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A look into Iowa’s brand of ultra democracy

Iowa’s grassroots political process was on display Thursday evening as precinct-level GOP representatives from Senate District 18 gathered at a local hotel to make a decision that will hold statewide ramifications.

Precinct captains are the lowest level of elected party officials and it is rare for such activists to have such influence. Thursday night’s special nominating convention, as well as a similar Democratic gathering scheduled for next week, mark one of those few times when individuals who typically busy themselves with phone banking, neighborhood-level organizing and other volunteer activities get to place their thumb directly on the political process, serving as representatives of all party members in their voting precinct.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/cindy_golding_125.jpgCindy Golding

And, when the special November election has the potential of tipping the existing balance of power in the Iowa Senate, the stakes were high.

The precinct leaders — all longer-standing members of the Linn County Republican Central Committee because the local party decided to not allow any newcomers who had filled vacancies to vote in the nominating convention — decided between three individuals who wanted to be the Republican nominee in Senate District 18. The seat has been vacated by Marion Democrat Swati Dandekar as she accepts a gubernatorial appointment to the Iowa Utilities Board.

Democrats currently hold a one-seat advantage in the Iowa Senate. It’s a situation that has frustrated Republicans, who hold the Governor’s Office and the Iowa House of Representatives. And while a Senate comprised of equal members of both parties isn’t likely to diminish the ongoing stalemate associated with various partisan issues (the most openly discussed of which is the possibility of a constitutional amendment on marriage), it could lessen Democratic influence in terms of moving policy.

A white board showed the distribution of support.

The three candidates — Matt Dummermuth, Cindy Golding and Mary Rathje — were able to make brief presentations to those gathered and also answered questions during the roughly two-hour convention. Golding, a co-leader of the county party who is affiliated with several local businesses, took the prize on the first ballot with nearly 52 percent support.

“This race will provide a clear contrast for voters,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn said following the results. “This district needs a fighter in the Iowa Senate and that’s exactly what they’ll get with Cindy. The choice will be between a Democratic Senate majority that wants to spend more and strangle Iowa’s small businesses with regulation compared to Cindy’s agenda for fighting for common sense solutions to help our small businesses put more Iowans back to work.”

Sue Dvorsky, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, agreed that voters will be provided “a clear choice,” but disagreed on the substance.

Their choice, according to Dvorsky, is between “a rubber stamp for Governor [Terry] Branstad and the tea party Republicans; or someone with an independent voice who is ready to go to work fighting for new job opportunities and main street business growth for the people of Senate District 18.”

The special election won’t be the first time Golding’s name has appeared on the ballot. She unsuccessfully launched a GOP primary bid for the Iowa House against now Speaker Kraig Paulsen in 2002.

In a prepared statement, Golding said that she is proud of the Linn County Republicans for working together through the nominating convention. “Iowans need all of us — every single one of us — to work together because we need to move an economic-friendly agenda forward to make a best-in-the-nation jobs environment,” she said.

She is expected to face former TV anchor Liz Mathis, but a final determination of the Democratic nominee won’t come until that party’s nominating convention next Thursday.

Senate District 18 is comprised of Marion and other parts or rural Linn County. The special election is scheduled for Nov. 8.

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