Government

Iowa Democrats elect interim chairman

Mark Smith replaces Troy Price as leader of state party

Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, and Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, discuss their party's legislative agenda in 2014
Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, and Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, discuss their party’s legislative agenda in 2014. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
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DES MOINES — Mark Smith was chosen Saturday to lead the Iowa Democrats at a time of significant turmoil for the party.

Smith, a state lawmaker from Marshalltown and former leader of the Democrats in the Iowa House, was elected interim chairman at an emergency state party meeting Saturday afternoon at a labor hall in Des Moines.

Smith replaces Troy Price, who resigned in the wake of the party’s inability to report timely results of the Feb. 3 presidential precinct caucuses.

“I believe that the people of Iowa are going to be looking for what things the Democratic Party does to win elections in November, and I believe that I will have a strong message out there that we are correcting those issues and that we have many more strengths as a party than (there were) issues that night,” Smith told reporters after his election.

Smith is serving his 10th and final two-year term in the Iowa House; he previously announced his plan to retire from the Iowa Legislature. He will serve as interim state party chairman through the November general election.

A computer program designed to transmit results from the roughly 1,700 precinct leaders to state party headquarters faltered on caucus night, and the state party’s backup systems also failed to perform as hoped.

As a result, the state party did not release partial results until last Tuesday afternoon, and full results were not completed until last Thursday, three days after the caucuses.

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The slow trickle of results — with the world watching — caused a black eye for Iowa Democrats and fanned the flames of another debate over the Iowa caucuses’ role as the first step in the U.S. presidential nominating process.

Smith said by most accounts the caucuses ran well, but acknowledged the issues with reporting the results.

The state party plans an independent review of the myriad issues that arose on caucus night.

“We will fix the problems that occurred on caucus night,” Smith pledged in his remarks to committee members before Saturday’s vote.

Smith will guide Iowa Democrats through a crucial election cycle, in which their goals will include winning back one of Iowa’s U.S. Senate seats in a race against freshman incumbent U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, protecting two of their own freshman incumbents in U.S. House races in Eastern and central Iowa, and flipping enough seats to earn a majority in the Iowa House and thus halt Statehouse Republicans’ complete control of the state lawmaking process.

“Priority No. 1 is to get out across the state and to talk to everyday Iowans and restore the faith in the Iowa Democratic Party,” Smith told reporters. “So I’ll be traveling across Iowa and meeting with folks, hearing their concerns, and activating the volunteerism that we need to be successful in our elections in November.”

Price announced his plan to resign on Thursday. In his remarks to the state leadership committee, Price said he hopes his resignation will allow Iowa Democrats to move past the caucuses and focus on winning elections.

“There’s no doubt this past week has been rough. But the fundamental strength of our party remains strong,” Price said.

Members of the state party’s leadership committee nominated a total of four candidates for interim state chair. The others were former congressional candidate Gabriel De La Cerda, Iowa Latino leader Joe Henry, and activist and frequent political candidate Bob Krause.

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The state party does not publish vote totals in elections for party positions. The rules chairwoman who conducted the election called the results “conclusive.”

On Sunday, the state party will begin a recanvass of the caucus results from 143 precincts. The recanvass was requested by the presidential campaigns of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The campaigns believe errors were made in those precincts that could alter the caucus results.

As reported, the caucus results show Buttigieg with the most state delegate equivalents by a historically slim margin over Sanders.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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