First-time candidate seeks to unseat GOP freshman in Iowa’s 4th District

By: - October 24, 2022 4:58 pm

Democrat Ryan Melton, left, is challenging incumbent Republican Randy Feenstra in this year’s 4th District election. (Photos by the Melton campaign and Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Republican congressman who unseated Steve King in the last election cycle faces a challenge next month from a Nevada Democrat who had little ambition for public office but couldn’t abide the incumbent going unopposed.

“By the time we got to January of this year, it was clear that there was not going to be anyone that’s going to make the ballot on the Democratic side of this race, and I thought that was just absolutely untenable,” said Ryan Melton, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.

In the Melton household, there was an early choice to make: Would it be Ryan or his wife, Laura, who squared off against Rep. Randy Feenstra?

“She said, ‘You’re calm — your demeanor — you deal with B.S. a lot better than I do. You should probably do it,’” Melton recalled.

Feenstra handily defeated King in a 2020 Republican primary. That came after King — a longtime fixture of the U.S. House and a conservative firebrand — was stripped of his leadership positions for statements backing white supremacy.

Feenstra captured about 62% of the election vote in 2020 against Democrat J.D. Scholten, who had previously tried to defeat King but failed.

The district occupies much of the northwest quadrant of the state and a portion of southwest Iowa and is the most Republican district in Iowa, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Feenstra has been a reliable representative for farmers who are wary of further government oversight of practices to reduce soil and nutrient runoff from their fields.

“We need to make sure we have voluntary conservation practices,” Feenstra said recently. “That is so crucial.”

Melton, too, is wary of edicts from the federal government for farmers:

“We need more farmers and more farm workers to build a more economically and ecologically sustainable system,” he told Iowa Capital Dispatch. “I think we need to provide incentives and transitionary funding to help farmers move towards more sustainable ag practices.”

Feenstra, 53, of Hull, is a former state senator who is campaigning on tax cuts, stemming illegal immigration, anti-abortion efforts and gun rights, among other issues. Before being elected, he was a full-time business professor at Dordt College in Sioux Center.

Melton, 38, of Nevada, has not held public office before but was a precinct chairman for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016. He is focused on issues that can bolster rural Iowa, such as education, health care and child care. He is a manager for Nationwide Insurance.

Feenstra has raised about $2.7 million dollars for his campaign during this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data. Melton has raised about $40,000.

There is another, third-party candidate in the race: Bryan Jack Holder, 49, of Council Bluffs. He is a five-time candidate for Congress whose primary quest is to increase the number of representatives in the U.S. House. The FEC does not have a report of how much he has raised for his campaign.

Melton says there needs to be more funding for universal pre-kindergarten education and more money for teachers to improve education.

“I think child care is one of those issues where you need to spend for the public good to build more robust communities so that we can have the programs we can rely on to get out there and to work and build a stronger economy and build families just more financial independence over time,” Melton said.

Candidates disagree on health care

He also wants to shift to government-provided health insurance, which is something Feenstra opposes.

“Government-run health care through Medicare isn’t working,” Feenstra has said. “All of a sudden, you have the government making decisions on who gets the new hip. That should never be what health care is about.”

Melton disagrees: “I’m a big proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan like Medicare for all, when you talk to doctors and hospital administrators in rural Iowa they’re struggling, and you know, one of the reasons they’re struggling is because private health care puts up so many roadblocks between the provider and the patient.”

Feenstra has opposed federal legislation that would legalize abortion nationwide in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“As a father of four and a Christian, I believe that every life has value and that every person – both born and unborn – deserves the fundamental right to life,” Feenstra said this summer.

Melton said he supports legislation that would codify the right to abortion: “I’m willing to do my part to defend reproductive rights,” he said.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.