The Des Moines Register. February 4, 2020

Iowa caucuses: Months of labor go awry in the final crucial moment

Iowa's role in the presidential election is far more than Monday's precinct caucuses and the still-unfolding nightmare of the long-missing results.

What happened is more akin to a gymnastics routine, one in which the state Democratic Party belly-flopped the landing. But the state should also be judged on what happened before that, when Iowans did what they were supposed to do. They did it for months.

They talked to candidates, attended events, knocked on doors, listened in coffee shops, asked questions at forums and helped people in 49 other states get to know the people seeking to be the next president.

That continued Monday night, when tens of thousands of people gathered in schools and churches to be part of the process of selecting Democratic and Republican nominees for president.

Much remains to be untangled about what steps state Democratic Party officials took and didn't take over the past four years that led them to be unjustifiably confident that they could share comprehensive caucus results within hours of most of the 1,765 gatherings convening.

Apparent missteps in planning, failed execution and leaders' dismal performance in crisis management may well exact a toll for the state beyond the sober denunciations and clever (or not) jokes at Iowa's expense that took over television and the internet Tuesday.

But if the outcome is accurate, credible results, then who is harmed by a delay of hours or even a couple of days? Journalists with airtime to fill and stories to write, and … who else, exactly? Day around Iowa

Problems with the caucus format, primarily the various ways its format excludes people, are well-documented. But its virtues, with genuine discussion among neighbors and a complicated process executed ably and almost exclusively by volunteers, stood out again Monday. The reliance on rank-and-file Democrats is a strength.

When it came time to tabulate what happened, the state party's processes — which, to be fair, were radically reworked for this year at the insistence of the national party — made all of that into a vulnerability.

Informed observers warned that the mobile app developed to convey results to headquarters was a risky step. And in fact it wasn't ready for prime time. How thoroughly was the app put through its paces?

Either way, precinct workers have said they weren't comfortable even before Monday with the app. Did the party have a robust enough staffing and a detailed enough backup plan to efficiently and expeditiously collect results over the phone?

Perhaps the least excusable error: sparse crisis communication, resulting in a bad thing becoming much worse

Party officials did make some good choices, among them not rushing to publish results as the clamor picked up. They clearly learned the lesson of the Republicans' Mitt Romney-Rick Santorum switcheroo in 2012.

And thank goodness that the party has paper preference cards on hand to allow them to largely reconstruct each caucus, an innovation for these caucuses. The results will closely resemble what happened in the precincts Monday night — a confidence that wouldn't have been available before 2020.

The egg on Iowa's face inevitably prompts questions about whether another state should take the privilege and scrutiny of going first on the presidential nominating calendar.

This episode makes it harder to argue that Iowa is exceptional.

It's the bad landing, of course, that everyone will remember. And it's necessary to dig in and determine all the ways that caucus night went awry. But let's not lose sight of the grass-roots involvement that a caucus process fosters.

Under new scrutiny from a skeptical nation, Iowans will need to weigh whether that is worth working to preserve.


Fort Dodge Messenger. February 4, 2020

Helping biofuels industries expand

The ethanol and biodiesel industries are significant contributors to Iowa’s booming economy.

Our state is a leader nationally in the production of these fuels. According to information provided by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office, Iowa manufacturers produced 4.1 billion gallons of ethanol in 2018. Our state’s producers generated 350 million gallons of biodiesel.

The positive significance of the ethanol and biodiesel production for the Hawkeye State’s farmers is huge. Reynolds’ office estimates that almost 40 percent of the 13.2 million acres of Iowa farmland devoted to growing corn supports ethanol production. Soybean growers also sell heavily to biodiesel manufacturers.

These biofuels industries add a bit more than $5 billion to our state’s economic activity. That’s about a 3 percent contribution.

For the biofuels producers to prosper, the marketplace must have adequate distribution capabilities to get their products in the hands of consumers. That’s why Reynolds has been a strong backer of a state program to help make sure an adequate distribution system exists all across Iowa. The Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program, known as RFIP, helps dispensing sites and fueling stations make the needed changes to market biofuels. Since it was launched, this innovative undertaking has made $35.26 million available to support projects. Importantly, it is designed as a partnership between the state and the private sector. As such, it has been the catalyst for more than $200 million in private sector investments in infrastructure enhancement.

The state’s efforts have been complemented by a federal program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Biofuels Infrastructure Program, known as BIP. Grants from that undertaking have benefited fuel retailers throughout our state. Getting ready for new blends of ethanol and biodiesel will, however, require more infrastructure development. Reynolds is moving aggressively to make sure Iowa’s initiatives fully support future needs. She is also urging the USDA to move ahead strongly with a successor to its successful BIP effort. The new federal project is called the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, called HBIIP.

Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig have just sent a lengthy letter to the USDA that shares their recommendations on how the federal initiative can be most successful. It stresses following the government-private sector model that has worked so well in Iowa.

At the end of January, the governor outlined her hopes for efforts to strengthen biofuels sales.

“The USDA’s willingness to recognize the potential to build on BIP’s successes with HBIIP is highly encouraging,” Reynolds said in her letter. “We are confident that if the State of Iowa’s proposed expansion of RFIP is met with a federal commitment to HBIIP for both biodiesel and ethanol, we can accelerate the adoption of biofuels, supporting the environment and rural communities while we do it.”

The Messenger shares Reynolds’ determination to keep biofuels manufacturing thriving. Her efforts in Iowa to strengthen the biofuels infrastructure have been outstanding. We hope officials at the USDA will take the recommendations she and Naig are making very seriously as they design the new federal HBIIP undertaking.


Sioux City Journal. February 5, 2020

Caucus debacle was embarrassment for Iowa

We may not have learned on Monday night who won the Democratic caucuses, but the loser was clear - Iowa.

To say watching national coverage on Monday evening was an uncomfortable experience is the understatement of understatements. Without question, the optics for our state were awful.

As the hours passed with no reports of results whatsoever, CNN and Fox News anchors, reporters and pundits were left to fill time - and the time was filled with harsh criticisms of and, yes, jokes about Iowa. Over and over again, this basic question was asked: Why do we start the nomination process in this place?

Already facing heat from critics over the state's coveted leadoff position and the complexities/oddities of caucuses from elsewhere in the country, Iowa needed to get this year's Democratic vote right (Republicans held caucuses, too, but the spotlight this time was on Democrats and their wide-open race filled with candidates).

Instead, what happened was disaster.

That isn't the fault of average Iowa Democrats who did what was expected of them as caucus participants, including as volunteers, at individual sites across the state. No, this is on the Iowa Democratic Party.

The IDP blames technology. Well, whatever the reason or excuse, the bottom line is: The state's Democratic Party had four years since the 2016 caucuses to prepare for the big show of 2020 - and it wasn't prepared when the curtain was raised and the time arrived to collect and report numbers.

When everyone here and across America finally learn the final votes, those results will be overshadowed by frustration, anger and conspiracies about how they were tabulated and released. In other words, the Iowa story will be largely negative.

Our state weathered controversial caucus-related storms in the past (including complaints by the Bernie Sanders campaign following Sanders' razor-thin loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic caucuses and incorrect initial reporting of Mitt Romney as the winner over Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican caucuses) and retained its leadoff status.

However, Iowa may not survive Monday night's embarrassing debacle to lead the nation again in 2024. We fear not only Democrats, but both national parties may, in fact, look elsewhere for a starter state the next time.

For Iowans like us who for decades have taken pride in and fervently defended our state’s honored position as No. 1, that would be a hard pill to swallow, indeed.


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