The 4th District Interviews: Becky Greenwald

May 20th, 2008 · 1 Comment


Fourth district congressional candidate Becky Greenwald speaks to voters at a house party in Ames on April 30. (photo: Gavin Aronsen/The Progressive)

Update: On June 3, Greenwald won the 4th district Democratic primary with 51 percent of the vote. In November, she will compete for Tom Latham’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. William J. Meyers, who came in third in the Democratic primary with 13 percent, announced to the Iowa Independent that he will run against them both in the general election as an Independent.

Becky Greenwald is a farmer and Democratic Party activist. For the past 22 years, she has been involved in Iowa agriculture, first with the Garst Seed Company and then Pioneer Hi-Bred, where she has worked in a variety of sales and marketing roles that have taken her around the world. She was elected president of the sustainable agriculture-focused Iowa Forage and Grassland Council in 1994 and the American Forage and Grassland Council in 2000. In 2006 she was elected to serve on the Iowa Democratic Party State Central Committee representing the 4th Congressional District. Currently, she chairs the Dallas County Democrats and lives in Perry.

Greenwald, alongside Kurt Meyer, William J. Meyers, and Kevin Miskell, will seek the Democratic nomination for Congress at the June 3 primary election. The winner will vie to unseat Republican Representative Tom Latham in the general election this fall.

On April 30, Greenwald spoke with the Ames Progressive about her campaign and the upcoming contest with Latham.

On her agricultural background…

I’ve been a leader in agriculture for the last 22 years. The last 12 have been at Pioneer Hi-bred. So I’ve been working with growers, sales organizations, management leaders in both of those companies all of that time. And a lot of the job is looking at what’s going on, with what we need to do to improve things, and then finding a solution and moving forward.

I’ve worked throughout the U.S. [and] Canada. I’ve got global experience working with my colleagues in Europe, Australia, and South America, and all of Canada, which has given me a nice broad perspective, too, not only on the issues we have here in the U.S. but also other countries.

On her history of political activism in the Democratic Party…

I’ve been real active since ’72 when I was at Iowa State, and that was when I worked with Tom and Ruth Harkin. Ruth ran for county attorney and won, and Tom was running for Congress and didn’t win, but then came back two years later and won that election [for Senate] and has been winning and working for us ever since.

I’ve had a great opportunity growing up. The minister of our church in Sioux Center was friends with Harold Hughes when he was at the time governor of the state. One of those moments I remember is when Harold came to one of our church services, and that was really special, and then after there were always at least five families that would get together for a pot luck Sunday dinner afterwards, and so he was there.

And I guess from an early age I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with elected officials, and it was really nice to see how people would be acting out their beliefs and their convictions in the public arena.

So I guess Harold Hughes would be the first public official politician of note that I met.

Now, when I was still in the growing up years in Sioux Center I’ve just always been involved since that time, you know, just taken an active part helping in whatever way I can to elect Democrats to office.

Last Fourth of July I walked as Tom Harkin’s surrogate in the Perry Fourth of July parade. I walked with Donovan Olson, whose … district doesn’t actually cover my particular geography but it does cover the town of Perry, and Boone.

I’ve done fundraisers at my home for various candidates including John Norris when he ran for 4th district [in 2002]. I’ve put up signs for candidates up and down the slate. I was a county co-chair for Kerry’s presidential campaign. My daughter did her Iowa State journalism internship working on the coordinated campaign back in ’02.

We keep it going in the family; we keep everyone involved. You know, put up signs, sell those tickets, put the chairs away, clean up.

And then I’ve been the with the Dallas County Democrats. I have been the treasurer and am still currently the county chair, and was elected to the State Central Committee at the district convention. So I’ve served in both the 4th district as the secretary of the 4th district and also on the State Central Committee.

It’s given me a nice opportunity to meet other folks active in the party, and it’s been a wonderful experience.

On her decision to run for Congress…

Actually, a couple people had approached me about running for this position before [2006 Democratic candidate] Selden [Spencer] came forward, and I was involved in so much travel and my son was still a high school student and it just wasn’t feasible.

But I did talk to both [former Iowa Democratic Party chair] Sheila McGuire and John Norris about the demands of running for a campaign, and I got a really good ground in it and I did my due diligence, but at that time it just wasn’t possible.

This time around, if Selden were running I would not be doing this. I supported him and think he’s just a wonderful person.

And then when circumstances became clear this year that I could make it work and could dedicate many working hours to campaigning, I decided this was the time to do it. I was able to make arrangements with my job and not be traveling and not devoting my full attention…. I was able to work things out with my employer that I am now a candidate for office and will be campaigning completely.

The thing is, I was very interested two years ago but I could not do it, not with the child still in high school his senior year. It wouldn’t be fair to my son with all the time it takes to devote to a campaign, and I was also busy with my work and travel. So now I’ve been able to change that so that I’m not and can be campaigning.

I actually didn’t realize it was a DCCC-targeted race until I jumped in. I did believe that this would be a good year for Democrats, if there was ever a year, and if we actually chose the best candidate to defeat Tom Latham. And I just believe that my extensive agriculture background is a real plus, especially looking at the make-up of our 28 counties in our district. It’s important, and there are enough issues around agriculture and enough change that I’ve been a participant in in the last 22 years that you don’t just grasp that overnight.

I’m very optimistic that we’ll send a fourth Democrat to Washington to work for and support a Democratic president.

On Iowa’s natural resources…

I currently believe our best resources are the people of the 4th district, but we also have opportunities with our wonderful natural resources and our soils and our fields and our wind, and really making sure that we thoughtfully explore and take advantage of any opportunity to create jobs, and good-paying jobs, that can help us lessen our dependence on foreign oil, help clean the environment, and also put Iowans to work at good-paying jobs that cannot not outsourced to Bangalore or India and could be unionized.

On health care…

I very strongly believe that every American deserves access to quality health care, and it’s got to be affordable. You know how health care’s rising, and George Bush [was] supported by Tom Latham all the way [since] 2001 when [Bush] came into office.

That family premium for a year was around $6,200, and now, just seven years later, it’s nearly double that amount, and there aren’t very many families that can sustain that kind of an increase….

At the same time, median incomes have leveled off and have not increased. The price of fuel is just skyrocketing. Seven years ago you could fill up a tank for $25 and today it’s over $60. Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money seven years ago and $60, it’s pretty hard for people to make up that difference. So people are feeling it every time you go to the gas station.

I very much want to look at the preventative and the early diagnosis and treatment. When I was a division director for the March of Dimes Foundation about 25 years ago, I first realized and found that of industrial nations we have the worst rate of infant mortality – keeping babies alive from birth to one year – of any of the industrialized nations.

And we still have a dismal record in that area. I think that can be improved with good prenatal care and doctors’ visits. It’s outrageous that here in a nation as prosperous as we are we aren’t able to do better.

So I really believe that no American should be denied access to quality health care.

On Iraq and our standing abroad…

That’s why I think it’s so important and why every vote matters and why we need to have a Democratic president, because I don’t think it’s acceptable to say that we’ll have troops in Iraq for the next 100 years. I would go to Washington and be very supportive of our Democratic president to ensure that we can start bringing our troops home in a safe manner. We’ve got to ensure their safety. We also have to ensure the safety of those that are working with us in Iraq.

We don’t want to see another image like the fall of Saigon where the people who are working with us, their lives are at risk. So we need to have a good, solid plan, and until you get into Congress and have knowledge of what’s going on, the important thing is to pay attention to the experts and listen, and have a president and a Democratic majority that’s committed to bringing troops home in a safe manner.

I think it’s important that we elect a Democratic president that’s committed, and we’ve got the opportunity. We’re at the tipping point now where our standing in the world community has been damaged. We’ve got to have someone committed to going in there and working with other nations to bring back and improve the views that folks have in other countries of the United States.

And I really believe that if a Democratic presidential hopeful wins that’s going to happen, and they need a majority in Congress and the Senate to be able to then accomplish the goals.

On jobs and education…

A livable minimum wage is essential so that families can afford to make it in the country and be able to have a place to live and food to eat and to be able to put gas in their vehicles so they can get to work. An affordable minimum wage is important, and then education is key.

I think my whole point of view is proactive – let’s do something early on to ensure, for instance, be sure that we invest in early childhood education so that every child entering school is prepared to make use of that opportunity. And the best time to start is before they get within the classroom, so early childhood education is key.

Also, having had a recent graduate of Iowa State and a current student in the university, understanding how the tuition and fees continue to escalate, we’ve got to be sure that we’ve got a way for our students to pay for their continuing education once they’ve graduated high school, whether it’s university or trade schools or whatever their choice is. That is a key part of having a trained and viable workforce.

And then we need to have the jobs in place that can keep our young adults here in Iowa and provide them good opportunities and a reason to stay.

On her qualifications…

I think we need a person who is comfortable on the farm and in the boardroom and who understands the people of the 4th district, which is a lot of rural area. I’ve made my living traveling and working with farm producers. One of the things I do every fall is go jump up in the combine while they’re harvesting the crops and talk to them about how things are going. That’s why I think agriculture is key. You need to have a good understanding of the values and the beliefs of people in the 4th district and represent the entire district. I don’t think the geography location is essential, I think it’s a person that has the ability to listen, and listen for understanding, and have experience of going around.

Driving around in small communities and seeing boarded up windows and businesses going under, there are serious issues that need to be addressed and we need to be working for solutions to bring jobs to the communities throughout the 4th district.

I grew up in a small town of 1200 and I’m a fifth generation Iowan just like many of the other folks that are running, and grandparents who worked the soil, and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents that did that. We really need someone that’s able to come in there and work together with the folks in Congress to get things accomplished and not just play the blame game back and forth.

Having been active in the Democratic Party and very active in the 4th district, I do know quite a few of the active county chairs and people from various parts of the district. I’ve got people that have been making contact lists since I got into the race, traveling around to the various counties, and we continue to reach out and visit with folks, and listen, and find out what’s on people’s minds.

On her support from former Governor Tom Vilsack…

Actually, Christie suggested that I run for office several years ago, and I’ve worked with Tom in his campaign and sent letters out on his behalf. I’m very humbled to have the support of several very well-known and respected Democrats throughout the 4th district and the state of Iowa, and that’s because they’ve known me and they know what I have done and can do.

[I also have the support of 1982 Iowa gubernatorial candidate] Roxanne Conlin, Doris Jean Newlin, Garst family members, [and] Andi McGuire, who ran for lieutenant governor with Mike Blouin [in the 2006 primary].

On the status of her campaign…

We hit the ground running and running fast, and momentum continues to be on our side. And I’ve got support from Iowans, I’m raising the money.

Tags: Gavin Aronsen · Interviews · Online Exclusives

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Tom Russell // Jun 2, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Gavin, thanks for taking the time to speak with the candidate and write this article. I am getting lots of glossy mail and automated phone calls. I needed a series like this to help me make up my mind.

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