Iowa Democrats to choose new leadership

By: - January 27, 2023 3:38 pm

Iowa Democratic Party officials will elect a new chair on Jan. 28, 2023. (Photo illustration via Canva)

The Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee will choose from three politically seasoned candidates Saturday to serve as the next party chair.

The winner of Saturday’s election will replace current party chairman Rep. Ross Wilburn, who is stepping down.

 The party’s new leader will navigate significant obstacles including the preservation – or not – of the Democratic presidential Iowa caucuses, electing Democrats while facing a supermajority in the Iowa Senate and large majority in the House, reaching rural Iowans and much more.

The candidates

Former Iowa Sen. Rita Hart, a Democrat, ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat. (Photo courtesy of Hart campaign)

Rita Hart – Hart is a former state senator, serving from 2013 to 2019, as well as a former teacher and farmer. She was the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell in the 2018 race against Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

In 2020, she ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in Iowa’s 2nd District against now-Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, losing by only six votes. Currently, she serves as the chair of the Clinton County Democratic Party.

Bob Krause is the president and chairman of the Veterans National Recovery Center. (Photo courtesy of Krause)

Bob Krause – Krause began his political career with three terms in the Iowa House from 1973 to 1979. He then transitioned to become the regional representative for President Jimmy Carter’s Department of Transportation after helping pass significant transportation-related legislation at the state level. Krause also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in the 2010 and 2022 Senate elections to face Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Currently, Krause is the president and chairman of the Veterans National Recovery Center and chairs the Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee’s Veterans Caucus.

Brittany Ruland has helped manage Democratic campaigns for state and federal offices. (Photo courtesy of Ruland)

Brittany Ruland – Ruland was state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott’s campaign manager in her 2022 race that unseated then-Senate President Jake Chapman, one of the few bright spots for Iowa Democrats in the past election cycle. Previously, she was the regional field director in Iowa’s 4th District for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and field director for Eddie Mauro’s 2020 U.S. Senate campaign, bringing political advocacy and campaign experience from her time living in Idaho.

Currently, Ruland is the owner of Grand Valley Air, a Grand Junction, Colorado-based air purifying business.

Why are they running?

Hart: “I’ve been a teacher, a farmer, a state senator, a lieutenant governor and congressional candidate,” she said Monday in a Southwest Iowa Democrats debate among the IDP chair candidates. “And through those experiences, I’ve seen time and time again how the policies that our leaders implement affect everyday Iowans. So my focus is squarely on helping our party begin winning elections again.”

Krause: “I have a lot of history with the party,” Krause said in an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch. “I’ve been around, I can identify the mistakes made, I think I can provide wisdom and leadership to the state party that we’ll need to get out of the hole that we’re currently in.”

Ruland: “I grew up in a very big family. The second of seven kids. My dad was a pastor and a teacher’s aide. We were very poor, but we served our community. That was just always what we did. And that really was something that stuck with me,” Ruland said in an interview with the Capital Dispatch. “The religious piece of that moved further away from my trajectories as I got older, but the service to the community always stuck around. I ended up having kids very young and ended up in a situation that was very dangerous for me and my children with their biological father. I learned at that point that there are so many gaps in support for people that are in those situations, that I could not let that happen to anybody else.”

Catching (or releasing) the caucuses

Hart: “I would hope that we are not deciding that there are no options here for us going forward. That’s the first thing. We’ve got to continue to fight that fight for the first in the nation status and then be very practical about how we move forward,” Hart said at the IDP chair debate. “I’m going to say that we are in a position here where it’s clear that people are passionate about making a difference here in Iowa. We’ve got to tap into that by putting out a plan that people can get behind, that we are not going to do things the very same way we’ve always done them and expect different results. Instead, we’re going to change things up, things are going to be different and we are going to learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past.”

Krause: “I would continue the first-in-the-nation caucus as a straw poll rather than a delegate selection … to abide by the state law that sets our caucuses as first-in-the-nation,” Krause said in an interview. Krause cited Republican opposition to a state caucus law change and an overwhelmed party if nothing is done to replace the Democratic caucuses.

Ruland: “I think the challenge right now is we are likely not going to be first and that’s pretty much that ship has sailed. But where at can we fall?” Ruland said in an interview. “If we can give it before Super Tuesday I think it’s worth trying to do a reset.”

Reaching rural voters

Hart: “I think it’s so crucial that we start getting this right,” Hart said at the IDP chair debate. “That being said, we’ve got committed people doing everything that they can to get people elected in their districts and in their counties. And who knows better how to get people elected than the people that are leading in that county?”

Krause: Krause emphasized the importance of visibility parity, the idea that the Democratic Party should be just as visible in the public discourse as Republicans.

“We’ve lost visibility, period, and so we’re going to have to create our own spokespeople. In the field, on the legislative side, I would be prepared to ask legislators to be assigned to areas to go out and speak to some of the county central committees and make sure that we have other avenues to get that noise out so if not parity, at least close to it,” Krause said in an interview. “If you look at a map of Iowa with all the counties where there are no Democratic candidates for the Legislature, there’s nobody going to talk to the weekly newspaper or a local radio or something like that… We have to be creative in how we use our limited resources to get visual parity and start winning elections.”

Ruland: “You have to build relationships,” Ruland said in an interview. “That starts with organizing those areas and showing that we mean business and that we’re actually going to stick around.”

Formula for the future

Hart: “Candidate recruitment is so important. Leadership matters, right?,” Hart said at the IDP chair debate. “I really believe that it starts very locally. (We should help) to encourage and to model and to help county parties to create strong recruitment committees, local people who encourage their local leadership to step up to these positions… They earn their stripes as they go, but they don’t get there often on their own. They need to be encouraged. They need to be told that they have leadership capability and that people have faith in them.”

Krause: “We’re waiting for the offensive window to come up for us, but we need to beat Republicans. That’s the first step. We need to show why they are flawed, why they have failed the people of Iowa, then we need to show (voters) what the real issues are,” Krause said in an interview. “We talked about how they’re gutting the public school system. Once we show what’s wrong, then we say ‘Well, what do we need to do right?’”

Ruland: “… We have to acknowledge issues that are going on, and they’re different in different parts of the state,” Ruland said in an interview. “Rural Iowa feels completely ignored. There are communities who feel completely ignored and then we come in six weeks, if that, before an election and say ‘Please, please, please, we’ll do better for your community. We really need you, it’s going to be such an important election. You could do this for us!’ And then we go, ‘Great, we got what we needed, we’ll see ya.’”

The Capitol perspective

Here’s what Iowa’s Democratic legislative leaders had to say about the party’s leadership choice:

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls: “We need a complete reset at the Iowa Democratic Party, no doubt about it. The performance that we’ve seen over the last several cycles is unacceptable and it’s time for completely different ideas about what’s going to work,” Wahls said in an interview. “For us, I think that’s going to mean getting out of, frankly, this building (the Capitol) and going out and talking to people, listening to people, has to be the number one focus… I’m really looking for a chair in a political program from ADP that is focused, laser focused on (blue collar areas and small towns like Red Oak and Carroll), because that’s where Democrats have had success in building enduring majorities in the past.”

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst:  Konfrst said at a news conference that “she is looking for “somebody who is able to do the fundraising” and “who’s able to work with us collaboratively on getting across the state and talking with Iowans about who Democrats in Iowa are and what we stand for,” according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

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Luke Clausen
Luke Clausen

Luke Clausen is a reporting intern with Iowa Capital Dispatch. He is a student at Drake University studying Multimedia Journalism, Magazine and Brand Media, and International Relations. Additionally, he helps to manage the Ambassador-in-Residence initiative at Drake with Ambassador Terry Branstad and Drake's Global Engagement team.