Political Soapbox: Who’s speaking at the Iowa State Fair

Candidates running in this year’s midterm elections will have the chance to speak directly with Iowans at the Iowa State Fair over the next 11 days.

The Des Moines Register Political Soapbox is a state fair mainstay. It’s known best as a stop for presidential candidates in the leadup to the Iowa caucuses, though none are on the schedule this year. Instead, fairgoers have the chance to hear from candidates running for Iowa’s statewide and national offices.

Two of the contenders for this year’s most competitive races will not speak at the soapbox. Neither Republican incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds or U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley have a soapbox speech planned during their state fair visits. While there are a few Republican speakers scheduled, including U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s challenger state Sen. Zach Nunn, the majority of candidates speaking are Democrats.

Candidates are given 20 minutes on the soapbox stage to make their case. Speakers can give their campaign pitch and answer questions directly from fairgoers during their time on the stage.

Watch this spot for updates on what speakers said during their soapbox appearances:

Deirde DeJear focuses on education and mental health

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear spoke to Iowans at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa needs to use its budget surplus to address shortages in mental health and public education, Democratic candidate for governor Deidre DeJear said Saturday.

DeJear spoke to a group of more than 50 people gathered at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.  Read about her remarks here.

Democrat Joel Miller calls Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate ‘negligent’ on gun rights amendment process

Joel Miller, Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State, spoke at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic secretary of state candidate Joel Miller said regardless of their political position, Iowans should vote out Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate for failing to do his job.

He spoke Saturday at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox about Pate’s failure to get a gun rights state constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. The Secretary of State’s Office was required to publish notification in state newspapers before the proposed amendment could advance to a vote.

Pate’s office did not complete that step, and the amendment was delayed, now appearing on this year’s ballot. The Legislature has since changed the notification requirement. But Miller said that mistake showed why someone else needs to take the office.

“If you’re for gun rights, you should be upset, you should want to fire him,” Miller said. “If you’re against gun rights, you should still be upset because he was negligent.”

He also criticized Pate for focusing time on an anti-human trafficking campaign, which he said is not under the purview of the secretary of state. Miller also said Pate failed to step up in opposition to Iowa’s 2021 election law changes, which he said were some of the “most restrictive in the nation.”

Miller, who currently serves as Linn County auditor, said if he is elected, he “make voting easy again.” His campaign calls for automatic voter registration at age 17 and permanent absentee ballot request forms. The candidate was one of three Iowa county auditors sued by former President Donald Trump for sending out absentee ballot request forms that were pre-filled some some voter information.

As Iowa secretary of state, Miller said he would advocate for changing laws to help people access absentee voting.

If half the people don’t vote who are planning to vote by mail, that’s a crisis for our democracy,” Miller said.

Pate is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox.

Bryan Jack Holder calls for Reynolds, Feenstra to make Soapbox speeches

Liberty Caucus candidate Bryan Jack Holder speaks Aug. 13, 2022, at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Bryan Jack Holder called Saturday for Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra to speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox.

Holder is a Liberty Caucus candidate running against Feenstra for the 4th Congressional District. He said the incumbent candidates would benefit from hearing from fairgoers directly. Iowa’s state and federal leaders need to do more to interact directly with their constituents, he said.

Most of Iowa’s Republican candidates are skipping the Soapbox this year. Republican 3rd District candidate Zach Nunn and Iowa attorney general candidate Brenna Bird spoke Saturday.

“We need to take every opportunity that we’re given to communicate with our fellow citizens,” Holder said. “It’s only through talking about these very highly controversial and divisive issues that we can reach common ground.”

Holder, who has run for office five times, said this run will be his final bid for federal office. In his speech, he criticized recent changes to Iowa law that require a higher threshold for third party candidates to make it on the ballot. He said it was difficult for the average person to get involved in politics, but encouraged others to launch campaigns to take a more active role.

“If more of us can run, it will give other people hope to get involved,” Holder said.

Libertarian Rick Stewart calls for return of one-room schoolhouses, end to drug war

Rick Stewart speaks at the Des Moines Register political soapbox Saturday, Aug. 13. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Rick Stewart, Libertarian Party candidate for Iowa governor, shared some predictions for the future during his time at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox: Only self-driving cars will be allowed on public roads, no one will remember COVID-19, and America will elect 10 Libertarian presidents in a row.

Stewart also predicted Iowa would elect its first Libertarian governor this November. He’s competing against incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, and Democrat Deidre DeJear in the general election. In the most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, just 5% of likely voters said they support Stewart, compared to 48% who support Reynolds and 31% behind DeJear.

The candidate discussed some of his proposals for Iowa government. He rallied against eminent domain, specifically the expropriation of private property to pipeline companies, and called for the legalization of marijuana and psychedelics. He also said while he believes life starts at conception, he does not think the government should be involved in legislating abortion.

Stewart also brought up the return of one-room schoolhouses. He advocated for an education system where families work with one teacher over the course of several years.

“The one-room schoolhouse was educating Iowa kids better than we do, than we educate them today,” he said. “So if we were better when it was a one-room schoolhouse, it doesn’t take a lot of brains. Let’s go back to something that used to work better.”

While the Libertarian Party has grown enough to make it on the ballot in some races, candidates with the third party have yet to win many major elections. But Stewart told listeners at the fair that once Libertarians make it into office, they’re going to stay and take political power.

“It’s a snowball that has to get rolling. … But it’s going to grow,” Stewart said. “And the reason it’s going to grow is because libertarianism is fundamentally the only political philosophy that has a future for this country.”

Republican Zach Nunn says Inflation Reduction Act won’t help Iowans

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn speaks at the Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13, 2022, flanked by his wife and four of his children. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn said Saturday the Inflation Reduction Act passed Friday will hurt Iowans and small businesses.

Nunn, a state senator running against U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd District, spoke at the Register’s Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair.

He introduced his wife and four of his six children to a group of more than 60 gathered for his Soapbox speech. His said his experience raising kids in Iowa has shown him that Democrat-backed policies like the Inflation Reduction Act do not help families like his.

“It’s not a good time to be an Iowan and a small business owner,” Nunn said.

The $740 billion spending bill includes measures like hiring more IRS agents, lowering pharmaceutical costs and creating incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles. Nunn said these investments increase government spending, but do not help reduce everyday costs for Iowans.

All of the Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation voted against the measure, while Axne voted for it. The incumbent Democrat praised the bill when it passed, saying it will help Iowans navigate the rising costs of living.

“I voted today to level the playing field for Iowans by lowering the costs for things Iowans need and use every day like prescription drugs and electricity while ensuring billionaire corporations are paying their fair share in taxes,” Axne said in a statement Friday.

While Democrats argued the bill will increase costs only on the wealthy, Nunn said the burden would fall on average-income Americans. He shared a story of meeting with a small business owner Friday, who told Nunn he had to spend $50,000 in the process of being audited by the IRS.

Nunn said he would take his Iowa Statehouse experience to Washington, D.C., to offer an alternative to legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act. Iowa’s economy recovered quickly following the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, in large part due to state tax cuts. The national economy could recover with that same policy agenda, he said.

The tax cuts approved by the Iowa Legislature this year do not take effect until 2023.

“What we need to do is take what has worked so well here in Iowa, and give it back,” Nunn said. “Give back your tax money and watch what happens with the economy, just like here in Iowa.”

Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Bird targets Biden

Republican Brenna Bird, candidate for Iowa attorney general, addresses a group at the Iowa State Fair during her Political Soapbox speech Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The best way for Iowans to stop overreach by President Joe Biden’s administration is to elect a conservative attorney general, Republican Brenna Bird told fairgoers Saturday.

Bird faces Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in this year’s election. Miller has served as the state attorney general since 1978, and Bird told listeners at the Des Moines Register political soapbox it’s time for a change.

There’s another reason for Iowa to elect a Republican attorney general this year, she said. Regardless of midterm results come November, Biden will remain the president for two more years, she said. Even if Republicans win big, Biden can still implement policy through executive order, she said. State attorneys general have the best chance of challenging Biden in court, she said.

Bird criticized Miller for bringing lawsuits during President Donald Trump’s administration, but not against Biden.

“It looks like our attorney general is Biden’s attorney general,” Bird said. “When I’m attorney general, I’m going to be Iowa’s attorney general.”

She also criticized Miller for not defending some Iowa laws, supported by Gov. Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Miller has refused to defend state laws like the so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion law in court.

“Don’t you want somebody who’s pulling in the right direction for a chance, who’s not lazy, who’s not liberal?” Bird asked Saturday. “Somebody who will support the policies, for example, of Governor Reynolds?”

Norwood emphasizes water quality, conservation in state fair soapbox pitch

Iowa needs to more urgently address contaminated waterways, soil erosion and rural population decline to ensure the long-term sustainability of its agriculture, the Democratic challenger for state Secretary of Agriculture told state fairgoers on Thursday.

John Norwood speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox on Thursday. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

John Norwood, 58, of West Des Moines, addressed a handful of people at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox — along with dozens of people who walked past — on the first day of the Iowa State Fair.

Norwood is challenging incumbent Mike Naig, a Republican, who is not participating in the soapbox.

“What I’m bringing to the position is the idea of representing all Iowans,” Norwood said. “We have to understand and represent our farming producers, but we also need to focus on the consumer side as well.”

That means pursuing a more-aggressive and coordinated strategy to keep farm fertilizer from going into the state’s waterways. State officials have long opted for a hands-off approach that relies on individual farmers to implement conservation practices, often with the support of state programs.

Naig contends the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is working and touts the adoption of cover crops, which he said have been planted on more than 3 million acres of cropland. Cover crops are effective at reducing soil erosion and nitrate leaching, but those acres only represent about 13% of Iowa’s total cropland.

Norwood said research suggests that the amount of nitrate flowing into the Mississippi River and contributing to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone has increased since the state strategy was adopted in 2013.

“I would submit that’s good evidence that the solutions right now are not working,” Norwood said Thursday.

He cautioned that not enough is being done to control soil erosion that is outpacing new topsoil production. Norwood has said there are up to 2 million acres of land that are being farmed and are highly erodible and should be taken out of production.

Farmers also need to diversify their crops to include oats, barley and rye, he said. All of the ideas are meant to create a “highly productive but balanced system,” he said.

“I have a sense of urgency,” Norwood said. “I have focus that I’m going to bring to this position.”

Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald calls for state retirement program to aid older Iowans

Michael Fitzgerald is the longest-serving state treasurer in the country. (Photo from the Iowa Treasurer’s website)

Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald was first up at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Thursday, calling for Iowans to re-elect him to an 11th term.

The Democratic incumbent told Iowa State Fair attendees he wants to do more for aging Iowans as he seeks another term in the office he’s held since 1983.

He plans to continue to push the state toward setting aside funds to help older Iowans. He called for Iowa to establish a state retirement program for people without retirement plans through their employer, and said he wants to protect state pension funds.

“With half the people in Iowa approaching retirement age with no pension or retirement benefits, I think it’s a serious problem,” Fitzgerald said.

The treasurer faces state Sen. Roby Smith, a Republican, in the general election. While he’s won many re-election many times before, there’s more money involved in this year’s treasurer race than in previous years. Smith surpassed Fitzgerald in fundraising efforts with $286,400 in the bank according to July campaign finance reports. Fitzgerald reported $74,000 cash on hand.

Smith is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox. All candidates for Iowa’s statewide and federal races were invited to give a speech.

If re-elected, Fitzgerald said his goals include returning federally held matured savings bonds to Iowa, in addition to continuing work on the programs built during his tenure as the longest-serving treasurer of state in the nation. He created the 529 College Saving Programs, which invests and distributes money to families for post-secondary education free of state and federal taxes.

Fitzgerald also encouraged fairgoers to visit the Treasurer of State’s booth in the Varied Industries Building, where they have the chance to claim lost money. The office hosts the “Great Iowa Treasure Hunt” each year at the fair. Visitors can look up their own names as well as family and friends to see if they have unclaimed money waiting.

Soapbox schedule

There are 16 candidates scheduled to speak at the political soapbox this year, according to The Des Moines Register:

Thursday, Aug. 11:

  • Michael Fitzgerald, Democratic incumbent candidate for treasurer of state at 1:30 p.m.
  • John Norwood, Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture at 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 13:

  • Brenna Bird, Republican candidate for Iowa attorney general at 11:15 a.m.
  • Zach Nunn, Republican candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District at 12 p.m.
  • Rick Stewart, Libertarian candidate for Iowa governor at 2:15 p.m.
  • Bryan Jack Holder, Liberty Caucus candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District at 3 p.m.
  • Deidre DeJear, Democratic candidate for Iowa governor at 3:45 p.m.
  • Joel Miller, Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of state at 4:30 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 15:

  • Ryan Melton, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District at 1:30 p.m.
  • Michael Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate at 3 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 16:

  • Rob Sand, Democratic incumbent candidate for auditor of state at 12 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 17:

  • Cindy Axne, Democratic incumbent candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District at 10:30 a.m.
  • Christina Bohannan, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District at 2:15 p.m.
  • Tom Miller, Democratic incumbent candidate for Iowa attorney general at 3 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 20:

  • Todd Halbur, Republican candidate for auditor of state at 12 p.m.
  • Liz Mathis, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District at 4:30 p.m.

Why are soapbox speeches important?

Politics hold a special place at the Iowa State Fair. While politicians visit other fairs across the country as they run for state and federal office, Iowa’s place holding the first-in-the-nation caucuses during presidential election cycles elevates the event as an important campaign visit.

Speaking at the soapbox is one of many traditional stops around the state fair, alongside flipping pork chops at the Iowa Pork Producers tent and visiting the butter cow in the agriculture building. In 2019, 23 presidential candidates spoke at the Soapbox in the lead-up to the 2020 election. In 2015, 19 candidates spoke.

Armed with a microphone and surrounded by bales of straw, candidates have a chance to talk to a different crowd than the people who show up for official campaign events. Candidates can reach new supporters, but critics and hecklers can also reach the candidates.

The soapbox was where then-presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney infamously said “corporations are people, my friend,” when he got into a shouting match with a critic in 2011. It’s also where protesters tried to drown out former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to stop him from making his presidential pitch.

But it’s also where candidates can shine. Former President Donald Trump stole the show in 2015 after he arrived to the Iowa State Fair by helicopter, flying above the state fairgrounds in low-riding circles when he offered families rides on the private aircraft. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s soapbox stop that year revealed his popularity, as over a thousand gathered to listen to him speak.

Candidates for Iowa’s state and federal offices have the chance to appeal to those same potential voters.

Though they won’t be on stage, some politicians flirting with a 2024 run are visiting the fair. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan stopped by the fair Thursday. Former Vice President Mike Pence is planning a fairground visit with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Stay up to date with caucus visits here.



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