Monday, May 13, 2013

Opening the Hatch in Johnson County

In a night dominated by old stories of lost tools of the trade like walking decks and index cards, Senator Jack Hatch came the closest to making actual news Saturday night at the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame dinner.

Hatch acknowledged that recently leaked news that he'd formed an exploratory committee for governor, and he pledges to stand on principle. "For the first time in 8 years, we'll have a governor who won't make decisions based on polls," he said, in an implied shot at Chet Culver. "Democrats win when we vote with our heart."

Health care, now stalled in the legislature, has been Hatch's signature issue. "Iowa has highest percentage of children with health insurance in the country," but calling the Republican proposal "the most cynical legislation I've ever seen. It would cost more money and provide less care."

"We learned from 2010 that we can't sit on our hands and be disaffected," Congressman Dave Loebsack told the crowd. "We can't afford it. Our future is at stake. When I was a political science professor I used to hate when politicians said things like 'our future is at stake,' but this time it's really true."

Also on hand were Iowa Democratic Party chair Tyler Olson and his predecessor, Sue Dvorsky, who spoke on behalf of an absent Bruce Braley.

"This state is not going to just automatically replace Tom Harkin with Bruce Braley," Dvorsky said in one of her trademarked motivational speeches. "Bruce will need an effort out of here beyond what we now expect. It'll be our job to start right now."

While the early speakers looked forward, most of the evening was spent looking back by the night's lifetime achievement award winners. Sadly, one was absent; disability advocate Lori Bears died in March, far sooner than expected at age 50. "I don't think there was a more dogged activist for her cause than Lori Bears," said Loebsack.

The honorees were all female and appropriately for Mother's Day weekend, the theme helped tie the night together.

At long-ago JCDems fall barbecues, "the women were clearing the tables and the guys were out clearing out the kegs," said Anita Sehr.  Anita, who with her late husband Don, a longtime county supervisor, hosted countless Sharon Center caucuses in their home, told tales of the Carter, Glenn, Gore, and Bill Clinton campaigns.

"I'm a product of a broken home... politically," said Sehr. "My mother was a Democrat and my father was a Republican. Dad always said 'know something about the person before you vote.' Mom, not so much."

The honor to Jocye Carman also tacitly acknowledged a deceased spouse, law professor David Baldus. Carman is "a quiet progressive voice who never sought the limelight," said Sue Dvorsky, and that modestly was reflected in the speech.

Carman was one of several speakers who mentioned the unsuccessful 1980 Iowa ERA campaign. "In this community, it is the women who make things happen," she said. The ERA also fell short in 1992; a much abbreviated version that simply added the words "and women" passed in 1998.

Maureen Donnelly was one of the first people I met when I moved to town in 1990 and has been an omnipresence at campaign headquarters to the present day. Donnelly cut her teen in Connecticut town hall politics: "Where I grew up IrishCatholicDemocrat is one word." After moving to Iowa she found that the caucuses worked a lot like those town meetings. By coincidence Saturday was Maureen's birthday so we all sang.

"The Johnson County Democrats got me out of the laboratory and gave me many other experiences in life," said honoree Rebecca Reiter, who served as party finance chair for many years among other roles. "Central committee meetings can be a surreal experience. I remember a long discussion of the rights of lobsters," she said, though she did not remember how the lobsters came out in the debate.

Several of the honorees expressed a similar sentiment summed up by Donnelly: "Moving to Johnson County was the best thing that ever happened to me."

And all urged activists to keep working. "Time flies whether you're having fun or not!" said Sehr. "So have fun, get involved, you'll be really pleased with yourself if you can."

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