Interview with Dennis Parrott
Dennis Parrott helped organize the Presidential Candidate Forum presented by Jasper County Democrats in Newton, IA on Saturday, June 21, 2003.  During the week, he works in the clerk of courts office handling jury trials, billing and supplies and working with juveniles.  Before the forum began, Parrott spoke with DEMOCRACY IN ACTION about how it all came together.
Dennis Parrott talks with the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen.

PARROTT: ...were sitting in a bar having a beer, said, hey let's raise some money for the Democratic Party.  And they brought that idea to a [Jasper County] Democratic Central Committee meeting, brought it up kind of half-wittingly...hey what the heck we'll see what they think.

We picked up the idea that very night and put a committee together, and I think it was kind of a dream at the beginning because nobody thinks that that kind of thing can happen.  But that's where it all began, when we began meeting every week at my home on February 25th, I believe, putting this thing together.  A committee of twelve people...

QUESTION: And what have been some of the big hurdles you've run into and what have you learned from putting this thing together?  It must have been a huge challenge.

PARROTT: Some of the folks had not been involved this closely to the politicians and the politics and there's a lot of that that goes on in recruiting candidates.  You know, they want certain things.  They can't meet certain dates; they've got events all over the United States.  So we had to do a little coercing, a little dealing and things like that to get everybody together on one date.  We actually started with a different date and had to move it to get as many people as possible.

Logistics was a problem at the beginning.  We didn't have the high school secured, but we finally were able to do that, and it's a wonderful place to have it.  It's going to be large.  As I think back the biggest hurdles were getting the candidates committed and then after that it was wrangling with the press--a lot of demands made.  But we've done something like this before and so were aware of it.

QUESTION: What do you mean something like this before?

PARROTT: Well we did one in 1984 with the presidential candidates; they all came here.  They were her in 1976--Jimmy Carter led that group and all the candidates running were here at that time.

QUESTION: Somebody who had worked on those efforts was able to give you some advice?

PARROTT: No they weren't.  This was a group that was brand new, fresh, but we knew that it happened and we knew people that had been there when they were here.  As a matter of fact, my wife, who's the Jasper County Recorder, was here when those folks came in '84 and '76.  So she knew a little about it.

QUESTION: And you said you had to coerce them a bit?

PARROTT: Yeah, absolutely.  Well the deal on that is everybody wants the candidates to come to their home state, their hometown or whatever and do an event, and they're booked solid, except for we invited them like in March hoping that we could get a late date like May or June because they wouldn't be booked.

Well as politics change -- you can see with Howard Dean, he's got a problem [son's arrest]; he had to leave, and Bob Graham dropped out because of a scheduling conflict.  And you know the thing about that is we had Bob set on in April; they were one of the first people that said they could be here.  So it was keeping them on board once we got them committed to a date because their staffers are telling them hey this is more important here and you've got to come here and that's what the deal-cutting and wrangling was is keeping them committed because everybody wants their time.  You know you don't deal directly with the candidates; it's the staffs you've got to convince that this is a big event.

QUESTION: So are you talking about the local staff or the national staff?

PARROTT:  Both.  Both staffs absolutely.  We had to deal with both.  We had Dick Gephardt in our home [April 12].  And as a matter of fact I'll tell you a little story about trying to get Dick Gephardt.  He was really tied up and booked at this part of the calendar.  We had him in our home and he made a trip to Marshalltown, Grinnell, Cedar Rapids one weekend [April 12 trip]  and Democrats in each of those areas miles away from here mentioned hey are you going to that hometown forum in Newton in June?  And so everywhere Dick went he heard about it.

When he got to our house that evening he said hey what's going on down here?  We said well your staff should have told you; you know we let you know, we invited you.  He goes we've got to get out here.  I've heard from [inaud.] all over the state.  So we put people everywhere so that we could put enough pressure on him or at least make him realize that it was really a big deal; that he had to get his staff to get him out here.

QUESTION: I guess this is his only event on this trip?

PARROTT: That's it.  He made a special trip just to get out here.  We apparently convinced him that it was big enough he had to be here.

QUESTION: If you were to give one word of advice to somebody else who was trying to do something like this, what would that be?

PARROTT: I can't say it in one word, but I would say persistence and patience.  Those are the two things I would say.  Persistence because you've got to be persistent in getting the candidates, you've got to be persistent in raising the money; everything you do, you've got to fight for it and go after it.  And the patience is that it doesn't always fall in your lap; it just doesn't happen all at once.  It took us months to get all the candidates line up.  At first we thought send an invitation, no problem.  But that's not how it works.  So persistence--you've got to keep fighting no matter what; patience because it isn't all going to come together in one day.

QUESTION: Originally the idea was for this to be a fundraiser?


QUESTION: Now it's going to cost you money.

PARROTT: Well it is.  It started out being a fundraiser, and as we talked about it we said that's not what Democrats are all about, the money.  We want the people here; we want to listen to what the candidates have to say, and we want answers to tough questions.  And by the way I've seen the questions and they're not the softball, how do you love America type questions.  We're going to really get at these guys and get some answers today.  I'm convinced of it.

QUESTION: How did you determine the questions?

PARROTT: We had over 300 questions submitted by all over--UAW, business, Democrats, people off the street, educators--and we have narrowed those down to roughly 60 questions out of the 300.  The Questions Committee has met weekly also, and probably in a two month process developed good tough questions.

QUESTION: So that's a separate committee or subcommittee?

PARROTT: That's a subcommittee.  I'm the chair of the--basically I'm kind of a big picture person.  We get good people, give them an assignment, and go let them do their thing; let them come back and report.  And the committee as a whole tinkers, but the subcommittee is their committee.  They know what they're doing; they're the specialists.

QUESTION: How many subcommittees do you have?

PARROTT: I could start naming them, but if I was going to count them, about ten, from my memory.  Everything from security, to the questions, to entertainment, candidate recruitment, media, and I'm missing some.   Everything; I mean we just covered all the bases.

QUESTION: Who designed the setting--the stage and all that.

PARROTT: Steve Mullan was the gentleman that was in charge of the physical plant and everything that went on here--sound, lighting...  He's a retired school teacher; he one of the members of the main committee, America's Hometown Forum.

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