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Iowa Caucuses to conflict with Ames and Story County’s MLK Day celebration

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Mackenzie Bodell
The Ames City Auditorium is located in downtown Ames at 520 6th St. 

The Iowa Caucuses are on a federal holiday for the first time, conflicting with the Ames and Story County community MLK Day celebration featuring George Trice. The scheduling conflict forces residents who were planning to participate in both to choose between caucusing and honoring the life and work of the civil rights leader.

The celebration will begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday just thirty minutes before the caucuses begin.

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, the topic was raised first by Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin during council comments who said it “makes no sense to me.” Ames Mayor John Haila said the situation was “disheartening” and Ward 3 Rep. Gloria Betcher said she was “appalled” when she discovered the conflict.

In an interview with the Daily, Haila said Ames and Story County have held its MLK Day celebration in the evening since before he was mayor and described the situation as “disappointing.”

“I’ve talked to several people who would have loved to go to their respective caucus, regardless of party, but are saying it’s more important to participate in and attend the MLK Day [celebration],” Haila said.

Additionally, Haila said after Tuesday’s meeting, he spoke with someone involved with the Iowa Republican Party who told him the scheduling was primarily decided to maintain Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status.

The only Iowa caucuses before Jan. 15 were both on Jan. 3, in 2008 and 2012. New Hampshire is holding its first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 23, the earliest since 2012.

The president of the Ames and Story County League of Women Voters Carolyn Klaus said she was surprised the caucus was scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“When we put it on our website, people have said, ‘Why wasn’t this planned earlier?’” Klaus said. “Well, guess what? […] we’ve done this for 18 years on Martin Luther King Day, it’s a federal holiday.”

Iowa Republican Communications Director Kush Desai told the Daily that the decision was made in July and had no further comment. Within their July news release was a statement from Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann, who twice mentioned the caucus taking place first-in-the-nation but made no mention of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“After our state legislature and governor took needed action earlier this year to preempt Iowa Democrats’ plans to derail the Iowa Caucus by running a de-facto primary election instead, we are also proud to affirm that Iowa will continue to honor our half-century-old promises to the other carveout states,” Kaufmann stated in the release.

In an interview with the Daily, Gartin said “the sky isn’t falling” but that the situation “is sad.”

“Why do we even make people have to choose on something like this?” Gartin asked. “So that’s the part that’s painful to me is that this is a choice that we should never have to make, you should be able to do both.”

That difficult choice is something Iowa Democrats hope to eliminate this year by allowing Democrats to request a presidential preference card by mail. Their caucus on Monday will consist of electing unbound delegates and other party business. Democratic presidential preference cards can be requested on their website until Feb. 19.

Notably, their website also has a link to a list of Iowa Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, but it does not list the Ames and Story County community celebration despite listing other events at the same time as Monday’s caucus.

Haila and Gartin said they planned to caucus but will attend Ames and Story County community MLK Day celebration. Klaus also said she will attend the celebration but said caucusing is “very important.” She also encouraged caucusgoers to do an act of service in the community for the holiday.

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  • R

    Renee | Jan 13, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    This shows how truly out of touch the Iowa GOP is with diversity. Make sure you get out and honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a Federal holiday) with an act of community service on Monday like Klaus suggests.

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  • A

    Arnold Jones | Jan 12, 2024 at 8:29 pm

    In light of the recent history of the Republican leadreship in Iowa, from the Governor on down and their war on anything Black in the State, are you really, I mean really surprised at what they did relative to scheduling their caucus on MLK day. I’m not at all surprised.

    Reply