February 7, 2016

Commission likely to consider changes in Iowa Democratic Party Caucuses

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

The man who managed President Obama’s 2012 reelection effort in Iowa expects Iowa Democratic Party leaders will convene a commission to propose possible changes in the party’s presidential caucus procedures.

Brad Anderson says Democrats should consider having straw poll ballots, just like Republicans do at their Caucuses.

“The one thing that is troubling is in a close race there should be some kind of recount procedure and right now because of the way it’s done on the Democratic side, it’s just not possible,” Anderson says. “We don’t have ballots.”

Democrats decide the winner of their caucuses by counting the number of delegates each presidential candidate wins — and there are complex calculations for determining those “delegate equivalents”.

“We need to form a commission that takes a look at it in the same way that Republicans did in 2012,” Anderson says. “I think there are very fair questions, but I think at the end of the day this process is one that makes Iowa the center of attention and we have always handled the spotlight fairly well.”

The Iowa Republican Party tinkered with the rules for its caucuses after Mitt Romney was declared the winner on Caucus Night, Rick Santorum won a “canvas” of most precincts 10 days later and Ron Paul had the most delegates at the party’s national convention. Anderson, who backed Hillary Clinton in the Caucuses, says there are specific things that need to be addressed by Iowa Democrats, like the “logistical challenges” that were evident on Monday night.

“Certainly, some of these precincts have just gotten too big,” Anderson says.

For example, Anderson went to his precinct on Caucus Night, but the crowd was too big for the elementary school gymnasium — so people were sent outside to conduct the caucus in the school’s parking lot.

Craig Robinson, a Republican activist who once served as the political director for the Republican Party of Iowa, says the two parties should collaborate on technology, so — for example — people aren’t filling out paper voter registration forms on Caucus Night.

“I think the parties need to work together for the next four years, not just in the year of the caucus,” Robinson says. “…There needs to be some existing infrastructure built.”

Robinson attended his GOP precinct caucus in Ankeny, where 200 people were forced to fill out the paperwork to change their voter registration before the caucus could start. Robinson says the use of technology would help speed that process.

Robinson and Anderson made their comments today during taping of “Iowa Press” which airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Governor: school spending decision won’t happen quickly

School-BusGovernor Terry Branstad is predicting legislators will have a tough time making a school funding decision this year.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen quickly because there’s some big issues to be resolved,” Branstad told Radio Iowa during an interview Thursday.

Legislative leaders from both parties have been saying they hope to strike a quick compromise on school funding for the academic year that starts this fall. Branstad says budget realities may prevent that.

“There’s some big issues to be resolved,” Branstad said. “…This is a tough year, financially.”

House Republicans propose a two percent boost in general state aid for K-12 public schools in Iowa. Branstad last month recommended nearly half a percent more than that.

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are seeking a four percent increase. Last year, the legislature made its decision about school funding in June — about four weeks before the budgeting year began.

‘Let’s not blow this out of proportion,’ Sanders says of Iowa Caucus results

Bernie Sanders in Burlington, IA.

Bernie Sanders in Burlington. (file photo)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is tamping down the furor over the results of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Caucuses.

Sanders and Hillary Clinton debated last night in New Hampshire, on MSNBC, and one of the questions was about the photo finish here on Monday night.

Moderator Chuck Todd mentioned The Des Moines Register editorial saying that “something smells” and the way the Caucuses were run was a “debacle.”

“I agree with The Des Moines Register, but let’s not blow this out of proportion,” Sanders said. “This is not like a winner-take-all thing. I think where we now stand, correct me if I’m wrong, you have 22 delegates. I have 20 delegates. We need 2500 delegates to win the nomination. This is not the biggest deal in the world.”

The Sanders campaign has been reviewing all the reports it received from Sanders precinct captains. Sanders said they believe he’d receive “at least two more” if there was an audit of the results.

“At the end of the day, no matter how it’s recounted, it will break roughly even and, by the way, I love and respect the caucus process in Iowa, see, and I don’t have to say it because they voted already,” Sanders said, to laughter from the audience in the debate hall.

But Sanders suggested the arcane rules for how the Iowa Democratic Party’s Caucuses are run should be changed.

“Look, I think people are blowing this up out of proportion, but I think we need improvements in the process by which results are determined,” Sanders said.

Hillary Clinton was asked if she would oppose the idea of auditing the Democratic Party’s Iowa Caucus results.

“Whatever they decide to do, that’s fine,” Clinton replied.

The Iowa Democratic Party announced the final results shortly before noon on Tuesday. It was the closest contest in the history of the Iowa Caucuses.

AUDIO of this segment of the debate, courtesy of MSNBC

Democrats seeking stop to Medicaid privatization

Pam Jochum

Pam Jochum

Democrats in the Iowa Senate plan to pass a bill that would stop Governor Branstad’s plan to move the 560,000 Medicaid patients in Iowa into private managed care plans.

“We have introduced that bill because our constituents have told us over and over again that the governor’s plan is failing,” says Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque. “He has tried to do too much, too fast and as a result he has failed to protect vulnerable Iowans.”

The Branstad Administration originally planned to start the switch on January 1, but federal officials who oversee the Medicaid program ordered a 60-day delay. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says many Iowa Medicaid patients can’t figure out if their doctor has signed up with one of the three managed care companies or if they’ll be forced to switch to a new doctor.

“This thing’s a mess right now. The roll-out has been horrible: wrong phone numbers, people that can’t get their questions answered,” Gronstal says. “…It’s a disaster.”

Republicans are defending the new system and making clear the effort by Democrats to stop the switch will go nowhere in the Iowa House where Republicans have a majority of votes. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, suggests Democrats are stoking the chaos.

“I’m hearing many people with question,” Upmeyer says. “And the reason we’re having so many questions is because we’re spending our time protecting the status quo instead of moving forward.”

Change is a challenge, but one that should be embraced, according to Upmeyer. Upmeyer says the governor’s staff has assured her the state is complying with the federal government’s checklist and the program will be ready for the switch on March 1.

House Republicans propose alternative to GOP governor’s water quality plan

capitolHouse Republicans have unveiled their own plan for using million of dollars in sales taxes that are currently reserved for school infrrastructure.

Governor Terry Branstad wants to tap into that fund to pay for millions of dollars in water quality projects. House Republicans propose letting schools keep all the infrastructure money, for use on a variety of other school-related needs.

“I’m an education individual and I know what the needs are of the education community,” says Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City who is a former school board member.

Jorgensen is now chairman of the education committee in the Iowa House and he is advancing a bill that would extend the one-cent sales tax for schools that’s set to expire in 2029 for another 20 years and all the money would still be dedicated to some sort of school use. Jorgensen doesn’t sound convinced by Branstad’s idea to divert some of that money to water quality projects.

“It just has come up on us so quickly. There’s just a lot of information that we need to have before we could warm up to something like that,” Jorgensen says. “…With the governor’s proposal, there’s still a lot of information we would need to understand before you could even say: ‘Yeah, let’s do this.'”

The governor says he looks forward to working with legislators on their ideas.

(Reporting by Iowa Pubic Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Iowa Democratic Party chair says 2016 Iowa Caucus results ‘are final’

Andy McGuire (file photo)

Andy McGuire (file photo)

Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire late this afternoon said the results of her party’s caucuses “are final” and there will be no “recount” despite the photo-finish.

“I think we did a great job with the turnout we had and with the incredible closeness of the race and we reported the results and we stand by them,” she said during a Radio Iowa interview.

The results were reported just before noon today — nearly 17 hours after the Caucuses commenced Monday night. The Iowa Democratic Party announced Hillary Clinton won 3.77 more “delegate equivalents” on Caucus Night than Bernie Sanders. Clinton is calling it a victory. Sanders calls it a virtual tie. At one point today, the Sanders campaign suggested raw vote totals for each candidate should be released. McGuire said that will not happen.

“And the reason we don’t do that is this is a Caucus,” she told Radio Iowa. “This is not a straw poll.”

Some of the Democratic activists who attended the caucuses have contacted Radio Iowa to complain their precinct meetings were poorly run. One precinct in Des Moines failed to report its results on Caucus night and the reluctantly-elected chair of that precinct meeting handed in the results this morning.

“We always want to have the most well-organized caucuses we can, but when you’re dealing with volunteers and you’re dealing with overflow crowds, this actually a good thing for us,” McGuire said, “so I’ll take that — that there were more Democrats than we think were maybe going to come.”

McGuire rejected reports the party failed to recruit at least one person to serve as a temporary chair to start each precinct meeting.

“We have volunteers all over the state, 1681 of them that do their very best to have a wonderfully-run caucus,” McGuire said. “…We had 171,000-plus turnout which is a higher turnout than I think anyone expected.”

The campaign manager for Bernie Sanders has blasted the “arcane” rules by which the caucuses are run. For example, the Microsoft “app” designed to handle the results recorded seven “coin tosses” to determine which candidate would get a delegate.

“Six of them went to Bernie Sanders,” McGuire said this afternoon. “Five of those were between Hillary and Bernie Sanders. One of those was between Sanders and O’Malley and then there was one for Clinton, between Clinton and Sanders.”

The rules “haven’t changed,” according to McGuire.

“When there’s a tie, you’re going to have a game of chance and if there’s two people involved in a tie, typically we tell them in the rules — written down for everybody to see at all the trainings we did — that there’s a flip of the coin,” McGuire said. “Certainly that’s a very equitable way to do this.”

There may have been more “coin flips” at rural precincts where delegate counts were telephoned in rather than calculated and reported using the Microsoft app. All three presidential campaigns had representations in the “tabulation room” on Monday night and McGuire said any “grievances” raised then were addressed then. She has not personally talked to any representative of the Sanders campaign since then.

The results of the Republican Party’s caucuses in 2012 were razor thin as well, with the chairman of the Iowa GOP declaring Mitt Romney the winner on Caucus Night, then 10 days later releasing a “canvas” of precincts that indicated Rick Santorum won.

Iowa GOP chairman expresses pride in 2016 caucus turn-out

Jeff-Kaufman

Jeff Kaufmann

A record number of Iowans participated in last night’s Republican caucuses.

“It went way beyond, way beyond what we ever dreamed we were going to have,” says Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann.

More than 186,000 turned out for the Republican Caucuses.

“We knew that there was enthusiasm. We knew that there was energy was out there. We could see it in the phone calls that were coming in . We could see it at the events,” Kaufmann says. “I don’t think anybody quite appreciated the level.”

Kaufmann says he was “taken aback” when reports started coming in about long lines at precinct sites around the state. Entrance polling indicates 43 percent of the people waiting in those lines were first-time Caucus-goers.

“As I now transition from caucus into preparing for the General Election, you know, it’s just a gold mine,” Kaufmann says.

The party will “immediately” try to communicate with those first-timers.

“That doesn’t mean you hit them up for money or turn them into Mr. or Ms. Republican of the Year,” Kaufmann says. “You begin, essentially, a dialogue.”

Some of those new voters are supporting just the one candidate at this point, according to Kaufmann, but he says it’s important to start a conversation that may keep those new voters in the Republican fold in November.

More than 170,00 Iowans participated in the Democratic Party’s caucuses last night and the Iowa Republican Party’s chair is praising them, too.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am,” Kaufmann says. “…We showed the entire world not only that can we take a broad leap in sophistication and technology in how we carry it out, but the methodical way that we did it — I’m just so proud of this state. I really, truly am.”

Kaufmann’s comments are directed to the “rank and file” Republicans and Democrats who participated in the Iowa Caucuses. Kaufmann says he wishes his counterpart “the best of luck” in dealing with critics who question the way the Iowa Democratic Party handled last night’s results.