Spiker’s Resignation Puts RPI in a Pickle

The decision by Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker to resign his chairmanship in March before the District and State conventions is less than ideal.  The fact that Spiker is surrendering his post to go to work for Rand Paul’s leadership PAC is even more troubling given that Senator Paul isn’t up for re-election and there is no reason to start a presidential campaign until the 2014 elections are in the books.

Spiker is leaving the party at a time when the Iowa GOP actually has work to do.  One of the few duties explicitly spelled out by the Republican Party of Iowa Constitution is for the Iowa GOP to conduct precinct caucuses and county, district, and state conventions.  Local Republican activists do a lot of the planning and organizing of the precinct caucuses and county conventions, but the state party begins to take on a more predominant role once the district and state conventions role around.

Having a chairman step down in the midst of a term has sadly become common in Iowa.  In fact, three of the last four individuals who have chaired the Republican Party of Iowa, Ray Hoffmann, Matt Strawn, and now Spiker, have all resigned in an election year before their term was up.  Needless to say, leadership changes bring staff changes, and in the end, this means that the Republican Party of Iowa once again finds itself in a period of upheaval.

“I am not a big fan of folks resigning before completion of their terms,” Bill Keettel, the chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party, told TheIowaRepublcian.com.  “I am not a big fan of ‘coups’ within party organizations.  Our model is the republican “presidential” system, not the parliamentary ‘vote of no confidence’ system.  I was opposed to Matt Strawn being forced out before the end of his term.  I think some of the rancor we have experienced for two years was related to that.  Johnson County was never one of those counties that called for A.J.’s resignation.  If it had come up, I would have opposed it.”

Keettel went onto say, “It is my understanding that A.J. made his decision to resign effective March 29 because he had a job offer that requires him to be free by then.  If so, we can cope with that, although I would rather see him complete his term.  Keettel added, “Good luck to A.J., good luck to the party moving out of a complicated time into a more cooperative time of solid growth and forward motion.”

Spiker’s resignation would be more problematic had the Iowa GOP been tasked with playing a more prominent role in the RNC’s Victory program in the state.  In recent years, the tense relationship between Spiker and Governor Branstad forced the RNC to construct the Victory program around the Branstad campaign and not the Republican Party of Iowa.  Still, Spiker’s decision to go to work for a 2016 presidential campaign before primary day in 2014 puts the party, especially the Republican State Central Committee, in a pickle.

Spiker’s resignation will become official on March 29th, the date of the State Central Committee’s quarterly business meeting.  That meeting should be a time when the State Central Committee is focused on upcoming district and state conventions, but instead, they are going to be distracted by yet another chair election.

Complicating maters is that the March 29th meeting of the State Central Committee will likely be one of the last times the current committee meets.  In April, delegates to the Republican District Conventions will elect new people to represent them on the State Central Committee.

It is no secret that wholesale changes are expected on the governing board of the Republican Party of Iowa.  Thus, if a new chairman is elected at the March 29th meeting, the chairman will answer to an entirely new committee the next time they gather.  The question that many Iowa Republicans are talking about is whether or not the new committee stick with the chairman the old committee elects.

Danny Carroll, the current co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa who was just elected to his post in February, is the only announced candidate seeking the chairmanship of the Republican Party of Iowa.  Carroll told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday that he’s not interested in being an interim chairman and went so far to say, “I will not serve as chairman until the new one is selected,” Carroll told Kathie Obradovich.  While Carroll’s position is understandable, the chairman serves at the pleasure of the Republican State Central Committee, and if the new committee elected in April wants to go in a different direction, there are steps they can take to remove a current chairman.

That’s a messy situation, and frankly, it does nothing but create hard feelings.  At least one current Central Committee member, Jamie Johnson, is advocating for the committee to appoint the Iowa GOP’s co-chair as an interim chairman until the new committee is seated following the state convention in June.  The proposal has merit, but for it to come to fruition, it will need to be supported by a majority of the voting members of the State Central Committee.  That may be difficult with the current makeup of the committee.

Should the State Central Committee elect Carroll, he would likely make staff changes in order to bring in people to run the party that are loyal to him.  With the party already being in a weakened financial state and not playing a major role in the RNC’s Victory program, hiring and firing staff isn’t what the party should be doing, especially considering that a new committee could choose to go in a different direction when it gathers for the first time.

Spiker’s resignation creates turmoil for the current and future State Central Committee, but some Republicans are also just glad that he’s out of the picture.  Bob Haus, a Vice President at a Des Moines public affairs company, admitted that Spiker was never ready for prime time.  “His tenure as chairman was rocky at best.  He put the party in severe financial strain, and his decision to abruptly leave adds the possibility of the party having three chairmen in a 90-day period.  It is hard to build continuity with constant dysfunction.”  Haus added that Spiker’s resignation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the timing is bad.

Spiker’s tenure as Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa was rocky to say the least, but some County GOP leaders do acknowledge that not everything the Spiker administration did was bad.

“The one improvement I can say I noticed right away when the current leadership took over was the improvement in the RPI web site,” said Pottawattamie County GOP Chairman Jeff Jorgenson. “It was a big improvement over what we had earlier. Also, materials for caucus and conventions did get to us a little earlier than in the past, and I appreciated the candidate and caucus training that RPI presented,” he added.

Jorgenson said he didn’t know how much credit Spiker deserves for those things, but acknowledges that they occurred under his leadership.  “I didn’t know A.J. personally, and we really didn’t have much of a working relationship because of our physical location out here on the Western frontier.  Our county party has always been far removed from the state party and the governor’s office,” Jorgenson said.

“I wasn’t all that surprised by the chairman’s resignation. I don’t feel he was doing what needed to be done to fully support Republican candidates and the Republican Party in Iowa. The first thing you need to do as Chairman of RPI is raise money for candidates and the party. The second thing you need to do as chairman is help elect all Republican candidates, including the Governor. That IS what you’re there for, regardless of your principles. The third thing you need to do as chairman is organize, organize, organize… That is the one thing this leadership appeared to be a little better at than previous leadership,” Jorgenson concluded.

The next couple of months could be a bumpy ride for the Republican Party of Iowa.  Electing new a leadership team can easily turn into a soap opera, but the possibility that the Iowa GOP could have two chairman elections in as many months only distracts and divides the party at a time when it needs to be united in advance of the general election.

The Republican State Central Committee is full of different personalities, and while the member of the current committee are well within their rights to fill the vacancy created by Spiker’s resignation, they are charged with looking out for the Iowa GOP’s best interest.  Electing a new chairman two weeks before a new Republican State Central Committee is seated is simply asking for problems.


Photo by Gage Skidmore