IOWA CITY — As a young African-American woman running for statewide office in Iowa, “there’s definitely not a playbook,” Democratic Secretary of State hopeful Deidre DeJear says.
However, she doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer “because I’m a woman or African American,” she said during a campaign stop in Iowa City on Thursday, “but because I’m running in unprecedented times. I believe that everybody running is a trailblazer at this point in time.”
DeJear faces Jim Mowrer in the race for the Democratic nomination to challenge Secretary of State Paul Pate, who is seeking another term.
It’s not only candidates who face unprecedented times, but voters, too, DeJear, 32, said at a multicandidate event at The Mill.
“People are hungry, and I’ve got something that they can eat on — re-instilling faith in the vote,” she said.
With less than three weeks until the June 5 primary election, the Des Moines business owner is putting the pedal to the metal, racking up nearly 15,000 miles traveling the state to meet with voters.
Despite the down ballot status of the secretary of state’s race, DeJear is finding voters interested in the contest, especially when she explains the role the secretary plays in elections.
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“When you explain what (the office) actually does and what our current secretary has been spending time his time doing — or what he’s spending his time not doing, people are enthralled,” DeJear said.
Her goal, she said, would be to “depoliticize” voting.
“It has really separated us,” she said. “People feel uncomfortable making a choice. People feel uncomfortable sharing their choice. It’s OK for us to have differences in who we want to support. What’s not OK is that we allow those differences to separate us as Iowans.”
If elected, high on her agenda would be improving the Voting Integrity Act passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2017. Unlike many in her party, including the six gubernatorial hopefuls, she doesn’t think the law needs to be repealed.
She likes some of the changes the Legislature made but wants to return early voting to 40 days from the current 29 days to give more people the opportunity to vote.
Like other Democrats, DeJear believes that requiring voters to present an ID creates barriers to voting. There are 125,000 registered voters in Iowa who don’t have a driver’s license or a state-issued ID, she said.
Voter ID cards issued by the secretary of state don’t solve the problem, DeJear said. They’re an added cost and another level of bureaucracy.
“If you are an eligible voter in our state, you deserve the opportunity to have equal access to the ballot box in a way that is easy, that is simple, that is secure,” she said.
In 2008, DeJear founded Caleo Enterprises to provide entrepreneurs affordable marketing tools and business strategies. She also developed the Financial Capability Network, a collaborative that targets low- to moderate-income individuals and families. Over the last five years, the program provided nearly 100,000 Iowans access to financial management, knowledge and skills. This included training to more than 150 businesses and nonprofits.
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In addition to her business, DeJear co-founded Back 2 School Iowa, a nonprofit that aims to collaborate with communities and businesses to provide resources to inspire youth in continuing in their education and building careers.
In addition, she’s no stranger to voter engagement. Her first introduction to campaigns was through her grandmother, who became county elections commissioner in Mississippi in the mid-1990s. In 2012, she worked on President Barack Obama’s Iowa re-election campaign.
DeJear and her husband, Marvin, live in Des Moines.
DeJear recently was endorsed by AFSCME Council 61, which cited her support for voting rights. She also has been endorsed by Central Iowa Building & Construction Trades Council, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 234, North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, SEIU Local 199, EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Collective PAC, Higher Heights, Iowa Women for Progressive Chance and the Iowa Asian and Latino Coalition PAC.
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