Claiming their seats at the table

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Something unique happened in the Corridor in the aftermath of the 2016 elections — two twenty-somethings were elected to lead the Linn County and Johnson County Republican parties.

Justin Wasson, 28, and Matthew Evans, 23, are a rarity. County party chair positions usually are claimed by senior activists, especially in Republican politics. Their victories help demonstrate a broader shift happening in Republican politics across the country, surrounding both age and ideology.

Evans and Wasson are part of loosely defined political coalition known as the liberty movement, which grew out of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns. In 2012, Iowa was the national epicenter of the liberty movement after orchestrating a caucus strategy to take over the state party and the nominating convention.

I should make clear that I also consider myself part of the liberty movement, and Evans is my close friend.

There were stark lines in 2012 between “liberty” and “establishment” Republicans. Gov. Terry Branstad’s allies organized to take-back control of the state party in 2014, and the story at the time was the Paul coalition’s influence would be severely limited.

Linn and Johnson counties lean heavily Democratic, but their size makes them important for Republicans running statewide or for Congress. Both Evans and Wasson mark something of a change in direction for their county central committees. Both challenged a proposed slate of candidates, but in both cases, the opposing candidates were elected to other leadership positions.

“There was definitely some division before the executives’ election, and Laura (Kamienski) and I were kind of opposite sides of that division. Having me as chair and her as co-chair, I’m very optimistic. I think we’re going to mend a lot of that division and come together,” Wasson said.

That is an important contrast to two years ago, when leaders of competing factions could hardly share a microphone.

The divisions in the Republican Party don’t boil down to liberty versus establishment anymore. Both U.S. Rep. Rod Blum in the 1st Congressional District and 2016 2nd District Republican candidate Christopher Peters, who I worked for, align with the liberty movement, but neither was shunned by the party infrastructure.

“I think a lot of the people who were really passionately involved at that time (in 2012) are not involved at this point. I think those of us who are interested have learned how to navigate better and learned better diplomacy,” Evans said.

You can see the same dynamic at play around the country. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has made a point of “playing nice” with the establishment, sometimes to the libertarian grass roots’ dismay. Young Americans for Liberty, the activist group that formed out of Ron Paul’s campaigns, has taken on the motto “Make Liberty Win,” a nod to a more pragmatic strategy.

In short, the once-insurgent radicals have claimed a seat at the Republican table.

“The Republican Party is a big tent, and it needs to be welcoming to those with different ideologies,” Evans said.

• Adam Sullivan’s column appears on Fridays. Comments: Sullivan.AB@gmail.com; adam4liberty.com

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