‘Iowa is worth the work’: Deidre DeJear officially launches her campaign for governor

Deidre DeJear speaks during an early voting rally at Old Brick in Iowa City, when running for Iowa Secretary of State. Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Deidre DeJear made it official on Saturday — she is running for governor of Iowa. DeJear’s announcement came just over a month after she announced a listening tour of the state to help her decide whether to run, and three years after her first campaign for public office.

DeJear made history with her 2018 run for Iowa Secretary of State. By defeating Jim Mower in that year’s Democratic primary, DeJear became the first — and so far only — Black Iowan to be a major party candidate for a statewide office. She lost to incumbent Paul Pate in the general election.

At her campaign kick-off event in West Des Moines on Saturday afternoon, DeJear, who was born in Mississippi and grew up there and in Oklahoma, began by recalling her arrival in Iowa as a freshman at Drake University. It was during her time at Drake DeJear decided to make Iowa her home, she said.

DeJear had an academic scholarship, but that didn’t cover all expenses, so she took any job available to make ends meet.

“I worked to stay here,” DeJear told her supporters. “And I haven’t stopped working. Because what I have come to realize is — as I’m looking at each and every one of you, as I go through my day-to-day life — Iowa is worth the work.”

As an undergraduate at Drake, DeJear co-founded Back 2 School Iowa, a nonprofit that works to encourage kids to stay in school and connect the resources to facilitate that. After Drake, she’s worked with numerous nonprofits, including those focused on voter education and engagement, and she developed the Financial Capability Network, which helps low- and moderate-income individuals with training in financial literacy. She is currently vice president of the Metropolitan Des Moines League of Women Voters, serves on the Des Moines Housing Services Board, as well as the boards of the Iowa Interfaith Alliance and Count the Kicks, a nonprofit that provides information to expectant parents about fetal health during the third trimester.

In 2008, DeJear started her own marketing and project management firm, Caleo Enterprises (“caleo” is Latin for “ignite”), that specializes in providing affordable business services for entrepreneurs. She has worked on several political campaigns in Iowa, from local races to winning presidential campaigns, starting with Barack Obama’s 2008 run.

DeJear said on Saturday that during her listening tour she’d heard many concerns, including worries over the state of education in Iowa.

“Parents are frustrated with our education system,” DeJear said. “Our students are leaving and vowing never to come back, posing great challenges to the future of this state. I hear this concern, and it’s real. But we can do something about it.”

DeJear said what was needed to address these problems is “leadership that puts in the work,” and promised that if elected she would “invest in our education and modernize our benchmarks.”

“So that we are preparing our students for the jobs of tomorrow. So that we are preparing our students to go to technical school, so that we preparing our students to go to college, so that we are preparing our students to be their best selves. Because they deserve nothing less.”

Turning to the other side of the classroom, DeJear noted that many teachers feel unsupported by the state’s current leadership, and feel Gov. Kim Reynolds’ actions, such as prohibiting school boards from requiring face masks, are undermining their safety at school.

“Much of this is a symptom of our governor’s decision to gut collective bargaining,” DeJear said.

It was Gov. Terry Branstad who, before stepping down to become President Trump’s ambassador to China, signed into law the 2017 bill eliminating the right of public sector unions to collective bargaining on anything other than wages. Then-Lt. Gov. Reynolds supported the reneging on the deal Gov. Robert Ray struck with unions back in the 1970s, and although the law gives the state power to engage in bargaining on other issues with public sector unions if its negotiators so desire, as governor she has refused to do so. Reynolds has instead maintained an antagonistic relationship with unions, especially teachers unions.

“As your next governor, I will welcome the intermediary called the union to advocate for workers’ rights,” DeJear said on Saturday. “Because working together yields better outcomes than working against one another.”

DeJear also promised to make sure there is a “place at the table” for farmers when it comes to determining policy, and pledged to focus on economic development strategies that support and promote manufacturing.

She also said her economic policies would address economic inequality in the state — “I will do the work to ensure every Iowan provide for themselves and their families, and that includes working towards a sustainable wage across this entire state” — and ensure immigrant workers receive the respect to which they are entitled.

DeJear is the second major Democratic candidate to enter the governor’s race, joining Rep. Ras Smith, who has represented Waterloo in the Iowa House since 2017. DeJear made a campaign stop in Waterloo on Sunday.

Like Smith, DeJear promises to work to bring all Iowans together, regardless of political affiliation. And like Smith, she is seeking to revive the state’s progressive heritage, citing in her kick-off speech moments such as the Iowa Supreme Court’s 1868 Clark decision that desegregated schools in the state, and the 2009 Varnum decision that recognized same-sex marriage. DeJear also invoked Republican Gov. Ray’s welcoming of refugees to the state, implicitly contrasting it with Reynolds’ rejection of even temporary shelter for refugees from the southern border.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary in June 2022 will face Reynolds next fall. The governor has said she intends to run for another term, and it is unlikely the Iowa Republican Party will permit any serious challenger to primary her. Reynolds is spending this week mixing her official duties with her reelection bid, as she appears every day participating in one of the state’s most popular traditions, the Iowa State Fair.

In her speech on Saturday, DeJear offered her own take on a popular piece of Iowa’s identity: the idea of “Iowa nice.”

“No one can be nice all the time,” she said. “Our advocacy is what makes us nice, our ability as Iowans to see the humanity in people and believe in that humanity.”

DeJear promised to bring that attitude and her willingness “to do the work” to the governor’s office, if elected.

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