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Grinnell Republicans caucus overwhelmingly for Trump, cite concerns about abortion and socialism

Dawn Driscoll, a Republican candidate for the Iowa State Senate, addresses attendees at the Republican caucuses in Grinnell. Photo by Ben Mikek.

Grinnell’s combined Republican caucus site for Wards 1-4 and CGWS, which includes rural areas surrounding Grinnell, went decidedly for President Donald Trump on Monday night. The caucus, which took place in four rooms at Grinnell’s Fairview Elementary School, was an opportunity for area Republicans to vote in a presidential preference poll, elect members of the party leadership, and propose planks for the party platform.

Compared to turnout at the nearby Democratic caucus, which was attended by 830 people from only Ward 1, numbers were fairly low, with no more than 30 caucusgoers in each ward. Nevertheless, Chris Varney, chair of the County Central Committee, said he was very happy with the turnout. “I think we had a good group for Grinnell,” he said. “I am really excited to see what this party can do together.”

In wards 3 and CGWS, Trump carried 100 percent, with 11 and 28 in favor, respectively. In Ward 1, which includes most of Grinnell College, 10 people voted for Trump and 2 for former Mass. Governor Bill Weld. Finally, In Ward 4, 15 supported Trump, and there was one vote each for Weld and former Ill. Representative Joe Walsh.

In addition to the headline-grabbing presidential preference vote, the attendees also selected delegates for the county convention, which will be held on Mar. 14 — “It’s pi day. … We’ll have pies,” said Ward 1 chair, Rick Jacoby.

Finally, the party accepted proposals for platform planks; each of the suggestions was open for debate, and then voted on by voice. In the combined Wards 1 and 4, resolutions to end gun control, “leave social security alone and protect the constitution” and “fight to protect life at conception” were all approved unanimously. Slightly more debate occurred on two further proposals. First, after two people spoke in favor, a plank calling for an end to daylight savings time was roundly rejected. Second was a call to “keep marijuana illegal.” This plank received significant debate, with multiple speakers in favor and against. In the end, it was approved by a voice vote.

“I don’t want to see Iowa go the way of some of these other states,” said Tim Sittig, a former Grinnell police officer. “Marijuana has increased the cost of traffic accidents and rehab [in Colorado and other states where it has been legalized. Sittig, who is in his upper 50s, said that more research needs to be undertaken before even medical marijuana is approved. A study in the journal “Addiction,” a publication from The Society for the Study of Addiction, did find that traffic deaths increased slightly in several states during the first 12 months following the legalization of recreational marijuana use but returned to normal levels after about one year.

The main theme of the night, though, was support for President Trump. Tim Carnes, 50, who used to be a Democrat and voted for Barack Obama in 2008, said he was supporting Trump because of the issue of gun control. “I think Obama did care about us. But I don’t like them trying to take away all our constitutional rights,” he said. “They shouldn’t do that.” And even though he described guns as the most important issue, Carnes said, “I don’t know if I have a problem with anything [Trump] has ever done.”

Annie Vander Weerdt, 29, and Tanner Vander Weerdt, 31, were both at the caucus to support Trump. Annie Vander Weerdt cited Trump’s anti-abortion stance and the fact that “he has helped decrease our debt” as reasons for her support. According to Treasury Department data, though, the federal debt has increased by more than $3 trillion since Trump took office.

Tanner Vander Weerdt praised Trump’s ability to follow through on promises. “Love him or hate him, he does what he says,” he said. On the U.S. military strike in Baghdad which killed Iranian General Qassim Suleimani on Jan. 3, though, Vander Weerdt was less certain. “It was a little iffy, scary at times,” he said. But “if it was a bad guy, he got what he deserved.”

Allen Simms, 69, and Don Ellis, 68, both support Trump for primarily economic reasons. Simms cited positive movement in unemployment, wages and his opposition to socialism as a reason for his support of the President. “Bernie [Sanders] talks the talk, but he wants to turn us into Venezuela. We like our country great and powerful,” he said.

“I don’t care for some of the tweets he puts out, but that’s him,” said Ellis, but “I hope more companies will come back from overseas [if Trump wins a second turn].”

In the end, though, caucusing is a very local act. “This is the grassroots, what we’re going right here. … Whether [a platform plank] is passed or failed, you are part of the process,” said Jacoby. Several other attendees also mentioned their concern about the changes they see in Grinnell.

“Immigrants … shouldn’t even be here,” said Simms. “If I did that in their country, I’d be in prison.”

“People are trying to back us into a corner [on our political ideas],” said Rachael Mahaffey, chair of Ward 2. “The College brings a lot to this community, but they don’t know anything about soybeans,” she said. Grinnell students voting “changed the flow of the county,” she said.

And Jeff Burkett, 43, a veteran and former recruiter for the military in Grinnell, complained that students had spat on him. “We already have free college and free health care,” he said. “All you have to do is sign on the dotted line and join the military.”

The Poweshiek County Republican Party holds meetings every other Monday at Pagliai’s Pizza. The party’s county convention will take place on March 14.

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  • J

    Jeff BurkettFeb 6, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    Maybe you should of listened better in the interviews and not what you wanted to hear. You did more writing and less listening

  • M

    MichelleFeb 4, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I appreciate the fact you took the time to step out of your box and visit the Republican Caucus. However, you really need to focus more on your listening skills and relaying it in your notes. You have a couple of misquotes in ward numbers and ages.
    I would also like to point out that there was no need to interject your factoid about the debt. As you continue on your academic journey please remember to keep an open mind and use integrity.