Mike Connery

December 12, 2007


Someone just reminded me that tomorrow is the Democratic Debate sponsored by The Des Moines Register, David Yepsen’s paper. I’d encourage all candidates to make strong pro-student statements at that debate.

Here’s the deal–David Yepsen, a columnist at The Des Moines Register, and over half of the Democratic Presidential campaigns have questioned the rights of Iowa students–not originally from the state–to participate in the caucus. Some campaigns have retracted their statements, the youth vote community has been organizing around this issue, and now the mainstream media is finally starting to take it up. You can read previous reporting on this issue (chronologically) here, here, here, and here.

In less than 24 hours since my last post on this topic, a lot has happened.

First, from the candidates: Hillary Clinton’s Youth Director, Emily Hawkins emailed me with a new statement from the Clinton campaign:

“Hillary wants every student who lives in Iowa and wants to caucus in Iowa and is eligible to caucus in Iowa to do so. We hope that they will and we hope that they will caucus for Hillary. The Iowa caucus is special because it is based on Iowa values. We hope and trust that every campaign is making sure that potential caucus goers have all the information they need, and in no way explicitly or implicitly encourages anyone to break the law by participating in two places. Not only is it okay to engage students in Iowa, but it is critical to ensure that they are active participants in the process, and we are doing everything we can to get them out to caucus.”

The statement also appeared in a blog post by Hawkins on the Hillary Clinton blog, along with information about the legal rights of all students to caucus, and helpful websites to aid those students in participating.

I should note that Dodd has also issued retractions on his statements. The Dodd retraction wasn’t quite as strong as Clinton’s, but Dodd campaign blogger Matt Browner-Hamlin has issued repeated reassurances that Dodd is committed to supporting the rights of ALL Iowa students to caucus.

We’ll still need to watch and make sure that actions on the ground and in local media match those words, but this is a good sign and I’m glad some campaigns have come out in support of the rights of all students. We’re still waiting on Biden and Richardson. And I would love to see Edwards–who has stayed totally above this fray–to weigh in on the side of students. He’s run a good youth operation, despite low levels of support among that demographic. I’d love for them to take a stand.

Good news also came from the Iowa Democratic Party, which issued their own statement on the subject earlier today:

“In running the First in the Nation Caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party follows the Iowa Code in determining the eligibility of potential caucus goers. According to the Iowa Code, all college students who are at least 18 years old are eligible to vote and, therefore, eligible to caucus.

Any student who attends an Iowa college or university may participate in the Iowa caucuses provided they are 18 by November 4, 2008, and are a registered Democrat in the precinct in which they wish to caucus.

The Iowa Democratic Party encourages all eligible caucus goers to attend their precinct caucuses on January 3rd to strengthen the Democratic Party and declare their presidential preference.”

The youth GOTV sector also issued statements in support of the voting rights of all Iowa students. Late yesterday, Rock the Vote, which has a program–Rock the Caucus–specifically designed to get students to the caucus, issued their own statement condemning Yepsen and the comments of some Presidential campaigns:

“Over the past week, several campaigns, candidates and political reporters have stated that college students who moved to Iowa to attend school should not vote in the Iowa caucuses.

These statements are a frustrating and disappointing attempt to suppress the student vote, and are also legally incorrect. According to the Iowa Secretary of State, all Iowa students have the right to vote in the town where they attend college in Iowa.

And Iowa PIRG issued a great statement signed by 22 Iowa student leaders.

It is has recently come to our attention that some presidential candidates are suggesting that students in Iowa should not caucus. We’re shocked that any national figure would advocate for youth disenfranchisement. This goes against the very grain of our democracy and the core values of our nation. We live here in Iowa for the majority of the year and make our homes here; we are active participants in our communities- volunteering, giving back and contributing intellectual and financial resources to the state. To say that students who didn’t grow up in Iowa, but who now live here, shouldn’t have the choice to participate in the caucuses is blatant voter disenfranchisement.

have been working hard to encourage our peers to be active participants in their democracy because college students and young people should be more involved in politics. The Secretary of State’s office is clear that college students have the choice and the right to vote and caucus in Iowa. We all know that more young people need to get involved in the political process and we are asking you to take the following steps to ensure that this happens:

First, make it clear through your actions and issue a statement that you support all young Iowans – including students – right to vote and caucus in Iowa whether we are from Iowa or attend college in Iowa. Second, come in to our communities and actively seek us out and engage us on the issues we care about.

Finally, this story broke out of the blogs and Iowa media and into the national media, with most outlets issuing pretty big smackdowns to Yepsen. I wonder how many times he needs to get smacked before the Dean of the Iowa Press Corps no longer qualifies for that title?

First Andrew Romero (himself a Millennial), writing on Stumper, the blog of Newsweek, issued this smackdown to David Yepsen:

Simply put, all of Yepsen’s sound and fury boils down to one weird argument: it’s illegitimate (if “barely legal”) for the 21,000 out-of-state Iowa students to caucus. These are the same students, mind you, who live at least nine months a year for four to six years at a time in Iowa, where they pay sales tax on every purchase and income tax on the money they earn working part-time jobs–all while their fellow undergrads in, say, Indiana register and vote in their newly adopted state without any static.

But, you know, the Iowa caucuses are for Iowans. The rest of the Hawkeye State’s students should sit on the presidential sidelines from the time they’re old enough to vote until long after they’re old enough to drink, right? Isn’t that what XBoxes are for?

Salon.com picked up the story today in its Roadies ’08 blog:

As the top political columnist in the state, Yepsen clearly sees his role as a protector of the sanctity of the caucus process, which is relatively unguarded with few protections to guard against organized fraud. But it becomes an issue of national concern when a major newspaper writer, or a presidential candidate, appears to be condemning efforts to involve college students to exercise their legal rights. The Iowa Public Interest Research Group, which works to motivate college students to vote, put out a statement yesterday expressing justifiable outrage at the whole tenor of the discussion, especially now that it has been echoed by a candidate. “We’re shocked that any national figure would advocate for youth disenfranchisement,” the statement read. “This goes against the very grain of our democracy and the core values of our nation.” If any candidate’s Iowa supporters bring in illegal, non-Iowans to the caucus, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But in the meantime, this whole controversy should serve as further motivation for Iowa’s out-of-state students to come back early from Christmas vacation to caucus, regardless of whom they support. These students have the legal right to express their opinion. Yepsen and others can argue that the law needs to be changed, but those arguments should not keep anyone from exercising the fundamental duty of all American citizens.

It wasn’t all roses in the media, though. Predictably, the New York Post came out with a piece that, while crediting bloggers for helping to break this issue, decidedly embraces Yepsen’s frame for the argument (shocking, a right wing publication takes the side most disadvantageous to Democrats!), and works to drive a wedge between the Clinton and Obama campaigns over the issue.

Fortunately, The Post seems to be a little behind the curve here, as not only has Clinton retracted her statements, but the consensus on this story is quickly turning against the conventional wisdom of David Yepsen.

All in all, this has been a great 24 hours for students on this issue. Not only has the story broken into the national media, but support seems to be moving overwhelmingly in favor of the rights of students. I’ll have more updates as I get them.