Deidre DeJear is used to being a “first.”
In 2018, she became the first Black person nominated by a major party for a statewide office in Iowa when she campaigned for secretary of state. Now, she’s Iowa’s first Black nominee for governor, hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in a historic midterm election on Nov. 8. DeJear is one of five Black women running to become the country’s first Black female governor.
During a live Q&A with Capital B on Oct. 19, DeJear said her policies would be inclusive to all, not just a select group of Iowans. She covered a wide range of topics, including rural revitalization, mass incarceration, and why the “state has to compete with the streets” in providing economic opportunities for young people. A few key takeaways from the conversation:
Education: If elected, DeJear would work to increase the number of child care providers in the state, extend the hours of early childhood education, and increase funding to public schools to improve reading scores and better prepare students for jobs.
Maternal health: Improving maternal health is a personal issue for DeJear, and she’s particularly concerned about the lack of access in rural areas. She wants to employ more health care professionals and make health care more affordable across the state.
Bipartisanship: DeJear said she would work across the aisle to get legislation that she supports passed by Iowa’s GOP-controlled legislature, saying that consensus building is key to achieving common goals.
You can watch DeJear’s entire interview here. Below is a partial transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.
Capital B: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds supports private school voucher programs, while you support increasing more funding for public schools. Given the limited amount of funding for public schools, what do you see as the most critical financial need?
Deidre DeJear: Our state has more than 90% of our kids enrolled in public schools. Our public schools are in the process of being starved right now. I want to invest in the systems because I want to increase access to early childhood education. That can positively impact those third-grade reading scores. We lost nearly 40% of our child care providers in this state over the last two years. Again, negatively impacting communities of color and the working poor and not-working people in this day.
I want to have at least 30 hours of early childhood education. And again, not only will that give them an opportunity to compete and get the proficiency that they need, but it’s also going to get their families back to work as well and get them engaged. We’ve got to fill about 80,000 jobs in this state, and if we can’t create avenues for child care, people aren’t going to go to work anytime soon.
I want our education system in this state not only preparing our students for postsecondary, I want our education in this state to be preparing our students for jobs. And then when they graduate from high school and they want to work a job, I only want them to have to work one job to make ends meet. If folks want to hustle and work two and three jobs, that’s their prerogative. But I want one job to be able to keep a roof over their head, food on their table, and be able to support small businesses in their communities. That’s the type of economy we should be thriving for.
A 2020 report from the Iowa Department of Public Health found that Black women are six times more likely to die during or shortly after childbirth than white women. How would you address the racial disparities in maternal health in the state?
This is an issue that means an incredible lot to me, and it’s one that’s personal. My mother died just three days after my little sister was born from complications with her pregnancy. She had three rough pregnancies and that last one, she lost her life. What we know now about the women’s reproductive system and maternal health, if we had had that information nearly 30 years ago, my sister and my mother would be alive today. The fact of the matter is what’s happening in our state is, while the current governor wants to restrict access to abortion, she and this crusade is not only limiting access to abortion, it’s limiting access to routine reproductive health care in our state and is disproportionately impacting rural Iowans.
We’ve got 99 counties, and in more than 80 of our counties, mamas cannot go to an OB-GYN in their county. That is a problem. I spoke with a Black mother probably about four or five months ago, it was in February. She was five months pregnant at that time and had yet gotten in to see an OB-GYN. That is dangerous. That is a problem. And mind you, this is an insured mother. If we’re having problems with insured people being turned away, we could only imagine what the most vulnerable amongst us are experiencing.
I want to increase access to care. I want to make sure health care is more affordable in our state. But we also have to get more people in the state doing the work. We need more nurses, we need more doctors, we need more practitioners. All of these people who can help this system work.
Currently, the Republican Party controls the state’s House and Senate, and that’s likely to remain true after the midterm elections. How, as a Democratic governor, do you plan to get your proposals passed by a red state legislature?
The issues that Iowans are talking about — rural revitalization, education and child care, health care and mental health care, labor force empowerment, strengthening our economies — all of those issues mean something to people regardless of the party. And we have seen glimpses of even Republicans aligning with our path. Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or independent, people know what’s good for us in our state.
We just have to give people the opportunity to share what their vision is, to not make it about pitting us against one another, but to rather make it about doing what we know how to do best. Getting that sustainable change in the heat of conflict resolution and consensus building so that we can achieve our common goals. That’s what we know how to do well, and that’s not easy. We compromise our pride in those conversations, and sometimes we compromise our positions for the good of everybody else. But those are the worthwhile conversations that we have to have.
We’re almost passive-aggressive in how we’re trying to resolve our challenges, and that does no good to anybody or anybody. We’ve got to do better. And from my vantage point, I’m not giving up on democracy. I’m not giving up on my state yet. I’m not giving up on my country. What I’m doing is standing up to say, “I want to help. I want to be a part of the good change that we need to see for everybody. Let’s just be the example. Let’s not allow it to fall by the wayside.”