SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | More than 351,000 voters turned out for the Iowa Caucuses on Monday night. Republicans set a record with more than 180,000 voters, topping the previous 2012 standard by 60,000.
Iowans can do better. Iowans may have to do better to keep our treasured first-in-the-nation status that keeps candidates, their organizations and their interests flowing through our state.
Maybe some of you are ready to say "good riddance." I know I hesitated each time the phone rang at home the past two weeks. The TV ads and sound bytes dragged on. Maybe the newspaper stories did, too.
However, it's our chance once each four years to take center stage. It's also our chance to show the Democratic process at work, the start to a long, but fascinating trek to the White House.
I think it can work better. One way to do this is by freeing up everyone, giving all eligible voters the best chance to participate.
That didn't happen on Monday night, at least in my circle of friends. I stopped at Sioux Center High School on my way to cover a caucus in Rock Valley. I watched as several dozen show choir participants readied for the State Show Choir Festival, which involved groups from high schools at Boyden-Hull, Sioux Center, Sheldon, Sibley-Ocheyedan, Hinton, Spirit Lake and Le Mars Community.
Down the road at Kingsley-Pierson High School, the once-beaten Kingsley-Pierson Panthers hosted their neighbors from Woodbury Central in a girls' basketball game, one of four semifinal (two boys' and two girls') games contested on Monday night in the Western Valley Conference Tournament. The two boys' games, incidentally, in Mapleton and Holstein, were supposed to be played on Tuesday. They were moved ahead one night to avoid the approaching blizzard.
Storm Lake High School had a large-group speech performance night set at 7 o'clock Monday at Schaller Chapel on the campus of Buena Vista University.
If I looked deeper, I'm sure I could find more and more school and community events that conflicted with the Iowa Caucuses.
My point: The caucuses happen once every four years. We should do what we can to refrain from scheduling other activities on this night. We should do what we can to shine in the spotlight. Hundreds of high school seniors and many parents of high schoolers, for example, had to choose between an activity and an important civic responsibility, participating in the Iowa Caucuses on Monday.
Heath Weber, a judge at the State Show Choir Festival, made a choice. So did Donna Washburn, another judge at the State Choir Festival. Both would have liked to caucus on Monday. Both worked as judges in Sioux Center, instead.
Weber, of Sioux City, blamed himself, for not realizing in September, when he accepted the paid judging opportunity, that Feb. 1 was the Iowa Caucus date.
"I was disappointed as I watched the (election) results come in," Weber said. "I thought, 'Gosh, my vote really maybe could have made a difference.' And then I looked at all of the people at the contest, and I couldn't help but to think of how many of them might have gone to the caucuses."
Washburn, also a Sioux Cityan, noticed comments over the weekend on a Facebook page for the Iowa State Music Association. There were show choir directors across Iowa who found themselves in a pickle as parents of singers asked if their child could be excused from the state festival in order to take part in a caucus.
It's a tough situation. On one hand, you have a director who has worked for months (often at 6:30 a.m., mind you) grooming 20 to 30 young people for this state festival. How can you not penalize a soloist, for example, if he chooses to go caucus instead of sing?
On the other hand, educators value those "teachable moments" and none may be more instructional than sitting in a Republican or a Democratic caucus site and watching/listening to neighborhood leaders deliver closing arguments for someone who will likely end up being president of the United States.
"I feel the frustration on both sides," Weber said. "We want young people to be civic-minded and learned, all those pieces that we strive for as educators. And, at the same time, we want them to be team-oriented and responsible."
I'd argue the arts community gets pushed around by the sports community in the schools. There aren't enough nights in the school year for state contests in show choir, jazz choir, jazz band, concert band and speech, not when you consider all the athletic events, many that have expanded from the customary Tuesday-and-Friday rotation to include Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Then again, that's a topic for a different day, this political battle in the schools.
As a parent, I've had five children participate in youth basketball leagues in Sioux City. None of those leagues, I observe, have ever played games late in the afternoon on Super Bowl Sunday. League organizers avoid this conflict, as we treat the Super Bowl like a national holiday.
Iowans should treat the Iowa Caucuses the same way.