The Jo Oldson-Eddie Mauro primary battle continues to lead the state in Democratic early voting, with 1,640 absentee ballots requested as of yesterday. House District 41 covers the west side of Des Moines proper, along with a part of the South Side. The district is solidly Democratic, and no Republican has filed to run.
Oldson has served in the Legislature since 2003, and the challenge by Mauro to a well-liked incumbent with good progressive credentials has confused many Des Moines politics watchers. Mauro has pitched his campaign upon bringing a new voice and style of leadership into the Statehouse.
Early on in the race, while Oldson was busy at the Statehouse, Mauro was racking up a large amount of absentee ballot requests in the district. That, along with Mauro’s decent fundraising of nearly $20,000, started to raise some concerns, especially considering the Mauro family’s campaign experience in Polk County.
And then the cavalry arrived.
A multitude of progressive groups have come out in force for Oldson in the past two months, hitting the ground with door-knockers, generating early vote requests, and sending mailers and phone calls into the district.
The largest Iowa labor organizations of AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor have endorsed Oldson and are actively mobilizing their members for the primary. Their leadership expressed the same confusion others have held over why this primary is happening in the first place.
“I understand that at times Democrats primary Democrats, but I certainly don’t understand why a good Democrat, a good progressive Democrat, a person who has stood and fought for working men and women would ever be primary-ed by another Democrat,” Danny Homan of AFSCME Council 61 told Starting Line. “I don’t understand why that’s being done.”
Oldson isn’t so sure either.
“Last fall, Eddie met with me and said that he had no issues with my representation but that he thought it was his time to run for office,” Oldson said. “I don’t believe it is in the best interest of the voters to give up the strong experience I bring to this role.”
“Jo Oldson has been a progressive Democrat who has worked extremely hard for working men and women in this state, and there is absolutely no reason why she should not be re-elected,” Homan added.
Homan said AFSCME is running their typical program within the district, which includes volunteer door-knocking, phone banking and activating their members. Two pieces of mail should go out to their membership in District 41 before the June 7 primary.
“Jo Oldson has a 97% lifetime voting record with labor,” said Ken Sagar of the Iowa Federation of Labor. “She’s been a solid ally and supporter of our efforts.”
The AFL-CIO organizations are also blanketing the district with mailers and volunteers to give Oldson a boost. Sagar expects Oldson to be just fine in the primary, but they’re taking no chances. He noted that since they haven’t endorsed in many primaries, they can focus their resources better on the few that they have.
One of the most active participants in the primary has been NARAL, the pro-choice organization, which endorsed Oldson on May 19. They’re running a full canvass operation to generate more early votes for Oldson among pro-choice supporters.
“Throughout her career in public service, Jo has been a steadfast champion for Iowa women and their families,” Mitchell Stille of NARAL said in their endorsement announcement. “In this race, we know that checking the pro-choice box is not enough and that we need true champions to defend the rights of all Iowans. Jo Oldson is the champion that Iowa families deserve and we are proud to support her campaign.”
Fellow female legislators have also lent a hand to their colleague. Both Janet Petersen and Marti Anderson have campaigned with Oldson, and the campaign is running digital ads on Facebook with their pictures and words of support.
Oldson has been particularly appreciative of the help.
“I am pleased to have the support of many progressive organizations, including AFSCME, NARAL, the Asian and Latino Coalition, and the Iowa Federation of Labor,” Oldson said. “I am proud to work with these organizations and their members as we work together on issues important to central Iowans.”
She’s leaning on that progressive record in her final pitch to voters.
“I have been a leader in expanding health care to 17,000 Iowans, raising the minimum wage, protecting marriage equality, guaranteeing women have access to reproductive health care, raising teacher pay and making sure every four year old has access to free preschool,” Oldson said. “However, there is still much work to be done. We need to fully fund our schools, again raise the minimum wage, protect access to women’s health care and provide equal pay for equal work, and create comprehensive solutions to our water quality issues.
Update: Starting Line heard back from Eddie Mauro later this afternoon:
Mauro says he’s run into some resistance from party leaders in his challenge to an incumbent legislator, but thinks it’s the best way to keep fresh voices and energy in the party and the Legislature.
“It should happen more often,” Mauro says of the primaries. “I’m not new to doing this, and when I’m up there [at the Statehouse] I don’t see a sense of urgency up there,” Mauro explained. “I don’t see a sense of passion, I don’t see any real energy to take care of the most vulnerable people in our community. And I’m not seeing that in any of the mailings coming out from Olson. So it’s a lot of fluff that I’m seeing.”
He’s been frustrated from his sense that Oldson hasn’t worked her district well enough over the years, believing she’s taken her re-elections for granted for too long. And while he doesn’t disagree much with her on the issues, he feels it’s a lack of leadership that has failed to move those issues forward.
“A lot of us don’t know her, we haven’t seen her,” he explains. “I’ve had neighbor leaders say they haven’t seen her in 10 or 12 years. I’ve talked to city council people who have said the same thing. I’ve talked to principals in our district and they’ve said the same thing. So she might do a good job when she’s up voting for us, and I’ll tip my hat to her for that, but beyond that she’s not moving the ball of this party, for this district … She’s a nice person, she doesn’t have this personality. She’s not going to go out and push Republicans like I can push Republicans.”
Mauro is also dismayed by the party coalescing around Oldson in the primary.
“That part of the party is old and tired. It needs to be changed,” Mauro said. “There’s something that makes them be afraid of Eddie Mauro. I’m a guy who could come out and take this thing to a whole other level of play. You got Drew Bledsoe playing right now, I’m Tom Brady. You want to keep run Drew Bledsoe out there, you keep doing it, a nice little ballgame out of Drew, and you’ll win some ballgames. You want to win Super Bowls? Put Tom Brady in.”
He’s still optimistic about the race and has felt very good from the response he’s seen on the doors, saying most of the people he talks with don’t know who Oldson is. Mauro himself has run a business, worked in education and was a founding member of AMOS, which advocates at the Statehouse for issues like immigration, education, mental health and clean water.
In the final five days of the race, we’ll see if he’s right, and whether an unlikely primary challenge can succeed in this deep-blue district.
by Pat Rynard