My Worst Friend

We all have our best friends, but have you ever had a “worst friend”.  I know it sounds like a paradox, but hear me out.  I believe most people have experienced a worst friend.

When I was stationed in Fort Lee, VA, I had a guy hang around me all the time.  I couldn’t shake him; he was there when I got up; he was there when I ate; he was there – yeah, he may have been in the next stall. 

My blogs over the past year have taken you through my efforts at attempting to be a good soldier while I was in Basic Training.  [See: Run, Ryan, Run – May 8, 2019; Ryan, You Cheated! – June 12, 2019; Indoctrination – July 10, 2019; and Go Away, Sunshine – July 24, 2019.  This is a continuation of my life in Fort Lee, Virginia. 

So, there was this guy, I’ll call him Ziggy.  I can’t remember where he came from, how I was introduced to him, or even if he was in the same company as me.  He just showed up like an abandoned puppy, and stuck by my side no matter what I did, where I was going, or with whom I was with. 

I tried to be subtle at first that I didn’t want him around me all the time.  Some people just aren’t able to take hints.  So, I was up front with him.  That didn’t work, either.

Fate was the eventual winner.  Ziggy woke me one morning to ask a favor.  “If they come to you and ask if I borrowed your CPO last night will you tell them yes?”  A CPO was a popular jacket in the early 70s.  I said, “who is they?  And why would I want to tell them I lent you a jacket?”

Ziggy, serious as could be, told me that “the Military Police arrested me last night for possession of marijuana.  It was in the pocket.”  I was definitely awake at that point.  Did I hear him correctly?  He wanted to say that the jacket he was wearing was mine, and that there was MJ in the pocket when I lent it to him?  Did he think I was that stupid?  Obviously, the answer to all questions was “yes”.  I told him “no”.

It didn’t make any difference what I told him, he kept to his story.  It wasn’t long before I was scheduled to talk to the JAG [Judge Advocate General].  I showed up in “my” CPO.  I didn’t have to answer that many questions.  I think the JAG knew Ziggy hadn’t told them one ounce of truth. 

Ziggy often wanted to borrow something of mine.  He wanted to borrow my Rare Earth album and he didn’t have a turntable on which to play it.  He was constantly asking to “borrow” a cigarette, even though I could see he had a pack in his pocket.  An occasional cigarette – Okay.  He was not going to borrow my Rare Earth Get Ready album.  It was my favorite album; I only had about 3 or 5.  I wasn’t falling for that one!

I didn’t see Ziggy for a while.  Then, one evening, I was heading down the hall to use the men’s room.  Sergeant Youngblood was standing against the wall with a loaded pistol holstered on his belt.  I glanced at him and he said nothing.  I walked into the men’s room and there was Ziggy, attempting to climb out the window.  We were on the 3rd floor.  There was a second story rooftop to the right, but he was going to have to swing over to it in order to keep from dropping three stories.

I asked him: “What are you doing?”  He came back with a question of his own.  “Is Youngblood still out there?”

“Yeah, He’s leaning against the wall.  I wondered why he was there.  Going somewhere?”

Ziggy told me they were sending him up to the stockade, but not if he could escape.

He had told Youngblood that he couldn’t go while being watched, so the sergeant went out the door and told him to make it quick.  I knew Youngblood was a little slow, but I didn’t think he was totally naïve.

I did my brief chore in the men’s room and left Ziggy hanging out the window.  Youngblood asked me if Ziggy was still in there. 

“Yep.  He’s still hanging around.” 

I went back to my bunk and never saw Ziggy again.

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Gloom and Doom

By now, everyone has experienced the disappearing toilet paper caper.  We made our monthly trip to COSTCO last week only to discover that the warehouse was void of any toilet paper and paper towels.  In its place was an employee telling the shoppers parading past that a shipment will be in tomorrow.  What seemed strange is that a pallet of Kleenex sat across the aisle from the empty skids where TP and paper towels were usually located.  Wouldn’t you want to stock up on Kleenex instead of toilet paper in the midst of a potential pandemic? 

Hoarding has been around since families lived in caves.  The practice of piling up goods for personal use may have peaked during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Most Baby Boomers will remember their parents or grandparents telling stories of how those from the Great Generation began to hoard items, especially toilet paper and soap.  They saved everything.  Old clothes would not be thrown out, but would become a piece of a quilt – many of them beautiful.  Equipment that didn’t work was saved in case a replacement part from it was necessary in repairing its successor.   

The generation before us hoarded different food items, too.  Hunger was massive in the 1930s.  The period experienced more than an economic downturn; it was also the time of the Dust Bowl. Food was scarce because it was almost impossible to grow enough to feed a nation.  It just dawned on me that Grandma’s Garden and her cave was an example of how one person could not possibly have enough food to last a lifetime.

Today, the global markets are as unstable as the tornadic Midwestern air in May and June.  The NYSE is replicating the ups and downs it saw in 1929.  Many economists are predicting that we are heading for a recession.  I anticipate it may look more like a depression, such as the Great Depression that followed the Black Friday market crash of late October in 1929.

Now, with self-isolation, safe distancing, working from home, businesses closing, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and church services canceled (even Catholic Mass, which is the first time in my life), quarantine, and short supplies of food and staples, I wonder if some of us will be thrown back into a previous time. 

Perhaps we’re in a cyclical spin.  Santayana, the famous philosopher and essayist (essayist means blogger in modern terms) said:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

This time, the Greater Depression will be caused by a lack of leadership, failure to foresee and compensate for a disaster, and underlying anarchy.  It’s inevitable that we will see an increase in crime and poverty, as if the two can be separated.  And lack of addressing the issue of climate change, combined with the financial collapse of numerous economies, may add to the mental and physical decay of those living in helplessness and hopelessness. 

I’m not necessarily predicting doom and gloom.  Just sayin’, you know.

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Flaws in the Laws: Part IV – Disturbing the Peace

I may have retired from lobbying the Iowa Legislature – or, excuse me, lobbying legislators at the Iowa Legislature, but every once in a while, I peek at a bill that has a subject matter appealing to my interest.  House File 2444 is one of those bills.  You may recognize this statute better if I call it “disturbing the peace”.

HF 2444 is a very short bill.  It takes up five lines, and two of those lines are basically instructional lines that tell the Code Editor where to make the changes in the Iowa Code.  It’s those remaining three lines that caught my attention.  See if you can spot the problem with this sentence (the underlined words are proposed to be added to current Code):

“2.  Makes loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which intentionally or recklessly causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.”

The statute, addressing Disorderly Conduct, begins as such:

723.4 Disorderly conduct.

  A person commits a simple misdemeanor when the person does any of the following:

  1.  Engages in fighting or violent behavior in any public place or in or near any lawful assembly of persons, provided, that participants in athletic contests may engage in such conduct which is reasonably related to that sport.

  2.  Makes loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.

The language in the bill above, as well as the current law, is grammatically incorrect in that the object of the “unreasonable distress” is the “residence or public building”.  Incorporating the intent language after the residence or public building means that the residence or public building “intentionally or recklessly” caused the subsequent action.  There is no way around trying to say that this law, as written, means that “the person” is intentionally or recklessly causing unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof. 

Poorly written laws can be avoided if bill drafters, legislators, lobbyists, and staff perform a simple test to make sure the law does what is intended.  Diagramming sentences was part of an elementary education when I attended Saint Ann’s Grade School in Vail, Iowa.  Several people have told me that diagramming is no longer in use.  I can see that in knowing that this grammatical slip has slid by numerous people who should know better.

What really bothers me is that this bill was assigned to a subcommittee in the House Judiciary Committee with two of the three subcommittee persons being attorneys.  Attorneys use proper grammar every day.  When ordinary citizens claim someone got off because of a technicality the technically is often poorly worded laws.  Without noticing the discrepancy in the current law, or in the proposed law, HF 2444 passed the subcommittee unanimously, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee without opposition, and passed the Iowa House of Representatives by a vote of 98-0, all without anyone noticing that this law should not be enforceable since it is, on its face, unconstitutional because of a doctrine called “void for vagueness”. 

“[T]he void-for-vagueness doctrine requires that a penal statute define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 1858, 75 L.Ed.2d 903, 909 (1983); accord State v. Watkins, 659 N.W.2d 526, 535 (Iowa 2003).

State v. Millsap, 704 N.W.2d 426, 436 (Iowa 2005)(Emphasis mine).

Back to the legislation:  I watched the video of the discussion in the House before it passed.  The floor manager of the bill, Representative Dustin Hite (R-Oskaloosa), stood and said, “This bill adds mens rea”.  That’s all he said.  For those of you not familiar with the Latin term, mens rea “refers to the state of mind statutorily required in order to convict a particular defendant of a particular crime”.

[mens rea translated means ‘guilty mind’]

Yes, the current statute lacks a criminal intent.  However, slapping intent language within the sentence without regard to the syntax that should align the criminal intent with the defendant and not the residence is unprofessional.

I have no idea who came to the Legislature with this bill.  Since it began as a House Study Bill in the House Judiciary Committee, I can only assume that it was initiated by the Iowa County Attorneys Association.  Without a procedure to determine who wants a particular piece of legislation, I am free to speculate.  The Iowa County Attorneys Association was one of two entities that declared as being in “support” of the legislation when it was introduced.  The other organization declared “For” the bill was Americans For Prosperity (the Kock Brothers).  I suppose it could have been a bill requested by the Americans For Prosperity, since they were the only group that supported the bill once it changed from a study bill to a House File.  Once it became a House File, the county attorneys were no longer registered on the bill.  However, the Iowa Bar Association became a partner with the AFP in supporting the legislation (On the study bill, the IBA was declared as “undecided”).

When I lobbied, it was familiar territory to know that some bills’ ownership can be identified by the lobbyists who register in “support” of a bill.  Couple that with the guess that the legislation is now necessary because a county attorney, somewhere in Iowa, lost a case in which a judge threw out the conviction because “the law has no criminal intent”.  So, to fix that flaw in the law, someone had to have approached one or more legislators to request legislation that will add the element of intent.  Put it anywhere.  The courts should know what you mean.  However, that’s a problem all by itself.

The Fiscal Note, under the subheading of “Correctional Impact”, states that in Fiscal Year 2019, “there were approximately 1415 disorderly conduct convictions”.  Granted, disorderly conduct includes more than making “loud and raucous noise”, but some of those convictions had to have been simple misdemeanors for “causing distress” to residents of homes and public buildings.  First of all, how did judges and magistrates convict someone without the required intent language?  Second, how could it not come to the attention of some of Iowa’s finest judges that this legal language is not compatible with grammatical sentence structuring.  It boggles my mind.

Who actually wrote the legislation?  Was it the County Attorneys Association?  Was it the legal drafter for the non-partisan Legislation Services Agency – Legal Division?  Does it make any difference?  How many adults looked at this legislation and didn’t recognize a glaring syntax problem that educated elementary children easily spotted decades ago?

In Kolender, Chief Of Police Of San Diego, et. al. v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352 (1983)(Holding that the statute as it has been construed is unconstitutionally vague within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to clarify what is contemplated by the requirement that a suspect provide a “credible and reliable” identification.), Justice O’Connor wrote that police “stress the need for strengthened law enforcement tools to combat the epidemic of crime that plagues our Nation. The concern of our citizens with curbing criminal activity is certainly a matter requiring the attention of all branches of government. As weighty as this concern is, however, it cannot justify legislation that would otherwise fail to meet constitutional standards for definiteness and clarity. See Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U. S. 451 (1939).”  Kolender at 361 (Emphasis mine).

I have notified the three subcommittee members of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee.  Unfortunately, I notified them after the subcommittee meeting.  This bill can be fixed – easily.  Go back to the bill’s two-sentence attempt at incorporating intent.  Try this language:

“2.  Intentionally or recklessly makes Makes loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building and while doing so which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.”

Isn’t that better?

If for some reason this bill passes out of the Senate without repair, I hope you will assist me in contacting the governor that she needs to sharpen her veto pencil.  The last thing we need is unworkable laws that even a fifth-grader can laugh at.

Related blogs:

Flaws in the Laws: Part I – Employment Drug Testing  February 20, 2019

Flaws in the Laws: Part II – Mourning Dove Hunting  March 13, 2019

Flaws in the Laws: Part III – 2nd Degree Kidnapping  April 17,2019

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The Final Word

Decades ago, my mother’s good friend and neighbor Ruth begged her to attend a caucus meeting in Golden Valley, Minnesota.  Something was happening to the Republican Party and Ruth was worried.  There was a strong, well-organized religious movement that infiltrated the Republican caucuses, successfully electing friends and relatives to be delegates, and taking over leadership positions.  The Republican Party of my parents and grandparents was dying as their shared values for fiscal responsibility, local control and a small federal government became distant memories. Even the definition of Conservative, which was based on these values and the philosophy for educated, well-thought out change has been replaced. Now Conservative means highly emotional decisions led by self-proclaimed prophets dedicated to ending abortions, influencing school choice and other beliefs held by the religious right.

Why didn’t this religious movement form its own political party, instead of hijacking my ancestors’ legacy? It takes time and money to organize.  Plus, it’s easier targeting well-established groups with strong reputations, but weakened by lack of involvement by its members. By the time long-term members discover what has happened, it’s usually too late to salvage—and the integrity, the history is lost.  The era of thoughtful change conflicts with today’s 24/7 news cycle and the sensationalism that drives it.  Malicious gossip is exciting, decadent, it motivates the masses.  Moral discussion and decision-making does not. 

Even candidate debates that used to be organized by The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to voter education and participation, has been replaced with the media, whose motivation is ratings and revenue.  The day of dignified, thoughtful discussions about issues, is now the worst kind of programming with candidates taking potshots at each other and raising their hands at the moderator like anxious Kindergarten students needing to use the bathroom.

Our country was founded on revolution and rebellion.  Maybe it’s just in our blood.  In 2012, Ron Paul, a Libertarian leaning Republican used a rousing strategy when campaigning for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The Ron Paul Revolution. 

There was controversy during the Iowa Caucuses that year.  Did Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum win the straw poll?  It really didn’t matter because as those two campaigns squabbled about the results, Ron Paul’s movement successfully won what was truly important, dedicated delegates. Supporters willing to sacrifice personal time to attend the county, district and finally state convention in order to assure that Ron Paul delegates moved on to the Republican National Convention, where delegates from across the country formally choose the party’s presidential candidate.  Even though there was a motto that election cycle “Anyone But Romney”, national leaders intervened in the Ron Paul movement to assure that Romney, a more moderate choice was the candidate.

It isn’t just Republican leaders that yearn for a moderate candidate.  Democrats have Bernie Sanders, a declared Socialist who currently hangs his shingle with the Democrats.  He gave Hillary Clinton strong competition in the 2016 presidential race.  Once again, national leaders intervened to make Clinton the moderate candidate instead of Sanders. This election cycle Sanders took off like a rocket, basically tying for first in Iowa, winning New Hampshire and Nevada.  Joe Biden, the chosen moderate with the long resume, isn’t creating the passion that Bernie does. 

Trump is our president because his supporters love him.  He tweets his mind.  There is nothing politically correct in his speech and many people admire his candor.  Religious Right Republicans continue to support Trump, even though his history and lifestyle really couldn’t be held up as a sterling example of religious morality.  It seems political power usurps God.  Karma.  The secret is to live long enough to enjoy it.   

Grassroots movements annoy those at the top who feel that they are politically wiser. Ordinary party members should simply follow their leadership. Nevertheless, for a number of election cycles, people are sending a very clear message to leadership that they want change. 

Targeting the Iowa Caucuses as the obstacle for moderate candidates’ campaigns tanking won’t solve the problem.  Actually, if the process was strengthened, instead of eliminated, it might help.  Caucus meetings have very specific parts that are designed to work together and could safeguard these continuing takeovers by candidates and their supporters who don’t support the party’s platform.  This is the key to the problem.

Each party has a platform, which is a detailed job description for choosing the right candidate to represent the values, beliefs and priorities of the party and this is where the process breaks down. The candidate is supposed to represent members of the party.  Although eligible voters are allowed to participate in either party’s caucuses, these late comers may not know or even support the party platform.  So how meaningful is the contribution by these people to the party’s selection process? 

The job description or platform is fluid and changes as party members across the state meet to hopefully discuss what needs to be added, subtracted or updated.   Unfortunately, since this takes time, many neighborhood caucuses will not read or discuss the planks to the platform, preferring to hand them in to be given to the platform committee for discussion at a later date.  This is a decided loss, since some of these changes may be new ideas that candidates have been sharing with Iowans for months.  This would be important information to discuss, while figuring out which candidate is the best fit for the party’s platform.  It would also be helpful to refresh party members’ memories, before choosing the best candidate.

Iowa Democrats continue to receive criticism for their presidential preference process. They use a math formula to determine a candidate’s viability.  It’s similar to ranking a job applicant’s skill set for a job opening.  When a candidate doesn’t have enough party members in the caucus to earn a delegate, these members are allowed to either give their support to another candidate who they believe will best represent the needs of the party or lobby the members from another candidate’s group that isn’t viable to support their candidate.  These are not votes.  Although the candidates are awarded a certain number of delegates, and delegates are elected by the party’s caucus members, these delegates may not even vote for the candidate if they go on to the national convention, and the vast majority of them do not go on to this convention. This is all done out in the open and a well-organized campaign knows the results of the caucus meetings before the party gives the official results.

Republicans have a much simpler system.  They conduct a straw poll to show candidate support.  Campaign representatives are allowed to view and count the votes for their candidate.  But once again, the election that takes place is for delegates, who may not be bound to the results of the straw poll.  For example, although Santorum was declared the winner of the Republican’s state- wide straw poll in 2012, Ron Paul supporters successfully won the delegate elections, so the straw poll results were simply symbolic.

So with the presidential process being done in the open, why aren’t the numbers adding up?  The Democratic National Convention (DNC) put an unrealistic and unnecessary burden on Iowa Democrats, who should have said no, but Iowans are just too darn nice.  New policies were demanded this time without proper training, resources or a realistic implementation. Added to this disaster waiting to happen was a last minute security patch put on an app sanctioned by the DNC.  It’s important for national leadership to take responsibility for their role with the problems in Iowa, otherwise history has a way of repeating itself.

Probably the most important part of both the Iowa Republican and Democratic caucuses is electing volunteers to the central committee and the platform committee at the county level.  These are the leaders and the keepers of the two parties, who may want to have thoughtful discussions during the interim about possible changes that could keep the Iowa Caucuses from future hijacking.  They may also want to discuss why the needs of the moderate or no-party voter has greater value to leadership, then the party platform?  Why are members spending time working a platform that isn’t respected? Yes, thoughtful discussions.  My ancestors would be proud.   

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Grandma’s Garden

Ruth Huston gave me some of the best advice I could ever use.  Ruth was a dietitian.  Discussing some of the fad diets of the early 2000s, she said with a harsh voice that “the only way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you burn”.  I suppose there are many people who would want to debate that because they have successfully lost pounds by using a South Beach Diet, or a Keto Diet, or abstaining from a certain element found in many foods.

I’m sticking to Ruth’s advice.  I have also come to accept that just about anything in moderation is okay.  It’s that second cookie; or the large bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry; or three rather than two pancakes that makes a difference. Do I really need the whipped cream and maraschino cherry?

The best evidence I have for following Ruth’s advice, and the advice of so many experts that preach moderation, is one of my grandmothers.  Grandma Ryan lived to be 104 years-old. 

Grandma would wake up in the morning and fry bacon and eggs.  She would serve toast with butter and jelly or jam, and supplement the breakfast with a cup of coffee; just one cup of coffee.  She would save that bacon grease and use it to fry her potato slices for lunch.  Supper would consist of something like roast beef with potatoes and gravy, and a vegetable – usually something that had been canned last summer from her bountiful garden – like green beans or carrots.  Often, her dessert was a slice of her homemade apple pie.  She made the best apple pie; she used lard, flour, and a dash of salt for the crust.

All that food Grandma ate would be extremely taboo today.  Bacon, butter, lard, gravy?  But you have to remember, she had a vegetable every day.  She limited herself to one cup of coffee.  She worked hard in her garden, which was about three-fourths of a city lot sitting next to her house.  She didn’t drink alcohol. (Although I can never forget her having a glass of Sherry at Kathleen and Bill’s wedding.  She had to softly slap her face at times to accept it.)

Her garden was vast, and Grandma did everything herself.  She planted potatoes, carrots, green beans, beets, onions, cucumbers, and several other varieties of vegetables.  She had a patch of dill for her dill pickles, although her sweet pickles were awesome, too.  An apple tree was the only fruit tree on her property, at least, as far as I know.  The apples and potatoes were stored in a cave located between her house and the garden.  The cave was pretty cool – literally and figuratively.  I suppose it could be eerie for some; a spider web would greet you at least once while you were down there.

The walls of the cave had shelves, and they were filled with jars of all the things Grandma had processed from the previous summer and fall.  My cousin Denise told me that the three walls were designated for our family, her family, and one for Grandma.  I don’t know about that.  Grandma gave me things to take home and I don’t remember her getting them from one particular wall. 

Grandma worked in that garden until she was 91 years-old.  After I was married, I lived a half-block from her.  I saw her often walk down to the post office to get her mail, and stop at the grocery store to pick up some milk, flour, or whatever other staple she needed to make a meal.  She wore the same thing, winter and summer.  A black hat on top of her beautiful white shiny hair; a black knee-length coat; and shoes – black, of course – with a small heel.  She carried a black purse. 

Grandma may have worn glasses, but I don’t recall her wearing them unless she was reading.  She couldn’t see anymore; she couldn’t hear; but she could still carry on a conversation.

She entered a nursing home two years after she had given up on gardening and canning vegetables and fruit.  I went to see her several times a year.  I remember walking into her room at the nursing home with my wife and two daughters.  She would remember Terri and the kids, but ask who I was.  I think she was trying to be funny. 

Today, I am the one who is canning.  Actually, I’m freezing vegetables and fruits.  However, I have canned some peaches from a tree in our yard.  I have that magic touch.  I have pickled some cucumbers and, although I didn’t pickle them like Grandma would, they have turned out better.  I actually fermented them prior to putting them in jars.  I have just discovered that the longer they sit on the shelf, the better they are.  My goodness.  My mouth is watering just thinking of them.

I also bake pies now, using lard as in ingredient in the crust.  You can’t beat it.  I don’t eat many eggs, or bacon for that matter.  I watch my red meat intake and try to have gravy sparingly.  I still like my butter, and I remember Grandma using it freely.

My daughters and I saw her for the last time at St. Anthony Nursing Home in Carroll one Sunday.  We arrived at lunch time.  Grandma was in the dining room and had finished lunch.  She had a slice of apple pie on the table in front of her.  She asked if I could feed it to her.  That slice of pie looked just like hers.  That was the last I saw of her.

I never realized until this year how much I love good food as much as Grandma, and how much I enjoy making a meal rather than going out to eat.  Hey!  I’ll be okay with just living to be 100!

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Creating news

The national media received what it had requested, and now it wants to blame the Iowa Democratic Party for not having the media’s information quick enough.  For years, national and local media have yearned for raw numbers from the Iowa Democratic Caucuses.  There was a reason why previous caucuses did not release raw numbers.  They actually have no relevance.  This year, a delay in providing information became news itself rather than the news the media is seeking.

Before you criticize the Iowa Caucuses, you should know a little about them.  That’s most of the problem; representatives of media know little about them.  You can read the manual, you can sit through one and experience it, but unless you are a precinct captain for a campaign, a caucus chair or secretary, or party leaders coordinating 1600 events, you can’t imagine the heavy task at hand. 

The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, CNN, the Des Moines Register, and every news outlet around the world cannot talk or write about the Iowa Caucuses without using the word “vote”.  Let’s make it clear that not one Democratic presidential candidate left Iowa with as much as one vote.  Iowa’s Democrats don’t vote in caucuses except to elect a caucus chairperson, secretary, precinct committee people, and a slate of delegates.  Oh, yes, and there is a vote taken to adopt planks that will eventually become the party platform, the original purpose of neighborhood caucuses.  Iowa Republicans do vote.  However, as Kevin Cooney mentions in his Des Moines Register op-ed of February 4th, it doesn’t mean very much because the real election comes later in the caucus, after most people have left, and it’s an election for delegates.

Democratic caucuses are mini-conventions.  Delegates are selected to advance to the next convention level, and delegates are chosen by those individuals who share the same slant on policies as the person they want to represent them.  Many delegates are chosen based upon the volunteer work they have donated to a particular candidate.  A candidate’s precinct captain is most likely to become at least one of the delegates to move on to the next convention, whether it’s county, district, or state, and the captain is known to most of those in the preference group.  A caucus-goer “aligns” with a candidate.  Those aligning with a particular candidate vote for the delegate to represent them at the next level in the process – not the candidate.

Another way to look at a caucus is to compare it to a ballot petition.  You may sign a petition for a candidate to get on the ballot, but your signature is not a vote.  Likewise, if a candidate’s group must contain 20 people to be viable, and the group can come with only 5 eligible participants, it’s like not having enough signatures on a petition to get on a ballot. 

Caucuses differ from primaries in several ways, but a caucus is actually more democratic.  Listening to news media, you would think that it’s the other way around.  However, there is no disenfranchisement in a Democratic caucus because there is no vote (except as mentioned above).  Primaries, on the other hand, give citizens the opportunity to vote for a presidential candidate, but not the people in their neighborhood who are going to be leaders in their local politics.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal loved to state: “All politics is local.”  But not in primary states where you have no real discussion about who will represent you in party affairs that have meaning for your county, city, and state.  You can’t connect the candidate with the delegate.

On the day after the Iowa Caucuses, Meet the Press Moderator Chuck Todd said that there are too many numbers to digest.  That is part of the media’s problem.  It wants results, numerous results, and it wants them now.  Wouldn’t you rather settle for accurate results instead of quick inaccurate results?  Isn’t that what the media wanted in 2016?  And in 2012?  And in 2008? And in . . . .  It wanted the numbers of the first alignment, the second alignment, and the final delegate count.  Now that it has those numbers, it’s complaining about those numbers.

What goes around comes around.  Keep the caucuses.  Whether Iowa precincts select particular delegates to its county, district, and state conventions, who just happen to be supporting a particular candidate, should be irrelevant.  It’s politics at the grassroots level – not the level desired by the media.  At least the Democratic neighbors will know that they have a long-term voice, not just a fleeting vote.

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