It’s been no secret that Governor Terry Branstad wants to elect a new leadership team for the Republican Party of Iowa. His re-election campaign made an effort to turnout like-minded Republicans to January’s precinct caucuses, the first step in the state’s caucus to convention process that spans from January to mid-June. Along the way, delegates at the District and State conventions will elect people to serve on the Republican State Central Committee, who will elect a party chairman next January.
The state’s caucus to convention process can be a long, arduous road, but it has always rewarded participation, organization, passion, and conviction. The Governor’s re-election campaign appeared to be doing all of the right things for the past six months. They encouraged supporters to attend the off-year caucuses in January. Those caucus goers were then encouraged to become delegates to their county conventions, with the goal of becoming a delegate to the District and State conventions.
Encouraging turnout and participation at the local precinct caucuses and county conventions is a very good thing for any candidate to do, but the Branstad campaign hit a snag this past weekend when it became overly apparent that instead of encouraging participation, they had devised a way to pervert the system that elects delegates from some counties in the state.
At-large delegate slates are nothing new in Polk County, the largest county in the state, but after years of trying to limit the number of at-large delegates the county forwarded, the 2014 at-large slate exploded to 99 people. To put the size of Polk County’s at-large slate into perspective, if the original slate that was proposed was it’s own county, it would have the fourth largest delegation in the state, just behind Scott County, which will send 105 delegates to the state convention.
The Third District Convention will seat a maximum of 505 delegates. Polk County’s delegation will already account for 52 percent of the delegates, but the at-large slate that was orchestrated by the governor’s re-election campaign, would have accounted for 20 percent of the delegates at the District convention. Even more disturbing, is that the Branstad campaign’s 99 member at-large slate would have been larger than the delegations from Adams, Adair, Cass, Freemont, Guthrie, Madison, Mills, Montgomery, Page, Ringgold, Taylor, and Union counties combined.
In 2010, which the last off-year caucus in Iowa, the Polk County GOP’s at-large delegate slate only totaled 29. Former Chairman, John Bloom, admitted that it should have been 30 people, but they made a mistake by not including former Congressman Greg Ganske. According to Bloom, the 2010 at-large list included: county officers and convention officers (10 people), elected county and state officials (11 people), state party officials (5 people), and honorary delegates-all past statewide office holders (3 people).
The 2014 list, which since Saturday morning has been scaled back from 100 people to 50 people, had little rhyme or reason as to how it was constructed. It included county and state officials, but it also gave delegate spots to many of their spouses. The list also gives a delegate spot to candidates running for office in Polk County, which was not done in 2010. Also included were former U.S. Ambassadors, as if getting to serve in that capacity wasn’t enough, the Polk County GOP now wants to honor you by making you a delegate for life.
The original list of 99 at-large delegates also included people who were characterized as “donors” or “executive volunteers.” In some instances, the donor classification fit. For example, Bruce Kelley, from EMC Insurance, has been an outstanding donor to the Polk County GOP since 2009. Yet, other people on the list who were classified as donors last gave to the Polk County GOP in 2010 if at all. Even then, a lot of these donors contributed amounts of $10, $20 and $40, which appears to be delegate fees or maybe a meal at a convention. The term “executive volunteer” seems to be code for political operative, employee of the Branstad administration or state government, or if you are held in high-regard by the powers that be in the Branstad campaign.
An email sent to selected individuals by Governor Branstad’s campaign to a select group of delegates in mid-February helps one better understand how the at-large delegate list from Polk County came to be. The email was sent to people who are delegates to the Polk County convention and who are also political professionals or “current/former Branstad staff who wants to ensure the best possible outcome from the convention for the Governor and Lt. Governor.” The email
The original at-large delegate list from Polk County was loaded with political professionals and current and former Branstad staff. Why these people are not capable of going through the same process that everyone else who wants to become a delegate to the district or state convention has to go through is beyond me. It’s either laziness from the Branstad campaign and the people they want to be delegates, or an utter disrespect of our caucus to convention process. Unfortunately, since the same tactics are being used by the Branstad campaign in other counties, it appears to be both.
It makes sense for Polk County to have a limited number of at-large delegates. I think it’s a good thing that they have honored former statewide office holders like Governor Bob Ray in the past by making him a delegate, but this year, the Branstad campaign is abusing the process.
My Facebook page is littered with pictures of the proposed rules from other counties that are also using nominating committees or at-large slates to award a number of delegate spots. Ironically, the sample rules that were sent to the counties by the Republican Party of Iowa don’t even mention the use of delegate slates or nominating committees. In fact all those rules say is, “nominations shall be required for the position of District/State delegate, alternate, District Caucus Committee on Platform, Rules, Credentials, and Permanent Organization. Nominations shall be no longer than one minute. A second is required, but no speech is allowed.”
The response to the originally proposed Polk County at-large delegate slate was extremely negative. Activists and party officials were calling each other to complain beginning on Friday afternoon, the same day that the delegates were mailed their convention materials. People also took to Facebook to voice their displeasure with the slate.
On Saturday morning, as the Branstad campaign huddled with its small group of political professionals and current and former staff, they knew they had a problem on their hands. Before 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, Polk County Chairman Will Rogers and high-ranking Branstad campaign staff had agreed to cut the at-large delegate slate in half. That’s a clear indication that they knew they had over-reached and their tactics were beginning to backfire.
Regardless of their decision to pare back the at-large slate, the Branstad campaign may have severely hurt its own cause by being too heavy-handed when it comes to delegate selection. One would think that the political powerbrokers behind Branstad would have learned from past mistakes. In 2011, Branstad’s political team forcefully backed Mary Rathje in a State Senate special nominating convention. The Governor’s intervention turned off delegates, and Branstad’s hand-picked candidate finished in third in a three person race.
Branstad runs the risk of the same happening again unless he reels in his campaign team. It is apparent that the Branstad campaign mistook the frustration among Republicans over the current makeup of the Republican Party of Iowa as a license to go out and wrestle back control of the party using any means necessary.
The problem with what the Branstad campaign appears to be doing in counties across the state is that instead of using the caucus to convention process as it is designed, they have instead opted to hijack the delegate selection by leaning on counties to slate delegates that are amenable to the Branstad campaign.
This website was highly critical of what the Ron Paul supporters did in the 2012 caucus to convention process. Yet, there is a big difference between what the Paul supporters did in 2012 and what the Branstad campaign is attempting in 2014. The Paul supporters showed up in force at county, district, and state conventions, and pretty much had their way when it came to electing everything from state central committee members to delegates to the national convention.
The Paul supporters played by the existing rules, and while they recklessly went to Tampa and awarded 22 of Iowa’s 28 delegates to Ron Paul, which in turn jeopardized Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucus status, they assumed power in a legitimate way. Some Republicans may have not liked it, but it wasn’t done in secret, or by perverting the delegate selection process like the Branstad campaign is attempting to do.
In many ways, what the Branstad campaign is doing is just as damaging to Iowa’s First-in-the Nation status as what the Paul delegates did in Tampa. The caucuses are all about participation. Republicans attend their local precinct caucuses, and then can opt to go on to their county convention, where they can run to be district and state delegates. When these voters are greeted at their county conventions by a large slate of pre-ordained delegates, it sends a very unwelcoming message. Despite being told that Iowa’s caucus to convention process is open and rewards activism, in the end, what really matters is who you know.
Can you imagine the stink that would be created if this sort of stuff occurred following a presidential caucus? Imagine the news coverage if the Romney campaign, after finishing in second place to Rick Santorum in the Iowa Caucuses, had worked over county central committees to elect pro-Romney delegates as district and state delegates by using nominating committees or at-large slates. And what if those slates were not representative of the caucus night vote in those counties? Trust me, all hell would break out, and it would once again hurt the credibility of Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses.
Another aspect of this situation that deserves attention is that there is a chance that the Third District Congressional race and maybe the U.S. Senate race could ultimately end up being decided at a special nominating convention. It’s no secret that Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds have a favorite in the U.S. Senate contest, and they may also have a favorite in the Congressional race, but that’s less clear.
In an election year with so much on the line, why does the Branstad campaign feel it’s necessary to use these heavy-handed tactics when they themselves face only token Democrat competition? The desire to remake the Republican Party is understandable, but it is important to accomplish that goal in a legitimate fashion. Likewise, if a race for Congress or U.S. Senate does end up going to convention, it’s incredibly important for that process to be perceived to be fair as well.
I fear that the Branstad campaign may have just jeopardized its own efforts to remake the Republican Party of Iowa, and in doing so, once again tarnished the Iowa caucuses. The media often reports on candidates and other states that make moves that could lessen the importance of the Iowa caucuses, but sadly it is Iowans themselves who seem to do the most damage. Ironically, this time it’s our very own governor.
The heavy-handedness of the Branstad campaign is not only reckless, but it is unnecessary, and thus very disappointing.