Governor says Iowa will be first, no matter what

Just before four o’clock this afternoon, Iowa Governor Chet Culver weighed in on the news South Carolina’s GOP is expected to move up the date of its contest, and New Hampshire is expected to move its primary date up as well.  These comments come from an interview Culver did with me, Todd Dorman of the Lee Enterprises Newspapers and Rod Boshardt of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

"Iowa will go first.  That is the bottom line.  This is part of the process.  There’s always a lot of jockeying.  All’s I can tell you is as governor I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that Iowa has the first caucus in the nation and I’m confident that we will," Culver said.

Back later with more quotes from Culver. "We will use every means necessary to make sure that Iowa goes first and we’re all waiting to hear what exactly is the announcement tomorrow.  We’re continuing to work with the Republican National Party and the Democratic National Party and we will work together, hopefully, in a bipartisan way here in Iowa to make sure that we have the first caucus," Culver said.

So you want to go first, even if that means moving the Caucuses into 2007?

"Well, we will do whatever we have to do to make sure that Iowa goes first.  Right now, we’re set on the 14th of January.  That is our preference.  That was clearly the preference of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee and we will do whatever we have to do to protect Iowa," Culver said.

Would it be odd, having the Caucuses before Christmas?

"It’s challenging to get the Caucuses done period.  It requires a lot of work but I do know that Iowans are excited about participating in this presidential selection process and I don’t think as long as we give appropriate notice in timing that the date matters a whole lot.  We just need to get it set and hopefully, it’ll be the 14th.  If not, we’ll do what we have to do to keep the state first," Culver said.

Iowa and New Hampshire used to be buddies in this "first in the nation" effort and it seems like there’s a rift.

"I don’t think there’s a rift at all.  In fact, we have kept the lines of communication open.  I have talked with Governor Lynch.  I know that Secretary (of State) Mauro has talked with Secretary Gartner.  I don’t think there’s any problem between Iowa and New Hampshire.  I  think it’s just a part of the process in terms of what’s better for these states that are involved.  I can tell you that the best thing for Iowa is to kick off the presidential selection process, to have the first caucus and we’ll work with other states.  We have to.  In fact, I think one reason we’ve been able to preserve our first in the nation status is because we have been willing to work cooperatively with our friends at the national level related to the parties and with our friends around the country who voted, by the way, to give Iowa the first caucus.  That didn’t happen by accident.  That is a four-year fight we have to go through.  We make a good case and so I think we will have the support, once again, to go first.  It’s just not precisely clear what date we will have it at this time," Culver said.

You want to keep both parties caucuses on the same date?

"Ideally, yes, that’s important," Culver said.

UPDATE:  Steve Roberts, a Des Moines lawyer who’s a member of the RNC, just called into the newsroom.

"What I’ve heard in the short amount of time that the story’s been out is that the New Hampshire Secretary of State is probably going to keep his powder dry for a while or even if he were to make a change, it’s not over until — he is the kind of individual who’ll make sure that New Hampshire stays in the place they want to be and that’s what’s going to happen.  They will do whatever is necessary to be first in the nation and we will be following that from here as well and so I don’t think anything has changed other than the possibility that there will be further change," Roberts said.

What do you do to fix this leap-frogging?

"It’s one of those problems that there seems to be a fair amount of consensus that the system needs to be fixed, but then people head off in different directions because it’s easier said than done not only in terms of coming up with an acceptable concept, but a concept that can be executed by the various states and parties that have to agree to it so we are working on that very subject at the Republican National Committee rules committee because we have to get the rules for 2012 in place at the convention in September of 2008 in Minneapolis," Robert said.

So what good are the rules if people don’t abide by them?

"Well, particularly if we end up with not having a nominee for sure until we get to Minneaspolis, there could be penalties assessed in terms of delegates that could have an impact in terms of who the party selects for president.  There are penalties written in right now, and I know the Ohio Republican Chairman has indicated that he will contest delegate selection and possibly file a lawsuit to keep people violating the party rules in this regard and I think it’ll the effect that they may make more stringent rules for 2012 if these things continue."

Roberts, a Bob Dole backer in 1988 and 1996, has not picked a candidate among the current crop of presidential hopefuls.  "I’m occupying a place of benign neutrality," he says.  Roberts does intend to attend Saturday’s Straw Poll in Ames.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.