Republicans in Iowa are on the offensive while democrats work to get back in the game. We talk politics with Iowa political party Chairs Derek Eadon and Jeff Kaufmann on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, February 10 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

Yepsen: Iowa's Capitol rotunda was home to an open display of frustration and displeasure this week. Union members protested against Iowa republican proposals to significantly dismantle the state's 40-year-old collective bargaining law. The move is just one of the outcomes of successful campaign work done by the Republican Party of Iowa and its Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. Meanwhile, democrats, reeling from a disastrous 2016, have turned to newly-elected Chairman Derek Eadon. Both men join us today at the Iowa Press table. Chairmen, welcome. Good to have you with us.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation are Kathie Obradovich, Political Columnist for the Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Let's start with the new guy. Donald Trump 93 of 99 counties were Trump counties in 2016. How do you prevent your party from being a permanent cellar dweller?

Eadon: Well, I think in the 2016 election it was clear that a lot of voters were feeling economic frustration and the message that we had was more about Donald Trump, the things that he was saying. And we need to make sure that the pain that people feel, whether it is an urban area or rural area, that democrats are talking about how we support fair wages, equal opportunity and specifically what are democrats going to do for you and your family. And that's something that we lost sight of the last few elections.

Henderson: Well, it appears as if your party has relied on urban areas to make up for what's going on in rural Iowa and that was even exacerbated this time around. How do you connect with rural voters?

Eadon: I think it's simple, you need to travel. We see Congressman Loebsack was one of the successful democrats in this past election and he is able to travel to all of his counties multiple times throughout the election.

Henderson: But he lost by -- I mean, he won by the narrowest margin he has ever won by.

Eadon: I think that's because he did do better in rural areas than some of the top ticket democrats did. We see rural communities are reeling, whether it's the manufacturing base leaving, a lot of them are government employees right now whether it's schools, police, firefighters and we need to make sure that those folks see democrats in their areas and we're also proposing legislation and fighting for them and making sure we're very clear about that.

Obradovich: Well, and Chairman Kaufmann, I know you're not tired of winning yet, but the pendulum swings back and forth in Iowa and you've got, your party attracted new blue collar voters who may be affected by some of the policies that the Trump administration and also the republican majority at the Statehouse are proposing such as collective bargaining changes, we heard from blue collar republicans about that bill this week at the Statehouse, trade definitely an issue in rural Iowa. So, how do you hold that coalition together?

Kaufmann: And I would agree, Kathie, that we're going to fight complacency. That would be an easy trap to fall into. And I didn't do a victory dance. I moved right into 2018. In terms of addressing some of these issues that may be seen or construed to be against those blue collar employees and those workers across Iowa, here's the thing about Donald Trump and here's the thing about House and Senate republicans, we are moving down a list of promises that were made. There shouldn't be any surprises here. Donald Trump is very overt about clicking off what he's going to do. House republicans, Senate republicans, I was at many, many of their fundraisers, I've seen nothing at the Statehouse at this point that actually has legs to move through the process that should surprise anyone.

Obradovich: Well, collective bargaining wasn't something that was on the stump and that candidates were talking about. That is something that has come up over and over again at the Statehouse, that this was not part of the discussion during the last election.

Kaufmann: I heard it discussed in many cases. In fact, House republicans passed many elements of that bill when I was in the legislature at that time. And I think in terms of health care, for example, we move health care off of that list of bargainable topics, we form a statewide pool -- I was just at a Cedar County supervisors meeting last week, I asked the person there that was part of the insurance industry that provides us our insurance, I said, is there any way this isn't going to help to at the very least stabilize insurance rates? He says, absolutely not, this is going to help.

Obradovich: And Mr. Eadon, you guys are counting on republicans overplaying their hand, aren't you?

Eadon: Well, I think some of the reaction you're seeing is that people were not seeing collective bargaining, republicans taking away benefits from hardworking Iowans as part of what their platform was during the campaign. And we are seeing, I think we're optimistic that there's an opportunity to be able to show some of these folks that we have their back and that republicans are not proposing anything that's going to help the middle class or job growth with this agenda. But obviously our base is going to be reeling from a lot of these bills.

Henderson: Before we move away from bargaining, you were mentioned often, Mr. Kaufmann, during union remarks about the bill and remarks that you made back when you were a legislator saying that this Chapter 20, which is the collective bargaining restrictions for public sector unions in Iowa, that that shouldn't be changed in a partisan way, it should always be done in a bipartisan way. What do you say to those folks?

Kaufmann: I loved how they plucked that out of context. Surprise, surprise, the union folks plucked one of my quotes out of context. I was referring, if you recall, that they dropped the bill on the Friday before the Easter weekend and then time certained it and limited debate. At that point they shut down any ability of us to react. That's not happening in this debate at this particular point. So Danny Homan makes a huge salary compared to the employees that he actually represents. I guess I'd pull a quote out of that if I'd get some mileage out of it too.

Henderson: In case folks don't know who Danny Homan is, he is the head of AFSCME Council 61, which is the state employee union, correct?

Kaufmann: Yes. And I stand behind that quote, but I also stand behind the fact that the republicans now are handling that a lot different than dropping a bill on Easter weekend.

Yepsen: Mr. Kaufmann, and I want to ask you both this question, I'm struck by what we've seen these last couple of weeks, the demonstrations, the women's march and it feels a little bit like 2010 with the Tea Party movement. Are we seeing, are you concerned that we're seeing here the birth of a democratic Tea Party movement in the reaction to what Trump has been doing, what the President has been doing and now what the legislature is doing? Is there a concern on your part?

Kaufmann: It would be a concern if I began to see those crowds attracting republicans, attracting independents. The republicans could certainly overplay our hand, we have to guard against that. On the other hand I found an email today where a union member in the Des Moines school system said some horrifically vile things about republican female legislators. I think they're going to have to be careful to not overplay their hand as well.

Yepsen: Mr. Eadon, do you see that the same way that I do, that this has the feelings of a birth of a democratic-like Tea Party movement that we saw right after the start of Obama's presidency, 2009 we're into health care debate and the Tea Party movement rose up and altered the political configuration? Is that kind of thing going to happen on your side of the spectrum?

Eadon: I think we're already seeing this restlessness and this fear of some very dangerous policies being proposed at the federal level and at the state level and I think we're going to see more and more of this. I don't think these rallies are going to stop with this disastrous union-busting bill that the republicans are proposing. We're going to see this not only at the Statehouse but at the federal level. They're talking about defunding Planned Parenthood not only at the national level but Joni Ernst has proposed it at the national level. So I think this is something that is going to continue as we as democrats have to do what we can to try and capture some of that energy.

Yepsen: Mr. Kaufmann, what else is on the agenda? We have seen Planned Parenthood defunding, we've seen now the collective bargaining debate, what's next?

Kaufmann: Well, all of this is going to revolve around job creation. This collective bargaining bill is not only going to help with insurance rates and it's going to help the employees instead of spending a lot of dollars to try to, in the collective bargaining situation, of adding health insurance benefits that are unpredictable, I think we're going to see a stabilization. But I think we're going to take a look at election integrity. If you have to show an identification to buy cigarettes I think it's an appropriate topic, and I don't think anybody is going to be surprised that republicans are going to bring that up. I think we're going to be looking, having the conversation, always will have the conversation on fairness in tax structure. Planned Parenthood is certainly a reaction --

Yepsen: That's one issue. But I'm talking about abortion, restricting access to abortion.

Kaufmann: I have not seen or I did not hear on the campaign trail a broad spectrum of those ideas as I did some of these --

Yepsen: How about changing Iowa's redistricting law?

Kaufmann: I would hope not. I think we've got one of the best in the country.

Henderson: In case someone has been in a coma for the past three months, Terry Branstad is poised to be the Ambassador to China for President Trump. What will the Republican Party be without Terry Branstad? He had to be recruited in 2009 because you didn't have anybody to run for Governor. What are you going to do now?

Kaufmann: Terry Branstad is a loss. I can't sugarcoat that. He has now moved into a working legend. It takes quite a bit to have someone that is still viable, is still an energetic force in the party, but at the same time has achieved legendary status both in the country and in the state. That's difficult. But the one thing Terry Branstad has done is he has left a bench. He was a strong supporter of Joni Ernst. He and Chuck Grassley go back a long ways. And of course Kim Reynolds is a perfect example of where he is leaving us with a very viable, a very capable and the first female Governor, republican, in Iowa history. I think Terry Branstad has left us.

Obradovich: Are republicans going to clear the field for Kim Reynolds? She is Terry Branstad's chosen successor. So far nobody else has announced. Is that going to continue?

Kaufmann: A fair question. That is going to be totally up to republican voters and up to other potential candidates. The Republican Party and myself are going to be neutral in that race. My job as a party chair is to have a fair playing field. On the other hand, leading up to that election I'm going to be 100% behind Governor Reynolds, the first female Governor.

Obradovich: Do you expect though to see more candidates? And do you think that people are being actually kind of scared out of the water at this point?

Kaufmann: She's going to be an incumbent Governor. Regardless of party and regardless of situation that has to cause some reflection before you challenge.

Obradovich: Is that healthy? Is that healthy to not have a vigorous primary going forward?

Kaufmann: I don't think primaries hurt a party but we're certainly going to be having a vigorous conversation about that. But boy, after 17 in our presidential primary I wouldn't mind a time out a couple of races.

Yepsen: I'm going to ask you about Governor Branstad's departure from the political scene and what that means for democrats. Is that an opening?

Eadon: It's absolutely an opening. I think Governor Branstad is going to be leaving for China at a time where we've seen 70 counties in Iowa lose population since he took office. We're going to see, because of these devastating budget cuts, we're going to see schools looking at potentially having to consolidate thousands of layoffs in the public sector whether it's teachers, whether it's public safety workers. A lot of rural areas are still feeling that economic pain and Governor Branstad had tremendous name ID and other republicans are going to have to be able to defend that record.

Obradovich: But you can't beat somebody with nobody. And a lot of the people that your party was really pinning hopes on have already said, no thanks, like Senator Liz Mathis. So where is your bench?

Eadon: We have a strong bench. It's something that we're going to continue to work on but we have an opportunity here this legislative session and next year's legislative session for our potential candidates to stand up, not only be factors at the Capitol and standing up for Iowans, but I encourage folks that are interested in running in traveling the state. And we still have a lot of time before that June primary of next year.

Yepsen: Back to the Terry Branstad departure, that plus the fact it's an off year for republicans, which historically hurts the party in the White House, so that ought to be an opportunity for democrats. We talked about some of these other things that are going on, Kathie talked about some of these other things that are going on, trade and that sort of thing. How do democrats take advantage of this window of opportunity when you don't have much of a bench running for Governor?

Eadon: We have to use 2017 to not only organize but hold republicans accountable. Iowa republicans haven't won at the top of the ticket since 1984 without Branstad or Grassley at the top of the ticket. This is a tremendous opportunity for us not only to recruit candidates at the Statehouse level and the statewide level but at school boards, city councils, county races. 2017 is an election year so we can make sure that we are not only getting more democrats that can turn out the vote but are able to pass progressive policies at the local level.

Henderson: When Kim Reynolds becomes Governor she'll be selecting her Lieutenant Governor. Who should she pick?

Kaufmann: I have such faith in Kim Reynolds I'm going to leave that up to her and when she makes that choice I'm behind her a hundred percent.

Henderson: Is there a prototype you're looking for? Somebody who can raise money? Somebody who reaches urban Iowa where she comes from rural Iowa?>

Kaufmann: She's going to take all of those into consideration. Certainly you have the spectrum of traits, electoral traits that you might like to have in a potential running mate. On the other hand I think Kim Reynolds is going to look for competence. When it's all said and done, whether you're talking about a Vice President or a Lieutenant Governor, you're talking about someone that can match you in energy, can help with campaigning and can take over the Governorship if, God forbid, something would occur that's a tragedy or something great like Governor Branstad departing.

Obradovich: Mr. Eadon, your counterpart here when he was re-elected Chair put out a pretty bold goal which is to get about a third of the Latino vote in Iowa going to the GOP in the next couple of cycles. Realistic?

Eadon: I don't think that's realistic.

Obradovich: Why not?

Eadon: I think President Trump is, some of the policies that he has had is scaring a lot of these communities. I know the day after the election I heard a story about a student in Postville where his mom was ten minutes late picking him up and he was balling his eyes out because it was the day after the election and he thought his parents had been taken away. I'm hearing stories of people being scared about the republican policies across the state and that's not something that's going away anytime soon.

Obradovich: So how do you get -- what would be a significant share of the Latino vote to swing toward Trump's Republican Party?

Kaufmann: Well, I hear a lot of stories too of people spinning the republican message and spinning the reality in order to scare Latinos. Look, I have dedicated one quarter of a century to teaching young Latino students. I have seen hundreds, literally hundreds of my students, first-time Latino students walk across and get their diplomas. I understand that population and I also understand the republicans can talk to them aside from the spin. And obviously when you are asking for votes, you're asking for votes not for a party, you're asking for votes for candidates. And we've got a tremendous amount of pro-Latino legislators in terms of what we believe and what we can do for them and welcoming them to Iowa. I'll put up my republican platform and our republican principles and talk to a young Latino millennial any day of the week.

Eadon: Please bring Steve King with you.

Kaufmann: This is Jeff Kaufmann and Jeff Kaufmann has a record that is unsurpassed in dealing with Latinos I can assure you.

Yepsen: Mr. Eadon, a bigger source of concern to democrats are blue collar voters, the Reagan democrats who are now Trump democrats. Kathie asked about getting Latino voters. How do you get those voters back in your party? It's the story of the election and particularly in rural America. What do you do? Different candidates? Quit pandering to different interest groups so much? What is your formula for getting blue collar democrats, working democrats back behind democratic candidates?

Eadon: I think candidates that have a compelling story and have conviction behind their message. As democrats we need to do a better job of messaging around our values, about fair wages, rewarding hard work, economic opportunity. Too many of our ads the last few cycles have been aimed at something Joni Ernst said or something Donald Trump said that was offensive. And while I found those things something that wasn't appealing to me and many democrats do, you have a lot of folks that voted for Barack Obama that are still suffering from the economy and they wanted a change and they wanted somebody talking about that economic message.

Henderson: You two gentlemen are in charge of parties that want to retain Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus status.

Kaufmann: There we can agree.

Eadon: Absolutely, absolutely.

Henderson: I guess that's something on which you agree. Mr. Eadon, why should the country trust Iowa to be first? Republicans messed up the count in 2012, democrats messed it up in 2016, why should Iowa be first?

Eadon: Iowa is the state that started the model for the caucuses and not only were we able to report accurate results for over 1,600 separate events that happened in one night, but we are also able to use this as an organizing tool to register thousands of voters on both sides, bring new people into the process. It's a tremendous organizing tool and we've seen candidates become stronger because of this and I'm very confident in what I'm hearing that the caucuses will remain in a good position moving forward.

Henderson: You've had a committee looking at changing the rules for the way democrats do caucuses, republicans basically have a straw poll, you have math class on caucus night. And the group seems to be unwilling to make major changes in the way you conduct your caucuses. Will you as the chair redirect that effort?

Eadon: Well, some of that has already been occurring. We had a caucus review committee after the caucuses. Thank you to Jeff for helping us and talking about some of your experiences throughout the caucuses. But making sure that we are adapting this caucus model to events that are now taking place at locations that might not be able to fit the amount of people. There are things we're looking at whether it's using technology, whether it's simplifying registration. So we can always do better at this.

Yepsen: Why don't you just go to a primary?

Eadon: Well, the complicated DNC politics, also you have the New Hampshire, it's written in their legislature that they have to have the first primary. So we have to make sure that we are following the nominating calendar that is set forth by the DNC.

Yepsen: Right. I understand that. But. Mr. Kaufmann, when you have caucuses that are packed with people, floors sag, people can't get in, it's something far different than it was when I started in this game and it was two or three people over at Jeff's house on caucus night talking politics. They're different than they were. And so doesn't it make more sense to say to heck with those rules and have a primary in this state? Then you avoid all these access problems, all these issues that have come up with caucuses?

Kaufmann: David, I believe, and I don't want to be Pollyannaish about this, but I believe there is something special about a caucus where you have neighbors that may have never expressed their opinions before in front of their peers standing up in that room and talking about what they believe in, actually this is grassroots democracy at its finest. It may be quaint, we do have some facilities issues on both sides. That's a good thing. That means our caucuses are working. And New Hampshire would have an absolute conniption fit, obviously. But I believe this is special enough that we fix the facilities and I don't think you're going to see any space between Derek and I on that issue.

Obradovich: You have a new Republican National Committee Chairwoman who comes from Michigan, which has spent a lot of years trying to get the caucuses away from Iowa, first-in-the-nation status away from Iowa. What makes you think that Ronna Romney McDaniel will want to keep Iowa first-in-the-nation?

Kaufmann: Fair question. I ran into her at the Inauguration. I couldn't believe it. I just know somebody was directing me because I think it was divine. When I walked into the elevator there was Ronna Romney McDaniels and I held the door open and I said, hello, how are you? I said, I want to get this all out of the way but I've got to ask you. She says, I think you did a wonderful job and I think Iowa did a wonderful job. I said, I want more than just that kudo. Did we earn this? Did we earn the right and the honor to lead this? And she said, you did a very good job. I also hit up our new co-chair from Ohio and there has been some movement in Ohio over the years. He was even more blunt. He said that I'm a traditionalist and that means I'm going to favor Iowa. And don't forget our President, there's no wiggle room in what Donald Trump has told me personally and what he has said publically in the latter stages of that campaign. Iowa, there is a special place in his heart for Iowa and I believe he's going to make sure that happens.

Yepsen: What about the democrats? The process worked for the republicans. They won the election. Why would they mess around with the process? Your party lost, came up short, nominated a candidate who couldn't get to 270. So what other things does your party have to do, maybe not here in Iowa, but other reforms to come up with a winning candidate the next time?

Eadon: Well, we have our upcoming DNC chair election and this is very much a topic. I think super delegates are going to be visited. I think that's a priority. But I do like what I'm hearing in terms of these DNC candidates in terms of investing in data, giving more support to local entities. I think the republicans have gone circles around us in being able to invest at the local level and that's something that I think we need to do at the Democratic Party as well.

Yepsen: You've got a commitment from Ronna Romney. Have you got a commitment from the candidates running for DNC chair?

Eadon: Some of them, some of them. We're still in the process of talking. Keith Ellison is committed to keeping Iowa first and not talking about the nominating calendar. There will be a unity commission appointed and the chair will be able to select people there.

Yepsen: Tom Perez?

Eadon: We have not gotten that commitment yet.

Obradovich: Are you working on that because some of these guys are probably calling you, right, to congratulate you on your chairmanship? Are you working on them when they call you?

Eadon: We are. We are. We're setting up not only calls but meetings with our Iowa DNC delegation, with Tom Perez, with Jamie Harrison, Reed Buckley, some of these other candidates. Because I was elected a little bit later than some of the state chairs they kind of waited on reaching out to the Iowa delegation. But I imagine we'll be able to get answers from them shortly on this.

Obradovich: Democrats know they're going to have competitive caucuses in 2020. Are you sure that Iowa republicans won't also have competitive caucuses?

Kaufmann: I think 2024 is going to be an amazing year. I really do.

Obradovich: What about 2020, Mr. Chairman?

Kaufmann: That's so soon. I like to plan out -- no, I think Donald Trump is going to tick through those campaign promises and I think we're going to renominate him.

Obradovich: I don't think he promised to run for a second term.

Kaufmann: He didn't, but boy I think if I kind of wink and nod I think he'll run again.

Obradovich: Oh, you're going to flirt him into running?

Kaufmann: I'm going to let him know that Iowans appreciate doing what you promise.

Henderson: Derek, you have said people have been congratulating you and offering you condolences. Is this a job, kind of a no-win job for you?

Eadon: It's very difficult. We haven't seen a situation like this in Iowa where we don't have a Tom Harkin, a Tom Vilsack, a Chet Culver and we don't have a democratic President there. But I've been very optimistic with the amount of support I've gotten no matter whether they're newer folks, folks that have been a while, that have been in the party a while. I'm pretty optimistic and there's a lot of room for growth. We’re kind of starting from scratch in some ways in terms of boosting our digital presence, in terms of how we look at organizing. So it's exciting for me.

Yepsen: We have to leave it at that. But we'll have you guys back to talk more about this because we love talking politics. Thank you. Good luck to you both.

Kaufmann: Good to have you back.

Yepsen: Thank you. We'll return with another edition of Iowa Press next week where we'll explore that controversial collective bargaining legislation at the Statehouse. That's Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa Public Television, I'm David Yepsen. And thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. Iowa Community Foundations, an initiative of the Iowa Council of Foundations, connecting donors to the causes and communities they care about for good, for Iowa, for ever. Details at The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks. Iowa Communications Network. The availability of high speed broadband service is essential to fulfilling the promise of a connected Iowa. ICN's Broadband Matters campaign showcases the importance of delivering broadband to all corners of Iowa. Information is available at UIeCare is helping provide access to health care services to more Iowans. By offering online visits with a University of Iowa health care provider, UIeCare helps Iowans seek medical care without leaving home. Learn more at