It’s been over a year since the current slate of Republican Party of Iowa state central committee members were selected at District Conventions across the state. Seven members of the 16-member committee are supporters of former Congressman Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, a few others supported other candidates for president but also have connections to the liberty movement in Iowa.
One only needs to look at who the committee chose as it’s chairman and co-chairman to understand that the Ron Paul/liberty crowd has complete control over the inner workings of the Republican Party of Iowa. Chairman A.J. Spiker was elected after Matt Strawn resigned following his mishandling of the 2012 caucus results and has since been re-elected to another full term. Co-Chairman David Fisher was elected in January. Both are former paid operatives for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
The Republican Party of Iowa’s ideological bent toward the liberty movement and the candidacies of Ron and Rand Paul has been a concern of longtime Republican activists across the state. It’s not just that Paul supporters control the Republican Party of Iowa, it’s that they seem unaware of how their actions, like awarding 22 of Iowa’s 28 national delegates to third place finisher, Ron Paul, at the Republican National Convention could harm Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucuses.
Since taking over control of the party, the suspicion over the current party administration’s motives has turned into widespread distrust. NBC News asked Spiker about concerns from some that the Republican Party of Iowa is too narrowly focused on a certain ideology or potential presidential candidate. “I think the notion that it’s just about Rand or Ron is really kind of silly,” Spiker told Michael O’Brien, a Political Reporter with NBC News. Yet, many Iowa Republican activists would disagree.
The problem is not that longtime GOP activists don’t like and respect Senator Rand Paul or appreciate what Ron Paul brought to the presidential race in 2008 and 2012, it’s that 2014 has nothing to do with presidential politics, but that seems to be the focus of the Republican Party of Iowa. As an example, when county leaders in two of the state’s four congressional districts chose to form District Executive Committees as a way to organize for the 2014 elections, the Iowa GOP met them with resentment.
District Executive Committees are allowed under the Republican Party of Iowa’s Constitution, even though they have not been utilized for years. They consist of the chair and co-chairs of county party organizations, and additional members are allowed in counties with high populations. Seeing this additional level of grassroots activism materialize is encouraging, yet current party leadership feels threatened by the reemergence of these committees.
While it is true that some county leaders have viewed the District Executive Committees as a way to counter the activities and opinions of the current administration, there are many other advantages that come from reestablishing these committees.
District Executive Committees Will Help RPI Organize for the Caucuses
The 2014 caucuses are not going to bring with them national media attention, but they are still an important party building event. Even though no vote will be taken that night, Iowa Republicans should use the off year caucuses to work out the kinks that occurred 2012. The best way to do that is to require each precinct in Iowa to communicate information back to the Republican Party headquarters in Des Moines.
Let’s face it. It will take more than just the Paul/liberty supporters to pull off the caucuses. It would be no different if the Republican Party of Iowa were run by just Santorum or Romney hardliners. Instead of fighting the District Executive Committees, Spiker and the RPI should instead embrace them and use them to organize the 2014 caucuses. To accomplish this, a level of trust would need to be developed, as well as open lines of communication.
As a former Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during a presidential caucus year, I can attest to how important it is to have competent, knowledgeable, and dedicated county chairs with active county central committees behind them. This is of utmost importance during a presidential caucus cycle. While most of Iowa’s 99 counties were organized in 2007, far too many of them were not.
2007 wasn’t a great year for Republicans. Chet Culver had just been elected governor, Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley were freshmen in Congress, and many Republicans had soured on President George W. Bush. Simply put, there wasn’t much fight left in Republican activists when I took a job at the Republican Party of Iowa. When you talked to county chairs about the caucuses, they said that nobody is going to show up. Worse yet, they actually believed what they were saying.
And to pile bad on top of bad, Michigan and Florida had defied RNC rules and scheduled their primaries in January. Not only was the date of the Iowa caucuses in constant question, but the time we had to prepare for the caucuses was slashed. On top of that, the January 3rd caucus date required county leaders to be engaged over Christmas, a time when many are used to putting politics aside.
Countless hours were spent trying contact non-respondent county chairs. In some cases, state staff had to organize the caucuses for these county chairs and find local people to be responsible to assume the duties of the county chair. Had the District Executive Committees existed back then, the counties without active or competent leadership would have been easily identifiable. Being able to meet with chairs and co-chairs in each congressional district would have made preparing for the caucuses much easier and more efficient.
Trust and communication are key ingredients to a well functioning political party, and that’s what the District Executive Committees can help foster.
District Executive Committees Restore Proper Balance to the Republican Party
Over the past year, the Republican Party of Iowa has become a very top-down organization. Generally, any chairman speaks on behalf of all Iowa Republicans, but many times they are voicing their own opinions. Every administration is guilty of this, some just do it more than others. Likewise, State Central Committee members travel all over the state at the expense of the Republican Party of Iowa in an effort to communicate to county committees about what the state party is up to.
It’s not that State Central Committee members are bad, it’s just that often times they don’t always understand their roles. I remember when a State Central Committee member conveyed a complaint he heard from a county GOP meeting. After he was done telling me all about it, I asked him to tell me what he told them after hearing the complaint. He said, “I told them that would tell you about it.”
The Republican Party of Iowa is bigger than just the chairman, the paid staff, and the central committee members. The Republican Party of Iowa represents and includes everyone who considers themselves to be a Republican. Now we are not all going to agree on everything, but we are collectively Iowa Republicans. The District Executive Committees should help maintain that balance.
Furthermore, the District Executive Committees can help hold party leadership accountable. It’s never a bad thing when county chairs and co-chairs are asking to take on more responsibility. They are the people in the trenches who know what works and what doesn’t work in their counties. It only makes sense for RPI or various statewide campaigns to reach out and involve them in their activities.
I understand why the State Central Committee and the leadership of the Iowa GOP are a little weary of the formation of the District Executive Committees, but if they are truly interested in helping elect Republicans, there is nothing to fear. The formation of these committees allows the Iowa GOP to be better organized than it has been in years. That is something to get excited about.
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