Time for Iowa Democrats to clean house

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Nearly two years ago Iowa Republicans made changes to protect the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Iowa Democrats must now do the same.

Republican corrections were a public and painful affair. Following 2012 caucus tally mishaps, members of the “liberty movement” staged and executed a plan that had 22 of Iowa’s 28 national delegates supporting Ron Paul as the GOP nominee. Paul supporters also took key state roles, claiming seven of 18 seats on the Republican State Central Committee, under the leadership of movement member A.J. Spiker.

Infighting began. Some potential presidential candidates were wary of the party’s ability to provide a level playing field. Within two years Spiker and his allies were removed. The party rebuilt trust and pulled the caucuses back from the brink of political irrelevance.

Let’s hope, four years from now, Iowa Democrats have undergone a similar transformation.

A sign points to an Iowa Democrats caucus location at Center Point-Urbana Middle School in Center Point on Monday, February 1, 2016.
A sign points to the Democratic Caucus at Center Point-Urbana Middle School in Center Point on Monday, February 1, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

In January 2015, nine months after Republicans got back on course, the Democratic State Central Committee chose Andrea “Andy” McGuire to serve as chairwoman.

McGuire’s first order of business was to pledge caucus neutrality. Such promises are commonplace, but McGuire’s was immediately diminished by her ties to Hillary Clinton. In the 2008 election, McGuire served as the co-chair of Clinton’s Iowa campaign, and her vehicle license plates boasted “HRC 2016.”

Democrats initially tempered McGuire’s selection by choosing one of her opponents, Jim Mowrer, to serve as 1st vice chairman. But when Mowrer resigned to pursue a congressional campaign, state central committee members chose Danny Homan, a union leader and another Clinton supporter, as a replacement.

Under McGuire the IDP has accepted donations from Clinton supporters with conditions that appear to most benefit Clinton’s candidacy. In July, for instance, Christie Vilsack handed the remains of her congressional war chest to the IDP, earmarking the money for a new, annual event to honor the achievements of Democratic women, candidates and office holders.

All Iowans benefit from the caucuses. They’re a privilege and responsibility Iowans take seriously. And it is largely because of this dedication and transparency that Iowa has, again and again, overcome national detractors.

Still, the caucus system is dependent on the political parties, beholden to their ability to kibosh speculation of candidate favoritism. Iowa Democrats failed the test, placing an undue shadow on what should be the celebration of an ongoing spirited contest.

And now, with the early end of Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign, the door of speculation has been opened. Is Iowa’s time-honored process of retail politics worth less than it once was? Were Iowa party leaders more concerned about Clinton skipping the state than leveling the playing field?

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on February 2, 2016. Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette