January 26, 2004

Law school graduate was in Iowa caucus spotlight

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- He was not among the candidates at last week's Iowa caucus, but Gordon R. Fischer was highly visible and nearly as much in demand as those seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

Fischer, a 1994 graduate of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale law school, is chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party and oversaw the Jan. 19 caucus -- the first measuring stick for presidential candidates in this fall's election.

"We felt a lot of pressure," said Fischer, an attorney in Des Moines, Iowa. "Frankly, it's not only an enormous event for Iowa, it is an event with large national and international implications. The eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world were upon us."

And upon Fischer, as well.

In the four days prior to the caucuses, Fischer estimates he was literally giving interviews from 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. daily. He appeared on national network television programs, but also those of international news organizations, including a live prime time interview with the Arabic news channel, Al Jazeera.

"It was just really surreal; I never expected it," said Fischer. "It was just something totally out of the ordinary."

The caucuses drew a record turnout and there were no reports of problems. More than 123,000 people registered, which included previous independents and Republicans. By 9 p.m., about 85 percent of the precincts had reported votes through a cutting-edge reporting system.

"I don't think we have ever had 85 percent before 11 p.m., and there were a lot of times it was later than that," he said.

A native of Broadview, Fischer, 39, came to the SIUC law school in 1991 after earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Iowa. SIUC was "a great investment," he said, noting the reasonable tuition and the availability of financial aid and an assistantship.

"I had a terrific experience at SIU," Fischer said. "I thought I received a very solid legal education there. I knew it was a smaller law school, which I thought was kind of nice; I wouldn't get lost in the crowd. I thought there would be more individualized attention."

Fischer's wife, Monica, earned a master's degree in public administration from SIUC in 1994. She is a press secretary for Iowa Gov. Thomas J. Vilsack.

Fischer became the state's Democratic Party chairman in November 2002 and is serving a two-year term. He always had a "keen interest in politics" and "always believed in the principles of the Democratic Party." His party background includes volunteering for various campaigns and serving on the state party's state central committee for about five years before becoming state party chairman.

Fischer said his nearly 20-member staff "worked their hearts out" for the caucus.

Fischer will remain party chairman until November.

"It has been a great experience but I am balancing a law practice and this political work," he said.