Desmund Adams first Democrat running in IA-03: Five themes of his campaign

This morning, business owner Desmund Adams became the first Democratic candidate in Iowa’s third Congressional district. His campaign is on the web here as well as on Facebook and Twitter. State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad attended the event and confirmed to me that he will support Adams for Congress. Former State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch was there too and told me he is “encouraging” Adams to run.

I enclose below more background on Adams and five themes from his remarks today, along with details on first-term Representative David Young’s record in those areas.

Leaders in both parties expect IA-03 to be competitive in 2016. Young is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s target list and in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s incumbent protection program. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that 150,925 active registered Democrats, 162,921 Republicans, and 162,161 no-party voters live in IA-03. The district covers sixteen counties in central and southwest Iowa. About two-thirds of the Democrats and more than half of all registered voters reside in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

I hope to see a competitive Democratic primary, which would help raise the eventual nominee’s profile and likely sharpen his or her skills on the stump. Other potential candidates include State Senator Matt McCoy, former Governor Chet Culver, and Jim Mowrer, the 2014 Democratic nominee against Steve King in IA-04. Since Young’s 2014 opponent Staci Appel ruled out a repeat Congressional bid, I have not heard of any Democratic women actively considering this race, but if one emerges, the EMILY’s List political action committee may get involved on her behalf.  

Adams is Iowa’s first African-American major-party candidate for Congress. He did not call attention to that fact this morning, nor is it on the official bio from his campaign website (though the press release did mention it). Excerpt from the bio:

Desmund’s father left when he was young, and though he had a very supportive mother, he lacked the focus, drive, and role models to understand the importance of receiving an education. He dropped out of school with no plan in place.

If it wasn’t for his mother, and the encouragement of mentors who cared a great deal about Desmund, his life would have most likely become an all-too-common statistic. However, Desmund received a second chance. He left home at the age of 17 to join Job Corps.  In Job Corps, he gained some much needed, real life experience and ultimately earned his GED. The support and enthusiasm that Desmund felt from those around him became motivation to reach higher and do more. His newfound passion for learning made an indelible impact.  He went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1996 from Drake University in Des Moines.  He then earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1999 from Drake Law School.

After graduating from Law School and while embracing his entrepreneurial spirit, Desmund began mentoring students at East Des Moines High School. His commitment to serving his community and helping those around him did not stop there.  Desmund still dedicates much of his time and effort to mentoring young people.   Reflecting on his personal story, he understands the importance of an education.  He has made it his life’s work to serve and encourage young people to realize their full potential.

Desmund is an entrepreneur–a recognized leader whose company, AdamsDouglas (formerly Talent Acquisition Group), earned the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Best Kept Secret award in 2007.   Desmund gained even more appreciation for education and doing better for our children while substitute teaching for the Des Moines Public School System. He took that appreciation, leveraged his recognized leadership, and nurtured corporate and civic relationships with organizing partners, Wells Fargo Financial and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to create the Iowa Champions of Change Internship Program.  This successful and thriving local program became a cornerstone for the national College Life to Corporate Life initiative.

Desmund serves on the Mercy College of Health Sciences Board of Directors, and as a member of the Broadlawns Medical Center Foundation Advocate Circle.  He is a former committee member of The Greater Des Moines Committee, and former Board Member of Zeta Kappa Lambda Educational Foundation.  .  Desmund served as President of the Des Moines John R. Grubb YMCA Board of Managers and is also a proud former Board Chairman of Creative Visions.  He was named to the Des Moines Business Record 2013 Forty Under 40 list and volunteered for Iowa Legal Aid.

Incidentally, Creative Visions is the non-profit Ako Abdul-Samad founded in 1996 to provide “educational opportunities to help address the rampant use of drugs, gang violence, and crime involving at-risk youths.”


Given Adams’s extensive community involvement in educational pursuits, it’s no surprise that education policy was a major theme of today’s campaign launch. Like many Democratic candidates, he called for investing in quality public education, from pre-K through post-secondary schooling. Adams advocated better pay for teachers, too many of whom are “scraping by,” having to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets. He borrowed a statistic Hillary Clinton has cited on the presidential campaign trail: the top 25 hedge fund managers in the U.S. make more money than all of the country’s kindergarten teachers do collectively. (That’s true, in case you were wondering.)

On a related note, Adams slammed Washington politicians who try to balance the budget “on the backs of our students.” Recent analysis of Congressional Republican budget plans shows that domestic spending cuts would affect Pell Grants, among other education-related programs. For instance, Isaac Shaipro and Richard Kogan found,

The House [Budget Committee] plan would also allow the American Opportunity Tax Credit to expire at the end of 2017, which would cause millions of low- and moderate-income families to lose some or all of the tax credits they receive to help offset college costs.[5]

Young voted for the House Republican budget blueprint and should be held accountable for its tax and spending priorities.

Speaking about how college has become unaffordable for too many Americans, Adams called for tuition-free community college and vocational training. At some point he will need to provide specifics on how much that policy initiative would cost the federal government.

Adams didn’t mention No Child Left Behind, the controversial education law adopted under President George W. Bush. Young recently voted for a bill to reauthorize that law. More than two dozen Republicans joined all the Democrats to vote against that bill, nearly defeating it.

The “plight of the working poor”

After discussing education, Adams moved to the need to provide good jobs and good wages for people after they complete their schooling. “The plight of the working poor is real,” he stated emphatically. Depicting minimum wage jobs as affecting teenagers at fast-food restaurants is “intellectually disingenuous,” according to Adams. The average age of a minimum wage earner is 35, and many of them are parents working two or three jobs to feed their families. Adams supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in order to provide workers with a “real living wage.” That would be more than double the current minimum wage of $7.25. While some might say $15 an hour is “not sustainable,” Adams argued, the “growing class of the working poor is unsustainable” in his view. He added that many low-wage workers already receive some form of government assistance.

During last year’s Congressional campaign debates, Young said he would be open to raising the minimum wage “in a bipartisan way,” combined with tax relief for small businesses. I haven’t heard him talk about the issue since then. It’s certainly not a priority for him as it would be for Adams, and I doubt Young would get behind $15 an hour.

At today’s event, someone asked Adams how he can connect to people in small-town Iowa. After noting that he used to live in Oskaloosa while attending William Penn College, Adams said “divisiveness sells,” but the working poor face the same problems in rural Iowa as in urban areas. No doubt about that.

While Adams focused on raising wages, Young’s support for the House Republican approach to budgeting would be disastrous for the working poor in other ways too. From Shapiro and Kogan’s analysis for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The House plan block-grants SNAP [formerly known as food stamps] starting in 2021 and cuts SNAP funds by $125 billion, or more than a third, over 2021 to 2025. States would be left to decide whose benefits to reduce or terminate, but cuts of this magnitude would end food assistance for millions of low-income families, cut benefits for millions of such households, or do some combination of the two, according to a new CBPP analysis. […]

The House Budget Committee plan would allow critical provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to expire at the end of 2017, which would increase the number of people in poverty by an estimated 1.8 million, including 1.0 million children — and deepen poverty for another 14.6 million people, including 6.7 million children, in 2018.

It shouldn’t be hard to calculate how many Iowans living in the third district receive SNAP food assistance or benefit from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and/or the Child Tax Credit.

Adams didn’t mention health care reform, but Young is on record voting to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, under which thousands of working Iowans in the third district have either received tax subsidies for purchasing private health insurance or coverage under the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan (our state’s version of Medicaid expansion).

Clean, renewable energy

Adams cited “clean, renewable energy” as an example of the “big, bold” policies he would support as a member of Congress. He didn’t clarify whether he was talking primarily about wind and solar power or biofuels. I look forward to hearing more about how Adams sees the federal government expanding renewable energy production.

Like many Congressional Republicans, Young is an “all of the above” guy on energy policy. I am not aware of any votes directly related to renewable energy, but he has voted for House Republican legislation that would undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations of the energy sector. Young also supports building the Keystone XL pipeline for transporting tar sands oil. During his campaign launch, Adams didn’t discuss pipelines or other federal government policy related to fossil fuels.

The “do-nothing Congress”

Adams criticized the “do-nothing Congress,” which is “fighting battles that should have been settled years ago.” He characterized members of Congress as all talk, kicking the can down the road, not addressing big issues like taking care of veterans or even fixing the roads. Unlike the current crop of representatives in Washington, “I am that leader” who will demand action to solve real problems.

How well that line of attack will stick depends in part on how Young handles himself during a likely showdown later this year over funding the federal government. Congress has approved funding only through September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Disputes over health care reform and raising the debt ceiling led to a partial government shutdown in October 2013. In March, Young voted against a “clean” bill to extend Department of Homeland Security funding, siding with House Republicans who tried to use that fight to overturn President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

“I’m not a politician”

Adams repeatedly declared, “I am not a politician,” a favorite refrain of Congressional challengers, regardless of party. This isn’t his first campaign for elected office; he was the 2012 Democratic nominee in Iowa Senate district 22, covering several suburbs to the west of Des Moines. Still, Adams has worked mostly in the business world, even before starting his own business in 2005.

In contrast, Young has almost no working experience outside the political realm, having been a Congressional staffer for nearly two decades before running for office himself.

Any comments about the IA-03 campaign are welcome in this thread.

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