To Cedar Rapid’s George Ramsey III, running for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District is an extension of the service to country he pursued in his recently-ended military career. Ramsey spent 31 years in military service before retiring in 2016, and for much of this summer he’s been traveling around Northeast Iowa in preparation for a congressional campaign, which he plans to kick off in early September.
During those trips, he’s encountered a lot of Iowans frustrated not with a single issue, but with the entire political system.
“I’m tired of all the rhetoric,” Ramsey recalled one man telling him during a campaign swing.
“I say, ‘From who?’” Ramsey questioned. “He says, ‘From everybody.’”
That hasn’t been much of a surprise to Ramsey, who is just as tired of many of Iowa’s elected officials as anyone else.
“I’m a voter in my district, I’m tired of the rhetoric too!” Ramsey said. “People are growing tired of hearing the same old thing every day. They want to start seeing deeds, not words. They want to start seeing how you’re going to deliver.”
He hopes that his background of military service and leadership experience can be a different type of candidacy that can break through to voters like that, one that can build trust that he’d be a more responsive and effective member of Congress.
“This race is not about Congressman Blum,” Ramsey said. “It’s about ensuring the people represented in our district has the kind of representation that is truly about their concerns.”
Originally from Kansas City, Ramsey’s the oldest of two sons of a single mother. While his mother worked multiple jobs to support the family, community members pitched in to help raise him.
“We were really the product of the village we grew up in,” he said of his upbringing. “We had neighbors next door who’d let us come into their homes at the end of the day while our mother worked … We learned at an early age we needed to trust in God, believe in ourselves, do right by others, and certainly we wanted to help people who were in need. Because that’s how we were raised.”
Many of Ramsey’s family members were veterans or served in the military, which helped push him toward service himself, though a little luck helped. When in high school his mother pressed him on getting a job, so Ramsey opened up the phone book to point at a random job to pursue. It opened to a page for the Missouri National Guard, and “the rest was history,” as Ramsey said.
Upon joining the service, Ramsey was stationed in Louisiana and then served in Operation Desert Storm. He came home six months early after the president implemented force reductions, returning to Missouri to work in law enforcement. He worked in the Department of Public Safety for a little over six years as a special agent with liquor control.
In 2000 Ramsey rejoined the Army, where he stayed for 16 more years before his retirement last September. It brought him to Iowa in 2012 when he was stationed in Waterloo. His wife found a job in the Cedar Rapids area, so they moved there and Ramsey made the I-380 commute every day.
“Being able to serve my country for 31 years is an important feat,” Ramsey noted. “I’ve always prided myself on being a true American, being a patriot. I cry when the national anthem is played. I used to have a hobby where wherever I was, if I saw a flag flying in the wind, I’d take a picture of it … I was just always drawn to the beauty of our American flag flying in the wind. My service is something I pride myself on.”
Now that he’s retired from the military, he’s been ever more focused on politics. And what he saw coming out of Congress early this year motivated him to look at a run against incumbent Republican Rod Blum.
“We have a congressman who will provide whatever vote his party wants him to provide to strip healthcare away,” Ramsey said. “We have a congressman who is willing to vote along party lines to strip funding for education.”
As he’s been traveling the district, however, he’s found that what Democrats may think is the most important issue with some voters may not always be the case.
“You’d think with college students, they’d be concerned with student loan debt,” he said of his meeting with community college students. “But when you talk with these students … they’ll tell you their concern is healthcare. Jamarco, who is 25 years old and a graduate student, is worried he might not have healthcare coverage a year from now when he turns 26. Autumn is very concerned that she has a grandparent who is dependent on Medicare that she might not be able to receive now.”
He’s also putting a focus on better wages into his campaign pitch. A number of his family members are union members, from his steelworker uncle to a car-assembling brother to his son, who is a police officer in Texas.
“Iowa has one of the lowest minimum wages in the country,” Ramsey explained. “$7.25 is just not enough money for a working family to survive … How can you live off of $300 a week? You got to pay rent. You got to pay for a car. You have to buy groceries.”
But beyond all the various policy points, Ramsey’s biggest push in his candidacy is about the leadership skills he learned in the military.
“The true measure of leadership is how you serve the people you lead,” he said. “I often talk about service leadership.”
To him, that can transcend party lines and win over the voters who abandoned Democrats in 2016. Ramsey faces three other Democrats in the June 5 primary next year – Abby Finkenauer, Thomas Heckroth and Courtney Rowe – for the right to face off with Blum.
by Pat Rynard