By Crystal Defatte
I spoke with Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party candidate Mika Covington to learn more about who she is, her strategies to build the party, and why all Democrats must fight to win in 2018.
MC: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
CD: You’re very welcome, thank you so much for agreeing to the interview. I know there is quite a lot our readers would like to know about each of the candidates. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
MC: I am a former party official from Pottawattamie County and currently I serve on the Johnson County Central Committee. I am a former campaign staffer who has previously worked for President Obama’s and Senator Sanders’ campaigns. I grew up in Nebraska and transplanted to Iowa in 2012 because I believed in a better future and wanted to join the fight for it. In May 2012, I moved to Council Bluffs to work for President Obama as an organizing fellow. I have lived here ever since, volunteering on political campaigns and going to school at Iowa Western Community College and now at the University of Iowa. After the 2012 election, I worked with Nebraska State Senator Sara Howard to pass her bill LB380, a second-parent adoption bill. I ran a grassroots campaign for the bill which was sponsored by MoveOn.org. In 2014, I was elected as the Pottawattamie County Democrats’ Affirmative Action Chair, and I served from February 2014 to October 2015. In the Winter of 2015, I was hired by the Bernie Sanders campaign to be an organizing fellow which I was later promoted to field organizer and worked in several states including Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. After the primary, I moved to the University of Iowa where I am studying psychology and sociology.
CD: It sounds like you’ve been a very dedicated party member, what fuels this passion for politics?
MC: My passion stems from the fact that I know that if I want to have rights I need to step up and fight for them. See, I am transgender and I live with a very rare genetic disorder that cause many of my organs to fail, which means that I must have health insurance. Because of this I know that I need to fight to build a strong Democratic Party because the Dems are the only ones who have had my back.
CD: I’m very sorry to hear of your disorder. I hate to have to ask, but is this something that could keep you from fulfilling your duties as Vice Chair, should you be elected?
MC: I am actually in excellent health right now. I had a kidney transplant in 2013, and because of that my health stabilized, and it looks like for the next several years I should be alright, as long as I am compliant with taking my medications, which I most certainly am
CD: I’m very happy to hear that. You have an impressive resume when it comes to doing the groundwork for the party; what kind of leadership experience and style do you have?
MC: I like to set goals for everyone to work by. Additionally, I am good at staying on time. For example, when I would hold organizational meetings I would still bring call sheets with me, and my goal would be to get at least half of the attendees to complete one call sheet after the organizational part of the meeting was over. This way, the group of potential volunteers can not only learn about what is going on inside the organization, get an update, and learn what they can do to help out; but also do it right then and there and find out if they want to come to one of the phone banks. This is just one example.
CD: Those are certainly good leadership skills to have. If you were to be elected, would you be looking to lead in any other way, like running for public office during your tenure as Vice Chair?
MC: No, I have no intentions of doing that
CD: As I’m sure you know, the members of the Democratic Party you would be leading fall all over the left half of the spectrum when it comes to political ideology. Would you consider yourself centrist, left, or far left leaning?
MC: I would say that I am a progressive, or in that way of describing myself I would say left. I would pledge to fight for our Iowa Democratic Party platform.
CD: Being a progressive seems to mean different things to different people. What distinctions do you see between progressive and so-called neo-liberal policies and politicians?
MC: My understanding of neo-liberalism is that it’s the belief that our economy should be more focused on big corporations and big banks doing well over the people. My progressivism is about the wellbeing of the people, ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to get ahead in life and that everyone plays by the same rules.
CD: That seems to be the goal of most at the state level at least, yet some aren’t ready to embrace the progressive label. Many feel that the IDP platform you spoke of being committed to fighting for has gone too far left. Obviously the platform is left to the will of the party members at the state convention, but would you personally support scaling back on some of the more progressive aspects in order to find compromise between neo-liberals and progressives?
MC: I think that we need to have a unified message and the platform is what we agreed to, but if people have specific issues with a single plank in the platform, I would be willing to look at it and speak with them to perhaps reconsider support of it.
CD: Switching gears a little, I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room. The Democratic Party saw huge losses this election cycle; what would you say were the biggest contributing factors to those losses?
MC: I think that the campaign made some mistakes. However, I have to admit I cannot really tell them what they did wrong when I was not there running the campaign. I do not know their entire strategy. With that being said, it was on all of us to do our best to ensure Democrats win. When you look at the demographics of the vote, minority votes from African-Americans dropped from 13% in 2012 to 12%, while others such as the Latino vote went up from 10% to 11%. However, the youth vote remained the same at 19%. In Michigan, 57% of the voters that thought trade deals cost jobs voted for Trump. This means that those opposed to trade policies, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, favored Trump. This was the same for states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Therefore, I think we did not do the best with our message saying what we are for. We needed to have a message that spoke to more people, including white working class voters in the rust belt. Again, this is all hindsight. Specifically, in Iowa, I believe that we lost because we were focused in only certain areas of the state and forgot about the rural areas where, yes we have Democrats, but maybe not as many as in the cities like Des Moines, Council Bluffs, or Iowa City. Finally, as we all know, because of the geographical distribution of the votes, candidate Donald Trump won the majority of the state. Therefore he has more votes of the electors in the Electoral College. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote; let’s not forget that.
CD: You bring up a good point, she did win the popular vote, so let me ask: What do you think was done right this election cycle?
MC: I think she had a great media buy throughout the nation and a great team working on social media. Additionally, the campaign did a great job getting out the vote in Democratic states in the west.
CD: I’m glad you mentioned working class and rural voters because the consensus does seem to be, as you said, failing to win over those voting blocs cost elections up and down the ticket. How would you, as Vice Chair, work toward winning those voting blocs in the future?
MC: I believe that we need to work on our messaging. Meaning that we need to talk about our opposition to bad trade deals that would send our jobs overseas. Trump did a great job at that. We need to actually get out there and talk to rural voters, which is part of my 99 county strategy.
CD: Could you tell us more about your 99 county strategy?
MC: Definitely! First, we bring our candidates for statewide elections out there to meet people in the rural counties. It might be hard work but it is something that the other side does and look, they won again. Second, we need to have events outside of Des Moines, like in Council Bluffs, Sioux City, Fort Dodge, and Waterloo. These places are not completely rural but they can bring in people from the rural areas. We saw this on the Bernie campaign. Third, during elections we need to make sure that we have offices open in every single county, or if we must combine a county or two do so, but make sure that the most people do not have to drive over an hour to get there.
CD: That seems like a reasonable way to get the message out to these rural communities. Of course you can’t win a race you’re not in, and many of these rural areas see local races go uncontested. How would you go about recruiting candidates for those races?
MC: We need to work with the people who know their communities, and that is the county chairs and their central committee members. Then when they help us find someone to run, we as a state party need to step up to help guide these candidate in how to run.
CD: What kind of guidance, specifically, are you referring to?
MC: Giving them a packet of information detailing the roadmap of steps they should take during their campaign. For example: 1.Contact the county party for the county you are running in. 2.Send out press releases announcing that they are running. 3. Set up your candidate committee. Help guide them in setting up press events if they are wanted or needed.
CD: Having offices in every county and running candidates in races that have gone uncontested in the past would require increased fundraising, how would you go about doing that?
MC: Exactly. First of all, we need to refocus our party on grassroots organizing. We need to have more fundraisers, but less that are focused on only big money donors. I would work with whoever the chair is to build several fundraisers for the state party, throughout the state, that are $20 – $50 suggested donation. These would be held in cities like Council Bluffs, Fort Dodge , and Waterloo. Additionally. we need to use social media more in order to access our young members; asking them for small donations of $1, $5, or $10.
CD: That seemed to work well for a few politicians in recent memory. Going back to the rural and working class voting blocs, both of those are represented within the party by the corresponding constituency caucuses. What would you say is the role of the constituency caucuses and how would you support them in that role?
MC: I think that they are vital to the party. I believe that they should have a greater role in the party and the party’s messaging. Especially with reporting back to us what the needs are of those constituency groups.
CD: We’ve talked about a lot of important issues and ways to work towards solving them. What would you say are your top 5, first 100 days goals
MC: They would include: First, learning exactly how much money the party has/finding out the party’s financial standing. Second, working with the Chair and SCC to build my 99 county strategy because we can no longer win without looking at the state as a whole. Third, immediately working to plan fundraisers so that we can rebuild our party and have funds to implement the 99 county strategy. Fourth, meet with all the county chairs to hear their concerns and what they need from the state party. Fifth, work with the chair to hold listening meetings across the state to hear from the rank and file on what they want us to do for them to rebuild the party. I recognize I am only one person but I know together we can rebuild our party.
CD: I wish you luck in accomplishing those goals, should you be elected. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about yourself, your goals, positions, or candidacy in general?
MC: On the caucus, I would like to add this: I think we need to focus on making things available to everyone. Thus, we need to refocus ourselves on making sure every single location is ADA accessible and has plenty of parking. Besides, as a party we need to look at organizing carpools to the caucus for the folks who don’t have transportation.
CD: That would certainly be more inclusive, are there other areas you think the party could be more inclusive in?
MC: Another area is we need to empower new people and be accepting of their ideas, even if at first we don’t understand them or disagree with them. We need to listen and hear everyone. Lastly, I am running because I want to continue to fight for a better future and the only way to do that is through a strong Democratic Party. I don’t want just to talk about it, I want to do something about it.
CD: I, and I’m sure our readers, can certainly appreciate your fighting spirit. Well that’s all the questions I have for you today; thank you again for speaking with me, it is very much appreciated.
MC: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Crystal is a 32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism. She currently resides in Bettendorf, IA.