Scott County Democrats are poised to elect Elesha Gayman as chairwoman Thursday night, installing a new local party leader amid an Iowa caucus season that’s bound to get louder in the coming months.
Gayman, a former Iowa lawmaker who works in the not-for-profit sector, is the only Democrat who’s publicly declared a desire to take the job. As chairwoman, she says she’ll bring fresh perspectives such as understanding the struggles of student loan hardship and single-motherhood. And she’s spent close to 20 years with the party, something she says gives her trust and credibility among her fellow Democrats.
“I come at it from a perspective where I’m looking to really empower people to participate and have their voices heard, and also be respectful,” Gayman, 40, said Wednesday.
When it comes to choosing party leaders, officials are nominated and often confirmed during a formal meeting of registered members. Members of the local Democratic Party’s executive arm are elected by a majority vote of the central committee. Uncontested elections are typically approved by a voice vote.
Gayman’s elevation within the party would come as more than a dozen Democratic candidates for president — and some who are still mulling a try — have already visited Iowa or plan to do so in the coming months. As of Wednesday, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota had planned weekend campaign events in the Quad-Cities. And with its long reputation as a state where dreams of higher office come true, Gayman predicts Iowa will continue to play a highly important role as office-seekers test their messaging and do retail politicking until caucus day Feb. 3.
“Iowans take a lot of pride in the ability to kind of share their personal stories and struggles with these candidates when they come through,” Gayman said. “And I see my role in the party leadership as just making sure all of the candidates have the opportunity to compete fairly, and it’s very transparent as to what’s going on, and that we preserve the integrity of the caucus system.”
Gayman also noted an important part of her job would include transitioning to the upcoming changes to the caucus system, namely the “virtual caucus” option unveiled by party leaders last month. That change is aimed toward expanding participation in the process.
“I’m really excited to work with the state party on executing that,” Gayman said.
The shift in Scott County Democratic leadership has been expected for some time. Outgoing chairman Thom Hart announced to the party’s central committee last month that he would not seek another two-year term, and gave the executive committee an even earlier heads-up months ago.
Hart, a political influencer and former city and county elected official, says he’s ready to pass the reins to someone who’s younger and has the energy to keep up with all that comes with the Iowa caucus season.
“I’ve been at this for 50 years,” Hart said recently. “I mean, I’ve been doing political activity since I was a teenager. And I’ve been happy to do it, but my goal as chair this time around … was to have a good succession plan, bring new energy in. …”
“The fact that I can step aside and have smart, talented people take it over is, I think, a sign of success,” he added.
Hart said he considers Gayman a “very talented, smart, hard worker” and he’s “glad she’s stepping up.” And he plans to remain involved with the party in whatever capacity is needed as Gayman takes the job.
Meanwhile, others in Gayman’s orbit say her bid for party chair reflects a broader effort among Democrats to bring more diverse and younger perspectives to the forefront.
Toby Paone, the party’s second vice-chair and the leader of the local teacher’s union, noted that other positions on the party’s executive committee are also being sought by younger members. He added that he plans to remain in his current role.
“As the old saying goes: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” he said.