Billie Barker, Mount Mercy University student

It’s nice when you can have your cake and grind it into the convention center carpet too.

I went to the Republican caucus at the DoubleTree Convention Complex in Cedar Rapids preferring Rand Paul, but on a mission to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination for president. It seemed the only way to accomplish this was to cast my ballot in favor of Ted Cruz, a close second behind Trump in the polls. Expressing my preference for Paul seemed self-indulgent by comparison.

While I came with experience, this caucus was my 17-year-old son’s first, and it was a privilege to share it with him. I am a non-traditional senior at Mount Mercy University, and he’ll be a college freshman within the next year. It made me proud to see him do his research, choose his candidate and fret over making sure he was registered.

This wasn’t the first caucus I’d participated in, but it was by far the largest. I was expecting a neighborhood gathering in the church basement, but this caucus involved me and a couple thousand new friends cuddling. Pushing through halls and chaotic registration lines, there is no other way to describe the lack of air between our bodies than as a full-on vertical spoon-fest. I worried for the elderly and small children.

Still, the largeness was beautiful. It was awesome that attendance exceeded expectations. It was wonderful that the number of citizens investing in their democracy, belting the national anthem like they meant it and following third-graders in the pledge of allegiance, inconvenienced us all by making the evening run late. Chairs full, people were leaning against the walls and sitting in groups on the floor.

“There are no more chairs in the entire building,” announced site captain Laura Kamienski, who also happens to be an adjunct professor at my university, Mount Mercy University. “Because we are awesome Americans who love our political process!”

Billie Barker, Mount Mercy University student
Billie Barker, Mount Mercy University student and Republican Party caucus-goer.

Volunteers ran out of ballots and had to make more. When I finally pushed my way through the solid crush of politically aware humanity and found myself in front of my precinct’s table, getting my ballot was like winning Willie Wonka’s golden ticket. I whooped, and rightly so. This slip of blue paper was so hard to get, I squeezed it tight for the duration of the night and didn’t dare even drop it into my pocket.

Though I missed the dynamics of the smaller gathering, a benefit of such a large group was that numbers attract candidates. Cruise and Paul were there, along with Ivanka Trump, Donald’s daughter. We had just missed The Donald himself, though I’m pretty sure his cologne was still hovering. I had never seen any of them speak in person. My son was star-struck, posing for a photo with Paul in spite of the John Kasich bumper sticker across his chest.

Hearing two of the three candidates I was most interested in caused me to flip my vote. Again, I had planned to vote for Cruz because he wasn’t Trump. While I can support Cruz, I lean towards the libertarian side of conservative and am better represented by Paul. Cruz’s speech was fine, but Paul’s inspired me.

While equal rights for children still in the womb remains a priority in winning my vote, Paul’s plan for eliminating the tax code, and a flat tax for individuals and businesses resonates. As does smaller government, a balanced budget and criminal justice reform.

I would never have suggested Eliot bail on the candidate he believed to be best for a strategic move to stop a candidate he opposed, as I had planned to do. He was new to the process and politically pure. I had lost my civic innocence, trading the privilege of expressing values and shaping my country’s future for a chess move.

My son smiled when he saw me write Paul’s name on my golden ticket. It had rankled him that I was playing politics, rather than fully voting my conscience.

Approving smiles from a 17-year-old don’t come my way often, so I’d call this caucus a win on every front. The rest of you Iowans dumped Trump, and left me free to express my civic heart.



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