Nearly 800 people turned out last night for the Republican Party of Iowa’s “Night of the Rising Stars” event at Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines. The event was billed as the coming-out party for RPI under the new leadership of Chairman Matt Strawn and Executive Director Jeff Boeyink. Strawn told the audience that the event helped raise $100,000 for the state party.
Strawn has made a concerted effort to change the perception of the party by altering the types of events the organization holds. Gone are the big, stale convention centers, the plated dinners, and the long programs. In April, RPI held an event to honor long time GOP activist and former party co-chair Leon Mosley. That event was casual, and people were encouraged to wear their boots and jeans.
Last night’s event was business casual, the event was held in a historic auditorium in one of the most liberal parts of Des Moines, and instead of the same old chicken dinner we have all grown tired of, there was music, lights, videos, and a program that stayed on time.
While the event featured Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour who now finds himself as the chairman of the RGA sooner than he expected, as well as our young and upcoming legislators, if the event showcased one person, it was Chairman Strawn. Strawn was praised by almost everyone who took the stage.
Strawn was introduced via video by RNC chairman Michael Steele who spoke very kindly of the new chairman. Strawn spoke at length about the condition of the party, the excitement he sees when out traveling the state, and the horrific job Governor Culver is doing leading our state.
After Strawn’s speech, there were four sets of videos which featured the “rising stars.” Kraig Paulsen, Paul McKinley, Mary Mosiman, and former Governor Branstad each introduced a video segment featuring four of the rising stars.
The video segments showcasing these legislators in their home environment were the best part of the event. Having this part of the program on video kept the event moving, and, as we all know, some people, even political candidates, have a difficult time giving a good speech in front of a large audience under the spotlight. You also never know how long someone will talk. The videos were all short (about two minutes), but they really showed off the unique attributes each of these candidates possess.
Some of the videos were better than others. That is to be expected, but all were impressive in their own right. I’m told that new RPI communications director Danielle Plogmann was responsible for shooting and editing the videos. You can obviously tell that she has experience behind a news camera, and thus, this was a great use of her unique talents. If they post the videos to YouTube, I would gladly post them here for people to see and comment on.
Governor Barbour focused on party building in his speech, but not before taking a couple of shots at Governor Culver. When being introduced by RPI Co-Chair Jim Kurtenbach, he mentioned that Barbour had defeated a two term incumbent governor. Barbour quickly corrected him by saying it was only a one term governor like Chet Culver, because if it would have been a two term governor, the state would have been bankrupt. Barbour also said that Culver is floating bonds to pay for on-going expenses.
Barbour had a little fun with his recent ascension to RGA chair. He said, “As you make know, I’m the chairman of the RGA.” People applauded, he then added, “Just yesterday I was the vice chairman.” Barbour then explained that he was in Iowa because the RGA thinks that Republicans can win in Iowa, and he pledged that the RGA will be by our side working to defeat Chet Culver.
Barbour then focused on how the Republican Party must rebuild. He first said that Republicans are a better party when we build from the bottom up, and that you have to go to the grassroots not to just knock on doors, but for policy development. In addition to the building from the bottom up, he also said that Republicans must build up their small donor base and use cutting edge communication tools to reach people.
Barbour also talked at length that the party needs to grow and be more inclusive. He said, “Party building is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.” He said will the issue set changes with every election cycle, we must find ways to apply our principles to all the issues of the day.
Barbour also used the line, “If someone agrees with me 80% of the time they are my ally, not my enemy.” He went on to say that, while he is pro-life and has signed a number of anti-abortion bills in his home state of Mississippi, not everyone is a Haley Barbour Republican. Knowing that, Barbour believes that it is the state party’s responsibility to manage all of the coalitions to make sure they are working in concert together.
Barbour also told a story about how the most liberal Republican Governor in American was challenged and defeated in a convention in the state of Minnesota. That governor came back to win the primary and become the party’s nominee. That governor, Arne Carlson, went on to win, and while he was pro-choice and a liberal Republican, he also helped elect conservatives down the ballot. Barbour’s point was that, at the end of the day, pro-lifers need to vote for pro-choice candidates and vise-versa if we are to win elections.
While I understand what Barbour is getting at, I think that the only people who can operate in that type of fashion is a party person. Most people are not involved in politics because of the party anymore. They are motivated by a number of issues, and asking them to compromise on their values and principles simply will not happen. Furthermore, Barbour’s conclusion also didn’t mesh with some of the legislative videos that talked explicitly about the life issue.
While Barbour’s party building speech contained some excellent ideas, strategies, and ideas that the Republican Party should work to implement, his comments on the life issue will only exacerbate the on-going debate within the party about whether or not Republican need to moderate to win elections.
Instead of focusing on that part of Barbour’s speech, we would be wise to focus on his message about applying our constant principles to the issue set of the day and using the state party to manage and grow the coalitions within our party.
Youtube from the Vander Plaats Campaign
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