Council Bluffs Democrats have reorganized and reenergized following the devastating loss of the long-serving Senator Mike Gronstal. The former Iowa Senate majority leader’s loss combined with losses by other Senate Democrats resulted in Republicans taking complete control of the Legislature. For Iowa Democrats the incredible legislative damage done by Republicans has only compounded the loss of Gronstal’s leadership.
Linda Nelson, the Pottawattamie (affectionately known as Pott County) Democratic County Chair didn’t give up, and she is working even harder to rebuild the county party. She launched a number of new initiatives following the November election and was recently reelected as the Pott County Chair in March. It would be simplistic to assume Gronstal’s loss resulted from a mass rejection of Democrats in the county. Democratic Representative Charley McConkey was reelected in 2016. McConkey represents the western section of Council Bluffs.
Nelson explained that Republicans spent over $1 million to target and defeat Gronstal. His district’s voters received over 30 separate negative mailers and aggressive TV assaults on Gronstal’s candidacy. The massive negative ad campaign took its toll.
Nelson has worked in Democratic Politics for years. She was president of the Iowa State Education Association from 2004-2008 and served two terms in the Iowa Legislature from 1993-1997. She was elected as Pott County Chair in 2013 and Nelson described how she began to reenergize the county party:
“We began our “Women’s Lunch Bunch” in January 2013 with six or eight joining us for the first Tuesday of each month, now up to forty or fifty! When I “ran out of political types,” we began to have human service or issue speakers address the group. All keeping in mind we were “packing our tool box” when we chat with the public while door knocking or making phone calls. We have borrowed other counties idea of meeting socially with our Liberal Libations.”
“Following the 2016 election, we set aside two of our gatherings to 1) have a conversation on how to move forward, and 2) breaking into four work groups: a) building the party, b) messaging, c) building the bench, and d) technology. Our work groups are now meeting outside of our monthly central committee and reporting back to the larger group of their agenda and plans of action. We are trying our best to place the responsibility with many; you have an idea, move forward! Each work group has a wonderful combination of experienced volunteers and leaders as well as folks new to us.”
“In March we elected leadership for our county party and again, we tried to model what IDP has laid out: we now have four vice chairs. Two men, two women; the men we elected are leaders in Labor and our two women are both from the “business” wing of our community.”
“Candidates are stepping up too. I’ve met with numerous folks who “just want to run for something.” After conversations, some have made decisions, others still in the exploring stage. While we have never had the “time” to focus on some races, prioritizing filling the state legislative ticket and maybe the court house; we are now looking at three or four Democratic candidates for three school board positions. We are looking at possibly three candidates for city council with two open positions. Legislative candidates and court house candidates are lining up for 2018; exciting times. One of our “work groups,” Building the Bench, includes former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. Mike has volunteered to conduct candidate training in June for pairs of folks, the potential candidate and one person from their campaign. We are thrilled!”
“We have had three months of meeting socially, open to all Democrats. We meet the third Thursday of the month at a local bar; folks can join us for conversations, for an appetizer or a meal! We have had anywhere from 25-50 attend. Our work group, Building the Party has taken charge of having some sort of ice breaker, offering a free beverage for the winner!”
Nelson has a special election to manage following the death of Pott County Republican Representative Forristall. It will be a tough race as it’s a rural district, Republican voter registration outnumbers Democrats and Forristall’s wife is running in his place. Democrats will have their nominating convention May 30th and the election will be June 27th.
Gronstal fears that doesn’t provide Democrats sufficient time to thoroughly canvass the District. Rob Hogg, Senate Minority Leader, has called for helping Pott Democrats with this special election. Hogg says this is a good way to participate in the #summerofcitizenship by making phone calls and door knocking.
There’s one additional event that Pott County is sponsoring that many Iowans may want to attend. Pott County will be holding a Gronstal roast on July 15. It’s a unique chance to honor Senator Gronstal for his years of service while having some great fun. You can expect many of Iowa’s Democratic movers and shakers will participate.
by Rick Smith