At the Boone County Democrats’ Picnic for the People, organized as an alternative to GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s third annual Roast and Ride at the Central Iowa Expo on the other side of town, seven gubernatorial hopefuls spoke to the roughly 200 people in attendance Saturday afternoon in McHose Park.
Although their deliveries varied, their cases were largely consistent: Under Gov. Terry Branstad and now Kim Reynolds, the Iowa GOP has hung the state out to dry, gutting unions by stripping collective bargaining rights and health care by privatizing Medicaid, harming women by defunding Planned Parenthood, and caving to Big Ag in their failure to pass meaningful water quality regulations or diversify crop production.
Charles City state Rep. Todd Prichard slammed the state GOP “regime created by Branstad and the Republicans and now Kim Reynolds,” with “an agenda that’s not about people but it’s about big corporations and their profits.” Jon Neiderbach, a former Des Moines school board member who ran for state auditor in 2014, called for an end to the “corrupt system” of campaign finance he said was currently at play in the state.
Des Moines state Sen. Nate Boulton, seen as a youthful rising star in the party, touted his “front row seat” experience fighting the “Branstad-Reynolds agenda” on their efforts to shut down mental health and workforce development centers. Past Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, whose campaign will have to weather criticism from the party’s Bernie Sanders bloc over the handling of the Iowa caucuses, decried the loss of community in the state she saw growing up and working as a health care professional. “I am not seeing as much of that community as we had in the past, and I think we need to bring it back,” she said.
Others relied on humor to bolster the crowd’s reception of their criticism of the opposition party. “I’ve been testing the waters the last two months if I’m running for governor,” joked John Norris, a longtime Democrat who served as Gov. Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff, among other high-profile positions, and filed paperwork Thursday to make his candidacy official. ” So far I’ve found them high in nitrates, high in bacteria, and high in sediments.”
Not to be outdone by another Norris quip that could become a stump speech mainstay, that he’d castrated more hogs than Ernst, Mike Matson, a Davenport alderman and former Army Ranger, noted that he, too, had experience castrating hogs. He also made a crack about the latest exclusive from the Associated Press, that Kim Reynolds toured the state after becoming governor in a private jet owned by Gary Kirke, a GOP donor who operates the Wild Rose Casino & Resort with Board of Regents president and Branstad ally Michael Richards and is seeking a new casino license from the state. “I just want to know, who flew here in a corporate aircraft to come here?” he asked, before closing his speech with a hint that he’d make his campaign official later this summer.
Amid all the expressions of frustration with the state GOP, speakers also stressed the need to put forward solutions and not just attacks. Coralville union organizer Cathy Glasson, for instance, reiterated her support for strengthening unions and implementing a $15 minimum wage as she spoke next to a banner reading, “Raise the minimum wage to a living wage: Vote Democratic.”
Two other Democrats — former Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Rich Leopold, who has officially entered the race; and retired Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell, who is exploring a bid — were not present Saturday.
Brent Roske, a progressive filmmaker exploring an independent bid for governor, also spoke at the event, stressing the need for stronger water quality reguations and his support for legalizing pot to attract more people to Iowa.
In a statement to the Des Moines Register, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann dismissed the criticism from the Democrats at the Picnic for the People. “Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. [Adam] Gregg are working hard to build a better Iowa by creating a competitive business environment, educating our children, and training Iowans for the jobs of the future,” he said, adding that over 1,000 Republicans gathered at the Expo for the Roast and Ride, “celebrating the progress we’ve made and touting the things we seek to accomplish.”
Kaufmann ended with a quip of his own, jabbing Democrats for “holding a meeting across town in a telephone booth on Elm Street, stuck in the past.”