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Democrats choose delegates for gubernatorial race, Republicans approve anti-abortion addendum at county conventions

The Poweshiek County Democratic Party held its convention on March 17 in Malcom, Iowa. Sayles Kasten ’19 was among a group of 14 Grinnell College students representing Grinnell’s First Ward at the Convention.

“Specifically, for me, the convention was really important because it showed that student power is a growing force in Iowa, probably a determining factor in the next couple of election cycles,” Kasten said. “I’d like to see Iowa students changing politics in a major way, for the better.”

Kasten and other students played a major role in the Feb. 5 Democratic Caucus, and have been involved with Iowa Student Action in organizing students to attend the caucus and subsequently the convention in support of gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson.   

The official date for Iowa’s Democratic County Conventions was March 24. However, Poweshiek County held its convention a week early to accommodate Grinnell College student delegates who would otherwise have been on spring break. Poweshiek County’s Republican Party held its convention on March 10.

The delegates representing each precinct at the conventions were chosen at preliminary caucuses held on Feb. 5. Poweshiek County is a part of District 1, which covers the northeastern corner of the state, and on April 28, the Republican and Democratic Parties will meet for district conventions. The district conventions precede a state convention for each party on June 16, following state-wide primaries on June 5.

According to Chris Varney, chair of Poweshiek County’s Republican Party, the main objectives of any county convention are to select delegates to go on to represent the county at the district and state level, debate platform planks submitted on caucus night or propose new ones and to hear any candidates running for office.

At Poweshiek County’s Democratic Convention, of the 89 delegates in attendance, six were chosen to continue to the district and state conventions. Three of those were Grinnell College students: Abby Frerick ’21, Arish Vale ’21 and Kate Menner ’18. The state convention will draw around 1,000 Democratic delegates.

Given that there are multiple candidates running for governor as Democrats, the delegates chosen to represent the county at the district and state conventions “voted to split into ‘preference groups’ by gubernatorial candidates,” wrote John Grennan, Poweshiek County Democrats co-chair, in an email to The S&B. “This means that delegates were chosen to represent certain candidates for governor (though these commitments are nonbinding). Our groups picked two delegates for Cathy Glasson, one for Nate Boulton, one for Fred Hubbell, one for John Norris and one for ‘uncommitted’ (delegates who have not made a choice of who they are supporting for governor). Across the state, Nate Boulton won the most committed delegates, followed by Cathy Glasson and Fred Hubbell. But the largest group of delegates statewide are ‘uncommitted.’”

The choice of delegates plays an important part in the selection of candidates.

“If no candidate for governor wins 35 percent or more of the vote in the June primary, the state convention will choose the candidate that will represent the Democratic Party,” Grennan wrote. “That’s one of the reasons the elections for these delegates are important.”

Kasten and other students pushed for the preferential voting because the large number of Democratic candidates leads to a relatively high likelihood that no candidate will win the requisite 35 percent in the primary election and the choice will fall to the delegates at the state convention. Additionally, Kasten felt that by bringing people out to the caucuses and conventions in support of a candidate, momentum would be built, proving the strength of the candidate’s support base and the power of a grassroots movement.

As incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds is unopposed, the Republican Party did not enter preferential voting. Of the 35 delegates chosen at the February caucuses to represent their respective wards, 20 attended the Republican County Convention. 12 delegates and 12 alternates were chosen for the district and state conventions, and those chosen need not have attended the convention to be appointed as a delegate.

“We want to re-elect Gov. Reynolds, that’s probably our biggest priority from a state-wide perspective,” Varney said. Ron Corbett, the mayor of Cedar Rapids, had previously been slated to oppose Reynolds, but did not collect enough valid signatures on his petition to run to earn a spot on the ballot. Because Reynolds will be unopposed in the primaries, the party is focusing on supporting those running for other offices in the primaries and drawing continued support for the general elections.

The delegates in attendance at Poweshiek’s Republican County Convention decided to support the “Heartbeat Bill,” which will be added as an addendum to the Party’s platform. The bill is an anti-abortion measure that prevents abortions, with the exception of saving a woman’s life, after the first detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.

“By passing this as a county, it means we support this piece of legislature that is before the Iowa State Legislature, and we hope that they would listen to our opinions on the matter,” Varney said. Poweshiek County’s Republican Party did not choose to add any other addendums to their platform.

In addition to the issues of CAFOs and the minimum wage, the function of caucuses was called into question at the Democratic convention.

“Caucuses are really undemocratic. They really favor people who can be at a certain place at a certain time, who have a certain means,” Kasten said. However,  the issue was not discussed at length, and the proposed Democratic Party county platform was approved by a voice vote.

The Republican convention heard from Dave Maxwell, a current Iowa State Representative up for re-election; Trevor White, a Poweshiek County supervisor up for re-election; Merle Doty, who is running for Poweshiek County Board of Supervisors and Craig Lang, who is from Poweshiek County and running for Iowa State Secretary of Agriculture in the primaries. At the Democratic County Convention, gubernatorial candidates John Norris, Andy McGuire, Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell presented to delegates. Representatives and individuals in support of candidates who were unable to attend were welcome to speak at the conventions on their behalf.

“Iowans have a lot of pride in their first-of-the-year caucus; Iowans have a lot of pride in the political process, and the process continues even though you’re not electing a president,” Varney said. “We’re just going to the district convention to listen to new ideas, maybe give some new ideas, to have a voice in the system. It’s important for every county to have a voice.”

Varney acknowledged the difficulties associated with an off-year election, but was hopeful in the high level of participation he sees amongst the party.

“Our goal as a party is to support the candidates that the largest percentage of Iowan Democrats trust to promote the health, economic well-being, and civil rights of all Iowans, as well the state’s long-term commitments to the environment and public education,” Grennan wrote. “We plan to accomplish these goals through a robust volunteer effort to reach voters before the November election.”

Primaries for both parties will be held on June 5, while the general election is slated to take place on Nov. 6.

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