Stacey Walker reluctantly rules out IA-Sen race

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker has ruled out running for U.S. Senate in 2020, he announced in a post published on his website on August 8. He made the “quite difficult decision” mainly because the Democratic primary “was already heavily skewed in favor of one candidate.”

I’ve read a lot of statements by politicians bowing out of a campaign. Few have spoken as frankly about their reasons as Walker.

He agonized over the choice, because “I know in my heart that my candidacy would have provided the starkest contrast to Senator Joni Ernst” and “would’ve helped bring a broader, more diverse coalition of voters into the political process.”

In addition, he hoped a Senate bid would inspire “a much-needed conversation about the future of the Democratic Party.” Will our standard-bearers advocate bold changes, or fall back on “pragmatic,” “lackluster,” and “piecemeal” approaches to solving the biggest challenges facing Americans?

We cannot be afraid to be bold. Yes we have found ourselves in trying times, but we will never meet the significance of this moment by watering down our beliefs to appeal to a demographic of people who still need to be convinced that Donald Trump is a racist. Our job as politicians is to believe in something and convince the masses of its merits. We study the issues, take a position, and endeavor to persuade. When your beliefs are too new or not universally popular, it takes courage to stand on your conviction. More often than not, courage is rewarded in politics.

Ultimately, Walker admitted, he was not fearless enough to take on one challenge he would have faced as a Senate candidate.

Courage is something I talk a lot about, and I tend to do it when I’m criticizing other politicians for not having enough of it. A tough pill for me to swallow was realizing that a big part of my decision not to run, was due to my own lack of courage. Running would have meant entering a primary contest that was already heavily skewed in favor of one candidate. And while I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge, I’ve learned in this business that the best fights and the most worthy, are the ones where the scales are even and candidates with their own ideas can make their case to the voters.

I know my abilities, I know my heart, and I know the issues that are affecting the lives of everyday Iowans. That should’ve been enough for me to make the leap to run. But I also know this party, and my place in it. I don’t have the privilege of challenging institutional forces on this scale without incurring significant damage to my political career, and at the end of the day, this fear won out over my courage and I’m not proud about that.

Days after announcing her candidacy in early June, Theresa Greenfield gained the official backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, a deep-pocketed force in Democratic primaries. The large public employee union AFSCME Council 61 endorsed Greenfield in late July.

Walker did not name Greenfield in his post and emphasized that he is “not disparaging the party’s chosen candidate.” At the same time, he expressed a “sincere hope” that his message will spark “a conversation about how we as a party do primaries.”

In theory, these races would be free from out of state meddling altogether, but that will never happen. I don’t quite know what the full answer is on this one, but I’ve seen this happen before with rather spotty results, and it just seems to me that it ought to be different. A party with confidence in its voters would seek to change this practice.

I would also prefer for party institutions and Democratic-aligned PACs to stay out of competitive primaries. The DSCC discouraged others who were considering this race, including J.D. Scholten, who ultimately decided to run for the U.S. House in 2020 instead.

While I understand the thought process driving insiders who believe one candidate is best-positioned for the general election, I prefer to see candidates duke it out in a primary on relatively level ground.

Bleeding Heartland will probably not endorse in the IA-Sen primary, which now includes Kimberly Graham and Eddie Mauro as well as Greenfield. Retired Admiral Michael Franken appears likely to join the field, having participated in a multi-candidate forum in Sioux City last week. May the strongest Democrat win.

Walker wrote that he plans to “study all of the candidates and their platforms, and support the most progressive candidate in the race.”

UPDATE: After a Facebook commenter suggested, “Things may have been different had Walker or Scholten gotten in early,” Graham replied,

I was the first announced candidate in this race. I called the DSCC, Emily’s List and Senator [Chuck] Schumer’s office for weeks, and emailed them all. Crickets. Never received even an email saying “we’ve already decided to endorse someone else, but thank you for contacting us.”

Emily’s List never communicated with me, so they couldn’t have vetted me. That was stunning and painful emotionally, because I’ve had to terminate two wanted and planned pregnancies and I know exactly what that’s like — and a pro-choice organization endorsement would be one where I’d hope they’d at least talk with me, even just out of courtesy.

The platforms and positions of candidates should matter, too. I haven’t seen anyone talk about this as well as Stacey Walker did in his statement. […]

We all talk about getting Big Money out of politics, then we prioritize Big Money fund-raising above a lot of other things, then we wonder how we end up where we are.

Graham also commented, “I know Theresa, respect her and know her to be a good person of integrity. This discussion isn’t about her. It’s about how we do primaries, as Stacey so eloquently said.”

Appendix: Full text of the statement Stacey Walker posted on his website on August 8:

It’s Above Me Now

It is with sadness that I am announcing my decision not to seek the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in the 2020 election. Instead, I will continue to focus on the important work of improving the lives of residents here in Linn County.

Arriving at this decision was quite difficult, as I know in my heart that my candidacy would have provided the starkest contrast to Senator Joni Ernst, who has unabashedly aligned herself with a president and a party whose policies are harming Iowans, our democracy, and the future of our world.

I believe that my candidacy would’ve helped bring a broader, more diverse coalition of voters into the political process. As our democracy faces one of the greatest threats it has ever seen, the revitalization of our civic life is a formidable defense. We further strengthen the fabric of our civic life when we speak to people of all backgrounds and are intentional about elevating diverse, marginalized voices. I have done this for my entire political career.

Finally, I believe that my candidacy in the primary would’ve inspired a much-needed conversation about the future of the Democratic Party. There is no question that our party is engaged in a process of renewal; working to find its footing in a new reality that not only demands, but rewards more ardent expressions of liberalism. We will decide in this election cycle who we will be and who we will be for; a decision point that will impact generations to come.

We must ask ourselves, will we be bold in our pronouncements on climate change, or will we declare the Green New Deal too ambitious and resign ourselves to a more pragmatic approach while carbon gasses continue to heat our planet beyond saving?

Will we get serious about education in this country and make public education free for all those who endeavor to learn, or will we give in to lackluster approaches that barely scratch the surface of addressing the student loan debt crisis?

Will we join the rest of the developed world and declare healthcare a human right for all Americans by implementing a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program, or will be comfortable with a piecemeal approach, opting for plans that Republicans tell us are politically feasible while Americans die from treatable diseases?

We cannot be afraid to be bold. Yes we have found ourselves in trying times, but we will never meet the significance of this moment by watering down our beliefs to appeal to a demographic of people who still need to be convinced that Donald Trump is a racist. Our job as politicians is to believe in something and convince the masses of its merits. We study the issues, take a position, and endeavor to persuade. When your beliefs are too new or not universally popular, it takes courage to stand on your conviction. More often than not, courage is rewarded in politics.

Courage is something I talk a lot about, and I tend to do it when I’m criticizing other politicians for not having enough of it. A tough pill for me to swallow was realizing that a big part of my decision not to run, was due to my own lack of courage. Running would have meant entering a primary contest that was already heavily skewed in favor of one candidate. And while I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge, I’ve learned in this business that the best fights and the most worthy, are the ones where the scales are even and candidates with their own ideas can make their case to the voters.

I know my abilities, I know my heart, and I know the issues that are affecting the lives of everyday Iowans. That should’ve been enough for me to make the leap to run. But I also know this party, and my place in it. I don’t have the privilege of challenging institutional forces on this scale without incurring significant damage to my political career, and at the end of the day, this fear won out over my courage and I’m not proud about that.

Throughout the process of mulling this race, I’ve asked myself this question over and over again: if the roles were reversed, and I was the recipient of such lavish early support by the DSCC and other organizations, would I have been so indignant? And the answer is of course not. As a candidate, it is your job to do everything you can to win, and that means accepting early endorsements, loans of staff, behind-the-scenes help and all the rest. And this is precisely the problem with primaries that are orchestrated by Washington elites, instead of being left up to the voters.

I was asked by a friend and party leader if I would endorse the likely nominee – because that would be good for my political career – and I let him know that I would study all of the candidates and their platforms, and support the most progressive candidate in the race, and I hope that’s what other voters would do too.

I’m not disparaging the party’s chosen candidate, and I am not looking for sympathy. I’ve got a great job and I know I’m a fierce advocate for everyday Iowans. That will never change. I also know that the tide is turning and progressive candidates are gaining traction around the state, moving the Overton Window to the left, which in turn makes it a little easier for politicians like myself. My sincere hope with this message is that it inspires a conversation about how we as a party do primaries. In theory, these races would be free from out of state meddling altogether, but that will never happen. I don’t quite know what the full answer is on this one, but I’ve seen this happen before with rather spotty results, and it just seems to me that it ought to be different. A party with confidence in its voters would seek to change this practice.

My trust lies with the voters and grassroots activists who make this party such a wonderful organization. My thanks to everyone who was encouraging to me along this journey. My sincere thanks and blessings to all of the candidates who found the courage to run for office this cycle. The rest is above me now.

Top photo provided by Stacey Walker and published with permission.

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