John Whitaker

A former Iowa Democratic lawmaker's message to candidates in rural areas

Former State Representative John Whitaker is the executive director of Rural Forward, an organization formed last month to promote progressive solutions for communities of all sizes, as well as to help Democrats organize in rural areas and demonstrate that rural areas matter. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In 2002, I won my legislative district (Iowa House district 90) by only 55 votes. I had a difficult time raising the funds I needed, even though I was serving my third term as a Van Buren County supervisor, and district 90 was then held by a Democrat who was retiring.

Sometime during that first legislative session, a lobbyist who had served in the legislature (as a Democrat) told me the reason that out of district funders were not interested in my race was because a Democrat should not win that seat. The district had 16 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats. It didn’t matter that the district had one of the widest swing factors in the state or that the Democrats had held it for three terms.

When I left the legislature in 2009 to become state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, Curt Hanson held House district 90 in a hard-fought special election. Hanson was re-elected four times in a district that since the last census has been House district 82, covering slightly different territory. After Hanson passed away this summer, Democrat Phil Miller won a special election here, even though President Donald Trump had carried the district in 2016.

That is a lot of history, but it is important because it proves a point: Democrats can win in rural areas!

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