First Annual Polk County Steak Fry

Many thanks to Stefanie Running for covering this event and taking wonderful pictures. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The Day

Zeus must lean left because the weather was on the side of the Polk County Democrats (Zeus is also the god of weather in addition to his head god position in Greek Mythology). An almost imperceptible breeze, with mild temps and few clouds made for a pleasant day sitting in the sun and listening to hopefuls for governor or Congress rally the crowd with their vision for the future.

An hour prior to the noon start time, both Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell scheduled satellite rallies on opposite sides of the main event field. As they energized and their supporters, and be-shirted them in blue and green respectively, the crowd started to trickle into the main event. Just prior to noon, Boulton’s crowd made noise with their thunder clappers and cheering supporters as they made their way the quarter mile to the registration tables.

Shortly after, with the help of the amazing Isiserettes and a drone overhead, Hubbell’s group made an even more dramatic and exciting entrance. The Isiserettes are truly a treasure of Des Moines. They make us look good. Check them out here.

The Food

The diners didn’t have to eat steak, they had chicken or vegetarian options, but the steak was not bad, especially with the steak sauce provided by Iowans for DC Statehood. They offered all steak fry goers a bottle. One dedicated volunteer (I’m not going to name her here, as it seems like a violation of privacy), started choking and a very loud call came out around the tents and field for a doctor as an ambulance was called. Dr. Andy McGuire, a gubernatorial candidate as well as a doctor, came to the rescue quickly, and potentially saved the woman’s life. I was very relieved to hear the volunteer has been reported as doing quite well.

The candidates all had an opportunity for the “we’re all pitching in by grilling for the crowd” photo op, which was mostly inundated with photographers shooting and ribbing the candidates, as well as reporters peppering the steak masters with a few questions.

With 25 different scheduled speakers and introducers, the line-up threatened to go long after starting just a few minutes late, but managed to end in under three hours. Polk County Democratic Party Chair Sean Bagniewski kept the speakers running efficiently, though the stress seemed to make him a little surly with this reporter. In any case, the timing was managed well.

The Open


After colors presentation and the Pledge of Allegiance, Becky Strope sang the National Anthem in an operatic aria style, to the bended knee of only a small handful of attendees. Most of the crowd chose to stand, hand on heart. Invocation was given by State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad.

The Candidates


State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald introduced congressional candidates, kicking off the first candidate speeches for the day. The most anxiously anticipated speech (by most of the Polk County board at least), was that of Heather Ryan, who has previously publicly used language deemed inappropriate by the PC Board as well as the event board. The Navy veteran spoke to those concerns, saying that she’s earned the right to speak like a sailor because she was a sailor. She said she would use her Drake graduate words for this event, because she earned that as well. Her speech raised no eyebrows, ruffled no feathers, caused no pearls to be clutched.

Heather and gubernatorial candidate Ross Wilburn both knelt for the National Anthem. Each of the congressional candidates had only three minutes to speak, so those speeches were a difficult way to make a permanent impression on potential voters.

The gubernatorial candidates were clearly the biggest crowd draw. There were a sea of blue Boulton shirts and a corresponding sea of green Hubbell shirts. The crowds were on their feet frequently, cheering their favorite candidate. At five minutes each, no one veered too far off boilerplate democratic speeches. No single candidate appeared to be out of their depth on the stage.

Disappointingly, over half the crowd left prior to or during the first headliner speech. Most of the blues and greens dissipated. The day was getting long, especially for families with small kids, but the deflation of the crowd was evident in the expanding green grass of the field, and the significant reduction of audible engagement of the crowd.

The Headliners


Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos opened with a joke reminiscent of former VP candidate Sarah whatshername (whose google alert I do not want being triggered by this article), saying she could see Iowa from her porch. She was engaging and enthusiastic. She pushed back on the “Resist” slogan, calling on the crowd to focus on results.

Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton recalled a recent visit to his church, specifically the singing of “On Eagle’s Wings,” which is a song I still can not get out of my head even though I’ve attended only funerals, weddings, and baptisms since graduating from high school in 89. He must have known it was Yom Kippur and our Jewish friends were not in attendance. Not sure how the athiests and Muslims felt about it, but after hearing the song at every Catholic funeral I have ever attended (and I was in the funeral choir during elementary and middle school), it felt like more of a dirge than an uplifting moment as he prompted the crowd to recite the words with him. The remainder of his speech asked the crowd to understand the work that would need to take place, the change that would be required, the party would need to reach out to those voters in demographics that were lost in 2016.

Finally, Congressman Tim Ryan suggests the party look at getting skilled workers into $40/hr jobs instead of focusing on a $15/hr minimum wage. He believes the Democrats lost those voters to Trump, who should never have won.

The Grateful Me

Thank you to all the volunteers of the well-run event.

Thank you to Laurie again for giving me the opportunity to write for her highly regarded news blog. She continually impresses me with her in-depth reporting and has had several major scoops over the years that were subsequently picked up and re-reported by the larger news orgs. I loved hearing the other reporters talk about how frequently they read her work, and appreciated all she’s done in the state.

As I unpacked my gear early in the day, I vocalized my feelings of intimidation and insecurity as other photographers unpacked their multiple bodies and lenses that seemed longer than my forearm. “I have those same lenses, you’re fine” reassured Charlie Neibergall of the Associated Press. In fact, everyone was very welcoming. And I appreciated John Pemble’s support as well. I’ve known the Iowa Public Radio reporter for several years, and he introduced me to several other folks in the press area. This was my first time as a credentialed photographer, and I was both nervous and grateful for the opportunity. Thank you to everyone who made the day a thousand times easier for me.

More Photos?
Laurie’s record for numbers of photos posted with an article is currently 40ish. I didn’t think I should go to 83 (from the 500 I started with), so if you’ve scrolled this far, you can see a few more (fewer than 40 at least).

If you would like to see the rest of my album from the steak fry, I’ve posted it here on Flickr.

Here are a few of my favorites, including many local candidates and elected officials.

Electeds & Candidates














Polk County Dems/Volunteers
(got a stealth pic after the refusal)



Good Kiddos & Good Puppers



















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