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Political Mercury

Four candidates vying for Iowa Democratic Party chair

12/17/2014

Des Moines, or Not Des Moines?

That’s a central question for the central committee of the Iowa Democratic Party, according to a northern Iowa activist seeking the state chairmanship.

Kurt Meyer of St. Ansgar, the chairman of the Tri-County Democrats (Worth, Howard and Mitchell counties) suggested Saturday the party choose an “out-state” Iowa chair — in other words, not someone from Des Moines.

Kurt Meyer

Kurt Meyer

“I think that that basically reinforces a message that we’re striving to be a 99-county party,” Meyer said. “Now there are other ways that you can do that. But I don’t know that there would be a better way just to start with.”

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The party is at a ”hinge point” in its history, and is in jeopardy of losing relevance in Iowa, he said.

“I think right now we’re teetering on the edge of the great abyss,” Meyer said. “And if we fall down into it, it may be 25 years before we crawl or climb back out.”

Meyer Saturday joined a field of four candidates seeking to become the next chairman of the state political party in the wake of a devastating election for Democrats with a national spotlight now turning to the presidential caucuses. The candidates spoke to the Iowa Democratic Party’s state central committee at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union hall in east Des Moines.

The other candidates: former 4th District congressional candidate Jim Mowrer of Boone; Des Moines physician and 2006 candidate for lieutenant governor, Dr. Andy McGuire of Des Moines; and Tim Tracy of rural Carroll, an advertising consultant for Herald Publishing Company (Full disclosure: that’s my family’s newspaper chain).

Jim Mowrer

Jim Mowrer

The central committee’s 52 voting members will determine on Jan. 17 the full-time successor to chairman Scott Brennan of Des Moines.

McGuire, president of Meridian Health Plan of Iowa, ran with gubernatorial candidate Mike Blouin in the primary captured by Gov. Chet Culver.

A Waterloo native, McGuire said she campaigned throughout Iowa, and recalls the stories from Iowans she heard during that race.

The problem in 2014: voters didn’t hear the Democratic Party’s message, McGuire said.

“Equality, it’s about fairness,” she said. “It’s about an economy that works for everybody, not just some people. It’s about infrastructure. It’s about public education. It’s about services for Iowa families and children and students. It’s about not just a minimum wage, but a living wage.”

McGuire said she would be beat the drum for that message, every day, in all of Iowa.

“My heart just sank that we didn’t talk about who we are in this last election,” McGuire said.

The party needs to operate from the county up, with a buy-in from all parts of the state, she said, adding that she would hold “listening tours” in Iowa’s four congressional districts.

Andie McGuire

Andie McGuire

“I want people in this party, lots more people in this party,” McGuire said.

The leader of the Iowa Democratic Party should know “what’s it’s like out in Calhoun County?” she said.

For his part, Tracy pledged a robust 99-county strategy with an emphasis on the party’s populist economic message.

“Nov. 4 is over. The future of the Iowa Democratic Party starts right now,” Tracy said. “That future is built on our core strength, that the Iowa Democratic Party cares about and works to better the lives of all Iowans. We are on their side. We have their back. We have the back of the working families in Iowa, those who are doing well and those who aren’t doing so well.”

Why didn’t the party do better in November?

“From Washington, D.C., to Washington, Iowa, frankly, we assumed too much,” Tracy said. “We took it for granted that Iowans understood that it was the policies of President Obama, Democrats in the House and Senate, and Democrats in our Statehouse, that brought us back from the brink of a Republican near-Depression. Every economic indicator is pointing in the right direction now, and we assumed people knew that. And we assumed wrong. We didn’t hammer away at that point.”

Meanwhile, Tracy said, the GOP stood and “threw rocks” at Democratic initiatives without offering alternatives.

Tim Tracy

Tim Tracy

A Des Moines native and graduate of Dowling Catholic High School, Tracy has worked in chamber, tourism and economic-development in Carroll, Denison, Glidden, Marshalltown, Harlan, Oskaloosa and Ottumwa.

“The strengths I bring to this position include a lifetime of helping businesses, organizations and communities tell their story, and communicate their message,” Tracy said.

The message is a key part of fundraising, and must extend — with the forceful, traveling voice of the chairman — into rural Iowa, he said.

“I’m a firm believer that economic development in Iowa has to touch all 99 counties, every urban center and every rural community and every rural county because that’s what our strength is as Iowans,” Tracy said. “Our strength comes from our rural background.”

Mowrer, getting right to the point with money for the party, said he raised $2.2 million in 16 months to challenge U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican who defeated Mowrer. King captured 37 of the 39 counties the 4th congressional district to easily win re-election. Mowrer, an Iraq War veteran, lost his home county to King. Mowrer only won Story County, home to Ames and Iowa State University, and Cerro Gordo County, which includes Mason City. District-wide King won 62 percent to 38 percent.

That considered, Mowrer said he proved in an hour-long debate in Storm Lake, on the campus of Buena Vista University, that he could stand in the political ring with King.

“I would point to my record to speak for itself,” Mowrer said.

He added, “I’m fully capable of being a messenger for Iowa Democrats.”

Mowrer’s central plan for the Democratic Party: a 10-year goal to be competitive in 99 counties.

The Boone Democrat said he would not run for elective office in 2016 if elected as party chairman. He would take his 10,000 person-strong fundraising list, though, and use it to boost the state party.

Mowrer said he’s concerned about the presidential caucuses failing to attract candidates.

“We need an open, competitive caucus, and I’m a little worried about that,” Mowrer said.

Meyer, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress (2008) and the Iowa Legislature (2010), described himself as a “lunch-pail” Democrat with a Mitchell County farm history stretching back 160 years in his family.

“I am proud, passionate, progressive Democrat from the marrow of my soul to the core of my being,” Meyer said.

He was involved in creating the Tri-County Democrats — and noted that in a challenging year for Democrats, the party’s U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley carried Howard (50.7 percent) and Worth (50.5 percent) counties over U.S. Sen.-elect Joni Ernst, a Red Oak Republican.

Meyer said the party should identify and invest in new party leaders and build a deep bench, always with an eye toward future election cycles.

“I’ve been preparing for the assignment for 40 years so let’s get started,” said Meyer, whose fundraising experience dates back to U.S. Sen. John Culver. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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