As expected, A.J. Spiker was reelected as Republican Party of Iowa chairman Saturday morning. His fellow former Ron Paul campaign vice-chair David Fischer was selected RPI co-chair. TheIowaRepublican live blogged the event, which you can read below.
There are also videos at the bottom of this column of the speeches by Spiker and Bill Schickel, as well as Steve Scheffler nominating Spiker.
Greetings and welcome to TheIowaRepublican.com’s live blog of the State Central Committee’s biennial officer elections. Current Chairman A.J. Spiker is running for reelection. His opponent is current Co-Chair Bill Schickel. There are three known candidates for the co-chair position: current SCC member Wes Enos, former Linn County GOP Chairman Eric Rosenthal and former SCC member David Fischer.
The SCC is current meeting in divided groups. The full meeting will convene at 11 am. The elections are likely near the top of the agenda.
1:52 pm – Chairman Spiker first thanks Bill Schickel for his long service to the party. Big round of applause for him. David Fischer wins co-chair with 11 votes. Eric Rosenthal got 4 votes. Wes Enos got 3. There you have it. A.J. Spiker is still the RPI chairman and David Fischer is co-chair. The Ron Paul takeover of the Republican Party of Iowa is complete.
John Kabitzke was quickly reelected treasurer. Current secretary Tim Moran nominates Wes Enos. Mark Doland was also mominated. Enos then withdrew. Mark Doland is the new secretary, even though he’s not even here today.
This will conclude the live blog. Thanks for reading along.
1:50 pm – Here’s the voting for the first ballot…
1:45 pm – Time for the voting. Once again, this is a likely victory for David Fischer, and the Ron Paul supporters. I expect Rosenthal and Enos will split the minority vote, and Fischer will have enough to win on the first ballot. We’ll find out soon.
1:44 pm – Enos: “We’ve got the numbers that we need in the state to win… We need to identify…mobilize and turn them out.” And the questioning of Enos is done. That was quick. Voting will take place now.
143 pm – Enos says he agrees with Rosenthal that door-knocking is very effective, but phone calling, when used properly, must be done.
142 pm – Enos: “Now is the time we need to start identifying our volunteers… ” since there is no race going on right now. Need to focus on 2014.
1:39 pm – Bob Anderson asks how to best use the volunteer base of the GOP. Wes breaks down his long history of working with volunteers. He’s worked on the Huckabee, Vander Plaats and Bachmann’s campaigns. Says you have to make it fun for volunteers.
1:38 pm – Questioning of Fischer is done. Wes Enos is now up.
1:37 pm – Scott reiterates her question. Fischer says he sees his role as both an advisor and accepting delegation. “AJ and I have worked together a lot… He’s kept me from doing some dumb things. I’ve kept him from doing some dumb things…”
1:36 pm – Fischer: “I have a relationship with the governor. I don’t agree with him on everything. And that’s OK…”
1:35 pm – Tamara Scott asks how he sees the role, as an advisor or him delegating to you. “How do you see your relationship with the governor’s office?” Fischer says he knocked on doors for Branstad when he was very young as part of a class project.
1:33 pm – Fischer brings up the BVP/Branstad campaign and aftermath. Mentions Branstad signed Iowa’s homeschool bill. “That’s how you build coalitions… We don’t have to agree on everything. Dissent isn’t just ok in our party. Dissent is good…”
1:30 pm – Tony Krebsbach asks how to get homeschooling people engaged. Fischer replies they already are engaged.
1:29 pm – Gopal: “Would you rubberstamp the actions of the chair..” Fischer says he’s “friends with A.J. I’m not there to rubberstamp him”. Fischer is actually one of Spiker’s closest advisors.
1:28 pm – Fischer says we need to reach out to the Iowa Federation of Republican women and college Republicans.
1:26 pm – Fischer: “I’ve been a leader in a leadership movement.” Talks about success bringing younger people in. Says it’s about the candidates.”Candidates need to run a message that unites people…message of freedom…”
1:25 pm – Fischer says there’s too much focus on mechanics, plans, programs, strategies, etc.
1:23 pm – Same question from Schulte, what would you do to activate volunteers. Fischer says you have to reach out and talk to people.
1:22 pm – It is hot in this room. They just opened a window to let in some air. Thank goodness. Much needed.
1:18 pm -Rosenthal says it’s vital for the SCC, in particular the co-chair, get out and support the county GOP chairs. He’s right. That is one thing this current committee has not done. I’ve heard complaints from all over the state that they rarely, if ever, see their SCC representatives.
1:16 pm -Jamie Johnson thanks Eric Rosenthal for all his hard work in Linn County. Tamara Scott asking now. She echoes the gratitude for Rosenthal’s hard work. Scott says “we have a responsibility and obligation” to the 600,000 Republicans. I’ve heard that Tamara Scott, our national committeewoman, is supporting Rosenthal.
1:15 pm – Rosenthal says jobs are headed overseas. “We have to go talk to young people..respect them…. There’s a way to include these people. ” Says his son, who was in high school, started a conservative club.
1:12 pm – Joel Kurtinitis asks about bringing in younger people to the party. What can we do? Rosenthal says, “There’s a lot we can do… These kids need to know frankly that their future is at stake…”
1:09 pm – Next question is from Gopal Krishna about the role of the co-chair. Rosenthal says he works for the SCC. Gopal: What are your specific plans to help the chair? Rosenthal says we must insist on integrity in the voting process. Gets pretty fired up about it. He’s getting some “um hmms” from the SCC members.
1:08 pm – This is a neverending first question.
1:03 pm – Rosenthal says talking to people, not telemarketing is the way to do things. Mentions Stan Gustaffson “Is a big hero of mine”. Gustaffson is a door-knocking master. Has been very helpful to Tom Latham’s past two campaigns, as well as helping other candidates.
1:02 pm – Rosenthal up first for questions. Loras Schulte asks Rosenthal about using the volunteer base. “I’ have never seen telemarketing working… ” Interesting. That’s the primary focus of campaigns, to work the phones, making thousands and thousands of phone calls.
12:59 pm – Enos talks about all the candidates he’s worked for and the necessity to get behind whoever wins primaries. “And I think that’s where we need to go as a party…” Enos done now. Q&A time.
12:52 pm – Wes Enos up now. He’s in his third term on the SCC. Says the co-chair’s role is a cheerleader, traveling around the state and talking to the grassroots and bringing people together. Says the 2012 election is over. “We’ve got to walk out those doors tomorrow …. and tell them the committee is ready for business in 2014.. a strong senate run against Senator Harkin in 2014… maintain our five statewide offices and Governor Branstad.” Enos says we shouldn’t label people as Campaign for Liberty, social conservatives, etc.”
12:49 pm – Fischer: “Republicans want less government, not more. I want to be an effective ambassador for these ideas… ” Mentions there are no national candidates running to divide us. “I’m not targeting anybody, but I want Republicans of all levels to step up and get involved….that includes primaries… ” Fischer has run over his time. Spiker gavels him out.
12:48 pm – Fischer says it’s important to keep reinforcing conservative principles. “I’m not running so that I can be a cheerleader that anybody that hangs an R behind their name… It’s our responsibility as party leaders to hold not only Democrats’ feet to the fire, but also Republicans… ” Mentions the party platform.
12:47 pm – The Ron Paul supporters in the audience are giving amens to some of Fischer’s comments.
12:46 pm – Fischer talks about abortion being evil, standing up for the Second Amendment, and the government printing money is immoral. “I want to promote our conservative principles and policies…”
12:44 pm – Fischer mentions being a national delegate. “I’ve led the statewide candidate for president in Ron Paul.” Says he has good relations with Republicans across the political spectrum. Says he’s donated thousands to candidates and causes.
12:43 pm – Fischer is giving his background. Talks about being the longest serving member of the Polk County GOP executive committee. Fischer was on the SCC from 2010-12. He did not run for reelection this year.
12:42 pm – Fischer was the vice-chair for Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign. If he wins, which he is likely to do, then everything Jamie Johnson said will come true, and dissension among the 585,000 non-Ron Paul Republicans are going to feel disenfranchised.
12:41 pm – Fischer says his voice is struggling after taking his six-year old to see monster trucks last night. “I’m still a little bit blushed from the nominating speech that Chad did for me.”
12:40 pm – Rosenthal done. David Fischer up now.
12:39 pm – Rosenthal says he encouraged Ben Lange to not run for Congress and instead take on state Senator Brian Schoenjahn. He says if you looked at the trend lines, you would have seen Lange wouldn’t win the congressional race, but could have claimed a state senate seat.
12:37 pm – Rosenthal: “We need to realize our own strengths… ” Discusses fundraising. “We raised $50,000 in a 6-8 week time period in our county, and it was mostly small donations… Whether you elect me or not, I’m cheering for you… Our strengths are our grassroots… People who give $5 and 10 bucks are just as important as the people that give $50,000.”
12:36 pm – Rosenthal reiterates is recognizing what the other side is doing and going straight at them. “What we’ve done is imitated their (the Democrats’) success… “
12:34 pm – Rosenthal says one of the ways he leads is to identify the Democrats’ strength and “run right at it… We need to go after their voters just like they go after our voters…. I believe we should have won the state senate this time..”. Says some of what happened as “possibly illegal”.
12:33 pm – Rosenthal: “Part of the leadership’s role is to recognize the landscape we are personally facing…” “I believe the top of the ticket is the best indicator of how successful a leadership is…” “I’m not saying we were all Mitt Romney supporters, but we were all hoping he would win…” I highly doubt every member of the SCC voted for Romney in the general election.
12:32 pm – Rosenthal is the former Linn County GOP chair and has worked with countless campaigns. He’s giving his background first.
12:31 pm – Nominations closed. Eric Rosenthal will speak first.
12:29 pm – Johnson says he’s seen Wes Enos work hard to “activate the grassroots…” “A sign can be given to registered Republicans across the state is one individual is elected who is broader than the Campaign for Liberty, broader than the Ron Paul/Rand Paul group… A visible sign must be given that this is not the Ron Paul Party of Iowa, it is the Republican Party of Iowa.” Boom.
12:28 pm – Jamie Johnson nominates Wes Enos.
12:27 pm – Steenhoek says “we need to elect principled leaders… A principled leader builds bridges, doesn’t tear them down… Serves others before he serves himself…” Says Fischer fits all those descriptions.
12:26 pm – Schulte talked over his time. Chad Steenhoek nominates David Fischer.
12:25 pm – Schulte says 50,000 Iowans participated in same day registration on November 6. Wow. That’s an enormous number. I am not a fan of same day registration.
12:24 pm – Schulte talks about Rosenthal’s vast experience working with campaigns and his use of voter databases, etc. “One of the things we are going to have to figure out is just exactly what happened in this last cycle..”
12:23 pm – Now nominations for co-chair. Loras Schulte nominates Eric Rosenthal.
12:22 pm – Here’s the vote: Spiker wins with 13 votes. Schickel got 5 votes. AJ Spiker remains chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.
12:21 pm – Time for the vote announcement. Spiker asks members to take their seats. Jamie Johnson and Loras Schulte are chatting in the kitchen. They were consuming the last doughnuts.
12:18 pm – I thought both candidates gave a pretty good accounting for themselves, but this election was decided weeks ago.
12:15 pm – Here are the definite votes for Bill Schickel: David Chung and Tim Moran. Perhaps Bob Anderson. The seven Ron Paul supporters, Mark Doland, Steve Scheffler, Chad Steenhoek are all likely voting for Spiker. Tamara Scott, Wes Enos and Jamie Johnson are the only ones I am not completely sure of. We’ll soon find out.
12:14 pm – With that, the Q&A session ends. Time for the vote. A.J. notes again that Marcus Fedler will proxy vote for Jeff Shipley and Tony Kresbach will vote proxy for Mark Doland.
12:13 pm – Joel Kurtinitis says he’s talked to a lot of people who want to leave the party because of things like the fiscal cliff vote. Asks Schickel what he can do to prevent that. Schickel: “Promoting constitutional conservative ideals… Rather than handing down orders from on high, I intend to motivate bottom up…”
12:11 pm – He mentions SCC member appointments and says he doesn’t know how any of them voted, even referencing Wes Enos. It’s common knowledge Enos was a Michele Bachmann staffer.
12:08 pm – Tamara Scott asks about the staff, who all came from the Ron Paul campaign. Spiker says: “Steve (Bierfeldt) and I have worked together in the past…” “As far as other staff, Megan Stiles, former communications director, she ended up being with us…she was hired through the general election.” He didn’t answer the question. Spiker: “The state chairman has the authority to hire all the Victory staff…” Says he gave Ryan Gough, Victory director, the authority to hire Victory staff. “To say that only hiring based on ideology, I disagree with that.” He references the Caucus Review Committee. “I can’t imagine too many of them supported Ron Paul.”
12:06 pm – David Chung: “I believe the litmus test candidates must pass for this party is the primary…” Says this party should support every candidate that passes that litmus test. “Do you think that’s your job once you’re the chairman of this party?” Schickel says yes. Spiker says the Constitution and by-laws of the party are clear about that to support every candidate. Spiker says yes. Says he asked the Romney campaign to speak at all their events. “I will support the party preference.”
12:04 pm – Tony Krebsbach asks, “Are you suggesting staff was hired on anything other than merit?” Schickel says the staff is doing a good job. “Would you make changes to the staff?” Schickel says if the staff is behind his plan and they support his policies, he’ll want them on board. Says it’s the chair’s prerogative to hire staff.
12:03 pm – Marcus Fedler asking about principles. How do you define “balance”? Schickel says within the operations of RPI, we make sure supporters of all candidates are welcome here. “Our operation here is to support all candidates… ” Mentions again supporters of other candidates should not be disenfranchised. “Should we compromise our principles? No. That’s not what I’m talking about.”
12:01 pm – Schulte still talking. Says it’s vital to be unified, asks Schickel his thoughts on that. Schickel says, “The difference this time is, after Buchanan lost, you didn’t bring the entire Buchanan team in to run the Republican Party of Iowa.” … “When our chair, our executive director, our finance director, communications director all came from the same campaign… It’s disenfranchising to other Republicans… ” Yep.
11:59 am – Loras Schulte talking about how Pat Buchanan’s supporters in 1996 weren’t welcome into the party. Schulte says he ran that campaign. “Whether you supported Ron Paul or Rick Santorum or for that matter Mitt Romney, I don’t care anymore…” Says it’s unimportant to what needs to be done in 2014.
11:58 am – David Chung as Schickel about how he would motivate people in individual precincts to sign up new voters, says it’s very difficult to do. Schickel: “Part of it is leadership from the state chair… ” Says he’ll be making that a priority when he comes to Republicans’ home area and talks with them.
11:57 am – Chad Steenhoek says the two candidates that brought the most people into the party over last two cycles were Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul. How do you get those people interested. Schickel: “We keep those people involved by restoring confidence and balance to the Republican Party… I’ve spent my life bringing people together.. That’s what I do.”
11:56 am – John Kabitzke asks about size of staff. Schickel says he’s concerned about the departure of “experienced staff” and “inability to retain experienced staff is a concern of mine”.
11:54 am – Krishna asks about the 600,000 registered Republicans get involved in electing the chair. Suggests doing it at the state convention. Schickel says the system works well as it is, but is not opposed to doing it at convention.
11:52 am – Krishna asks if Spiker will weigh in on if the legislature discusses raising taxes. Gopal now asking same questions for Schickel. He says “No”, he won’t route any money to another organization, says the governor has not endorsed his candidacy. Schickel says he’s happy to speak out on issues, in consultation with the SCC. Says it’s important to work with GOP leaders to make sure we can get legislation passed. “I’ll consult with our leaders to make sure a public statement is helpful before I’ll make it.”
11:51 am – Gopal asks about the chairman putting pressure on elected officials. Spiker released a statement encouraged Congressman King and Latham to not for in favor of the fiscal cliff. Spiker says “we lose people” when officials do things like support the fiscal cliff. Spiker says: “I have no interest in weighing in on every issue that comes up…” But it’s important to do that at times.
1:48 am – Gopal Krisha asking now: As chair, will you route moneys to any organization for which you are an officer or have any financial interest in? Spiker says no. Second question: Has the governor personally endorsed your candidacy? Spiker: “I don’t think so, but he hasn’t publicly unendorsed me either.” (attendees laugh).
11:47 am – Spiker: “We had contracts that were longer than they should have been that were not approved by this committee… Spiker says there will be 12 events.. Drew Ivers, the finance chair, is working on putting a finance committee. Ivers has been finance chair since September. Why’s it taking five months?
11:45 am – Moran says from June-October, RPI had only 55 donors who donated only $35,000. Ouch. June: three donors from Iowa. July: two donors from Iowa. How will you improve that?
11:44 am – Tim Moran quizzing Spiker now on fundraising.
11:43 am – Spiker adds that candidates put too much emphasis on it. Hmmm… He was a staffer for Ron Paul, who paid more for his spot at the Straw Poll than any candidate. Also talks about Michele Bachmann did not take advantage of the Straw Poll.
11:41 am – Spiker is discussing how the whole public feud with Branstad happened. “It’s a Straw Poll. It doesn’t mean anything.” Wow. Really? The current chair of the RPI says the Ames Straw Poll “doesn’t mean anything.”
11:41 am – Schickel says when the highest elected official of the state gives an opinion on it, it’s not the role of the chairman to pick a fight on it and make it a news story for the next 5 or 6 days.
11:39 am – Loras Schulte asks about 2016, mentions the Ames Straw Poll, says he’s a supporter of having that Straw Poll, says it’s important to explain to the press… Schulte says he has a problem with Governor Branstad’s proposal to have “regional events” instead of the Straw Poll. Asks them their thoughts on the Straw Poll. A.J. asks Schickel if he wants to answer first. Schickel says he’s a supporter of it.
11:38 am – Schickel says we need to turn the whole manner of dealing with volunteers on its head… Discusses his plan for registering new Republicans and using the volunteer base to do that.
11:36 am – Anderson mention they’re primarily used as phone bankers. Spiker says they’re just volunteers, “so you’re not going to be directing them…” Mentions volunteers are on the county level and they’re often used to help with individual campaigns… “Ideally, you would have the county precinct people working their precincts…but ultimate they’re a volunteer and it is a decision of the individual to make.”
11:35 am – Bob Anderson asking: “In the past half dozen years, we’ve been presented with different visions about what volunteers should be…. ” Anderson is asking how the volunteer base should be used.
11:34 am – Chung asks Spiker who he will support for RNC chairman. Spiker sings the praises of current chair Reince Priebus.
11:31 am – David Chung asking , would you be willing to disclose any memberships in advocacy organizations. “If you are reelected, but you be willing to not accept any paid position with a campaign, etc. Spiker says “No”, he has not been the entire time he’s been chairman, and would not be as RPI chair. He was a paid staffer for Ron Paul when he was on the SCC as a regular voting member, but resigned the day he was elected back in February. Schickel also says he is not paid or a member of any other committees.
11:31 am – Q&A session now. One member asks what the “right amount” of people to have on staff. Spiker says “it depends on the year.”
11:29 am – Schickel discusses enhancing RPI fundraising, says he has a plan for how to do it. “If you think the status quo is good enough, then I’m not your guy.. If you want to keep electing Democrats, I’m not your candidates…”
11:28 am – Schickel: “Our platform is a beautiful document… time to start implementing some of those things instead of using it as a decoration on our web page.” Good line.
11:27 am – Schickel: “We are going to use early voting. I don’t like it any better than you do… ” Says early voting program is needed. “As Republicans, we’re very good about talking about what we’re against. Let’s start talking about what we’re for.”
11:26 am – Schickel says we need to increase our voter registration and lays out the details of his plan to do that. Need just 17 new voters in each precinct, he says.
11:25 am – Schickel says we need to highlight the things we agree on. “A.J.’s a friend, but this has been a good ol’ boys campaign…” “All Republicans have a right to know where the candidates for chair stand on the issues… We need to bring people together… We lost people on both sides…. “
11:24 am – Schickel: “Conservatives suffered a terrible defeat in the last election… ” .. “Our party is in danger of becoming a dinosaur unless we change, unless we make dramatic changes…”
1123 am – Schickel says the promise of our party is in line with the words found in the Declaration of Independence.
11:22 am – Schickel talking about his background, growing on a family farm…How his parents raised him..
11:22 am – I’m going to predict Schickel gets no more than 5 votes. He asks member to “rise above” and vote to work for all 600,000 Republicans in Iowa.
11:21 am – Spiker done now. Schickel starting to speak.
11:20 am – Spiker: “I pledge to never shun my responsibility to this committee…continue to work with grassroots activists..”
11:19 am – Spiker: “I believe the role of the party chairman should not be only to increase the success… I am not a state party chairman whose intention is to walk the party line… Should not shy away from social conservatism… Worked with people of all different backgrounds… As a big tent, we will have all kinds…”
11:18 am – “It’s been a joint effort between all of us on the SCC…It’s my desire to have SCC members as engaged as they want to be…”
11:17 am – Spiker: “Despite snipers…” he says he’s worked with Republicans all over. Gee, I wonder who he’s talking about…
11:16 am – Mentions “unfounded criticism”, says he’s working ‘very closely” with Republicans throughout the party. Runs through the officials that have spoken at events and signed fundraising letters.
11:15 am – He’s discussing RPI’s money. Says they have $400,000, that is not legislative majority fund or Victory money. Also praising their social media efforts.
11:15 am – Spiker mentions how they gave money to every candidate on the ballot. There are mixed opinions on that decision. Some felt it was wasting money by not focusing on targeted races.
11:14 am – Spiker says they focused on Victory efforts and not fundraising. Sounds like he’s trying to gloss over their fundraising woes.
11:13 am – Spiker says he’s spoken to each committee member, detailed his strengths and also laid out weaknesses that he needs to work on.
11:12 am – Spiker speaking now. “I know that regardless who wins this race today, RPI will have a dedicated Republican committed to the success of this party…”
11:11 am – Nominations closed. Each candidate has 10 minutes to speak, then up to 30 minutes for Q&A from the committee. Spiker will go first.
11:10 am – Moran: “This is about faith…Faith in party leadership…This is not about presidential candidate preference.”
11:09 am – Tim Moran nominates Bill Schickel.
11:07 am – Scheffler is talking about how RPI was able to get RNC to “fully fund” the Victory program in Iowa. Praising Spiker for that. Also talking about the rules confab at the RNC convention Tampa and Spiker defended that.
11:06 am – Doing nominations now for chairman. Steve Scheffler is the first nominator. Says it’s important we leave here united. Says he’s never seen so much “acrimony”. Scheffler nominates A.J. Spiker. That concludes it. Spiker is now guaranteed to win reelection. He’s got more than enough votes from the rest of the committee.
11:05 am – Minutes adopted.
11:03 am – Steve Scheffler just led the group in prayer. Prayed for “unity” as we leave the room. Tamara Scott did the pledge of allegiance. Mark Doland and Jeff Shipley are not here. They’ve asked for proxy votes. Those will almost certainly be for A.J. Spiker for chair and David Fischer for co-chair.
11:01 am – SCC members are in their seats, looks like we’re about to get underway. And Chairman Spiker just gaveled the meeting in.
10:59 am – OK, RPI wifi is crapping out. Borrowing someone else’s. Things CB. Hopefully it holds up.
10:50 am – I think we’re gonna need a bigger boat. Standing room only here.
10:49 am – Former state rep. Kim Pearson is here, likely to lend support to her fellow Ron Paul supporters.
10:46 am – I just spotted a Prius in the parking lot. What self-respecting Republican drives a Prius?
10:45 am – The visitors’ chairs are filling up. Some of the younger Ron Paul “liberty” folks from Polk County are here.
1044 am – I’m told the RPI computer guy just walked in, so hopefully he will be able to fix the wifi problem. Probably too many people using it right now.
10:41 am – This will be a lot easier to do on the laptop than the phone. Looks like I’ll have to use both. I shoulda had another 3 cups of coffee.
10:39 am – The wi-fi is coming in and out. Momentarily working. This won’t be as comprehensive as my usual live blogs. Some media here. Kay Henderson from Radio Iowa is one.
10:37 Henceforth, the most current info will be at the top. Room is filling up with visitors and media. A few folks from the Pottawattamie County GOP made the 2 hour trip here.
10:30 – RPIs wifi is not working. I will do this via phone. Time to invest in a portable device.
10:27 – The wi-fi connection here is very spotty. This could be interesting. I will likely live blog the officer elections, but there will be a lot of party business discussed today as well. This meeting will probably last several hours. I won’t live blog it all, but will fill you in on pertinent info. And non-pertinent.
10:10 am – Actually, a revision to the previous sentence. SCC members are just standing around chatting right now waiting for their committee meetings to start. It’s hard to tell who all is here so far and who is not. Steve Scheffler, national committeeman, just walked in. They’ve got a couple dozen chairs set up for attendees, if anyone from the public is interested in attending. It is an open meeting.
blog comments powered by Disqus