The economic hits to family farms, the health care crisis leaving so many uninsured, the failing educational systems—these are the issues Iowans live with every day, and what fuels Greenfield’s run for office.
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Theresa Greenfield has never shied away from tugging on her bootstraps. As a teenager, she worked on her family farm, doing the same labor as her brothers; in the midst of the 1980’s farm crisis, she put herself through college working as a waitress and at a cannery; when she became a widowed single mom at 24, she built a new career in urban planning to support her family. But Greenfield also never forgot about the powerful impact the social safety net had in shaping her life—and now she’s running for office to make sure other Americans can have the same second chances she did.
In the midst of another economic crisis facing agricultural communities, and in the wake of massive failures of leadership in D.C., Greenfield announced last June that she was running for Congress to unseat Senator Joni Ernst, and pledged to do things differently. Greenfield wants to improve and expand the Affordable Care Act, keep unions strong, funnel more money and resources into public education, limit gun violence and keep programs like Social Security and Medicaid safe from privatization and essential rights like a woman’s access to abortion care safe from political attacks.
Greenfield is a pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant, feminist candidate from what most of us call “flyover country” running to wrestle her community’s future out of the hands of lobbyists and the one percent—and give power back to the working and middle class.
This is the fourth in DAME’s interview series with the Democratic women vying to flip the Senate in 2020. Read the whole series here.
You have such a unique journey to politics—you were raised on a farm, you were thrust into life as a single mother, you eventually became an urban planner and a developer. What made you decide to run for the Senate?
I came to this as a scrappy farm girl. I grew up rural during the early part of the farm crisis, when interest rates were really high and families were devastated across a country, and my family struggled, too. My parents ended up having to sell their crop-dusting business and their hogs and never farmed again, and all five of us kids left the rural area. And times are hard here in rural American agriculture communities again. Within Iowa, net farm income is down 75 percent since 2013, and bankruptcy rates are at an eight-year high. Iowans need a stronger voice that is going to step up for their farm communities—and for me, this is personal.
I know that the decisions that get made in Washington, D.C., really affect our lives. My first husband was a lineman for the power company, and when he died at work, I became a single mom with a 13-month-old and another on the way. I wouldn’t be here today without the helping hand up of social security and hard-earned union benefits. When Mitch McConnell and Joni Ernst talk about cutting social security and privatizing social security, Medicare, Medicaid, I said no way and decided to get in this race and be a voice that’s gonna put the needs of hard-working families first.
What impact do you think you can have nationally by focusing on these things that are so personal to you?
I think that we are hungry for leaders who will do what’s right and won’t look away from what’s wrong. I try to demonstrate that while I tell my stories all across Iowa. I want people to know where my grit and resolve come from, and that I will fight to put Iowa first, and particularly everyday Iowans—hard-working folks who work hourly jobs, are members of unions, who grew up rural like me.
As I travel the state, healthcare is the number-one topic people are concerned about, and it really relates primarily to their costs. They can’t afford their premiums, their deductibles, their out-of-pocket expenses, the high cost of prescription drugs. Here in Iowa, we also are concerned about access. Rural access in particular has been declining. We keep losing labor and delivery units here in the state—I think we’re down to less than 45, in a state with 99 counties.
But Iowans are also concerned about their education system. They want to make it stronger. They want more investment. They want to make sure that every child, from day one, has a chance to succeed, and that we are investing in opportunities and skills after they leave high school so they can start their own businesses and have a shot at their own American dream, much like I got with Social Security and union benefits.
What does it take to mount a campaign to flip the Senate in a state like Iowa?
We have been focused on two things since we launched last June. The first priority is meeting people all across the state. We have been crisscrossing the state, showing up, listening, hearing what they have to say and what their priorities are—and I’ll tell you, it doesn’t matter if you’re north, south, east, west, rural or urban; folks have the same concerns. We also know that we need the resources to win this seat and to defeat Senator Ernst, so we’re pretty proud of the grassroots team we’ve been building. We’ve had contributions from over 9,000 Iowans.
How have gender and feminism shaped your priorities and your candidacy?
My parents often told us that there are no “boy jobs” and no “girl jobs,” just jobs that need to get done—and that is absolutely how I approach my career. It’s not about whether you’re a boy or a girl or rural or urban or who you love. This work needs to happen. We need to have some senators that are going to focus on healthcare for all Americans, Social Security, getting an infrastructure plan done, and bringing broadband Internet to every single home. I believe the root of why this isn’t getting done is because of the political corruption that we have in Washington.
Is there any advice that you would offer to other women looking to run?
Do it. Find your passion, and go lead. We need more women’s voices at the table, and the only way that’s going to happen is if women get off the sidelines and get in the game. Find some mentors—reach out to other women, ask them to help you to guide you, to show you the right direction, to get started, to make introductions, and don’t be afraid to ask them to chip in, too, to help you build the resources for your race.
Do you feel like voters in Iowa are ready for change?
You bet they are. They want a leader, but they also want a happy warrior. Someone that’s been in the trenches with them—whether it’s tough times on the farm, someone that’s run a small business and gotten caught up in tough economic times, someone who appreciates how hard it is to keep the lights on and provide jobs and sign paychecks.
Like so many women around this country that decided to get involved, get off the sidelines and change our focus after 2016, I was scared of what would happen if I didn’t get involved, that I had so much more to offer as a leader and a community member, and I was worried about the direction of our country. That really does motivate me to get up every single day and fight hard for the issues Iowans are most concerned about.
It is really hard work—I get up early, we stay up late, we work 24/7, we don’t get very much time off. But when you get a hug from somebody whose father passed away when they were 13 and they rely on Social Security, or a granny who can’t afford her or inhaler but wants me to get out there and fight on her behalf— those things fill up my basket of love, and I carry it with me, and it brings a smile to my face, and it makes me know that the work we’re doing is so important. I am thrilled to be in this fight.
DAME is partnering with Women Count to amplify the campaigns of the Democratic women running for Senate in 2020. To learn more about each candidate’s platform, visit https://womencount.org/
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