After an enjoyable evening of seeing fellow Democratic friends, watching the seven gubernatorial candidates speak and laughing at Alec Baldwin’s jokes, the IDP’s Fall Gala attendees likely left the event thinking to themselves, “Now, I wonder what Ed Fallon thought of all this.”
Fortunately for them, the former legislator chose to share his thoughts on the matter the next day. Unfortunately, his take was utter garbage and filled with outright inaccuracies and misnomers.
It is no surprise, of course, that Fallon did not view the state party’s biggest event in years in a positive light, calling it a “colossal failure.” He’s been angry toward the Democratic Party since losing the gubernatorial primary in 2006 and coming up short in a peculiar challenge to an incumbent Democratic congressman. But his criticism of the fundraiser – published in the Des Moines Register – was so petty and ridiculous that it bears some examination.
Let’s go through it line by line (his words in italics).
Maybe the Iowa Democratic Party’s (IDP) big annual event was a success in terms of generating funds for the party and enthusiasm for its candidates. But in several significant ways, it was a colossal failure.
1. The sound system performed horribly, with much of the speakers’ messages lost in an echo chamber of garbled sound waves.
He starts off with his one legitimate complaint. The audio for the event wasn’t great, though it did get a little better as the speeches went on and they made adjustments. The party did plenty of sound checks before the event started and it was working fine then, but once the room filled up with people, the audio got a little weird.
2. Not allowing the Events Center’s wait staff to stay and hear Alec Baldwin reeked of elitism. The decision was made by the facility’s management, but the IDP should have objected. Heck, the wait staff should have been paraded up to the stage and thanked with a standing ovation.
This is ridiculous. Troy Price literally thanked the wait staff from the stage and the crowd gave them some of the biggest cheers of the night. The party has done this at nearly every major event I can remember and has always shown their appreciation for the people serving them. And they weren’t kicked out of the event, they were just done serving dinner by the time Baldwin took the stage.
3. The Gala was clearly a pay-to-play deal and the IDP milked candidates with the most money, notably Fred Hubbell and Nate Boulton. From what I could tell, these two purchased hundreds of tickets and spent possibly tens of thousands of dollars. Kind of reminds one of the much-maligned Republican Party of Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which Democrats have never been hesitant to slam.
Apparently campaigns buying tickets to the dinner is proof of an evil, primary-rigging conspiracy for Fallon. Suggesting there was “pay-to-play” is idiotic. Every gubernatorial candidate got to speak for the same amount of time whether they bought tickets or not. Each candidate had the same opportunity to put up signage. Each candidate got the same length of introduction. The speaking order was randomized. If some campaigns wanted to bring more of their supporters to the event than others, what’s the big deal?
Besides, isn’t it a good thing that these candidates are helping to bring in funds for the party so that Democrats can do more outreach? Haven’t we been complaining that top-of-ticket nominees haven’t done enough to ensure a strong party infrastructure?
The GOP Straw Poll comparison is bunk as well. In that situation, ticketed attendees got to cast votes in a poll that was covered extensively by the media. There was no voting at this event, just candidates giving their speeches to the audience.
I’d bet you money that if his preferred candidate had the largest cheering section that night, he wouldn’t raise the same concerns. In fact, it seemed like he didn’t when Bernie Sanders filled the bleachers at the 2015 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
4. Beyond the cost of admission ($50 just to sit in the bleachers and watch the higher-paying attendees eat), scheduling the Gala on a Monday excluded many rank-and-file voters, especially those far from Des Moines. As Paul Deaton of Johnson County tweeted, “#IDPFallGala schedule (Monday evening) not viable for working Ds outside Des Moines. Maybe that’s the point.”
If so many people were left out by the Monday event, why was it the best attended fall fundraiser ever for a non-caucus year? The date was due to Baldwin’s schedule, and sometimes you have to work around a major entertainer’s availability to get a big name. Insinuation that it was intentionally done to screw over working people is ridiculous, and would require someone to think that the party staff and leaders are downright evil and sinister to do so. The reality is that there will always be some sort of problem with any kind of date chosen for a major event. The unprecedented turnout seemed to suggest it wasn’t as big of a hinderance as some thought.
There’s also been a lot of complaints online that the Democratic Party dared to charge attendees for tickets. It’s a fundraiser. I have been to countless events around the state where Democratic voters have had the chance to see all their gubernatorial candidates at forums and speaking events for free. The opportunities for everyone are there, but yeah, for a small handful of events a year you’re going to have to pay so that the party can actually do all the important outreach efforts it needs to.
5. Finally, the IDP’s decision to change the name of the event from Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to Fall Gala shows that the party is pathologically out of touch with big chunks of Iowa’s electorate. A gala — defined as “lavish entertainment or celebration” — is not what the vast majority of struggling Iowans want or need right now. For further details, see Kevin Hardy’s excellent story in Sunday’s Register detailing the ravaging of most Americans’ incomes to benefit a thin upper crust.
I’m not a fan of the Fall Gala name, but I don’t think there’s many voters out there making their voting decisions based off of a party fundraising name. Besides, it was the party’s state central committee that chose it – the folks actually elected by the activists who show up for the caucus (and in this case it included many of the more progressive members who came in with Bernie Sanders – edit: the original vote was before they came on the board, but a vote to change the name once they joined narrowly failed). Implying that Democrats are in favor of lower wages for working people because of one fundraiser name is silly. Especially when nearly every speaker on stage made raising wages a key part of their speech. Fallon could have pointed that out, but that would have required saying something positive.
From what I was able to catch of the candidates’ speeches, they all performed reasonably well — with the glaring absence of any discussion about the urgency of climate change.
This just flat-out isn’t true. Several of the candidates and Alec Baldwin talked about climate change.
So far, Cathy Glasson has been the only gubernatorial candidate to speak out against the Gala’s pandering to money and privilege, saying, “People in our movement holding down two or three jobs and still struggling to make ends meet don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend for a fancy dinner.” That’s not an endorsement of Glasson, but I appreciate her willingness to challenge the IDP.
Yeah, Cathy Glasson didn’t actually say that. Fallon seems to be just making shit up here.
He finished his column arguing that Democrats are headed for another defeat in 2018.
The problem, as it always is, with people like Fallon is that they simply can’t help themselves when critiquing a candidate or party or institution they don’t like. Do real issues still remain with the Democratic Party and its appeal to Iowa voters? Yes. Are there still structural changes that the state party should be working on? Absolutely. But when you toss in your legitimate complaints with outright falsehoods or ridiculous sniping over tiny problems, your point gets completely lost.
Iowa Democrats should be glad that their state party leadership and staff were able to put together one of the best-attended and well-received fall fundraisers in years. That kind of hard work does a lot more to help get Democrats elected in 2018 than the petty bullshit whining from a failed politician.
by Pat Rynard