Political Soapbox: Here’s what candidates are saying at the Iowa State Fair

By: - August 20, 2022 1:20 pm

Political candidates are scheduled to visit the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Candidates running in this year’s midterm elections are speaking directly with Iowans at the Iowa State Fair.

The Des Moines Register Political Soapbox is a state fair mainstay. It’s known best as a stop for presidential candidates in the leadup to the Iowa caucuses, though none are on the schedule this year. Instead, fairgoers have the chance to hear from candidates running for Iowa’s statewide and national offices.

Two of the contenders for this year’s most competitive races will not speak at the soapbox. Neither Republican incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds or U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley have a soapbox speech planned during their state fair visits. While there are a few Republican speakers scheduled, including U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s challenger state Sen. Zach Nunn, the majority of candidates speaking are Democrats.

Candidates are given 20 minutes on the soapbox stage to make their case. Speakers can give their campaign pitch and answer questions directly from fairgoers during their time on the stage.

Watch this spot for updates on what speakers said during their soapbox appearances:

10 months ago

Liz Mathis criticizes Rep. Hinson’s votes against Democrat-backed bills

By: - 6:00 pm

Iowa Sen. Liz Mathis said Saturday her opponent, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, is voting against legislation that will help Iowans.

Speaking at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox, Mathis was the final speaker at this year’s soapbox. She told a group of 15 fairgoers that she was running to represent the 2nd Congressional District because the current representative, Hinson, has a track record of not supporting bills that will help constituents.

“She’s been voting the wrong way,” Mathis said. “She’s been saying no to a lot of things where she should be saying yes.”

Iowa Sen. Liz Mathis spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Saturday, Aug. 20. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Democratic candidate criticized Hinson’s votes against the 2021 infrastructure law and federal COVID-19 relief package, pieces of legislation supported by President Joe Biden’s administration. In both cases, the bills would have brought money into local communities, Mathis said. But Hinson still “took credit” for a project funded by infrastructure bill, Mathis said, referencing the representative’s support for upgrades to Upper Mississippi River locks and dams.

“That is not the Iowa way,” Mathis said. “We don’t do that. We don’t vote no and then take credit for a project.”

Mathis also said Hinson should have voted in favor of the Inflation Reduction Act, another Democrat-backed bill, which was signed into law last week. Iowans will benefit from the measures to take E-15 gasoline nationwide and cap insulin costs, she said, and “average Iowans” won’t see tax increases.

“We know that this bill is a good bill — and for Iowans, it is absolutely the best bill possible,” she said.

10 months ago

Auditor candidate Todd Halbur said he would bring ‘financial agenda’ to office

By: - 1:21 pm

Republican candidate for Iowa state auditor Todd Halbur told fairgoers Saturday he would bring conservative values to the office if elected.

“I am a political outsider that is a fiscal conservative that has a financial agenda,” Halbur said, speaking in the rain at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.

Republican Todd Halbur, candidate for Iowa state auditor, spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox  Aug. 20, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Halbur is one of just three Republicans taking the soapbox stage this year. Iowa attorney general candidate Brenna Bird and 3rd Congressional District candidate Zach Nunn also participated in the forum.

Like the other Republican speakers, Halbur faces a Democratic incumbent in the November election.

In his race against State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, Halbur has emphasized that he wants to bring a conservative economic approach to the office, but that the state auditor should stay out of “partisan” disputes.

Republicans have accused Sand of using the auditor’s office for partisanship, pointing to audits focused on Gov. Kim Reynolds. One audit led to Reynolds returning $21 million in federal COVID-19 aid that was improperly spent. Another found the governor had improperly promoted herself using her image and likeness in a taxpayer-funded public service announcement — a claim the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board rejected.

These actions distract from the duties of the office, Halbur said. He said he would use the office to advocate for changes that would help reduce government costs in Iowa, such as stopping the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division from having direct control over wholesale liquor in the state.

“I want to be the voice of the Iowa taxpayer,” Halbur said. And I hope you consider me this Nov. 8.”

10 months ago

Attorney General Tom Miller says lawsuit wins show why he should stay in office

By: - Wednesday August 17, 2022 5:38 pm
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox  Aug. 17, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

This isn’t Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s first time seeking re-election while Republicans control most of Iowa’s state government.

At the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Wednesday, Miller, a Democrat, said he worried about getting re-elected after he first took office in 1979, as Republicans had just taken over both chambers of the Iowa Statehouse.

“We concluded the best policy was the best politics,” Miller said. “The best service was the best politics, so that we were going to try to do as good a job as we could, and hope the politics work out.”

Now running for his 11th term as state attorney general, Miller said he’s approaching this election with the same strategy. He faces a challenge from Republican Brenna Bird, who spoke at the soapbox Saturday. Bird criticized Miller for not bringing lawsuits against President Joe Biden, and his choices to not defend some Iowa laws, like the so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion law, in court.

Miller said Bird’s focus on Biden when discussing her plans if elected as attorney general show that she’s motivated by “partisan politics” in the race. That agenda does not focus on the issues that impact Iowans, he said.

In contrast, Miller said, his time as attorney general has been used to support average Iowans. He talked about his time working on issues like consumer protection, advocating for farmers and combating the opioid crisis. Miller’s office announced Wednesday that Iowa was one of the states to reach an agreement with Endo International PLC, which will give state and local governments involved in the lawsuit up to $450 million because of the company’s involvement in the drug epidemic.

His track record winning lawsuits for Iowans is why voters have chosen to re-elect him so many times, Miller said, regardless of which party holds power. The attorney general asked fairgoers for their support in November so he can continue that work.

Voters, over the long term, figure out public officials pretty well,” Miller said. “Basically, they ask two questions, and those are the two questions: ‘Is he or she on my side?’ and the other is, ‘Does he or she do what they believe in?’ So, that’s been our strategy.”

10 months ago

Christina Bohannan decries U.S. Rep. Miller-Meeks ‘extremist’ politics

By: - 4:41 pm

Democratic congressional candidate Christina Bohannan, speaking Wednesday at the Iowa State Fair, accused her Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, of having extreme political views.

Bohannan told the group of 25 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox that she supports America’s two-party system. But she said growing polarization is one of the “greatest threats” the country has ever faced, hurting the democratic system.

Christina Bohannan, a Democrat running for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, spoke at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox Aug. 17, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“What we have right now is not debate and compromise, what we have right now is extremism and chaos,” Bohannan said. “And I am sorry to say that nowhere is that more true than in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and my opponent Mariannette Miller-Meeks.”

Redistricting has changed the landscape for this year’s election. Miller-Meeks, who currently represents the 2nd District, is running against Bohannan in the 1st District. While the designation has changed, the former 2nd District and new 1st District both largely cover southeast Iowa.

Miller-Meeks is letting down southeast Iowa, Bohannan said, by choosing the GOP and special interests over Iowans. She criticized statements Miller-Meeks made a decade or more ago in favor of significant changes to Medicare. Bohannan also suggested Miller-Meeks opposed veterans’ benefits because of her vote against a Democratic version of a bill expanding support for military personnel exposed to burn pits. Miller-Meeks voted for the final version of the bill, which was signed into law last week.

Bohannan also contrasted her position on abortion rights with Miller-Meeks, who voted against a Democratic bill to ensure abortion access nationwide.

“This is one of the defining issues of our time, let alone of this election,” she said. “We must elect people who will defend our bodily autonomy, our privacy, our freedom and who will stand up and fight to protect the right to choose.”

Bohannan said her support of “country over party” is why both former U.S. Reps. Jim Leach, a Republican and Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, endorsed her campaign. Both Leach and Loebsack formerly represented southeast Iowa.

Miller-Meeks will not speak at the soapbox this year. The only incumbent representative scheduled was U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat.

10 months ago

Rep. Cindy Axne says her votes defend Main Street Iowa

By: - 1:04 pm
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne spoke to supporters and critics following her speech at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Wednesday, Aug. 17. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, speaking Wednesday at the Iowa State Fair, defended the Inflation Reduction Act and her efforts in Congress to help Main Street Iowa businesses.

She spoke at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox to more than 100 people, asking the crowd to re-elect her as 3rd District representative. Axne, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, spoke about her votes to help small businesses, farmers and low-income Iowans during her four years in Congress.

Most recently, that meant voting for Inflation Reduction Act, Axne said. That bill, she said, plus her work on a national infrastructure bill, concretely helps improves Iowans’ lives. She said older Iowans will see the price of insulin drop, potholes will be fixed, and rural broadband will expand because of her votes.

“What is it going to take to make the lives of the people who are standing right here better?” Axne said. “I’m not the one who’s going to be up on TV or in the paper nationally to talk about some ideology. I’m the one that’s going to get things done.”

A group of people wearing name tags that they were auditors stood in a line along the edge of the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox stage during U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s speech Aug. 17, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

But her opponent, state Sen. Zach Nunn, said measures like the Inflation Reduction Act will hurt Iowa. Republicans criticized the Democrat-backed legislation which includes a 15% minimum tax on corporations with incomes more than $1 billion and the hiring of more IRS agents. At Axne’s soapbox speech, a dozen people wearing name tags saying they were auditors stood with with a sign reading “Axne sent us to audit you!”

Axne told reporters these criticisms were untrue. She said the IRS expansion will only look into the wealthy and large corporations, not average Iowans. She said the bill would help Iowa communities fix infrastructure problems and fund work on environmental regulation, funded by the wealthy paying taxes.

“The rich aren’t paying their fair share, but people making $30,000 are?” Axne said. “Businesses in Corning, Iowa, are paying their taxes but we’ve got folks here that come into our own district like I mentioned with Amazon, and, you know, (Jeff) Bezos wasn’t paying his own taxes? This is ridiculous.”

The representative said the bill would not just lower costs of living and go toward repairing potholes and public buildings, but help Iowa prepare for the future. She said the environmental measures included in the legislation will help farmers, who will see major impacts from climate change. She pointed to the recent Missouri River flooding and recent derechos as signs that Iowa must prepare to face extreme weather conditions.

Republicans try to portray Democratic legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act as only mattering for people living on the coasts, Axne said. But she said the act will improve life in Iowa just as much.

“This isn’t just about urban America folks,” Axne said. “This is about all of America. And it starts right here in Iowa’s Third District.”

10 months ago

Auditor Rob Sand emphasizes non-partisan approach despite GOP criticism

By: - Tuesday August 16, 2022 3:47 pm
State Auditor Rob Sand speaks Aug. 16, 2022 at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, speaking Tuesday at the Iowa State Fair, emphasized an even-handed and non-partisan approach to his job – including when he’s investigating the Republican governor’s actions.

Sand, who is running for a second term, has fielded criticism from Republicans who have accused him of partisanship in his choice of topics to investigate. One audit resulted in Gov. Kim Reynolds having to return $21 million in federal COVID-19 aid that she allocated to a software project that was in the works before the pandemic.

Another audit found that Reynolds had improperly promoted herself by using her image and likeness in a taxpayer-funded public service announcement about COVID-19 mitigation – a claim the state ethics board rejected.

Reynolds has publicly complained about the auditor’s office, including remarking in May that she wanted a state auditor who would not try to sue her “every time around.” Sand said at the time he had never sued Reynolds.

Sand, however, said Tuesday he has also released reports that have been “friendly, been helpful, been useful to the Reynolds administration.”

He cited a report that he said disproved allegations the Department of Public Health was suppressing COVID-19 case counts during the early part of the pandemic. “So again, if we offer criticism from this office of someone, it’s because they earned it. If we offer a defense of someone in this office, it’s because they earned it,” he said.

Sand only mentioned his Republican opponent once during his 20-minute speech at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox at the fair.

“We shouldn’t be running any office that’s supposed to serve everyone in a state as though it is meant to serve a single party,” he said. “In fact, my opponent recently just said that the Republican Party in the state of Iowa owned this office for 50 years, which, true, I’m the first Democrat elected to it in 50 years. But what does that say to you about someone’s mindset, for someone to say their party owns this office?”

Republican auditor candidate Todd Halbur said during a GOP event in Eldora that his party had “owned” the auditor’s office before Sand’s election, according to the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen.

“We’ve owned this office from 1967 to 2018,” Halbur said, according to the Times-Citizen. “… We need to take this office back.”

Sand responded: “Who is this office supposed to serve? Everyone. This office should serve everyone.” He said he wanted Iowans to know that “I do not care, who you vote for, I don’t care how you’re registered. I want you to come to our office, and I want you to tell me things that people in positions of trust and power have done wrong.”

Halbur is scheduled to speak at the Register’s Political Soapbox at noon Saturday.

10 months ago

Michael Franken says Iowans can prove national Democrats wrong

By: - Monday August 15, 2022 6:52 pm
Retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic Senate candidate Michael Franken said while some national Democrats have written Iowa off, recent polls and election predictions show his and other state races remain competitive.

“Iowa has disappointed Democrats nationwide for too long, so they’re not believing that we can at least this time pull it off,” Franken told reporters Monday. “So it’s up to us, it’s up to Iowa, to prove that differently.” Read the rest of the story here.

10 months ago

Ryan Melton: Feenstra voting record is ‘exact same’ as Steve King’s

By: - 3:02 pm
Democrat Ryan Melton, who is running against U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 15, 2022, at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Congressional candidate Ryan Melton said incumbent Rep. Randy Feenstra’s voting record is just as harmful for marginalized communities as his predecessor Steve King’s was.

“Congressman Feenstra’s voting record is Steve King’s voting record,” Melton said Monday. “They are the exact same voting record. The only difference is that Congressman Feenstra doesn’t say the worst stuff out loud.”

A group of 20 stayed dry under umbrellas and overhangs as they listened to Melton, a Democrat who is running in the 4th Congressional District, speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. Melton spoke through the rain about how Feenstra’s choices while in office compare to those of former U.S. Rep. Steve King.

Feenstra defeated King in the 2020 Republican primary. King had been stripped of his committee assignments in 2019 following comments on white nationalism made to the New York Times, and faced backlash for a statement on pregnancy in cases of rape and incest later that same year.

While Feenstra is not embroiled in controversy as King was, Melton said his votes still harm underserved groups. He pointed to Feenstra’s votes against a bill to remove Confederate statues from U.S. Capitol grounds, anti-discrimination acts for people of color and the LGBTQ community, and the codification of legal same-sex marriage.

Feenstra also has advocated for a federal ban on abortion procedures with no exemptions, which Melton said many anti-abortion and conservative voters find “extreme.”

“Pretty much any group of people you look at in my district, in the 4th District, are less safe now having Congressman Feenstra represent them,” Melton said.

Feenstra is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox, although the Register has reported he was invited.

Iowa’s 4th District is overwhelmingly conservative, but Melton argued Republican policies are behind the area’s fall in population. The district should be more inclusive, he said, and take steps to increase wages, provide more child care options and improve health care accessibility.

“We know what things are driving our young people out of the district,” Melton said. “So let’s get through those.”

10 months ago

Deirde DeJear focuses on education and mental health

By: - Saturday August 13, 2022 7:21 pm
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear spoke to Iowans at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa needs to use its budget surplus to address shortages in mental health and public education, Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear said Saturday.

DeJear spoke to a group of more than 50 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.  Read about her remarks here.

Last updated: 7:26 pm

10 months ago

Democrat Joel Miller calls Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate ‘negligent’ on gun rights amendment process

By: - 5:57 pm
Joel Miller, Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State, spoke at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic secretary of state candidate Joel Miller said regardless of their political position, Iowans should vote out Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate for failing to do his job.

He spoke Saturday at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox about Pate’s failure to get a gun rights state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. The Secretary of State’s Office was required to publish notification in state newspapers before the proposed amendment could advance to a vote.

Pate’s office did not complete that step, and the amendment was delayed, now appearing on this year’s ballot. The Legislature has since changed the notification requirement. But Miller said that mistake showed why someone else needs to take the office.

“If you’re for gun rights, you should be upset, you should want to fire him,” Miller said. “If you’re against gun rights, you should still be upset because he was negligent.”

He also criticized Pate for focusing time on an anti-human trafficking campaign, which he said is not under the purview of the secretary of state. Miller also said Pate failed to step up in opposition to Iowa’s 2021 election law changes, which he said were some of the “most restrictive in the nation.”

Miller, who currently serves as Linn County auditor, said if he is elected, he “make voting easy again.” His campaign calls for automatic voter registration at age 17 and permanent absentee ballot request forms. The candidate was one of three Iowa county auditors sued by former President Donald Trump for sending out absentee ballot request forms that were pre-filled some some voter information.

As Iowa secretary of state, Miller said he would advocate for changing laws to help people access absentee voting.

If half the people don’t vote who are planning to vote by mail, that’s a crisis for our democracy,” Miller said.

Pate is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox.

10 months ago

Bryan Jack Holder calls for Reynolds, Feenstra to make Soapbox speeches

By: - 3:49 pm
Liberty Caucus candidate Bryan Jack Holder speaks Aug. 13, 2022, at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Bryan Jack Holder called Saturday for Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra to speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

Holder is a Liberty Caucus candidate running against Feenstra for the 4th Congressional District. He said the incumbent candidates would benefit from hearing from fairgoers directly. Iowa’s state and federal leaders need to do more to interact directly with their constituents, he said.

Most of Iowa’s Republican candidates are skipping the Soapbox this year. Republican 3rd District candidate Zach Nunn and Iowa attorney general candidate Brenna Bird spoke Saturday.

“We need to take every opportunity that we’re given to communicate with our fellow citizens,” Holder said. “It’s only through talking about these very highly controversial and divisive issues that we can reach common ground.”

Holder, who has run for office five times, said this run will be his final bid for federal office. In his speech, he criticized recent changes to Iowa law that require a higher threshold for third party candidates to make it on the ballot. He said it was difficult for the average person to get involved in politics, but encouraged others to launch campaigns to take a more active role.

“If more of us can run, it will give other people hope to get involved,” Holder said.

10 months ago

Libertarian Rick Stewart calls for return of one-room schoolhouses, end to drug war

By: - 3:35 pm
Rick Stewart speaks at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Rick Stewart, Libertarian Party candidate for Iowa governor, shared some predictions for the future during his time at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox: Only self-driving cars will be allowed on public roads, no one will remember COVID-19, and America will elect 10 Libertarian presidents in a row.

Stewart also predicted Iowa would elect its first Libertarian governor this November. He’s competing against incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, and Democrat Deidre DeJear in the general election. In the most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, just 5% of likely voters said they support Stewart, compared to 48% who support Reynolds and 31% behind DeJear.

The candidate discussed some of his proposals for Iowa government. He rallied against eminent domain, specifically the expropriation of private property to pipeline companies, and called for the legalization of marijuana and psychedelics. He also said while he believes life starts at conception, he does not think the government should be involved in legislating abortion.

Stewart also brought up the return of one-room schoolhouses. He advocated for an education system where families work with one teacher over the course of several years.

“The one-room schoolhouse was educating Iowa kids better than we do, than we educate them today,” he said. “So if we were better when it was a one-room schoolhouse, it doesn’t take a lot of brains. Let’s go back to something that used to work better.”

While the Libertarian Party has grown enough to make it on the ballot in some races, candidates with the third party have yet to win many major elections. But Stewart told listeners at the fair that once Libertarians make it into office, they’re going to stay and take political power.

“It’s a snowball that has to get rolling. … But it’s going to grow,” Stewart said. “And the reason it’s going to grow is because libertarianism is fundamentally the only political philosophy that has a future for this country.”

10 months ago

Republican Zach Nunn says Inflation Reduction Act won’t help Iowans

By: - 1:48 pm
Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn speaks at the Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13, 2022, flanked by his wife and four of his children. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn said Saturday the Inflation Reduction Act passed Friday will hurt Iowans and small businesses.

Nunn, a state senator running against U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd District, spoke at the Register’s Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.

He introduced his wife and four of his six children to a group of more than 60 gathered for his Soapbox speech. His said his experience raising kids in Iowa has shown him that Democrat-backed policies like the Inflation Reduction Act do not help families like his.

“It’s not a good time to be an Iowan and a small business owner,” Nunn said.

The $740 billion spending bill includes measures like hiring more IRS agents, lowering pharmaceutical costs and creating incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. Nunn said these investments increase government spending, but do not help reduce everyday costs for Iowans.

All of the Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation voted against the measure, while Axne voted for it. The incumbent Democrat praised the bill when it passed, saying it will help Iowans navigate the rising costs of living.

“I voted today to level the playing field for Iowans by lowering the costs for things Iowans need and use every day like prescription drugs and electricity while ensuring billionaire corporations are paying their fair share in taxes,” Axne said in a statement Friday.

While Democrats argued the bill will increase costs only on the wealthy, Nunn said the burden would fall on average-income Americans. He shared a story of meeting with a small business owner Friday, who told Nunn he had to spend $50,000 in the process of being audited by the IRS.

Nunn said he would take his Iowa Statehouse experience to Washington, D.C., to offer an alternative to legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. Iowa’s economy recovered quickly following the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, in large part due to state tax cuts. The national economy could recover with that same policy agenda, he said.

The tax cuts approved by the Iowa Legislature this year do not take effect until 2023.

“What we need to do is take what has worked so well here in Iowa, and give it back,” Nunn said. “Give back your tax money and watch what happens with the economy, just like here in Iowa.”

10 months ago

Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Bird targets Biden

By: - 1:34 pm
Republican Brenna Bird, candidate for Iowa attorney general, addresses a group at the Iowa State Fair during her Political Soapbox speech Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The best way for Iowans to stop overreach by President Joe Biden’s administration is to elect a conservative attorney general, Republican Brenna Bird told fairgoers Saturday.

Bird faces Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in this year’s election. Miller has served as the state attorney general since 1978, and Bird told listeners at the Des Moines Register political soapbox it’s time for a change.

There’s another reason for Iowa to elect a Republican attorney general this year, she said. Regardless of midterm results come November, Biden will remain the president for two more years, she said. Even if Republicans win big, Biden can still implement policy through executive order, she said. State attorneys general have the best chance of challenging Biden in court, she said.

Bird criticized Miller for bringing lawsuits during President Donald Trump’s administration, but not against Biden.

“It looks like our attorney general is Biden’s attorney general,” Bird said. “When I’m attorney general, I’m going to be Iowa’s attorney general.”

She also criticized Miller for not defending some Iowa laws, supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Miller has refused to defend state laws like the so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion law in court.

“Don’t you want somebody who’s pulling in the right direction for a chance, who’s not lazy, who’s not liberal?” Bird asked Saturday. “Somebody who will support the policies, for example, of Governor Reynolds?”

10 months ago

Norwood emphasizes water quality, conservation in state fair soapbox pitch

By: - Thursday August 11, 2022 7:25 pm

Iowa needs to more urgently address contaminated waterways, soil erosion and rural population decline to ensure the long-term sustainability of its agriculture, the Democratic challenger for state Secretary of Agriculture told state fairgoers on Thursday.

John Norwood speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Thursday. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

John Norwood, 58, of West Des Moines, addressed a handful of people at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox — along with dozens of people who walked past — on the first day of the Iowa State Fair.

Norwood is challenging incumbent Mike Naig, a Republican, who is not participating in the soapbox.

“What I’m bringing to the position is the idea of representing all Iowans,” Norwood said. “We have to understand and represent our farming producers, but we also need to focus on the consumer side as well.”

That means pursuing a more-aggressive and coordinated strategy to keep farm fertilizer from going into the state’s waterways. State officials have long opted for a hands-off approach that relies on individual farmers to implement conservation practices, often with the support of state programs.

Naig contends the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working and touts the adoption of cover crops, which he said have been planted on more than 3 million acres of cropland. Cover crops are effective at reducing soil erosion and nitrate leaching, but those acres only represent about 13% of Iowa’s total cropland.

Norwood said research suggests that the amount of nitrate flowing into the Mississippi River and contributing to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone has increased since the state strategy was adopted in 2013.

“I would submit that’s good evidence that the solutions right now are not working,” Norwood said Thursday.

He cautioned that not enough is being done to control soil erosion that is outpacing new topsoil production. Norwood has said there are up to 2 million acres of land that are being farmed and are highly erodible and should be taken out of production.

Farmers also need to diversify their crops to include oats, barley and rye, he said. All of the ideas are meant to create a “highly productive but balanced system,” he said.

“I have a sense of urgency,” Norwood said. “I have focus that I’m going to bring to this position.”

10 months ago

Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald calls for state retirement program to aid older Iowans

By: - 3:41 pm
Michael Fitzgerald is the longest-serving state treasurer in the country. (Photo from the Iowa Treasurer’s website)

Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald was first up at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Thursday, calling for Iowans to re-elect him to an 11th term.

The Democratic incumbent told Iowa State Fair attendees he wants to do more for aging Iowans as he seeks another term in the office he’s held since 1983.

He plans to continue to push the state toward setting aside funds to help older Iowans. He called for Iowa to establish a state retirement program for people without retirement plans through their employer, and said he wants to protect state pension funds.

“With half the people in Iowa approaching retirement age with no pension or retirement benefits, I think it’s a serious problem,” Fitzgerald said.

The treasurer faces state Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican, in the general election. While he’s won many re-election many times before, there’s more money involved in this year’s treasurer race than in previous years. Smith surpassed Fitzgerald in fundraising efforts with $286,400 in the bank according to July campaign finance reports. Fitzgerald reported $74,000 cash on hand.

Smith is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox. All candidates for Iowa’s statewide and federal races were invited to give a speech.

If re-elected, Fitzgerald said his goals include returning federally held matured savings bonds to Iowa, in addition to continuing work on the programs built during his tenure as the longest-serving treasurer of state in the nation. He created the 529 College Saving Programs, which invests and distributes money to families for post-secondary education free of state and federal taxes.

Fitzgerald also encouraged fairgoers to visit the Treasurer of State’s booth in the Varied Industries Building, where they have the chance to claim lost money. The office hosts the “Great Iowa Treasure Hunt” each year at the fair. Visitors can look up their own names as well as family and friends to see if they have unclaimed money waiting.

Soapbox schedule

There are 16 candidates scheduled to speak at the political soapbox this year, according to The Des Moines Register:

Thursday, Aug. 11:

  • Michael Fitzgerald, Democratic incumbent candidate for treasurer of state at 1:30 p.m.
  • John Norwood, Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture at 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 13:

  • Brenna Bird, Republican candidate for Iowa attorney general at 11:15 a.m.
  • Zach Nunn, Republican candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District at 12 p.m.
  • Rick Stewart, Libertarian candidate for Iowa governor at 2:15 p.m.
  • Bryan Jack Holder, Liberty Caucus candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District at 3 p.m.
  • Deidre DeJear, Democratic candidate for Iowa governor at 3:45 p.m.
  • Joel Miller, Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of state at 4:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 15:

  • Ryan Melton, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District at 1:30 p.m.
  • Michael Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate at 3 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 16:

  • Rob Sand, Democratic incumbent candidate for auditor of state at 12 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 17:

  • Cindy Axne, Democratic incumbent candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District at 10:30 a.m.
  • Christina Bohannan, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District at 2:15 p.m.
  • Tom Miller, Democratic incumbent candidate for Iowa attorney general at 3 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 20:

  • Todd Halbur, Republican candidate for auditor of state at 12 p.m.
  • Liz Mathis, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District at 4:30 p.m.

Why are soapbox speeches important?

Politics hold a special place at the Iowa State Fair. While politicians visit other fairs across the country as they run for state and federal office, Iowa’s place holding the first-in-the-nation caucuses during presidential election cycles elevates the event as an important campaign visit.

Speaking at the soapbox is one of many traditional stops around the state fair, alongside flipping pork chops at the Iowa Pork Producers tent and visiting the butter cow in the agriculture building. In 2019, 23 presidential candidates spoke at the Soapbox in the lead-up to the 2020 election. In 2015, 19 candidates spoke.

Armed with a microphone and surrounded by bales of straw, candidates have a chance to talk to a different crowd than the people who show up for official campaign events. Candidates can reach new supporters, but critics and hecklers can also reach the candidates.

The soapbox was where then-presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney infamously said “corporations are people, my friend,” when he got into a shouting match with a critic in 2011. It’s also where protesters tried to drown out former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to stop him from making his presidential pitch.

But it’s also where candidates can shine. Former President Donald Trump stole the show in 2015 after he arrived to the Iowa State Fair by helicopter, flying above the state fairgrounds in low-riding circles when he offered families rides on the private aircraft. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s soapbox stop that year revealed his popularity, as over a thousand gathered to listen to him speak.

Candidates for Iowa’s state and federal offices have the chance to appeal to those same potential voters.

Though they won’t be on stage, some politicians flirting with a 2024 run are visiting the fair. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stopped by the fair Thursday. Former Vice President Mike Pence is planning a fairground visit with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Stay up to date with caucus visits here.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.