The Problem Solver: Meet Congressional Candidate Lanon Baccam

The Problem Solver: Meet Congressional Candidate Lanon Baccam

One of congressional candidate Lanon Baccam's favorite pastimes is messing around with tools and finding out how things work. Photo submitted

By Ty Rushing

June 24, 2024

Democratic hopeful Lanon Baccam’s origin story revolves around paying it forward and solving problems for others.

Something people should know about Lanon Baccam is he likes to fix things. 

A recent example is the furniture in the Windsor Heights storefront where the Democratic nominee for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District has set up his campaign office.

“I got all these desks from the side of the road, cleaned them all up,” he said. “The table back there was falling apart. I fixed it, screwed the top back down, and painted it—they are perfectly functional.”

Baccam’s fascination with fixing things stems from his father, Inh. 

“My dad was a small engine mechanic growing up, so I worked on cars with him,” Baccam said. “Everything was a resource. He would turn everything we could find into something else, and so, to this day, I do the same thing.”

Baccam’s parents, members of the Tai Dam ethnic group, came to Iowa in 1980 as part of the second wave of Southeast Asia refugees brought to the Hawkeye State in an initiative spearheaded by then-Gov. Bob Ray. 

“A Republican governor was the only person in the country to respond to a letter from President [Gerald] Ford asking for volunteers to relocate refugees from Southeast Asia,” Baccam said. 

Baccam credited Ray for visiting the refugee camps, listening to pleas from the Tai Dam community, and lobbying the US State Department to change protocol so that he could find them a home in Iowa.

“Otherwise, they would have lost their cultural identity,” Baccam said. “Credit to Bob Ray for saying, ‘OK, we’ll bring 3,000 Tai Dam people to Iowa.’ What an incredible legacy that is for this state.”

A first-generation Swedish-American family from Swedesburg sponsored the Baccams and helped them find their home and jobs. The Baccam family settled in Mount Pleasant, where Lannon was born. Inh and Bounmy Baccam worked at what is now the MackayMitchell Envelope Co. factory for decades. 

“They’d been here for like 40 or 50 years at that point,” Lanon Baccam said of the Swedish family. “They went to this Swedish-Lutheran Church, and that’s where I went to church because they were our sponsors. I learned a lot about Swedish culture, and they built a community with us.”

Baccam said his family and the Swedish family became profoundly connected and celebrated milestones big and small together. The 43-year-old even named his daughter, Freya, an ode to the Swedes and Nordic culture. 

One of Bacam’s favorite childhood memories was when his family’s sponsors would bring them sacks of sweet corn to share.

“I thought I could eat like endless amounts of sweet corn back then,” Baccam said. “That community meant so much to me that I wanted to give back. My parents were grateful for the opportunity to be here in this country. 

“They were grateful for what we had—the fact that we had safety, security, a warm bed to sleep in at night, a roof over our heads, food to eat at the end of the day— and living very modestly as two factory workers as the only source of income here.”

Baccam thought the best way he could give back was by joining the military. He enlisted in the Iowa National Guard during his junior year at Mount Pleasant High School, which required parental permission and many conversations to convince his parents to let him join.  

“My mom was just so mad at me,” Baccam said, recalling the first conversation. “My parents are refugees. I mean, they came to the United States in 1980, and so they were terrified for what that meant for me to join the military. They thought I was going to go to war.”

For the most part, Baccam was able to avoid his mother’s worst fears until he had one month left in his six-year contract. In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Baccam was deployed to Afghanistan, where he spent 366 days serving as a combat engineer.

“There was only just a handful of engineers, and we were attached to an infantry unit of bigger guys,” Baccam said. “As the engineers, we were trained on field expedient explosives, so my day job literally every day was I just wake up and go build things.”

The Problem Solver: Meet Congressional Candidate Lanon Baccam

Lanon Baccam (far right), poses with fellow soldiers during his deployment to Afghanistan. Photo submitted.

His duties included building and fortifying the base where he was stationed, leading a team of Afghan nationals who maintained the base, and building everything from chairs to buildings. Baccam was also tasked with destroying old Russian munitions when they found them.

“These old Russian rockets or mortars or whatever they may be, we’d dig them out and throw them in my truck,” he said. “We collect them over the course of like a week, a couple of weeks, then I’d take them out to the foothills of the mountains over there, and I’d detonate them all.”

When Baccam returned to the States, which also ended his time in the service, he took some time off to readjust to civilian life and figure out his next move. His next big opportunity came when the father of his childhood friend, Doug, offered him a job.  

Doug’s dad also happened to be then-Iowa Gov. and former Mount Pleasant Mayor Tom Vilsack.

“I didn’t even know Tom Vilsack as Tom Vilsack or Christie Vilsack as Christie Vilsack; they were just Doug’s mom and dad, you know what I mean? I was a kid,” Baccam said. “Eventually, I knew him as the mayor.”

He considers Tom and Christie Vilsack as mentors, and Baccam worked for Tom Vilsack in the governor’s office and when Vilsack served as US Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. 

“My life has been giving back and it has been about public service, and so much of that has been framed by the Vilsacks,” Baccam said.

Baccam noted that people like the Vilsacks and the people he grew up with in and around Mount Pleasant helped people regardless of their appearance or political beliefs. He wants to bring that same type of service above all mindset to DC and Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. 

 “We see a whole cadre of politicians out there; they are just hungry for power, or climbing, or maneuvering, or politics,” Baccam said. “Where are the people who care about our communities again? Where are the folks that are actually just paying attention to the problems and challenges that people face and want to find solutions? That’s where I am in this.” 

AT A GLANCE:

Name: Lanon Baccam

Position: Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District

Age: 43

Residence: Des Moines

Education: Graduated from Mount Pleasant High School; earned a degree from Drake University in Des Moines.

Family: Wife, Alissa Brammer; daughter, Freya, age 9.

Interests: Building and fixing things, carpentry, fishing with his daughter.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

CATEGORIES: NATIONAL POLITICS
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