Rich Leopold becomes first Iowa Democratic candidate for governor

Vowing to be an outsider who can bring a “different kind of government” to Iowa, Rich Leopold just announced in a Facebook live appearance that he will run for governor as a Democrat in 2018. I enclose below his news release and a statement of “four cornerstones” that will guide his candidacy, along with a transcript of his comments on video. Leopold’s campaign website is here and his Facebook page is here.

A first-time candidate for office, Leopold stands apart from the “lobbyists, special interests, and the insider’s club that for far too long has run our government” and “is free from the generations of deal-making and permanent campaigning that has poisoned the capitol,” his “cornerstones” document declares.

Leopold has government experience at the local, state, and federal level. He served as Iowa Department of Natural Resources director during Chet Culver’s administration from 2007 to 2010, when he took a job with the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He later worked for the Dickinson County Conservation Board and since 2013 has been with the Polk County Conservation Board, where he is now director. (Disclosure: I joined the board of directors of the Iowa Environmental Council when Leopold was that non-profit’s executive director, shortly before he left to lead the DNR.)

Leopold also chairs the new Grow Iowa PAC, which raised about $10,000 last year and donated to eighteen Democratic candidates or committees.

No other Democrats have confirmed plans to run for governor, but outgoing Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is widely expected to announce her candidacy early this year. If either wins the June 2018 primary, Leopold or McGuire would be the first Iowa nominee for governor since Roxanne Conlin in 1982 not to have held elected office.

Many politics-watchers expect at least one member of the Iowa House or Senate to seek the nomination as well, perhaps State Senator Liz Mathis or State Representative Todd Prichard.

UPDATE: State Senator Chaz Allen is also rumored to be considering the gubernatorial race. He or Prichard would have to give up their seats in the legislature in order to run for governor. Mathis was just re-elected to a four-year term, so could run for governor without leaving the Iowa Senate.

Excerpts from Rich Leopold’s Facebook live appearance:

Thank you for joining us today in Huxley, Iowa. […] I’m joined by my family here today. My name is Rich Leopold, and I’m here to announce my candidacy for governor of Iowa. Get ready: this is going to be a campaign like no other you’ve seen.

I’m a professional. I’m a scientist by trade. I’m not a legislator, I’m not a politician, I’m actually a doer. I get things done by bringing people together. I’ve been doing this my whole career.

I’m not into pointing fingers and waiting for the next election cycle. I’m into leading different forms of government. So, I’ve been involved in county governments here in Iowa, Dickinson County and Polk County. I’ve worked for different states and I’ve worked at the federal level. I’m literally an outsider.

So, I’m a conservationist, a scientist. I spent about 20 years in the field. During that time I would see decisions politicians were making on a daily basis that were ineffective, they weren’t working, I was frustrated. And so, it was then, maybe about 10 years ago, I decided to actually go into policy. It was with that attitude of service that I actually went into the Department of Natural Resources as the director. I was there from 2007 to 2010. While there, we had a staff of about 1100 people, and I had a balanced budget every year for four years of about 200 million dollars. Now, at DNR, I took very seriously our commitment to be stewards of the land but also stewards of the tax dollars. While I was there, I believe I made that department much more responsive to Iowa and much more efficient and effective.

Personality traits: I’m very candid. I’m very transparent. I’m very fair. I believe these things are desperately needed at the capitol and largely absent. I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I think that Iowans deserve a governor that has some backbone and character. Politicians, they talk a lot, they form a committee, they offer some tired excuses, they wait for the next election cycle, and then nothing changes. I say, let’s change this. Let’s do this. Let’s take care of our own.

We hear a lot about rural Iowa being open for business. Is rural Iowa really open for business when there’s thousands of people that actually have to leave their communities to get a good-paying job? Is rural Iowa open for business when it’s harder and harder to send your kids to college because of low wages? What about attracting a workforce? So, we want all these people to move to Iowa and help us when we have some of the filthiest water in the country.

Now we all want the things that tax dollars pay for, right? We want a good education system, we want a clean environment, we want good roads and bridges, thriving economy, productive ag sector. And I believe that as Iowans, we are willing to pay for it if we get what we pay for, but we want our government to be effective, efficient, and results-driven.

Let’s talk about jobs for a minute. The jobs that I’m going to focus on are good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced. For example, I was involved in the wind industry in Iowa when we were first starting to get wind interest in Iowa. And we knew that the big boys were going to make their money, right, the major investor-owned [utilities], and that’s ok. But we targeted programs and center programs and things like that to make sure that small and medium-sized producers could get into the game, so that farming coops and hospitals and schools and stuff like that could also benefit. At the same time, we worked at the state level to get a two-year program into every community college in Iowa. You could go to school, get a two-year degree, come out making 50K a year plus benefits. Now that’s real jobs right there. We also attracted a lot of industry to Iowa. So we now have seven factories that are making blades, turbines, or towers, and that can’t be outsourced.

Iowa’s a farm state. We’re very proud of that. We have some of the best soil on the planet, we have a great climate, and we have the world’s most dedicated and professional farmers. We’re very proud of that. But there are problems in the rural sector. We’re losing topsoil. Our water has too many nutrients in it. Big agriculture has its place, but small and medium-sized agriculture has its troubles, and we need the diversity of agriculture to be strong. Now these challenges are very complex, and all I hear on a state level is politicians talking sound bites, and very glib and antagonistic talk. The civility is gone.

And you look at my successful history. So while I was at the Iowa DNR and even prior to that, I worked right with commodity groups. I worked with the Corn Growers, the Soybean [Association], Pork Producers, Cattlemen, and I worked with environmental groups and I worked with urban groups, and we got things done. We passed laws and policies that were common sense, that saved money and increased productivity. We need that again. I think we desperately need that. Right now what we’re getting is a lot of animosity and just half-measures. Just picking at the edges but not really getting things done.

I think it’s time that we remember who we are as Iowans. This is our state, and we’re neighbors. So whether you live in the rural countryside, whether you live in a small town like Huxley here, where I raised my family, whether you live in the big city or the suburbs, we all want a different kind of government: one that strives for justice, compassion, and decency. And I really believe it’s time that our voice is heard again.

So, enough talk. Let’s get down to work. It’s with an attitude of gratitude, humility, and the spirit of service that I start this journey with you. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to seeing you out in Iowa.

January 4 press release:


Democrat Becomes First Candidate for 2018 Election

HUXLEY – Rich Leopold kicked off the 2018 race for Iowa Governor today with a clear message – that what Iowa needs is an outsider to rebuild our state’s future. At the kickoff event of a statewide tour, Leopold became the first candidate of either party to get into the 2018 race.

“It is the time for Iowans to remember who we are,” said Leopold in his remarks today. “We are neighbors who want a different kind of government, one that works for justice, compassion, and decency. It’s time that Iowans’ voices are heard once again in the Capitol.”

Leopold, speaking at the Nord Kalsem Community Center in Huxley, the small town where the Leopolds raised their family, made it clear that he believes it is time to go outside the current field of politicians and insiders that isn’t working for Iowa, and to look outside for leadership.

“As a former field conservationist, I came to Des Moines to serve. I believe I made our government both more responsive to Iowans, and also more effective,” said Leopold, formerly the Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “I’m different from the people at the State Capitol. I’ve never ran for office – that makes me literally an outsider.”

Rich Leopold is married to Kathleen, a teacher. They have two grown children and three grandchildren together. An avid outdoorsman, he has worked for over 30 years in the field of conservation. He is a recognized leader in public policy, and believes strongly that Iowans are ready for a change – ready for someone who will work to take care of our own, and rebuild our future.

Rich Leopold for Iowa Governor Four Cornerstones


Iowa has beautiful landscapes, lakes, rivers and streams. We should keep it that way! For two decades, Rich Leopold worked as a conservationist – the great outdoors was his “office.” And when not at work, he’s often found with his family out on the water, hiking in the woods or on the prairie, or exploring Iowa on his motorcycle. When gets up every day, he would prefer to be outside.
Widely recognized as Iowa’s leader on conservation, Rich Leopold was asked to come to the capital city, to lead of one of the most important agencies in state government. From 2007-2010, he directed the Department of Natural Resources. He led more than 1,100 people – and consistently balanced his $200 million budget – as a steward not only of Iowa’s land, air, and water, but of taxpayer dollars.

To Rich, “Let’s Go Outside” means many things: outside the ineffective political system, outside the current angry rhetoric, outside in the literal sense of enjoying our outdoors.

He came to Des Moines to serve. Ten years later, he left our state better than he found it. He made our government more responsive to Iowans, and also more effective. He is different from the people at the State Capitol – he’s never run for office and is truly an outsider. But – the truth is, in order for all of us to enjoy the outside, someone has to go to work on the inside.


Iowa has been governed by the insider elite political class for too long. Maybe they’re doing their best, but results are what matter, not intentions. The solution is very simple. Rich Leopold believes it is time for politics as usual to end! The people of Iowa get to decide our future, not the lobbyists, special interests, and the insider’s club that for far too long has run our government.

Iowans pride ourselves on using common sense, but that isn’t breaking through up at the capitol. Rich Leopold believe it’s time for a clean slate. He is free from the generations of deal-making and permanent campaigning that has poisoned the capitol. In this era of expensive consultants, corporate lobbyists and powerful special interests hurting regular Iowans, common sense alone is not enough. It’s time we all got to work!


Iowans are a deeply caring people who believe in taking care of one another. We are one state, whether we live on a farm, in a small town, or in a suburb of Des Moines. Rich Leopold believes that we are neighbors who deserve a different kind of government – one based in competence and forever working toward justice, compassion, and decency.

Rich Leopold knows we can do better, because he’s seen the best in Iowans. He believes it’s time our voices are heard once again. Our values are faith, family, and love, and include statements such as “We don’t give up” and “We can fix it.” Iowa has provided Rich and his wife, Kathleen, a strong, stable place to raise their children, to work, to play, and to worship. For Rich, there is nothing nobler than caring for the land that cares for you – this is his heart’s calling.


Elected politicians and unelected influence-peddlers have made things very difficult for Iowans. Just look around – is Iowa truly ‘open for business’ when thousands of Iowans are being forced to leave the state to find work? Is there a future for our economy when business owners struggle to find decent, skilled employees? Can we afford to send our kids to college,
when our wages are among the lowest in the country?

We have the power to change things – because in Iowa, we don’t settle. We don’t settle for filthy water in our streams, rivers, and lakes. We don’t settle for our farms and farm communities that seem to be under constant threat. We don’t settle for sitting idly by while rural counties bleed out their population and lose their small-town schools and medical facilities. We don’t settle for roads and bridges that are falling apart.

Iowa needs a governor who can bring everyone to the table – urban and rural, business and government, Democrat and Republican (and people with a Libertarian streak, who will challenge ineffective politicians). We need to get government out of business affairs while ensuring that businesses benefit Iowa citizens. Rich is bringing these topics forward not to frighten, but to acknowledge the issues facing our state so we can finally address and solve them.

Iowa is changing very rapidly, and Iowans sense it slipping away. We are being told, in all corners of the state, the only way to get to tomorrow is to run from our past – of neighbor helping neighbor – and to look after only ourselves. We’re at a crossroads. A way of life is at stake. Rich Leopold believes NOW is the time for us to remember who we are as Iowans! He knows it is going to take all of us, pulling in the same direction, to give Iowa back to Iowans and steer the state we love back to recovery. Let’s do this!

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