Iowa Democratic Party Forms Caucus Review Committee

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Democratic caucusgoers wait in line outside the Perkins Elementary School gym precinct in Des Moines Feb. 1. Photo: Jon Lemons/Iowa Informer

In the wake of the widely criticized caucuses Feb. 1, Iowa Democrats have organized a 26-member committee, as promised last month, to “conduct a full review of the caucus process and submit recommendations on how the party can improve the Iowa Caucuses.” The committee will be chaired by former U.S. Rep. Dave Nagle, a Cedar Falls attorney.

Although caucus veterans and party officials defended this year’s process in the face of allegations of various merit, others criticized them for reports of organizational problems, alleged rule violations at some precincts, and a lack of inclusiveness.

According to an IDP press release, the committee will hold an initial meeting April 23 and then a series of public input meetings across the state at yet-to-be-determined dates. “In February, IDP Chair Andy McGuire announced that, in line with the party’s long tradition of working to improve the caucus process, she would convene a committee to conduct a full evaluation of the caucuses and to listen to the suggestions of Iowans all across the state,” the press release said. “It is through a similar process that the party launched its first ever Tele-Caucus and satellite caucuses this year.”

The committee members, listed below, include a number of party insiders and elected officials. Another member is Informer contributor Evan Burger, who currently works for the Bernie Sanders campaign and shared his thoughts on the committee’s formation.

“I think it’s very necessary when you look at what a mess the caucus process was — and the county conventions were in some cases just as bad,” Burger told the Informer. “I think you can recognize there are problems with the system while at the same time acknowledging all the hard work that went into putting all this on. Just to say that things are going to be inherently messy I think is kind of abdicating responsibility.” He said that he didn’t buy the argument that major changes, such as moving toward the secret ballot process used in the state’s Republican caucuses, would jeopardize the IDP’s agreement with New Hampshire’s Democratic Party to be the first caucus and primary states, respectively.

“There are caucuses that run smoothly, and I think that Iowa’s was not one of those on the Democratic side this year,” Burger said. As an example of a better-run process, he mentioned this year’s Iowa GOP caucuses, which underwent reforms through a similar process after counting errors in 2012 led to the party’s initial announcement of Mitt Romney, rather than actual victor Rick Santorum, as the caucus winner.

Burger said that the full impact on Sanders, and his campaign’s razor-close finish with Clinton in Iowa, caused by problems with the state’s caucuses could never be fully known because of how delegates are allocated without a record kept of raw vote numbers. But he said that he was hopeful the committee could help implement meaningful changes and that his “guiding principles” as one of its members would be taking action to remove barriers to participation and make the caucuses more accessible.

“It comes down to when people are coming into the caucuses, they’re trying to participate in the party,” he said. “They’re trying to get involved in the process, and they’re struggling, they’re being turned away in some cases. This a huge problem for the Democratic Party, when people want to get involved but the process is so broken that they can’t.”

Here are the committee’s 26 members, as listed in the IDP press release:

Chair Dave Nagle, Black Hawk County
Evan Burger, Story County
Scott Brennan, Polk County (Ex officio)
Melanie Cloud Gross, Johnson County
Sandy Dockendorff, Des Moines County
Sue Dvorsky, Johnson County (Ex officio)
Abby Finkenauer, Dubuque County
Jamie Fitzgerald, Polk County
Marcia Fulton, Union County
Elesha Gayman, Scott County
Dick Goodson, Polk County
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Pottawattamie County (Ex officio)
Chris Hall, Woodbury County
Congressman Dave Loebsack, Johnson County (Ex officio)
John McCormally, Polk County
Marcia Nichols, Polk County
Bret Nilles, Linn County
Jean Pardee, Clinton County
Penny Rosfjord, Woodbury County
Ken Sagar, Polk County
Don Smith, Poweshiek County
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith, Marshall County (Ex officio)
Norm Sterzenbach, Polk County
Marcia Thompson, Story County
Miriam Tyson, Black Hawk County
Christian Ucles, Polk County

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.