Jews ask for change in ’10 Caucus Date

A coalition of Jewish groups is objecting to the date of the 2010 Iowa Caucuses (read their news release below).  Here’s a bit of background:  The leaders of Iowa’s two major political parties announced in July that Saturday, January 23, 2010 would be the date for the 2010 Iowa Caucuses. These off-presidential-year party meetings are not as well attended as the presidential year caucuses. But the 2010 Iowa Caucuses will be important if none of the six potential candidates running for governor win the GOP primary in June with 35 percent of the vote. In that circumstance, a GOP nominee would be selected by convention and the convention delegates are selected in a process that starts at the precinct caucuses on January 23, 2010.

UPDATE with clarification:  you do not have to be present at the precinct caucus to be elected a delegate to the county convention, but if you want to be a county convention delegate, you’ve got to let the precinct caucus leader know in advance of Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 1 p.m. so your name can be put in consideration. There often are more county delegate slots than willing delegates, but it can be an issue if there’s larger-than-normal precinct caucus turnout.

Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn said this morning (during taping of this weekend’s edition of “Iowa Press”) he would talk to Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan about the letter the two party leaders have received, but Strawn did not indicate a change would be made.

“The Caucuses are one area in which the parties do work together. Republicans and Democrats alike have to ensure that Iowa protects its first in the nation status and one thing that we need to make sure that we are involving as many people in the process as possible and that’s a decision that chairman Kiernan and I made together that we want to make sure that those folks who have working concerns, that have family concerns have the ability to participate in the process, so we decided in the non-presidential year that, as an experiment, we would try a caucus on a Saturday

“..I was in receipt of that letter (from the coalition of Jewish groups) yesterday, so I’m sure that chairman Kiernan and I will talk further on that issue,” Strawn said.

UPDATE: the Iowa Democratic Party’s executive director issued a statement early this afternoon.

Statement of Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Norm Sterzenbach:
Iowa Democrats and Republicans have chosen to hold 2010 caucuses on a Saturday. Both parties continue to listen to input about the jointly selected date. The discussion is healthy and desirable.
Valid concerns have been expressed about Saturday caucuses, just as valid concerns have existed when caucuses have been held on Monday nights.

Some context is in order: at the 2010 caucuses, local activists will re-engage with the party. There will be no candidate preference groups and no delegates selected.  Voters who cannot attend the off-year caucuses will not be disenfranchised. The purpose of the caucuses is to launch the party’s biennial organizational process. They are followed by county, district and state conventions – each traditionally held on Saturday.

We welcome and will take note of expressed concerns as we evaluate the effectiveness of Saturday caucuses in 2010 and, later, plan for the 2012 Presidential caucuses.

Read the news release issued this morning by the Jewish Council for PUblic Affairs:

Jewish Groups to Political Parties: “Move Iowa Caucuses”
Planned Date forces Jewish Voters to Choose Between Faith, Civic Duty

NEW YORK – Unless rescheduled, the planned 2010 Iowa Caucuses will disenfranchise Jewish voters, says a coalition of 18 Jewish organizations organized by The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

The Republican and Democratic Iowa Caucuses are currently planned for Saturday, January 23, 2010.  The Jewish community recognizes Saturday as its Sabbath – a day set aside for rest, prayer and reflection.   The 2010 caucuses would be the first time the Iowa Caucuses would be held on the Sabbath.

The Jewish coalition opposed to holding the Iowa Caucuses on the Sabbath notes that the decision to move the Iowa political party caucuses to Saturday “effectively disenfranchises members of the Jewish community” because it would “force members of the Iowa Jewish community to choose between their faith and civic duties.”  Additionally, the Jewish organizations point out that if the caucuses are held on the currently scheduled date, observant Jews “would be unable to work on caucus day to support their candidates of choice.”

Calling the decision “utterly inconsistent with the values of our pluralistic democracy,” the Jewish community’s statement, included in its entirety below, calls on Republican and Democratic Party Chairs in Iowa to “reverse this ill-considered move.”

“Dear Mr. Kiernan and Mr. Strawn:

“A central premise of American politics is the enfranchisement of every citizen. The Jewish community has actively campaigned for fair and equal representation for the voices of majority and minorities alike, the protection of civil rights of all people and unencumbered access for all to the processes that choose our elected leaders. Our nation has thrived because of the tremendous opportunities afforded to people from diverse racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds. For this reason, we are distressed to learn that the Democratic and Republican parties of Iowa have decided to hold their 2010 caucuses on a Saturday.

“The decision to move the Iowa political party caucuses to a Saturday effectively disenfranchises members of the Jewish community. Jews who observe the Sabbath could not work on caucus day to support their candidates of choice. Worse, since caucuses do not allow for absentee voting, there would be essentially no opportunity to participate in this important process. This is utterly inconsistent with the values of our pluralistic democracy.

“Voting and participation in the electoral process is a cornerstone of any democracy. It is the highest civic duty most people ever undertake. Saturday caucuses will force members of the Iowa Jewish community to choose between their faith and their civic duties.

“Given the important role Iowa has in our nation’s electoral contests and their leadership position in serving as a role model to other states, we respectfully ask and hope the Democratic and Republican parties to reverse this ill-considered this move.”

The statement was endorsed by The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA); American Jewish Committee; American Jewish Congress; Anti-Defamation League; B’nai B’rith International; Central Conference of American Rabbis; Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America; Jewish Labor Committee; Jewish Reconstructionist Federation; Jewish War Veterans; National Council of Jewish Women; National Jewish Democratic Council; ORT America; Orthodox Union; Rabbinical Assembly; Republican Jewish Coalition; Union for Reform Judaism; and United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism.

The Jewish community coalition was organized by The JCPA, which unsuccessfully advocated to Nevada’s Democratic and Republican party leaders to reschedule its 2007 caucus meetings from the Sabbath.

JCPA is committed to ensuring Jewish and other minority voters across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, are given every opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: the phrase “observant Jews” in the first sentence of this post was edited out and replaced with “a coalition of Jewish groups” after a practicing Jew who is active in Iowa politics emailed, saying the coalition represents “ALL Jews, not just observant Jews.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

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