The Democrats’ special nominating convention in Iowa House District 22 didn’t exactly have the makings of a statewide news story.
It was a few dozen party activists in an elementary school cafeteria in Underwood, Iowa on Tuesday evening, selecting a nominee in the race to replace deceased Iowa Rep. Greg Forristall. The district is considered safe Republican territory, with twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been a brief story in the local paper. But the meeting turned into a minor controversy after party members voted to expel a local Libertarian activist who tried to attend the meeting with a video camera. The footage has been shared hundreds of times online in a few days, drawing some unnecessary negative press for the Democrats.
The fiasco in Western Iowa demonstrates growing pains for Iowa politics. The Libertarian Party’s performance in 2016 earned it “major party” status under Iowa law, but Republicans and Democrats still seem unsure how to handle their new cousin.
The expelled activist was Bryan Holder, a perennial candidate who was selected later the same week as the Libertarian Party nominee in the same race. Watching his video, it would be a stretch to call him a political saboteur.
Holder announced himself at the door as a citizen-journalist, a Libertarian activist, and a constituent of the district. It wasn’t until after he was voted out that he raised his voice ever so slightly to say, “This is wrong. This isn’t the Soviet Union.”
By now, Libertarians are used to being shut out.
Jake Porter was the Libertarian Party candidate for Secretary of State in 2010 and 2014, when he was excluded from candidate debates and forums. Even Iowa Public TV reportedly said they didn’t have enough chairs on the set.
“I offered to send them a chair. They found that to be unacceptable,” Porter said.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Porter started as the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s first executive director earlier this year, tasked with growing the organization and supporting its candidates.
Five years ago, the total number of voters registered Libertarian or Green was fewer than 2,000 combined.
Earlier this year, the Secretary of State’s office started listing Libertarians separately. And as of last month, there are more than 9,000 registered Libertarians in Iowa, in addition to nearly 3,000 Greens.
Porter said the Libertarians fielded more candidates than ever in Iowa last year and they have a goal to run 50 candidates for statewide and legislative races in 2018.
Still, organizational growth has not led to all that many votes for third-party candidates. There are only a handful of Libertarians and Greens holding partisan office around the country and their candidates seldom reach double-digit percentages.
So what exactly were 22nd District Democrats afraid of when they expelled a third-party activist? They easily outnumber and can easily outspend the Libertarians.
I’m a Republican, but I value free and open political dialogue. My door and inbox open are open to third-party activists, with or without video cameras.
• Comments: Sullivan.AB@gmail.com; adam4liberty.com