Why Do The Smallest, Whitest States Have So Much Influence Over Who Is Chosen To Run For President?

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With the Iowa caucus less than a week away, we speak with the Iowa Brown and Black Caucus which sponsored a Democratic presidential debate Sunday, play an excerpt of the debate and take a look at a new report entitled “The Color of Money” that shows a dramatic disparity between America’s diverse population and the small number of people who finance political campaigns. [includes transcript]

In the closing days before the Iowa caucus and primary season, the Democratic presidential race is getting close.

The latest polls show Howard Dean–who was once the clear front-runner–as now roughly even with Rep. Richard Gephardt. Senators John Kerry and John Edwards trail behind them.

For the last few weeks, Iowa has been flooded with reporters and political pundits all focusing on the state’s upcoming caucuses. The Iowa caucuses go a long way in helping to determine who will be on the presidential ballot this November and for many, the winners in Iowa immediately become the people to beat.

Iowa has a population of 2.9 million, which is 94 percent white and relatively sparsely populated. Many complain that this makeup is not representative enough of the entire nation and the subsequent caucus results may not be a true or accurate reflection of voter sentiment.

All the major Democratic presidential candidates except Gen. Wesley Clark debated in the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum on Sunday.

The New York Times reports that Clark, who is not contesting Iowa, is taking advantage of having New Hampshire almost to himself. New Hampshire holds its primary a week after the Iowa caucuses.

  • Rep. Wayne Ford, Iowa State representative (D-Des Moines) and co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, a non-partisan minority issues organization, that sponsored the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday.
  • Mary Campos, co-chair of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, a non-partisan minority issues organization, that sponsored the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday and a prominent member of the Des Moines Latino community.
  • Cietta Kiandoli, Senior legislative and outreach associate at Public Campaign which released a report entitled “Color of Money 2003” which shows a dramatic disparity between America’s diverse population and the small number of people who finance political campaigns.
  • Excerpt of Democratic presidential debate sponsored by the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum on January 11, 2004

Rev. Al Sharpton
Howard Dean
Sen. John Edwards (NC)
Rep. Richard Gephardt (MO)
Amb. Carol Moseley Braun

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the telephone right now by two people who co-chaired, involved in setting up the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum: Mary Campos, Co-chair of the forum, a non-partisan minority issues organization that sponsored the Democratic presidential debate on Sunday and a prominent member of the Des Moines Latino community. Representative Wayne Ford is also on the line with us–Iowa state representative and co-chair of forum. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Can talk about the —

WAYNE FORD: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of the debate that was held on Sunday night? Let’s begin with Representative Ford.

WAYNE FORD: Well, it was tremendous. We are very, very excited that in 1984, me and Mary Campos came up with this idea. We had no idea back in '84 that our forum would have national significance; but it clearly shows you, in the 21st century, that minorities in America, regardless of how large our population, need to be heard. A lot of times we have the same problems in ours as other minorities in and around Chicago, Detroit, Washington, DC: health care, education, overpopulation of prisons with minorities. We have the same symbolic issues as other minorities around the country. Although, we are the fifth whitest state in America, me and Mary has always said that we need to showcase minorities and let the country know that we have a similar problems, and these presidential candidates need to deal with these problems. We have done a good job and I'm very excited.

AMY GOODMAN: Mary Campos, can you talk about the origin of this presidential debate, that did not get a tremendous amount of attention in this country: The Iowa Brown and Black Democratic Debate.

MARY CAMPOS: Good morning and thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

MARY CAMPOS: Thank you. We, as Representative Ford said, in 1984, we were concerned because we could see that, sure, we were voting in the elections, but, still, as you so eloquently put it, we are such a minute part of the population of the state of Iowa, because we are people of color, that it just seemed like everybody thought we really didn’t count. I could see that we had young people that needed to be educated about the power of voting.

When Caesar Chavez called to let us boycott in the great boycott, there was a tremendous person here that was with Ford and I, Londa Xavier Valdez, one of the highest decorated silver star veterans here in Iowa. And Londa was very sincere about that, and so we boycotted grapes and lettuce. And we were sincere about wanting to help our people. I believe that’s the reason that today we have around 80,000 Hispanics in the state of Iowa, 45,000–50,000 concentrated here in Des Moines. Every time I would ask for some help, they would always tell me, “Campos, you don’t have the numbers.” That was very, very — shall I say, it was very, very discouraging to me, that I had to come up with the population. And now I have population. We need to work on that, and we need to bring that need to the front.

AMY GOODMAN: Representative Wayne Ford, what about this issue of Iowa and also New Hampshire, being among the whitest states in the nation, having a tremendous effect on who will be the Presidential candidate, who will run for President?

WAYNE FORD: I have been talking about this and fighting this for many, many years. I’m originally from the inner city of Washington, DC. And today Washington, DC, is having its primary. I have been dealing with this for a long time. Although, we are the fifth whitest state in America, as I said before my beginning, Amy, we still have the same problems. A couple of years ago, Iowa was number two in the country for minority incarceration of black men. Within five miles of the area of my district, we have some of the highest infant mortality for black children in America, one of the highest of degrees of lead paint poisoning. So when you look at it from a research standpoint, Iowa is rated in the top five in the country for education problems, for Blacks and Latinos, for health care. When you look at us on how we rate on the research, we rate pretty highly.

And again, we have done some very great things here around the country that a lot of people just don’t know about. We are one of the few states in America that have a Big-10 or Big-12 football stadium named after a black man: George Washington Carver. Before Tuskegee University had him, we had two universities, Iowa State and Simpson University, that allowed him to go to college. The people do not research and go inside of Iowa and look. Mary Campos from Mexico has had a strong Latino community from here for a long time. No one goes underground and sees the research. Harriet Tubman came through here in the Underground slave time. So we have had tremendous history and clearly show we are part of the American fabric.

MARY CAMPOS: I would like to piggyback on what Representative Ford said about the arrival of Latinos in Iowa in the Midwest at the turn of the century. This was primarily associated with railroads that hired Mexican workers and transported them to regions beyond the southwestern states. We have a history here. It isn’t like we just got here. I think the fact that we have such a large number now of Hispanics throughout the United States, but especially Iowa. Iowa has never seen — I have been here since I was six years old, young lady. I will soon be 39, and you know, I think it’s — I think it’s just unbelievable. It’s a phenomenon that we have always been here. We have always been here.

WAYNE FORD: As Mary said, you all are discovering us. We have been here a long time. The Iowa caucus process started in 1812. When Jimmy Carter came here to run for president in 1976, because of his strong background in Atlanta and dealing with blacks, the first people he went to is many minorities, Blacks and Latinos in 1976. Jesse Jackson got third in the Iowa caucus in 1984. That was unheard of. His office was in rural Iowa. To say that just because we are too white but we don’t care about all of the other people that are part of Iowa, to me has been an insult to me and Mary.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Representative Wayne Ford, Iowa state representative as a well as Mary Campos, they are co-chairs of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, who sponsored the debate on Sunday night. We are also joined by Cietta Kiandoli, the Senior Legislative and Outreach Associate at Public Campaign, which has just released a report that is titled, “The Color of Money, 2003,” which shows a dramatic disparity between America’s diverse population and the small number of people who finance political campaigns. This is all over the country. Cietta Kiandoli, can you summarize your findings?

CIETTA KIANDOLI: Absolutely. We actually conducted this study to demonstrate exactly what you are saying here that the people who fund elections in this country are not representative of the population as a whole. They’re more likely to be non-Hispanic, white, more likely to be wealthy; while people of color are disproportionately represented among those who do not contribute to the population. Even though nine out of ten contributions we have found come out of communities that are predominantly white, one out of three people in this country are a person of color. So, obviously, what this shows is that it gives vivid evidence of how our nation’s system of privately financed elections disenfranchises racial and ethnic minorities, while providing a disproportionate amount of power and access to wealthy and predominately white neighborhoods.

Some of our major findings were actually quite apparent. Nearly 90% of more than $2 billion, contributed by individuals in the last election cycle, come from Zip codes that are majority of non-Hispanic, in comparison to only 1.8% of the campaign funds coming from predominantly Latino Zip codes and 2.8% from predominately African-American Zip codes.

The top Zip code nation wide was 10021, Manhattan’s exclusive Upper Eastside. It’s the source of $28.4 million for federal campaign and home to only 91,000 people, 86% who are non-Hispanic, white, and nearly 40% of the households come from incomes of $100,000 or more. Yet that one Zip code contributed more campaign cash than 532 Zip codes nationwide with the largest percentage of African-American residents, 533 Zip codes nationwide with the largest percentage of Latino residents representing 9 million people ages 18 and over and 102 times the number of people writing the zipcode 10021 on the return flap of the envelopes.

This is just some of the things that we expose in the report that we did. But what we really wanted to do is translate that and show how wealth and power is exclusive to those Zip codes, and in terms of deciding who is on the ballot, because we found is this creates a sort of invisible primary so that before folks even get to New Hampshire and Iowa to vote in these caucuses and primaries, there’s already one that’s being held, and it’s an exclusive percentage of the American population that’s overwhelmingly white and wealthy.

WAYNE FORD: I sure hope that I can respond to that, Amy. Can I do that?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. We’re going to break for stations to identify themselves and then, Representative Ford, you can respond. Then we’re going to play an excerpt from the debate that took place on Sunday night. You are listening to “Democracy Now!” We’ll be back in a minute.

AMY GOODMAN: “God Has Smiled On Me,” again recorded more than 20 years ago by the Reverend Al Sharpton with James Brown. You are listening to “Democracy Now!” I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with our discussion less than a week away from the Iowa caucus. Today a non-binding primary is taking place in Washington, DC. I encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org, if you missed yesterday’s discussion with Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from Washington, DC. Today we are talking about Iowa. The caucus will take place on the federal holiday that is Martin Luther King’s birthday on Monday. Our guests are the co-chairs of the Black and Brown Caucus that sponsored Sunday night’s debate–the Democratic Presidential debate that took place in Washington, DC. We are also joined by Cietta Kiandoli who is the Senior Legislative and Outreach Associate at Public Campaign, that came out with a new report on “The Color of Money, 2003.” Representative Wayne Ford, Iowa state representative, you wanted to respond.

WAYNE FORD: I hear what Miss Kiandoli is saying, but we need to be clear. We have one of the most purest forms of the political process here in Iowa. The Iowa caucus started in 1812. The reason why it started, and America has always put money up to buy what they want regarding politics. But the reason why this process has lasted since 1812: it’s because of the people, the integrity of the political process. I clearly want to say that me and Mary Campos know that since 1984, the amount of money that we have used for our process, we have not accepted money from big business. It’s unheard of that me and Mary, who co-chaired this national event, would even deal with big business or corporations and receiving some of those dollars to deter us either way. Our philosophy has always been the same, to allow Latinos and Blacks to be part of a political process that started in 1812 here in Iowa and educate our people to make them aware that you truly are part of the American dream. I understand the logic of money and politics. I am a politician. I serve on Capitol Hill for the state of Iowa. I understand that, but to connect any of that kind of big money problem or overflow of revenue is going to decide who we support in the Iowa caucus is not true. It’s one of the most purest processes called the Iowa caucus. That’s number one.

And number two is that, if we look at the budget that me and Mary has done for this year, I’m pretty sure if you look at all after the debates–there’s been 29 of them–many people got on national TV and said, “This debate was the best and well organized.” We want to thank MSNBC and NBC and the other organizations, B.E.T., who was involved with that. Of all of the 29 forums that happened, this was the best one and the most purest one. So I am very happy on what me and Mary has discovered. For very little amount of money. I mean, our budget is really not even near a lot of budgets paid for other national forums.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to an excerpt of that debate that took place on Sunday night sponsored by the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, beginning with Reverend Al Sharpton.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is an excerpt of the Brown and Black Democratic Presidential Debate that took place on Sunday night in Iowa. I want to thank our guests who have spent this segment with us, as we move in on the Iowa caucus that will take place next Monday night. Wayne Ford, Iowa state representative of Des Moines, and Mary Campos, both co-chairs of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, as well as Cietta Kiandoli of Public Campaign who released a report called “The Color of Money, 2003.”

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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