Pictured, from left to right: Matt Blake, Erin Cubit, Bridget Carberry Montgomery.
They’re young. They’re progressive. And they’re coming to a city council near you.
Most municipal races aren’t partisan in Iowa, but several younger Democrats will vie for municipal and school board positions throughout the Des Moines metro in this year’s November election. And many of them are primed to thrive in a place Republicans usually control — the Des Moines suburbs.
The stage is already set for significant turnover, with every Republican incumbent up for reelection in West Des Moines and Urbandale deciding to retire. If Democrats are successful in filling those seats, it’ll have major consequences both for local city governance and the future of Democratic political leadership.
And the ball already got rolling last week when Urbandale Mayor Bob Andeweg decided to switch from Republican to Democrat.
“The Republicans have used city council and school board races as their bench for decades,” said Chairman of the Polk County Democrats Sean Bagniewski. “In Polk County, when we have so many Democrats hold onto their seats — and rightfully so — for decades you have a generation of Democratic leadership that wait, wait, wait and then finally give up on politics because there’s no seat for them.”
“I think that the strategy for us instead of having those people abandon politics is to get them engaged in city council and school board races,” he said. “We’re building the bench for the next several generations of at least Central Iowa Democratic leadership.”
Bridget Carberry Montgomery, 44, is one of the Democrats throwing her name into the ring. She’s running for one of the three at-large council seats currently held by Republicans who have announced they won’t run again in Urbandale.
“There hasn’t been a woman on the Urbandale City Council in eight years,” Montgomery said. “I think that it’s horrible that Urbandale doesn’t have any sort of diversity on the council. I have a whole lot of experience in municipal government, personally and civically. And, academically, I have a great background to jump right in and start working.”
Montgomery has spent weekends canvassing with fellow progressive Matt Blake, 31, who’s been featured in the Des Moines Business Record’s 40 under 40 list.
“I’m running to be the next generation of leadership in Urbandale,” Blake said. “In the Urbandale community, I’m in charge of the largest yearly celebration, the 4th of July celebration, which brings thousands of people a year into the community. On top of that, I’m on the Urbandale Civil Rights commission. I’m also a JAG officer and a captain in the Iowa Army National Guard … I have proven myself in the community as someone who can get things done.”
Also running for the three open seats are fellow Democrats Rebecca Haroldson and Lawrence McBurney. Republican Adam Obrecht is a candidate, as well.
“Nothing against the current Urbandale City Council or the way it was — it was a little older crowd — I just want to make sure there’s kind of a millennial/youth perspective because a lot of the people who are coming into Urbandale aren’t people who have grown up here their whole lives, they’re people who are trying to start their families,” Blake added. “And having that kind of perspective on the council I think is vital to make sure the community continues to grow and prosper as we move forward and I think I’m the voice who can do that.”
Meanwhile in Ankeny, Jeff Perry, 42, decided to run in part because the only Democrat on the council is stepping down.
“I’m running because in Ankeny we’ve had a lot of good success electing progressives recently in the 2018 election, and I think we need to have more progressive points of views on the Ankeny City Council,” Perry said. “The Ankeny City Council is a pretty Republican-dominated group and one of the few Democrats who’s on the city council, which is non-partisan, of course, is retiring this year.”
“I am running to hopefully at least keep one progressive voice on the council,” Perry said.
Erin Cubit, 33, launched her candidacy for a seat in West Des Moines last month.
“I am running for West Des Moines City Council because I want to make sure West Des Moines residents have a voice in the issues being discussed by the Council,” Cubit said. “I believe that West Des Moines has a lot of great things going for it and I want to keep it that way.”
“I want to continue and strengthen West Des Moines’ infrastructure – access to well-maintained roads, sidewalks and parks,” she said. “I want the city to invest in renewable energy – geothermal options, wind energy and solar panels.”
Ryan Crane, 35, also announced in August and kicked off his campaign with
“I always tell people that I am a passionate advocate, and that I work to make a difference whenever possible. I think West Des Moines has given me a lot, and I want to pay it forward, to make sure West Des Moines is outstanding for years to come.”
Cubit is running for the open Ward 2 seat that Councilmember John Mickelson is retiring from, while Crane is competing for the at-large district that Councilmember Jim Sandager decided to step down from after this term.
RUBY RED TO BRIGHT BLUE
“When I was growing up in Des Moines, it was always ‘Des Moines is the Democratic part and all the suburbs are ruby red,'” Bagniewski said. “And what you saw really with the election of Donald Trump – and it was starting before then — was the suburbs were moving away from the Republican Party and I think Donald Trump just expedited that in ways we hadn’t seen before.”
That same year, the suburbs carried West Des Moines Democrat Cindy Axne to victory when she defeated Republican incumbent David Young in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.
In 2018, Karin Derry was elected to Iowa House District 39 in Johnston, which Bagniewski said had a 3,000 Republican voter advantage.
Kirsten Sunde, Jennifer Konfrst and Kenan Judge are all suburbanites who won seats in the Iowa Statehouse that year as well.
“The suburbs are turning bright blue,” Bagniewski said of the success that year. He suspects there may have been a few factors that play into the Democrats’ recent success in the suburbs.
“Unfortunately, rural Iowa is losing folks to the bigger metropolitan areas,” Bagniewski said. “It’s not good for Iowa at all, but the people who are coming here might be more progressive than the areas they are leaving behind, so you’re seeing that those rural areas are turning redder and those urban areas are getting bluer.”
“I also think it’s the result of women being more empowered in the party,” he said. “Suburban men are transitioning away from Donald Trump and the soccer moms who voted for George W. Bush are not part of the Republican Party any more.”
“[The women] are putting out yard signs and they are activists in community groups,” Bagniewski continued. “The Republican Party has lost women for a generation, and I think that’s a key part of it.”
WHAT DEMOCRATS CAN DO
The list of what Perry, Montgomery and Blake want to on their respective city councils is long.
And, surprisingly enough, the candidates are campaigning on some issues that are being debated at the national level ― such as climate change, minimum wage, collective bargaining and diversity.
Blake can talk about what he wants to do on the Urbandale City Council non-stop for at least an hour. He can also summarize his plans by breaking them down into three main issues — economic growth, infrastructure and public safety.
He can tell you about how much it rained in Urbandale last year. One June rainfall was specifically horrific, he said. It rained nine to 10 inches in an hour.
“It flooded hundreds of thousands of homes,” Blake said. “And I’m a believer that our climate is changing and I believe that you are likely to get these high-volume rains in the future, and I want to make sure the infrastructure in our community is built in a way that responds to that.”
This ship has seemingly sailed in Iowa, but Perry lists minimum wage as a reason he’s running for city council.
“When the minimum wage vote happened back before the state legislature put the kibosh on it citywide, the City of Ankeny had the opportunity to do a minimum wage increase locally,” Perry said. “They voted it down … And after the legislature got rid of collective bargaining for state and municipal employees, the city could have continued to negotiate some of those issues that they have in the past. But instead, because they are able to now, they cut out all negotiations on salaries or benefits and did a basic contract for their union members instead of giving them something to actually negotiate.”
Cubit said she wants to join the council to advocate for people who aren’t able to speak up.
“My parents ingrained into me at a very early age the value of listening to others and working to make sure their voices were heard too,” Cubit said. “The consistent desire I’ve had throughout all of my work has been to lift the voices of those impacted by policies at hand. I believe its crucial for these voices to be heard.
As for Montgomery, she’s hoping to add a diverse voice to the council.
“I’m a mom. I have three kids. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not a real estate developer, which I think is a much-needed perspective,” she said. “Currently the council is all real estate-involved or lawyers. I have a background in urban planning. I have a Master’s Degree in urban planning.”
“I’m running because I feel like I can make a difference and have experience and the background and passion to make Urbandale a better place,” Montgomery said.
by Paige Godden