'Iowa is worth the work': Democrat Deidre DeJear is running for Iowa governor in 2022
Democratic activist and small business owner Deidre DeJear kicked off her campaign for Iowa governor Saturday in the Valley Junction neighborhood of West Des Moines, promising to "do the work" that she said Iowans deserve.
"Iowa is worth the work," she told the crowd of several dozen people gathered to help launch her campaign at an outdoor pavilion featuring food trucks, music and signs reading "Iowa believes in Deeds."
In her remarks, DeJear, 35, recited a list of milestones in Iowa's history — including desegregating schools, legalizing same-sex marriage and welcoming refugees. Those successes, she said, all come back to the common theme of doing the work necessary to achieve change.
"I believe in you," she told the crowd. "And the reason why I believe in you is because if 2020 taught us anything, it taught us that we don’t resolve challenges on our own. All these things we talk about are not going to be resolved on one party’s back, one demographic’s back, one person’s back. We do this together."
DeJear said she's done that work in her career, both in politics and business.
She was the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 2018, but ultimately fell short in her bid to defeat Republican incumbent Paul Pate.
Ahead of the 2020 presidential caucuses, DeJear was tapped to help lead Kamala Harris' Iowa effort as campaign chair.
If elected, DeJear would be Iowa's first Black statewide officeholder.
She acknowledged the historic nature of her candidacy in a tweet after launching her campaign.
"If you're ready to elect the first Black woman governor in history, chip in," she wrote on Twitter, requesting donations from her supporters.
She's also the founder of Caleo Enterprises, which helps small businesses with functions such as marketing and project management. She lives in Des Moines with her husband Marvin and their two dogs.
She's the second major Democratic candidate to declare a campaign for governor after state Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, launched his campaign in June. Other Democrats, including State Auditor Rob Sand and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, have said they are considering campaigns.
The 2022 primary elections are scheduled for June 7. The winner of the Democratic primary will likely take on Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to announce her reelection campaign this summer.
The choice of Valley Junction for her launch event was significant, DeJear said. The neighborhood was founded by an abolitionist and became a stop on the underground railroad. That railroad also supported jobs in agriculture and helped spur the creation of small businesses. But Valley Junction has also survived a series of challenges, she said — something she felt was important to recognize as Iowa recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeJear, who was raised in Mississippi and Oklahoma, recalled her experience moving to Des Moines in 2004 to attend Drake University. It immediately felt like home, she said.
"Iowa wrapped its arms around a little Southern girl like me, creating pathways of opportunity," she said. "My path was not an easy one, but it was worth it."
She first suggested a possible run earlier this summer when she formed an exploratory committee. Since then, she said she has held 25 events in 16 Iowa counties as part of a statewide listening tour.
At those events, she said, Iowans shared the challenges they see with education, collective bargaining, agriculture, manufacturing, wages, rural health care and immigration.
Speaking to reporters following her event, DeJear said people don't feel like their interests are being represented by Iowa's leadership.
"People feel like they've been left behind," she said. "They don't feel like the government is adding value but it’s more positioned to be punitive. And I don’t believe that’s what our state is for. I don't believe that's what our government is for."
She said she learned lessons from the 2018 secretary of state race, which she lost by about eight percentage points. While she praised the voter turnout that year, DeJear said there's room for improvement in encouraging rural Iowans to vote and making sure urban areas are turning out as many voters as possible. In her gubernatorial campaign, DeJear said she wants to expand the electorate "in a way that's inviting to people to be a part of the process."
"We're gonna get out there as much as we possibly can. And whoever will invite me to be in their spaces, here I come," she said.
Des Moines Register reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel contributed to this article.
Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.