Spurned by Blum, 'concerned' Iowa progressives quiz his challengers

'Just saying 'I don't like politics' doesn't help'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s too bad it took the 2016 election to make it happen, Cindy Garlock says, but she’s heartened to see “people who were not involved become passionate” about politics.

Erin Owen of Cedar Rapids is one of those who has stepped up since the election of President Donald Trump. She joined the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. — “It was one of the best experiences in my life,” she said — and is on the Linn County Democratic Central Committee.

She’s also part of an informal group of Eastern Iowans vetting U.S. House 1st District candidates.

“Just saying ‘I don’t like politics,’ doesn’t help and doesn’t do any good,” Owen said after she and about a dozen others quizzed 1st District Democratic hopeful Thomas Heckroth recently. Working from the same list of questions they had posed to three other candidates — George Ramsey III, Courtney Rowe and State Rep. Abby Finkenauer — they spent an hour getting to know Heckroth. Topics ranged from health care and education to dark money, energy and constituent services.

The group that started out as part of Indivisible Iowa has since morphed into “people who are concerned,” according to Garlock.

Initially, they wanted to meet with two-term GOP Rep. Rod Blum. He has declined. They’ve met with his staff, but either they’re not from Iowa or “don’t know what Iowa is about,” Amy Adams said.

So out of frustration they decided to meet the candidates interested in replacing Blum. They don’t plan to endorse a candidate, but to use the information from their candidate interviews to help voters who share their progressive views make a choice in the Democratic primary. Garlock says they will support the Democratic nominee.

“We’re not getting answers,” Adams says. “We want Rod Blum to listen to people like us — not just donors, not just Republicans. We just want to know where the people he represents stand.”

“It’s very frustrating not to have our voices heard,” added Garlock, who was active in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“We’re not just 10 to 15 loudmouths,” said Katie Bussell of Marion, who streamed the meeting live so others could “meet” Heckroth. “We’re trying to represent people who can’t make it” to the meetings, she said.

They’re more than that, said Blum staffer John Ferland.

“Indivisible members are political partisan operatives who have filmed campaign-style attack ads against Congressman Blum,” Ferland said. “The congressman was happy to accept this group’s first request for town halls in which nearly 4,000 people attended over four days in the four largest cities. However, Indivisible helped create an uncivil atmosphere that precluded anyone in attendance from hearing the congressman.”

Their demands for face-to-face meetings with the congressman appear to be taken from the Indivisible manual. It advises groups to insist on speaking to the member of Congress.

“Don’t settle for staff ‘offering to take down your concerns,’ ” according to the manual written by former congressional staffers who say it is based on what they observed during the rise of the Tea Party.

“We just want to be heard. We want to be able to trust that they are listening to the right side, the left side and not just their base,” Adams said.

Despite Blum’s refusal to meet with them, the members of the group promise to continue their efforts.

“We just want things to be better,” Adams said.

And it helps to be doing something, added Jan Peterson, a retired pharmacist from Marion wearing a “Make America Tolerate Again” T-shirt.

“It feels like we’re at least trying to do something as opposed to just feeling hopeless,” she said.

“I feel better when I’m doing something rather than let things happen to me,” Owen added.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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