Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everyone Except The Main Speakers At Democrats BBQ

The only apparent failure at the Johnson County Democrats barbecue was the absence of the two main speakers. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack were on the job in DC thanks to, in a meme started by chair Mike Carberry and repeated by several other speakers, "The Party Which Must Not Be Named."

Despite Voldemort's best efforts over 250 people passed through the doors, with a final count of 29 candidates and elected officials. Mercifully, not all of them gave speeches.

With the congressmen unavoidably absent, the solo keynote duties went to Iowa City's Zach Wahls, who's grown even more solid as a speaker since the day his speech in support of his two moms and marriage equality went viral. Carberry hinted from the podium "I expect to vote for Zach one day."

Wahls isn't running for anything - yet - but he's been seen a lot on the trail recently in support of candidates, though he's sticking close to home since he's now back to school full time after spending the last couple years promoting marriage equality and his book. He says Republican stances on social and worker rights issues give Democrats a big opportunity with young people. "If you don't support civil rights & workers rights, you might not be a Democrat."

The bulk of the program was taken up by speeches from four candidates for governor. Did you even know there were four?

Rep. Tyler Olson gave an energetic version of his basic stump speech, his business and labor background and family, focusing on the need for systemic and generational change. "55% of Iowans said 20 years in office is enough. Now, I always said one year was enough" of Terry Branstad, said Olson. "We need a state government that works for all Iowans, but this governor does not agree."

Olson's lines about time in office and, by extension, age, are targeted at Branstad but serve the dual purpose of differentiating Olson from his main rival, Sen. Jack Hatch.

"It's not just about (Branstad)," Hatch said "It's an attack on the very values we have learned to represent as Democrats." Hatch focused on health care and tax reform, pledging to increase the Iowa income tax deduction per child from $40 to $1000 and to implement a dual wage earner tax credit.

Bob Krause often gets dismissed in the governor's race but he's a serious guy who'd be great for, say, a legislative seat. Krause focused on income inequality.

"We cannot do education policy or environmental policy without addressing income," said Krause. "Minimum wage earns you $14,500 a year. Don't spend it all in one place. We need to increase the minimum wage in a substantial way." Without citing it as a specific recommendation, Krause noted that the Australian minimum wage is the equivalent of $14.50 an hour, "almost a living wage."
Krause also gave the University Democrats a shout out; he was a 60s era chair of the UI Dems. "One of your best products in Johnson County is your students." Tell the Iowa City Council that, Bob. "We load them up with debt, keep wages low, and wonder why everybody leaves the state."

But the most talked about speech came from Paul Dahl, the Some Dude you probably didn't even know was running. Dahl, who won 5% in a 1994 congressional primary, concluded his slightly rambling remarks with one firm statement: "I think Jack Hatch has some issues in his background, and Tyler Olson is too young to be governor, you should at least be 40." (Olson is 37.) Dahl left immediately after his speech and thus was not available for followup. Paul, the comment section is open.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Scott Brennan was carefully neutral: "We don't play favorites in a primary, but we provide an infrastructure they can plug into after." He did offer praise for the unopposed absent Senate candidate. ""We have a great progressive ready to step into Tom Harkin's shoes, and that's Bruce Braley."

The other statewide candidates spoke late in the program as the crowd began to thin (we had to set up more tables at one point, a good problem to have).

Secretary of State candidate Brad Anderson gave a strong defense of voting rights and attacked his opponent, Republican incumbent Matt Schultz. "You can't have fair and honest elections if you are actively disenfranchising voters," said Anderson, attacking on Schultz's signature issue, photo ID. "Photo ID would disenfranchise up to 10% of Iowa voters."

I'd heard vague rumors without the name, but today was the first I'd seen or heard directly of Sherrie Taha (pronounced TAY-ha.) The Polk County soil and water commissioner is the first name in the race for Secretary of Agriculture, challenging GOP incumbent Bill Northey.

Taha compared herself to the last two Democratic nominees for the office, Denise O'Brien and Francis Thicke, emphasizing "it's the Department of  Agriculture AND Land Stewardship." Her background is primarily in consumer affairs and not farming. "You don't need to be a farmer to be secretary of agriculture. You need to work for all three million Iowans."

With so many statewide contenders speaking, the local legislative delegation deferred. The only candidates to speak were the two from the Republican-held districts that overlap into Johnson County: House 73 candidate David Johnson of West Branch and Senate 39 contender Richard Gilmore of Washington. (The buzz is: recruiting efforts continue in both seats.)

Nine out of ten courthouse officials were on hand and the only reason it wasn't 100% was we lost that one election in March. A couple 2014 supervisor candidates were also present in addition to incumbent Janelle Rettig: chair Carberry, who lost the special election nomination at the convention, is trying again, and Lisa Green-Douglass of rural North Liberty is now announced.

The six Iowa City council candidates are all registered Democrats. Rockne Cole and Royceann Porter were the only ones on hand; Kingsley Botchway sent regrets. No sign of Dickens, Mims, Champion, or either side of the 21 bar battle. The only council incumbent not on the ballot who showed up: Jim Throgmorton. (Still, Matt Hayek will get the shout-out from the stage next time the president comes to town.) John Lundell, running for Coralville mayor, and unopposed North Liberty council incumbent Gerry Kuhl (occasionally rumored interested in other office) were also on hand.

And though I invited my Republican friends last night to return the favor and visit our barbecue, none took me up on it. Maybe next year.

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