Iowa With Half a Caucus

For most of my life, I’ve been an Iowan and a caucus goer. When I was younger, I went to whatever party caucus seemed most interesting. I drifted toward the Democrats because they are more scientifically correct and just plain nicer. When Republicans discussed a candidate who could win despite serious personal flaws, I walked out of the caucus and didn’t come back. They were right though. He won.

I’ve run the Democratic caucus for Ward Two Pella more times than I can recall. Some of this is because I was the default precinct chair. I did it once and no one cared to replace me. Voila. A task for life, or so it seemed. I’ve had coffee with Jill Biden, enjoyed a meeting of education experts with Barack and Michelle, asked an insulting question to Pete Buttigieg. I hope he forgives me.

My car got stuck in half frozen mud at a Kamala Harris event after which I signed up to caucus for her—a day before she withdrew. I rocked out to Muse at a Bernie rally. Being three quarters Dutch, I was interviewed by television and newspapers in the Netherlands.  Like most Iowa Democrats, I took the whole process seriously. Maybe too seriously.  Seeing Iowa slip towards authoritarianism, I wrote an entire Iowa-ag based dystopian novel series. Not surprisingly, some of it has already come true.

As political money poured in, Iowa became alarmingly polarized politically. Sometimes, the Democrats had no candidates running at all in Marion County. Since nobody else would, I ran for office and John Edwards showed up and stumped for me. One of my parents’ close friends made a radio ad against me. After all, he was Christian Reformed, like Betsy DeVos. This had to be a low point for me—realizing even a friend would turn on two of the kindest people in the world.

Later came the Russian inspired Hillary for prison float in Arcadia, Iowa. The person who came up with the float later received a modest, forgivable PPP loan. Lies about that caucus, like the Dean Scream that didn’t happen, refused to die.

Political ads became meaner and gun laden. Political aggression became more common in my hometown. Local Republicans discussed shooting Democrats, after which, assault rifle hunting was permitted. Recently, Trump supporters had a parade complete with a low-flying helicopter. They gathered at a church and someone nearby with a Biden sign got a rock thrown at her window, cracking the glass.

By the time the last fateful caucus rolled around, I, a precinct captain, was paranoid as heck. So yes, I admit, I didn’t use the app. I hadn’t been trained on it and the e-mails about it seemed like phishing schemes. In my opinion, the caucus process went smoothly. The reporting stumbled, in part due to jammed phone lines—thanks, Republicans. For better or worse, the Democratic caucuses in Iowa are first no more. Meanwhile, a trail of people more interested in winning than practicing democracy are coming here to eat corn dogs, but half as many corn dogs will be consumed.

Now here we are banning books, ignoring science, and torching public schools. We’ve fallen into the abyss, an example of how not to do things. We might even allow loaded guns in cars. The Democrats are smart to get out. Give others a chance!

Did the caucuses wreck my state? This place was once a heaven. Now, our poet laureates can’t even sing about it. I can’t blame the caucuses for some of the decisions we’ve made here. The last election wasn’t even closely predicted by the polls in some cases, so not everyone is happy about the state of the state.

The easy solution, for those who don’t like extremists, is to move to ranked choice voting. Quite a while ago, I worked at a college where we had elections to committees. Some sort of malaise swept the place. I’ve forgotten what. People fell into two camps. Opinions were divided. I’ve forgotten what divided us but I clearly recall what brought people together. The math department advocated for a change in voting strategy. We switched to Approval Voting, in which voters could select multiple candidates of whom they approved. The rancor and polarization dropped and the results were more palpable.

Ranked choice voting is another sensible alternative approach. If Alaska can do it, so can other states. The question is: are we sensible?

Below: I pose with Jan Postma of de Telegraaf. It was fun meeting him. Believe it or not, we both have ancestors from the same area of the Netherlands.

8 thoughts on “Iowa With Half a Caucus

  1. Lori

    I wondered what was going on when I heard Iowa was trying to pass a law to allow kids to work. Kids need to be in school. Cheapskate bosses need to pay their parents a living wage

    Liked by 1 person

    1. clayshentrup


      it doesn’t make sense for companies to pay above market rate for any resource including labor. if you want people to have more money, the solution is a UBI/NIT, funded by efficient taxes like CO2 and LVT, so you avoid deadweight loss.


      1. clayshentrup

        > One reason why trickle down economics never made much sense to me.

        no one said anything about trickle-down economics. we’re talking about minimizing deadweight loss. the issue isn’t how much you tax, but what you tax. we want efficient taxes that have negative or neutral deadweight loss. primarily that means carbon taxes and land value taxes, which have negative DWL and neutral DWL respectively.


  2. 1smallisland

    It’s so disheartening the way things have gone. I basically gave up when Bernie won our state, but then our senators, our “super delegates” decided to throw out our votes from our primary. Bernie won the state by a solid 79% and instead they gave the state to Hillary at the National convention. We couldn’t believe it, we had no warning, it was jaw dropping. It’s legal, with gate keepers like that in place why bother voting anymore. The game really is rigged. 🤨



    1. We didn’t have anything like that but we do have a very partisan senator who was once a county auditor. The things she says makes me wonder about rigging to be sure. I don’t want to give up on democracy but I’m also ready to give other states a chance to see how they like being first.


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