On The Road

March 22nd, 2012

New RPI Committee Needs to Focus on the Future of the Caucuses Not the Past

Earlier this week, the Republican Party of Iowa announced the formation of a committee that is tasked to review and make recommendations to improve the Iowa caucuses. In addition to making improvements to the caucus process in Iowa, the committee’s larger focus is to make recommendations that will help Iowa retain its privileged First-in-the-Nation status for the 2016 presidential election and beyond.

The 17-member committee includes seven current members of the Republican State Central Committee in addition to its Executive Director, Chad Olsen. The committee also has representation from most 2012 presidential campaigns, including paid staffers from the Bachmann, Cain, Paul, and Santorum campaigns who all have a seat at the table.

The creation of a committee to review the caucuses is not only necessary following the fiasco that ensued between caucus night and the end of the certification process, but it is also something that the Republican Party of Iowa should have been doing for years. While there have been major technical advancements made in the last twenty years, caucus procedures remain largely unchanged.

Iowa Republicans conduct caucuses every other year, but they have only had to organize five contested presidential caucuses since Ronald Reagan left office. It is also difficult to implement major changes to the caucuses because they historically occur in early January or February, only a year after a new party chair is elected and staff is hired. Complicating things even more is that the caucus date in recent caucuses has not been set until just a few months before the caucuses occur.

While it is smart of the Iowa GOP to take an in-depth and prolonged look at the caucus process, actually getting any recommendations implemented may prove to be difficult. This is because there is no way to know who will chair the Iowa GOP in 2015, who the staff will be, or what the makeup of the State Central Committee will be. Those are the people who will implement any of the recommended changes, not some committee that gathered in 2012.

The 2012 nomination process is already full of examples of how the wishes of a committee are just that, wishes. On August 6, 2010, the Republican National Committee adopted rules in Kansas City that protected Iowa’s First-in-the Nation status by only allowing four states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to hold their contests in February of 2012.

Only one of those states, Nevada, held a contest in February. The rest held contests in January, and the state of Florida, which was never granted a waiver to hold its contest in February, let alone January, messed up the entire calendar by ignoring approved RNC rules. Not only have states violated the calendar, but they have also ignored RNC rules regarding how delegates are awarded.

It’s important to bring this up because, just as it has been proven to be impossible for the RNC to enforce its own rules on the states, the same is true for this committee. The good news is that, if the committee produces well thought-out proposals and solutions to problems, whoever is leading the Iowa GOP three years from now will likely want to include them in their caucus preparations.

Maybe the biggest critique that could be made of the 17-member committee is that activists and party officials dominate the make up of it. While it is important to involve people who implement every phase of the caucus process, the committee lacks much diversity. There are a few people who add either a unique perspective or provide some actual expertise, but not enough in my opinion.

Including seven State Central Committee members as well as a staffer on the committee also seems to be a little much. These are the same people who had the authority to oversee the 2012 caucuses that need to be reformed. It’s not fair to lay the blame at their feet, but if they have ideas to improve the caucuses, they should have been active in improving the caucuses before they were held, not after.

It also seems that the committee was assembled to react only to what happened in the 2012 caucuses. There is little representation from people who were involved in previous caucuses. While most of the members have participated in multiple caucuses, including members who can speak to caucus practices from previous caucus cycles might shed light on things that were either over looked in 2012, or were implemented in the past and should be resurrected.

The mission of the committee is critical. I have no doubt that committee members will take their job seriously, but they also need to be open to discussing major changes to the process, not just tweaking the process or doing a better job of communicating the process and results. The goal is not to fix what went wrong in the 2012 caucuses, but to help make sure Iowa retains its First-in-the-Nation status and make Iowa a state where candidates want to campaign for our support.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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