Meet the candidate: Deidre DeJear talks local control, race and Democratic prospects in 2022

By: - August 24, 2021 10:43 am

Deidre DeJear is a Democratic candidate for governor. (Photo courtesy of DeJear campaign)

Deidre DeJear, a Des Moines business owner and recently announced gubernatorial candidate, says she “will shy away from no challenge” if elected.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch met virtually with DeJear on Friday to talk about her campaign, her policy priorities and the path forward for Democrats in the state.

Who is Deidre DeJear?

DeJear, 35, is a business owner and Democratic organizer. She owns Caleo Enterprises, a business consulting firm. 

In 2018, DeJear was the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. She was the first Black candidate to be nominated for statewide office in Iowa, and former President Barack Obama endorsed her campaign.

DeJear lost the election to incumbent Paul Pate. Pate received 53% of the vote; DeJear received 45%.

DeJear in 2020 worked as the Iowa campaign chair for Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign.

Policy priorities: education, economics and elections

Asked to identify her top campaign issues, DeJear outlined a statewide economic development policy, a new approach to voting rights and better job training and education.

She aspires to create a comprehensive economic development plan that allows local governments and businesses to work toward common goals.

“It gives us opportunity to be a lot more focused in how we’re recruiting talent to the state,” DeJear said. “It gives us opportunity to be more focused in how we’re recruiting new business sectors and diversifying the business sectors that exist in this state.”

Along with that agenda, DeJear identified education and workforce training as major priorities. Not only should Iowa work on educating children and providing jobs training, she said, the state must also focus on retaining young people. 

“Iowa has the potential to be the technology capital of the world,” she said. “I really, strongly believe that.”

Finally, DeJear criticized Iowa restrictions on voting rights. This spring, Iowa lawmakers passed a sweeping new elections bill that shortens the window for absentee and early in-person voting and introduces new penalties for country auditors. DeJear said she had not “seen the evidence that substantiates why those restrictions are in place.”

“I think that, when it comes down to our most fundamental right to vote, everybody who’s eligible to vote in our state should get a fair shake at it,” she said.

On local control

As Iowa students return to the classroom, Gov. Kim Reynolds has stood firm on a law, passed in May, that forbids school districts from requiring masks

DeJear said Friday that she believes the decision to mandate masks should be made at the local level, calling state control “punitive.”

“The teachers are the first ones to say, ‘We know how to be educators, we know how to look out for the best interests of our students. Let us make decisions on how to keep our students safe,'” DeJear said.

DeJear identified several other issues as better dealt with locally, rather than by the state government, including raising the minimum wage and creating election policy.

“These are communities that are looking to advance in the way that works best for them, and they feel like the state is standing in their way,” she said.

On the road ahead for her campaign and for Democrats

Iowa Democrats had a rough year in 2020. Former President Donald Trump took the state by 8 percentage points and Republicans won back two U.S. House seats. In the Statehouse, Republicans gained seats in the House and maintained their majority in the Senate.

DeJear identified COVID-19 as a major roadblock for Democrats ahead of the 2020 election. The pandemic prevented some candidates from door-knocking or holding large events.

“In light of those limitations, we did not have an election year that I think reflected the work that we would typically put in in a race,” she said. “We won’t do that again.”

DeJear said the political landscape had “strengthened” since her 2018 campaign, and she predicted more people will tune in to the governor’s race than the secretary of state competition.

“We saw, in looking at the data, a great deal of potential that came out of 2018,” she said. “The organizer in me is going to engage as many people as possible to connect with this race.”

On being the first Black governor, if elected

Reynolds is the first female governor of Iowa. If elected, DeJear would be the first Black governor of Iowa.

But DeJear emphasized that her race is just part of her identity.

“Being Black and being a woman, I bring those lived experiences to the table, but what’s most important is that I’m an Iowan, and I believe in the state’s potential just as much as my other Iowa friends and family do,” she said.

The state of the race

DeJear is one of two Democrats who have announced their campaign for governor in 2022. The other is Rep. Ras Smith, a Waterloo Democrat.

Jeff Kaufmann, chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, said DeJear’s candidacy showed Iowa Democrats were “joined at the hip with their out-of-touch national Democrat counterparts.”

“No matter who Democrats select, none will compare to Governor Reynolds,” Kaufmann said in a statement.

Republican incumbent Reynolds has not officially announced whether she will run for reelection or seek a different office.

Read more: Who’s running for office in 2022?

Parting words

“I will shy away from no challenge,” DeJear said. “It may not be easy, it may be bumpy, but I believe in this state enough to know we are capable people. We’ve got so much talent that exists in this state, and it’s untapped. We’re going to tap into it, lift it up and move forward together.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.