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:
- How important is fund raising and how much time should be devoted to it?
- How will the new IDP Chair unite the Clinton and Sanders factions?
- How do Iowa Democrats reach out to rural Iowa?
- How will the election results affect the IDP Chair position?
- How do we develop the Democratic message?
- 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