Students pay taxes and live in Iowa why shouldn't they caucus?

Jane Fleming Kleeb is the Executive Director of the Young Voter PAC which is dedicated to helping Democrats win with the youth vote. Through endorsements, funding, training and media support the Young Voter PAC changes the faces of elections…who participates and who wins.

In a series of unfortunate statements, the Clinton campaign took a stab at young people while attacking Barack Obama's effort to reach out to student voters. As reported in The Politico, a Clinton campaign official said "We are not courting out-of-staters. The Iowa caucus ought to be for Iowans."

Senator Clinton went on to say at a town hall in Clear Lake, Iowa: "This is a process for Iowans. This needs to be all about Iowa, and people who live here, people who pay taxes here."

The problem with this statement is the thinly veiled target of her comments, that is the tens of thousands of students studying at any of the dozens of colleges and universities throughout the state. Iowa has a sales tax therefore every student who goes to school in Iowa—and makes Iowa their home for an average of four years—pays taxes every day when they go to the store. Naturally, many students also work to support themselves and thus pay taxes there as well. Additionally, students pay tuition and consequently help support many of Iowa's public and private institutions. And none of this addresses the many young people who, after they graduate, continue to make Iowa their home.

This discussion raises an important question, if a person moved to Iowa for a new job and was only going to be there for few years, does that mean that they should not be allowed to participate in the state's political process? Few would argue that it would, why then tell students they should not?

The residents of Iowa passed tax credits to help young people stay put after college because, like many mid-western states, too many young people leave because of a perceived lack of opportunities. Having recruited talented young people to attend Iowa's high quality colleges, you can bet that the people of Iowa would like to see these young people stay and contribute to building the state's economy and its communities, and many do. Clearly the residents of Iowa take students seriously and want them involved in determining their state's future. Shouldn't candidates then as well?

Barack Obama shot back at Clinton in the press and at rallies. He told a group of Iowa State University students "…one of the things we've been hearing lately is, 'Well, maybe young people shouldn't caucus if they just recently moved here because they are going to school here.' Don't let people tell you that you can't participate. You are an Iowa student, you can be an Iowa caucus-goer, and I want you to prove them wrong when they say you're not gonna show up."

The Dodd campaign initially made a negative statement about students and caucus-going as well but later clarified their intention. They believe students should participate in the caucus but they are concerned given some of Sen. Obama's previous campaign tactics -- particularly, the alleged busing of people in to the Iowa Democratic Party's Annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Fundraiser to pack the house with supporters, many of whom were not Iowa residents -- and don't want to see Obama busing in students who don't go to school in Iowa.

Tactical debates aside, there is a long legacy of efforts to disenfranchise the student vote. From extra identification barriers for student populations to threatened legal action and tax penalties against students who register to vote on campus, this history is a struggle for a basic and fundamental right in our democracy -- the right to participate in the political destiny of our country. Thankfully, many of the attacks on such basic civil rights have been beaten back and our campuses, our young people and our democracy are better for it.

Senator Clinton's opposition to Iowa college students' voting simply because their parents may live out of state is out of step with the strong record Democrats have in standing up for voting rights and voter enfranchisement.

Youth vote leaders are proud of the Democratic campaigns who have dedicated staff people that are reaching out to not only students but also young people ages 18-35, a development which is vastly different than previous presidential cycles when campaigns essentially ignored the student and youth vote. However, we are deeply disappointed that the Clinton campaign is, in essence, arguing to disenfranchise the student vote. Young people reversed the trend of declining youth participation in 2004 and continued to show their impact at the polls in 2006 by helping elect Democrats such as Senator Jon Tester and Representative Joe Courtney.

Young people should never have been ignored by the political establishment but they were for many years. Now that some in political circles are waking up to the power of the youth vote, we hope all campaigns encourage young people to be involved in our democracy and in the selection of our next President. After all, young people will be 30% of the electorate in just a few years, ignoring them or saying they should stay home is at a candidate's -- and frankly, our country's -- peril.

UPDATE 12/5/2007 at 9:50pm: Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director Howard Wolfson just released this statement in response to this issue: “The Iowa caucus is so special because it is based on Iowa values. We believe that every Iowan and every student who is eligible to caucus in Iowa should do so and we hope they do."