Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro made headlines this week arguing, while campaigning in Cedar Rapids, that Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn’t kick off the nominating process.
Castro contends the two overwhelmingly white states don’t reflect America demographically, let alone the diverse Democratic electorate. Iowa’s caucuses, in particular, which require voters to show up at precinct gatherings, shut out those who can’t participate for many reasons, from work schedules to physical disabilities.
“We can’t say to black women, ‘Oh, thank you, thank you, you’re the ones that are powering our victories in places like Alabama,’ in 2018, and then turn around and start our nominating contest in the two states that have barely any black people in them,” Castro said. “I mean, that doesn’t make sense.”
Reactions were predictable, ranging from dismissive to defensive. It was suggested in more than one corner of social media that Castro was simply seeking some media attention for his struggling campaign. Others defended the positive sides of the state’s caucuses — including a committed, engaged electorate that’s taken its responsibility seriously since 1972.
But we think the most constructive reaction to Castro’s remarks is to acknowledge he’s right about Iowa’s shortcomings as the presidential starting line. We’re whiter, older and less diverse than the nation. The caucuses do raise barriers to participation. These issues are real.
This editorial board has called repeatedly for efforts to break down those barriers to participation. Iowa Democrats tried to use technology to make caucusing easier for Iowans who can’t make it to precinct meetings, but their plan was rejected by national Democrats. They’re offering satellite caucuses that are easier to access for some. But it’s an incomplete solution. Republicans haven’t addressed accessibility.
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The failure of Democrats “virtual caucuses” can’t be the end of efforts to make sure every Iowa voter who wants to caucus can participate. A redoubled, and bipartisan, effort to solve those issues ahead of 2024 is an absolute must if Iowa is to remain first in the nation.
Demographic change, of course, is much tougher. But Iowa can start by doing far more to address the problems facing racial minorities who do call Iowa home, including racial disparities in our justice system, economic barriers and achievement gaps in public education.
We can be a more inclusive state, where newcomers are welcomed, immigration is embraced, not demonized for political gain, and civil rights for all Iowans are strongly upheld, not undermined. We can make the sort of investments in our environment, schools and quality of life enhancements that could prompt more young Iowans to stay and others to consider making Iowa home.
So Castro spoke hard truths and struck a nerve. But Iowans famous for looking would-be presidents straight in the eye should have no problem staring down reality. Now, what are we going to do about it?
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