Deidre DeJear is the first black candidate to win a primary nomination for a major political party in a statewide office in Iowa. She won a neck-and-neck matchup for the Democratic nominee 51 to 49 percent in June, and will face Republican incumbent Paul Pate in November.
Born in Mississippi, DeJear moved to Iowa to attend Drake University in 2004, and stayed after she graduated. DeJear started her own small business, a marketing firm called Caleo Enterprises, during her senior year at Drake in 2008. Caleo Enterprises has worked with more than 300 small business to this day.
If elected, DeJear will make her main focus increasing voter turnout. She said she wants to implement an automatic voter registration program to maximize participation among voters. Her program would immediately register eligible Iowans to vote when they receive a driver’s license from the Department of Transportation (DOT) or other valid state ID.
“That’s the first part of my plan, increasing voter registration,” DeJear said. “We live in a digital age and we need to update our registration methods.”
The second part of the plan is to use voter data from the DOT to map out a statewide educational strategy, where DeJear’s office would work with communities inform them about candidates on the local, state and gubernatorial levels.
“Typically you see 50 to 55 percent [of eligible voters] voting in the general election,” DeJear said. “I know we can do better than that.”
However, 12,279 Iowa State students come from outside the state. Many of these students don’t have an Iowa driver’s license or state ID. DeJear has a plan for these students as well as college students, across Iowa.
“I will work with college leadership and help them think of ways to orchestrate voter registration on campus,” DeJear said. “Our students, whether they come from Iowa, Oklahoma, Illinois or any other state are coming here to live. We shouldn’t take away their ability to vote, because what our government does affects them.”
DeJear said she believes the Iowa Secretary of State should be a non-partisan position, and should focus on voter rights regardless of party affiliations.
“We need to help Iowans in a non-partisan way,” DeJear said. “That part is the key. It doesn’t matter what political side you’re on, we need everyone to vote in this democracy.”
DeJear criticized Pate for voter ID reform he pushed in recent years. He pushed legislation that shortened the time period for early voting from 40 days to 29, and would limit eligible forms of identification voters can use to cast a vote.
Much of Pate’s voter ID law is being put on hold by the Iowa Supreme Court due to an impending lawsuit, filed in part by Taylor Blair, a junior in industrial design and president of Iowa State College Democrats. DeJear thinks legislation like this is a waste of valuable state resources.
“The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating this [voter fraud] issue," DeJear said. “Nothing was found. He’s trying to treat a symptom that doesn’t exist.”
She also cited the turnout for the Iowa primaries, which saw just over 13 percent of Iowa voters actually cast a vote, as the Iowa Secretary of State’s failure to encourage voter initiative. The turnout in the June primaries was the highest it’s been in eight years with 279,124 votes, but DeJear thinks Iowa can and should do better.
“His job is to be a leader,” DeJear said. “He should be held accountable for this kind of result. If our democracy depends on the votes of the people, 13 percent isn’t enough.”
DeJear worked on multiple political campaigns, including the 2012 Barack Obama campaign, but she never thought she’d run for an office herself.
“I had worked on campaigns to get other people elected,” DeJear said. “I’ve always been passionate about getting people to vote, and my friend insisted that I should run [for Secretary of State]. I was skeptical, I didn’t have the money or the recognition, but I’m happy we took that on and I’m excited to follow this race to the end.”
DeJear studied broadcast journalism and politics at Drake University. She served on the Student Senate during her enrollment and co-founded Back 2 School Iowa, a non-profit which collaborates with communities and corporations “to provide resources to inspire youth in continuing in their education and build their future careers,” according to her website.