Democratic candidates convene at Wayward Social

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY From left to right, Democratic Secretary of Agriculture candidate John Norwood, Congressional candidate Ryan Melton, Marshall County Attorney candidate Sarah Tupper, State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Secretary of State candidate Joel Miller all spoke during a meet and greet event at Wayward Social in Marshalltown on Wednesday night.

A total of five Democratic candidates — three for statewide offices, one for Congress and another for Marshall County Attorney — congregated at Wayward Social on Wednesday night for a meet and greet event with voters, and each hopeful took center stage to deliver a brief stump speech about why they believe they should be elected in November.

After Marshall County Democrats Chair Jeanine Grady introduced the candidates, Secretary of Agriculture candidate John Norwood — who described himself as a “Tip O’Neill style Democrat” — was the first to speak, criticizing the current direction of agriculture in the state under the leadership of his opponent, Republican incumbent Mike Naig, as “unbalanced.” Norwood currently resides in West Des Moines and serves as the soil and water commissioner for Polk County.

“We have a system that is delivering a billion pounds of nitrates down our river systems and into our reservoirs and so forth, and so water quality is not just an urban problem. It’s a rural (problem). It’s an Iowa problem,” Norwood said. “I hear that out on the trail — people afraid to drink their water… There are less than one percent of river segments that are approved for all of the intended uses. That, to me, was shocking.”

Norwood said improving water quality, reversing soil loss and diversifying agriculture beyond classic row crop farming would be a few of his top goals if elected, but he also highlighted Iowa’s important role as the nation’s second largest agricultural producer after California. He also lambasted Naig, who was appointed in 2018 and elected to a full-term later that year, as a “PR person,” noting his past employment with agribusiness giant Monsanto and accusing him of following Norwood’s lead on saturated buffer strips rather than the other way around.

“I think we need to add resiliency. We need to add diversity. We need to add inclusiveness. We need to add flexibility to what we’re doing in ag,” Norwood said. “We can’t just do corn and beans and hogs. That is not going to sustain Iowa.”

Michael Fitzgerald, the incumbent state treasurer who has held his seat for 39 years, stood up next and mostly focused on initiatives he has implemented during his tenure including the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, College Savings Iowa and IAble. He also highlighted his local roots: Fitzgerald was born in Marshalltown and lived near State Center as a child before eventually moving to Colo and graduating from high school there. If re-elected, he vowed to continue to fight for the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS) system and resist attempts at privatization. Fitzgerald faces Republican Roby Miller in the November election.

Next up was Joel Miller, the current Linn County Auditor who is seeking his first term as secretary of state and challenging incumbent Paul Pate. Miller said his goal was to “make voting easy again,” and he ran through a list of restrictions enacted by Republicans that he found unnecessary and burdensome.

Miller, a former military policeman who worked in information technology and served as mayor of Robins before he was elected Linn County Auditor in 2007, then shifted more specifically to Pate and criticized him for not registering a position on an elections bill 68 of Iowa’s 99 county auditors opposed, failing to properly publish a gun rights amendment that would have been on the ballot for a constitutional amendment in 2020 and using his office to promote an anti-human trafficking initiative, which Miller felt fell outside of the scope of the secretary of state’s duties.

Finally, he went after Pate for endorsing Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 Republican primary and Donald Trump in 2016, who Miller called two of the biggest election deniers in the country. He also cited his own personal experience navigating an unprecedented 119 voter registration challenges in Linn County, which he tied back to Douglas Frank, a former math teacher from Ohio who held an event in Independence promoting the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

“Paul Pate is an enabler of this behavior by not saying anything, not doing anything, not disavowing the rhetoric that’s being spoken about our elections, causing our elections and our democracy to be undermined,” Miller said. “That’s what needs to happen, and he’s not doing it. You should fire him for that, if not for all the other reasons I told you.”

He closed by arguing that he wanted everyone to vote and believed the secretary of state’s race was the most important one on the ballot.

Congressional hopeful Ryan Melton of Nevada, who is running in the Fourth District against incumbent Republican Randy Feenstra, acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle in the traditionally conservative, mostly rural district that runs from Marshall County all the way to the northwest corner of Iowa, but he saw running as an opportunity to hold Feenstra accountable and at the very least provide voters with a second option on the ballot especially in light of what he called the “anti-democracy” era.

“My wife and I had a simple conversation over dinner. She said ‘You know, babe, one of us has got to run for Congress, you know.’ I said ‘Alright, babe, alright, who’s gonna run?’ She said ‘Well, you handle BS a lot better than I do, so you should probably do it,'” Melton said. “I said ‘Alright, I guess I’m running for Congress, babe,’ so here we are.”

Melton, a team leader at Nationwide Insurance, said the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol weighed heavily on his mind as he made the decision to run, and he criticized Feenstra for taking what he considered a soft stance on the events and continuing to tout Trump’s support afterward. Melton then advocated for improved childcare, a Medicare for All/single payer style healthcare system, better broadband internet in rural areas, protections for organized labor, more funding for public education, a more aggressive effort to combat climate change and more benefits for veterans.

Before he concluded, Melton directly compared Feenstra to his controversial predecessor Steve King, citing their similar views on social issues like abortion, guns and LGBTQ rights.

“Iowa Republicans will tell you all day every day (that) Randy Feenstra puts on a suit and tie, and he doesn’t say the worst stuff out loud. He doesn’t have to because his voting record is Steve King’s voting record,” Melton said. “My opponent is literally making the people of this district feel less safe.”

Marshall County Attorney candidate Sarah Tupper, who was already in attendance, gave an impromptu speech before the event wrapped up, spotlighting her background working in three different county attorney’s offices in Iowa, prosecuting violent crimes, implementing a drug court program and writing successful grant applications. She also hopes to start a mental health court if elected.

“I think it’s really, really important that the county attorney be a leader in the community. My family and I have lived here for 11 years. We’re raising our kids here. We love this community. We love Marshall County. We love Marshalltown,” she said. “I think the county attorney does need to be a leader (and) work with other community organizations, other leaders within the community because we’re all serving the same people, and we can best do that if we work together.”

Tupper, an assistant Marshall County attorney, faces Republican incumbent Jordan Gaffney, who was first appointed to replace Jennifer Miller in 2021, in the November election.


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