County Democratic chair discusses convention experiences

Ronna LawlessStaff Writer
County Democratic chair discusses convention experiences

For more than 30 years, Jan Bauer has been an important cog in the Democratic Party’s machine. The long-time chair of the Story County Democrats has helped organize and raise money for candidates “from the courthouse to the White House,” she said.

Bauer grew up in Zearing and graduated from NESCO High School. Now living in Ames, Bauer has attended several national Democratic conventions, and this year will be one of the superdelegates voting for Hillary Clinton at the convention in Philadelphia.

In 1992, Bauer was a delegate for Tom Harkin. “The convention was in New York City that year,” she said. “That was an amazing trip.”

Bauer and her family members visited a variety of landmarks, attended receptions and even took an “Insomniac Tour” of the city, which included a trip to Harlem and a jazz club.

“We got so good at hailing cabs, we started to know: We’re not in Zearing anymore,” she said.

A funny thing happened to Malinda Bauer, Jan’s mom, at the convention when she left the main auditorium to use the ladies’ room. When she returned, staffers mistook her for Bill Clinton’s aunt and tried to usher her to the Clinton family area. All these years later, that story still makes the Bauer family chuckle.

Of course, Bauer’s role as a Harkin delegate was short-lived because the 1992 convention eventually nominated Bill Clinton. As delegate groups were deemed inviable and delegates were courted to join forces with other candidates, Joe Biden was one of the people who tried to persuade Bauer to join the Clinton camp. “Joe Biden touched my shoulder and that helped me decide,” she said and then laughed.

Bauer takes her politics seriously, but she clearly also has a good time with it. Looking through her photos with famous politicians, there aren’t a lot of “pose and look at the camera” types of shots. There’s one of Joe Lieberman throwing a peace sign at her. There’s a couple of Bauer dancing with John Kerry. One holding hands with Beau Biden. One of Harkin with his head down, listening intently as Bauer talks to him. One getting a hug from Hillary Clinton. And Barack Obama holding her hands or giving her shoulder a squeeze.

Bauer and her brother Lee Bauer, a retired Air Force colonel who lives in Ames, like to talk about the convention in Denver in 2008. “Nothing will ever compare to Denver,” Jan Bauer said. “It was an amazing atmosphere. It’s like we were one huge family at that convention.”

Bauer said the Obama campaign had been genius with how they staged the event at Mile High Stadium. Everything from the Pledge of Allegiance by Shawn Johnson to the generals who lined up on the stage in support of the nominee to the entertainers — Sheryl Crow, Will.i.am, Stevie Wonder — it all came together to create a fantastic event, she said.

“The night Teddy Kennedy spoke — that night was magical,” Bauer said. She had a front row seat for the convention because of her mobility issues. “Looking up at those active duty generals lining the stage was a really emotional experience. It gave me chills.”

“During the 2008 presidential caucuses, I volunteered for Barack Obama and went to the National Convention as an Obama delegate,” Bauer said. “After President Obama was elected, I continued to promote his agenda, working as a community organizer for Organizing for America.”

As a result, Obama appointed her to serve as an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee in 2009, which gives her the designation as a superdelegate.

Jan and her brother Lee both learned about politics at a young age. “We grew up knowing we were Democrats,” she said. “Hoover made Democrats out of our family.”

Bauer’s grandfather had lost his farm during the Hoover administration. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected, the Bauer family was elated. Those presidencies took place before the birth of 58-year-old Jan Bauer, but the impact was still felt when she was a kid. “FDR was the president for my family,” she said.

Jan’s father Curt Bauer was a longtime fire chief for Zearing, then became the civil defense director for Story County, the precursor to the Emergency Management Department.

Bauer and her family attended the 2012 convention in Charlotte, N.C., but she said the atmosphere was different at that event. “Maybe it’s because there was no suspense about who the nominee was going to be,” Bauer said, “but it just lacked the excitement of the other conventions.”

Jan, Malinda and Lee are excited to road trip to Philadelphia next week for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. (Curt injured his back and won’t be able to make the trip.) It’s the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the Bauers are excited to see what the city has in store for them.

More importantly, however, they are looking forward to being a part of the nominating the first female candidate to lead a major party’s ticket for president. “I’m 89 years old, and I didn’t think I’d ever see this day,” Malinda Bauer said.

Jan Bauer has supported Clinton throughout this caucus and campaign season. “Hillary is often portrayed by the media as being aloof,” Bauer said. “But the amazing thing is she’s just the opposite of that. She’s not a strident feminist. She’s basically a warm person, and she can be forceful at times, which is an important quality too.”

Bauer has a Go Fund Me page to help cover the cost of the hotel accommodations in Philadelphia. “The Iowa delegation drew a high number and was one of the last to get to choose a hotel,” Bauer said. With double rooms at $650 a night, Bauer looked at other hotel options, but due to her mobility issues, she decided to stick with the delegation’s hotel, which is near the convention center.

The Story County Democrats will be holding a watch party at the party headquarters, 104 Kellogg, the night of the nomination. The public is invited to attend.