Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Tale of Two Chairs

My friend Sue Dvorsky is stepping down as Iowa Democratic Party chair.

My feelings are profoundly mixed, even though it's not a surprise. Sue and Bob were among the first people I met 22 years ago when I moved to Iowa, and I doubt I'm ever going to see someone I'm as close to personally in a position like that again.

But we've missed her in the local trenches while she's been in the "view from 30,000 feet" job, and while she says she needs a break, we locals know she won't be able to stay away.

This wasn't supposed to happen, you know. This job is usually a one and done. Sue was just supposed to be VICE chair in 2010. But then Mike Kiernan got ill and Sue stepped up. Just-retired teacher from Johnson County (!) was an unusual resume for a job that usually goes to a Des Moines rainmaker.

She inherited a rough hand in 2010: a brutal national climate, a terminally weak incumbent governor, and a House recruiting class with a lot of empty seats.She did the best she could, along with executive director Norm Sterzenbach (also stepping down) and the rest of a great crew. Chet Culver lost, as he would have to any Republican other than Bob Vander Plaats, and the House fell.

But the Senate held, and almost unique among the nation, Iowa held its three Democratic congressional seats. Heck, Roxanne Conlin even won a county.

With Terrace Hill gone for the first time in 12 years and Mike Gronstal busy herding his 26 Senate cats, the chair role became the de facto spokesperson job for Iowa Democrats. Dvorsky put her own feisty - that word just comes to mind with Sue - feisty brand on the task and was wonderfully quotable.

Sue fights hard and fights partisan, but maintains personal class. She stood up to bullying tactics of both the right and left - I'm gonna get in trouble for bringing THAT up again - and maintained dignity through an ill-advised Occupy blockade of her office.

When Terry Branstad tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat with the Marion special election, Sue and the crew successfully fought back, recruiting an unbeatable candidate in Liz Mathis and cranking the field machine up to eleven.

Dvorsky fought hard and successfully, alongside Republican chair Matt Strawn, to keep the Iowa caucuses first in the nation. Sure, it was less than perfect, and one ur-left grumbler called it an "Obama Nuremberg rally" (the same guy who dubbed me the "assassin of hope"). But it was largely through her efforts that the traditional caucus alignment happened at all.

The crown jewel, of course, was the just completed general election. Sue helmed the most intense field operation we've ever seen, with just a hair under half the Obama vote in the bank before election day. Democrats regained the voter registration lead even though we have not had a major intra-party contest (the thing that drives people to check a party box) since the 2008 caucuses. All those Republican gains from the 2010 primary and 2012 caucuses? Gone.

Democrats picked up seven net seats in the Iowa House, just a couple heartbreakers away from control, and most critically the Senate held.

Sure, Leonard Boswell lost, but frankly that was his fault. And in retrospect the 4th CD was unwinnable, but Christie Vilsack gave Steve King the fight of his life. And in eastern Iowa, where Republicans were supposedly making "serious" efforts," Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley scored solid wins.

A lot of other people were involved in all that, sure. But all in all, those are some solid laurels for Sue to rest on. Not that I can imagine her resting for long.

(Sue and Bob are great parents, too, and that's really their greatest accomplishment. It's been a sacrifice for the family with four Dvorskys in four places. It's been fun watching Ann and Caroline grow up and follow in the family footsteps.)

Compare all this to the unmitigated disaster that the other team is dealing with right now: internal factional warfare, a donor revolt, a national delegation that embarrassed the nominee, and an open feud between chair A.J. Spiker and the sitting five term Republican governor.

Funniest headline of the week comes from the Coralville Courier: It's time for the Tea Party and Liberty groups to take over the GOP. That hasn't already happened? Spiker's just the figurehead of a larger problem, and Strawn was the fall guy for problems that were primarily local. But they both show the difference a chair can make.

The Democratic chair will now go, quite frankly, to whoever Tom Harkin wants, which is how it usually works in his election cycles (and don't doubt for a minute that he IS running). State Rep. Tyler Olson is the first name getting mentioned. Whoever it is will have big shoes to fill. Welcome home, Sue.

1 comment:

laura twing said...

Kudos and best wishes to Sue, great job!