real-life information right there.

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