Blog for Iowa regular contributor and progressive activist, Paul Deaton, spent the day in Des Moines taking in the annual party ritual known as the IDP Hall of Fame Celebration. Here is his report for BFIA.
Des Moines, Iowa – Democrats in Iowa should be glad we have an Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame and that Sally Pederson and Tom and Christie Vilsack were inducted into it last night [Saturday]. In many ways, the successful Vilsack-Pederson campaign in 1998 was a turning point in a process that is changing the long Republican history of Iowa into something more relevant to modern times.
I remember hearing my in-laws, long-time Republicans from what is now Iowa’s 5th Congressional District, disparaging Vilsack’s opponent, Jim Ross Lightfoot, in their polite, small town manner before the election. It was an indication that Republican politicians had lost touch with their core constituency and that Vilsack-Pederson offered an Iowa that was more aligned with their values. After Vilsack-Pederson pushed the snowball down the hill, it did nothing but gain size and momentum. For this, many of us are thankful.
As a first time attendee to the “celebration,” I did not know what to expect and offer a few observations on what was a well planned and organized event.
Most engaging for me was the opportunity to meet new people. Democrats are friendly and willing to discuss ideas and the social world of Democrats. People from other parts of the state asked me about the conflict in the Johnson County Democratic Party after the election of Dennis Roseman to chair. My explanation that he had the votes and deserves our support did not seem to convince. The election of party chairperson in other counties does not appear to be as contentious as in Johnson County.
When I arrived at the tents to pick up my ticket, I asked about the receptions that were being held before the ceremony. I was told “it takes a lot of money to get into those.” I guess I didn’t look like I could afford “a lot of money.” The volunteers were polite, and I am patient, so eventually I got the explanation I was looking for which is that there are receptions and they require a certain donation. The more one contributes, the higher up the donor ranking were the people with whom one could socialize. After I laid down two twenties and a ten, my ticket was revised from red to green and I could attend the “Guest Reception,” which was a lot of fun.
Governor Culver bragged about the success of the event’s fund raising efforts, saying that more money had been raised this year than in any of the previous years of the Hall of Fame event. What Chet Culver does not understand is that it is false success when among the 2009 Hall of Fame Hosts are listed the powerful interests that stymie the efforts of the progressive movement to do what is right in Iowa and in Washington.
One asks what do Archer Daniels Midland, Monsanto, MidAmerican Energy, Planned Parenthood, the Iowa Medical PAC, Mediacom, the Iowa Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, the Iowa Corn Growers Association and other political action committees, business associations and corporations want with their donation besides access and favorable attention to advance their agendas? The Iowa Democratic Party, despite statements made during the speeches, is far from being the grassroots party we need it to become. Grassroots activism, in my view, needs to eliminate the influence of the large, moneyed entities. A good place to start would be to cease accepting corporate sponsorship of party events. This seems unlikely in a Culver administration.
The highlights of the program were the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus rendition of “Courage Lives,” the award of the John C. Culver Scholarships to Shea Kruger and Aaron Mohr and Tom Vilsack’s speech. The organizers indicated that the event would be recorded on video and made available on the IDP website. Once they are, it is worth listening to Vilsack’s speech as it was a nostalgic recounting of stories many of us had heard before about his campaigns and experiences. Nostalgia has its place in the life of Democrats.
Ceremonies tend to be formal and the 2009 Hall of Fame Celebration was no exception. There did not appear to be a lot of us plain folk in attendance. In fact, if I had not received a ticket through the Iowa Democratic Veteran’s Caucus, I would not have been there either. It is easy to find fault with the Democratic Party, but for those of us who seek a voice for social change, it is our best hope. Tom and Christie Vilsack and Sally Pederson did something positive for us during their administration and we should be glad they were recognized last night, even if the view of their induction was from the back rows of Sheslow Auditorium behind the Democratic Party elite.