Deidre DeJear

Iowa Press | Episode
Jun 10, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Deidre DeJear (D - Des Moines), Democratic candidate for Iowa governor discusses her positions on important policy issues and her campaign against incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds (R - Des Moines). 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political reporter for The Des Moines Register, and David Pitt, reporter for The Associated Press.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.



This week, Iowa democrats officially nominated their challenger to Governor Kim Reynolds who is seeking re-election. We'll sit down with democratic candidate for Governor, Deidre DeJear, on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, June 10th edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson. 


Henderson: Our guest today is a small business owner from Des Moines who worked on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign in Iowa. For loyal viewers of this program, you've seen her here before. The last election, the last statewide election that is, she ran for Secretary of State and finished with 45% of the vote. This past Tuesday, 145,000 Iowa democrats voted to make Deidre DeJear the official nominee of the Democratic Party of Iowa. Welcome back to Iowa Press.

DeJear: It's a pleasure to be here with each of you today.

Henderson: Thanks. Also joining our conversation are Associated Press Reporter David Pitt and Brianne Pfannenstiel, the Chief Politics Reporter for the Des Moines Register.

Pfannenstiel: One of your first decisions as the official nominee for Governor is going to be to name a running mate. What is it that you're looking for?

DeJear: One, I'm looking for a running mate that is truly going to put Iowans first. That is at the core of my campaign and we have some incredible democrats across the state and my short list is full of incredible democrats across the state. But the primary thing that I'm looking for is balance. I know what I'm good at and I know the expertise and the value that I offer to the equation. And where I lack, I want my LG, Iowa's LG, to fill in the gaps there. And so it has been an incredible process to figure out who that individual will be. It's not done yet. But you're right, it is a critical decision because I am of the mindset that we've got to operate as a team and that person is going to be my teammate and Iowa's teammate every step of the way over the course of the next four years. So I'm looking forward to sharing with the state who that person is going to be.

Pitt: What does balance mean to you? What does balance -- what are you looking for?

DeJear: I'm looking for an individual that has experience working with individuals through government entities. I have worked alongside government from federal government all the way down to municipal levels, but I've been on the outside working with government. I would like an individual to balance me with that experience in working within so that we can truly collectively work as a team as we seek to resolve the challenges that Iowans are facing. It starts with home. It starts with ensuring that every entity throughout this state is set up for success in order to provide the services that Iowans deserve.

Pitt: So, Tuesday, a lot more republicans voted than democrats and I'm wondering if you feel like there is an enthusiasm gap among democrats in Iowa. And if so, what do you do to get people motivated?

DeJear: We had 17 incredibly contested primaries throughout this stage and we had volunteers who were standing alongside those contested primaries with their candidate and doing a really good job. I consider this primary election to be somewhat of a scrimmage for us. We've got a great deal of lessons learned and we're still getting that qualitative data because we see the numbers but we want to know what the experience looked like for the voter, for the volunteer, for the candidate to best prepare us for our performance in November. And so we're taking heat to everything that happened on the data side and the conversations that people have to share on the ground so that we make sure that we're performing in November.

Henderson: Well, you are running in a state that has only one democrat in the congressional delegation and the Iowa House and Senate are super majority republican. How do you run in that environment?

DeJear: I am of the mindset -- we often hear about reaching across the aisle. And that is I think a good measure of goodwill. Needless to say, when we're looking at the challenges that Iowans are facing related to education, economy, health care, mental health care, water quality, all of these issues isn't going to be on the backs of democrats and democrats alone to resolve. We have to do it collectively. And how I would like to lead in this space is working the middle, rather than reaching across I want to bring people to the middle. Now that's not easy, that is incredibly challenging. But if we are going to move forward as a state that type of hard work is necessary because that is how we get the sustainable change that all Iowans need. Whether I'm in rural Iowa, urban or suburban, they all want strong education systems, they all want access to quality health care and mental health care, they all want to ensure that their economies are thriving, that they're getting jobs rather than losing them, they're building homes rather than watching them fall apart. Those are things that we can all agree upon. And so with me being in the center of the aisle knowing what Iowans are asking for I want to hold both democrats and republicans accountable for us actually coming to terms with the reality that we can do this together and then putting pen to paper on the hard work to actually put a solution on the table for Iowans.

Henderson: One of the motivating factors in the energy for turnout on the republican side this past Tuesday was over the issue of state scholarships for private school attendance that the Governor has proposed. What is your assessment of the energy that may generate in the general election?

DeJear: Literally no matter where I got, and repeating again, that is an issue that everybody is connected to. We're getting independents, republicans and even I got a constitutionalist to show up at my event and they're talking about education. We know that 100% of our students right now need the attention of our government so that we can move this state forward. We know that 100% of our students need the attention of our Governor right now to problem solve our way out of the challenging situation that we see existing with our education system. But unfortunately that voucher bill that you're talking about, the fact that she only wants to pay attention to 2% of our students I believe is short-sided. And I believe it is a scapegoat because we need to truly resolve the challenges that we see with our education system. We see the remnants, the damage that is being caused and if we look overall this is a state that was once number one in education and now we're 19, 20, 21 on the list under this Governor's leadership. And so that is not a solution unfortunately to the issues that we see with our education system and we saw republicans stand up to that fact and Iowans also believe in that fact. We need long-term strategies that aren't just political poise but solutions that truly meet the needs of Iowans and we can do that, we can do that basic work because we've done it well before. This is not just about a dream of where we can be, this is a dream of look at what we have been able to accomplish as a state previously, look at how we're now taking those monumental steps back. Let's interrupt that cycle. We don't have to characterize our Governor, we don't have to call her out of her name or anything along those lines. What we can do is say we need leadership that is best fit for Iowa and vote for that leadership. That is why my name is on the ballot, that is why I got into this race, because I believe in what this state can be.

Pfannenstiel: Governor Reynolds has made clear that she plans to make this election a referendum on President Joe Biden. He's got sagging approval ratings in Iowa and across the country. How do you defend against that?

DeJear: That's unfortunate because when we look at the issues that Iowans are facing 9 times out of 10 it has nothing to do with President Joe Biden. The education system doesn't have anything to do with President Joe Biden. When we see the challenges in our health care and mental health care system, folks are waiting six months to get care when they go to the hospital trying to get an appointment because they're suffering a mental health care crisis. They're waiting six months. This state was supposed to have six mental health care access points by July of last year. That has nothing to do with President Joe Biden. We have 700 waterways in this state that are contaminated and I hear about is specifically in our rural areas, I hear it in our urban areas too, that has nothing to do with President Joe Biden. In fact, he's giving us money to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, we have a Governor right now who is focused on national. I don't know why and I don't need to know why. But what I do need to know is how we can figure out how to move this state forward because we have seen how Iowa has thrived under both republican and democratic leadership. We've seen that. This Governor is an anomaly, which is probably good for us, we can do something about that.

Pitt: I have a question for you about the issue of abortion and I wonder what you do as Governor if the Iowa Supreme Court decides to overturn the previous ruling that a woman has a fundamental right to abortion under the Constitution?

DeJear: So we are awaiting a verdict from the Supreme Court. We've seen some sneak peeks of what Alito might say. He is putting the power back in the hands of the states. Well, we've been here before nine years ago when the Supreme Court decided to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and say oh, everybody has been voting fine, let's go ahead and put the power back in the hands of the states. Well, what happened? We saw the decimation of voting rights all over this country including in the state of Iowa. And so we got that lesson learned. Now we're at a moment where the Supreme Court is putting the power of a woman's decision on her body in the hands of the state and we know we have leadership that wants to be in that doctor's office with that woman. I am of the mindset that I don't belong in that doctor's office with any woman throughout this state, that that is her choice and we should uphold that protection for that individual. Women, we know this, do so much, they were disproportionately impacted by this pandemic through workforce, when we look at teachers and nurses. We have lost nearly 40% of our childcare providers across this state, negatively impacting women. And here we are on the back end of one of the most treacherous times in our lives as Iowans and as Americans going through this pandemic and rather than investing in women, we have a Governor that is consistently trying to degrade a woman's right and we have to interrupt that, we have to interrupt that.

Pfannenstiel: As Governor, what gun related policies could you pursue and get through at the state level?

DeJear: Common sense. Common sense. I spent time in Ames this past Sunday with the parishioners at Cornerstone after those two women lost their lives. I spent time at East a few months ago when those students lost their lives. I am of the mindset that we've got to be preventative versus reactive and something that is common sense is ensuring that an individual has to have a permit in order to purchase a gun or a rifle. I have a permit. It didn't take a lot for me to get it. Something so simple and common sense is just have a license on you if you're going to carry your weapon. That is basic in nature. But when we look at also moving a little step forward because our Governor unfortunately last year minimized the requirements, she is the one that signed legislation that says we don't have to carry a permit, we don't have to carry a license. To me, that was a tremendous misstep and it did not put Iowa people first because no one was really complaining about the necessity of that permit. But if we're going to go a step further so that people have the option to go to a grocery store and leave that grocery store still alive, so that students have the option to go to a school and their parents send them there knowing that they are not in danger, if we want to go a step further let's look at our assault rifles. We may not be able to do comprehensive common sense legislation right now. But when we look at 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds and the rate in which they are using assault rifles in mass shootings, let's make a requirement there that you've got to be at least 21 to purchase. Seven other states have done that including our friends in Illinois. They know gun violence in a very, very severe way. And if they can do something like that, why can't we? These are common sense measures that we can do. This is what happens when we're putting people first versus politics and that's hard for some people to do. But when you're in leadership, when you're Governor of any state throughout this nation, your job is to make sure that people are before everything else because who else, who else will do that in state government?

Pfannenstiel: If you are elected, it's very likely that you'll still have a republican-led legislature. How could you work with them to pass whether it's common sense gun laws, as you say, or anything else?

DeJear: Just talk to them about the challenges that people are facing and allow Iowans to tell their stories. Again, these are things that were already in place, that we did not see the vast majority of Iowans lobbying for, so let's be realistic about what Iowans want versus what special interests want. I want to be a people-centered administration. That is possible. We have taken steps back unfortunately when we've utilized this tool that we call democracy and we've let special interests infiltrate it. Let's get back to basics. Those interests mean something, they educate us, they help us understand their issues better and so on and so forth. And I'm not suggesting that they go away. But they will not get the upper hand at the cost of people.

Henderson: Chet Culver was the last democratic Governor in Iowa. The first bill he signed into law increased the state minimum wage. What is your intention?

DeJear: I want to increase this minimum wage. In almost every state that touches the state of Iowa, they pay higher wages than Iowa. In our river towns, many of these towns in Iowa are becoming bedroom communities where people work on the other side of the river and live in Iowa. I want them to be able to live, work and play in their communities. But it's not enough to increase the minimum wage. We know we need sustainable wages. But we also need access to housing for the people who are working all over the state as well. We need 50,000 workforce units today, 50,000 throughout the state. We've got to get to building on those. We also have to fill empty jobs. Right now if you look on the state's website, we are short nearly 100,000 jobs, 91,000 in the state of Iowa where unemployment is below 4%. But when we desegregate the data, we look at the challenges of unemployment in the black community, it's more than 10%, the Asian community a little bit more than 8%, look at the Latino community a little bit more than 5%, amongst individuals with disabilities who want to work we see drastic unemployment numbers there. So one, we've got to develop the workforce within the state. And I'll tell you, shortening the unemployment weeks doesn't do the trick, it doesn't do the trick. In fact, we've seen increases in job availability since that time. We also have to present ourselves as a welcoming state as well. My peers, millennials are leaving the state. Their parents are having to go to Colorado and Florida and Texas to visit their grandkids. We want to keep Iowans here. Our kids are leaving our rural communities after the graduate from high school vowing never to come back. We have to give them reason to stay.

Henderson: So, circling back, what wage rate do you want to have? And what do you say to businesses, particularly small businesses, who say that prices them out of the job market?

DeJear: That's a really good question. I'm a small business owner. And what I'll say is that I want to work with people on the number. I'm not going to give a number out right now. I know there's a lot of conversations on different numbers related to wages. But we've got to bring people to the table to really talk through what this wage increase is going to look like because when you talk about small business owners, I have a soft place in my heart for small business owners, they provide jobs for more than 50% of the workforce in this state. Needless to say, there are businesses that may not be equipped to pay those higher wages. And so we've got to develop programs that give them that space to increase wages. But the other thing that we have to do for those small businesses is lower their overhead costs, specifically as it relates to health insurance. They're finding a great deal of difficulty in providing those full-time jobs, quality of life jobs for their employees because health insurance is too expensive. I also am going to increase childcare providers for those small business owners because even though they have those part-time positions available, people are having to make decisions. Is it cheaper for me to stay at home or cheaper for me to go to work because of lack of access to childcare? So, wages is one part. That's why I say we've got to look at it full scope because this is an economic ecosystem right here that we have to resolve challenges with it and one fix is not going to do it.

Pitt: On tax policy, you've criticized I think the Governor's tax policies and I think the bill she signed in March even more specifically. Why have you criticized it? And what would you do differently? What is your tax plan?

DeJear: I believe that it is short-sided. 4% flat tax it sounds good, it sounds good and it was meant as an opportunity to get people to come to Iowa and to get Iowans to stay in Iowa. But when you look at the data and folks can look at this in so many different ways, but about a third of Iowans won't even see a difference because they don't pay the taxes at all anyways. And then about the top 1% of Iowans are going to get about $5,500 a month four years from now. But the vast majority of Iowans are going to get $50 to $55 a month four years from now. That doesn't get people to move to Iowa. You literally put that on a billboard in South Carolina, hey move to Iowa, you're going to get $50 a month four years from now. No one is going to move, no one is going to move. We need real tactics that get people in this state and keep people in this state working. So what are my plans as it relates to taxes? One thing I want to do is put Iowa taxpayer dollars to work. We're sitting on more than a billion dollar surplus. Now, we don't need to break the bank and use all of that surplus, but we do need to put that to good use because there's no point of it sitting there when we have an education system that is falling short. That is an opportunity to invest. Our health care and mental health care system is falling short. That is an opportunity to invest. Remember I said earlier, we should have six mental health care access points by now. Those resources can go to get those mental health care access points up and going and started. And so my tax plan is to make sure that we're coming up with solutions so Iowans know every time they pay their taxpayer dollars that it's going to be put to work. Now, what I would also like to do is look at our youth, our youth are underemployed especially in communities where their employment dollars are helping their families to survive. And so for our youth that are under the age of 18, I would not like for any of them to pay state taxes.

Pfannenstiel: You mentioned the lack of childcare as being a barrier to people returning to work or finding consistent work. You have called that one of the state's most critical crises. What would you do to fix that?

DeJear: So, many of our childcare providers are small businesses and what I would like to do is create pathways through our licensing process and through access to capital to ensure that they are equipped to not only start but survive. I also want to increase the reimbursement rates, especially in those communities that are severely low income and those child care providers rely heavily on state resources that not only help them keep the place open but also pay good wages. Childcare providers on average today make $26,000 a year. They do good work. They do good work. They're not glorified babysitters. They are literally teaching our children. I've been in childcare centers throughout this state learning, asking them questions. The fix is not to increase the ratio, the fix is to increase funding, again putting taxpayer dollars to use. That $50 a month four years from now doesn't resolve the challenge with childcare. That person can't use taht money to send their kid to childcare. Some of them won't even be able to use it to cover a copay. But you collectively put Iowa taxpayer dollars together, man we can accomplish some things there. Again, these are fundamental things. But again, it takes leadership with the willpower to see it through.

Henderson: So are you talking about subsidies for the wages? Or are you talking about something else?

DeJear: I'm talking about, so I'm talking about increasing opportunities for these child care providers to open and stay open and then, for example, if folks do need subsidies there if they cannot afford the child care that the state is figuring out ways to ensure that they still get that child care and that they're not turned away and that the reimbursement rates are enough for those providers to stay open in addition to what other resources they're getting because there's different types of child care providers throughout this state. And some of them aren't receiving government subsidies by any stretch of the imagination but some are and we have to make sure that the ones who are, that they are equipped to serve the people who need that service within their communities.

Pitt: Any bills the Governor signed that you would ask the legislature to repeal, anything that comes to mind immediately?

DeJear: Honestly I'd rather not go there, I'd rather not go there. I want to look forward. I want to look forward. I don't want to necessarily envision what we can accomplish by just slashing down what has already happened. I want to look at it at status quo and say, how do we build from here to accomplish the goals that we need to accomplish? But if there is anything that I can tell you that I think is fundamentally flawed are the restrictions that we have seen on our voting process because that voting process couples every single issue that we've talked about today plus some. It is our fundamental right to exercise our right to vote and when that Voting Rights Act was gutted it posed a challenge and a threat to voting rights all over the country. This was a state that used to have 40 days of early voting and the process was accessible. Now we're creating penalties and fines and suggesting that people could go to jail and we're doing this to address no problem that truly existed. We're doing it because it was a political ploy and it's unfortunate, it's unfortunate because this is disproportionately impacting seniors, it is disproportionately impacting our students, our disadvantaged populations, communities of color. And as we look at the crosstabs and figure out who showed up to vote in this primary election, one of the things that we're foiling with that and overlaying with that are the challenges that people experienced and how they are coupled with this past legislation that was passed in 2021.

Henderson: Deidre DeJear, thank you for being with us today. Our time together has ended.

DeJear: That was quick.

Henderson: And thanks to you for watching this edition of Iowa Press. You can watch every episode online at or you can join us at our regular broadcast times, Friday nights at 7:30 or Sundays at noon. For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at