About two hours before the Celebrate CB Parade begins on Saturday morning, Dr. Glenn Hurst and other volunteers are taping campaign signs to a Ford Ranger pickup truck, a less than glamorous job for a US Senate hopeful but one he doesn’t seem to mind.
The 52-year-old is a regular fixture at the annual parade that celebrates all things Council Bluffs. In typical years, Hurst is one of the people arranging the Pottawattamie County Democrats parade entry; however, running for office gave him a valid excuse to pass the torch this year.
The family medicine practitioner from Minden is one of three Democrats—the others are former Rep. Abby Finkenauer and former Admiral Mike Franken—running in the June 7 primary. Whoever wins that race will take on the winner of the Republican primary which features seven-term incumbent US Sen. Chuck Grassley and his challenger, State Sen. Jim Carlin, during the general election.
Hurst noted that if Democrats want a chance this fall, they need a candidate who motivates voters to get out and support candidates up and down the ballot. He said the last few cycles have proven that moderate Democrats won’t win a Senate race in Iowa against a Republican.
“It’s important to have a candidate at the top of the ticket that’s really going to inspire those Democratic voters who look at the ticket and go, ‘Well, you’ve given me a choice between the Republican and the Republican-light, so I’m just not going to show up,’” Hurst said noting the difference between himself and his primary opponents.
Hurst has positioned himself as the most progressive candidate in the race. However, he argues he would just be considered a “normal Democrat” in the 1970s and 1980s while his opponents would fit the Republican mold from that same period.
“I can’t guarantee that I’m the win, but I think the data guarantees that the others are a loss,” Hurst said. “So it’s incredibly important to get the message out that there is one progressive candidate in this race, one Harkin-like candidate in this race and that’s what it will take to win.”
Still, while he has plenty to say about his opponents during one-on-one conversations with a reporter, during interactions with potential voters along the parade route he never mutters a word about them. He tells people who he is, what office he’s running for, what he stands for, and when the primary is. Hurst doesn’t even specify to vote for him, he just tells people to go vote.
Hurst uses the extra time before the parade starts to walk the route and mingle. He would later explain why that part is so important to him.
“I’m exposed to activists, I’m not necessarily on the front page because I’ve been an elected official my entire life or because I’m a military general or admiral; I’m just a guy and this guy has got to meet a lot of people so that they know who I am,” Hurst said.
Before the parade, Hurst chatted with everyone from Boy Scouts to veterans and even some of his nursing home patients. As the practitioner of two independent medical clinics, Hurst also has to take on work in three area nursing homes to keep his practice afloat.
Hurst noticed that one of his patients from the Bethany Lutheran Home—staff and residents alike were decked out in customized purple T-shirts—was sitting in a wheelchair along the parade route and asked her about it.
“You’re usually out walking, I hope this is just for your convenience,” he told her.
“I wanted to walk and dance but they wouldn’t let me,” she replied.
“You can come walk with me. I bet you get in trouble; I bet I get in trouble,” Hurst joked.
The parade route makes a hairpin loop through downtown Council Bluffs and after walking about half the route before the parade started, Hurst has to head back to the Pottawattamie County Democrats staging area to meet his family. His wife, Rhonda Noel-Hurst, and their 14-year-old daughter Tierney Coughlin join him for the main event.
At first, Tierney doesn’t seem to be thrilled to be there but a couple of dad jokes from Hurst unleashes her playful personality.
“Have children, I highly recommend. I have a 30-year-old, a 29-year-old, and a 27-year-old, and a 14-year-old; that’s the best,” Hurst says jokingly looking at his daughter for the last part of the sentence.
“That’s your fault,” she retorts.
As the Hurst family walks the parade route, Tierney shares her thoughts on her dad running for Senate.
“I don’t know, it’s really hard because I like that he likes to try and help people, but I also don’t want him to leave for Washington,” she said. “But I like all the stuff he does, it’s like ‘Yeah, that’s my dad doing that, he’s trying to change stuff.’”
Coincidentally, Tierney helped inspire Hurst to get this far and brought him back to his activist roots. During Hurst’s first go-round in college—he went to medical school at age 32 after going through undergrad again—he was heavily involved in protesting Apartheid in South Africa.
When former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Hurst remembers Tierney crying about the outcome.
“That was like the switch being flipped back on and I immediately got involved with the Indivisible movement,” Hurst said, referring to the progressive grassroots organization formed after Trump’s victory.
Hurst organized rallies against Trump Administration policies and cabinet appointments, protested the state 2017 legislation that gutted Iowa’s collective bargaining law, helped counter-protest right-wing speaking events that were anti-Islamic, led medical missions to Jamaica, and more. He said running for higher office was the natural progression of those previous actions.
Walking the parade route, Hurst ran into some friendly and not-so-friendly faces—”they know me for my activism,” he noted of the folks who didn’t look pleased to see him—and quite a few people who asked, “what kind of doctor are you?” For the record, he practices family medicine.
Toward the end of the parade, Hurst had to duck out to take a video call with the Iowa chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Situated under a nice shady tree, Hurst, the only Senate candidate of either party who is in support of the Green New Deal, answered a few questions about his campaign’s climate views:
On ethanol: “Detroit has already told Iowa that the need for ethanol is going to continue to diminish because they’re going to move from making combustion engines to strict electric vehicles.”
On getting Republicans on board with climate action: Hurst noted Iowans of all political persuasions want to be outside, but that’s harder to do when the air smells like manure and the water is impaired. “We all want to enjoy the fruits of Iowa and the great outdoors is part of that … want to be out enjoying our state and to do that, we’ve got to address the things that make it impossible to enjoy our state.”
After the call, it was time for Hurst’s last event of the day. He was the guest speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwest Iowa chapter’s meeting.
Hurst’s speech at the event seemed to go over well and he received more questions about medical care than politics. One question that tied the two together was whether or not his Medicare for All stance included undocumented immigrants.
“It is every person who is in this country, that’s regardless of whatever status you might have in terms of immigration, criminal justice, are you a veteran, or whatever,” Hurst said. “Whatever your special category might be, everybody is covered by it. It matters that everybody is covered by it because this is a public health initiative, right, and public health doesn’t work if you pretend part of the public isn’t there.”
— Ty Rushing (@Rushthewriter) May 14, 2022
Hurst also had individual conversations with anyone who wanted to speak with him at the park. Dr. Meghana Khedekar, a second-year resident at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, spoke extensively with Hurst about the field of medicine and patient care.
Afterward, she said she likes Hurst’s view on how to treat mental health and his plan to reform health care.
“There are major issues that I have seen both as someone who needs to use the system as a user and as a doctor myself,” Khedekar said.
NAMI Southwest Iowa Executive Director Anna Killpack was the one who invited Hurst to speak. She didn’t personally know Hurst until a few months ago after he spoke at a virtual Democratic event, but she lives one town over from his Minden clinic and has heard stories about the rural Pottawattamie County physician.
“From what I knew of him in the community and from what I heard from him during that meeting, I knew this was somebody that had some things to say and had a message that we should hear,” Killpack said.
Killpack has been a mental health advocate for about a decade and said she sees the deficits in the system and knows the frustrations people and their families experience dealing with it.
“We need to do better, we can do better,” she said.
When asked, in her experience, if she has seen many political candidates approach talking about mental health—Hurst refers to it as brain chemistry disorder to better tie it to overall physical health—as actively and prominently as Hurst, Killpack said “no.”
“You get people that will bring it up—especially right now because of the pandemic we were seeing a heightened crisis in mental health issues—so it’s almost kind of the buzzword of the day and so we see a lot of candidates, I think talking about it or maybe they’ve never talked about it before,” Killpack said.
“Dr. Hurst … I feel like he has been a champion for mental health long before the pandemic. As a primary care physician, he sees the day-in and day-out needs of individuals that aren’t getting the care they need. It’s not the topic of the day for him.”
by Ty Rushing
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