On Saturday, Feb. 22, I met with U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield at a coffee shop in Coralville, immediately after her appearance at the Linn County Phoenix Club. She arrived on time and was thoughtful in her answers to my questions. She got the job done. The following interview is transcribed from an audio recording. Any mistakes are the author’s. Greenfield began with an opening statement.
THERESA GREENFIELD: I worked my entire career in small business from being a community planner for about fourteen years with neighborhood groups, planning commissions and city councils — helping in that local government office.
I worked for a civil engineering company and was a consultant for either a township that didn’t have staff, or maybe a city that had extra projects they just didn’t have enough staff to get that work done. I loved it.
From there I went into home building and eventually became the president of a small home building company in Iowa. That was fun through the recession, until it wasn’t any more fun. We sold the assets at the end of 2011.
I became unemployed like a lot of people in the recession, then hired on with a commercial real estate company. I most recently was their president. I recently resigned to focus full time on this U.S. Senate race.
I’m pretty excited we just kicked off two things, beginning with our “Hear it from the heartland tour.”
We have been intentional about going places. The number one topic I hear about is health care. We began at Boone County Hospital which is an independent hospital, not part of a big system. We just learned a lot about their challenges, the cool things they are doing too, and how they are integrated into their community. Health care is the number one issue that I hear about and they just reiterated all of that.
We also then just put out the first of what I call our “jobs to get done” agenda. Because I grew up on a farm, and that’s what my parents always said, “No boy jobs, no girl jobs, just jobs to get done.” I think we need to think about some of this work in those kinds of terms.
The first job that needs to get done, for me kind of the root of what’s wrong with Washington and the difference between Senator Ernst and myself, is big money in politics. Our first job to get done is end political corruption and end dark money in politics. Bring some transparency to it, end Citizens United, stop the revolving door of lobbyists. If you’re a senator you can’t sit on a corporate board at the same time. It might seem like natural things that we should be doing as pubic servants, but codify it and try to bring an end to that.
BLOG FOR IOWA: How do you view your prospects for beating Joni Ernst?
GREENFIELD: I view them as really good.
BFIA: Why is that?
GREENFIELD: First off, I grew up rural and I think Iowans want Washington to work like our home towns work. You know, we come together and get something done. There’s a lot of frustration.
Senator Ernst ran to be independent, and different, and she was going to make ‘em squeal, and she’s just taken a real hard turn to the right and votes 90-plus percent of the time with Mitch McConnell and party leaders, really leaving Iowans behind on issues that we care about whether you have an R or a D behind your name, or an N, or you don’t vote.
Things like health care. Voting to end and take away your protections for preexisting conditions. Prescription drug costs haven’t come down. Voting to end the ACA which by the way, allowed Medicaid expansion, which we did here in the state… and that has kept so many of our hospital lights on.
Now I grew up rural and with my parents, we got caught up in the farm crisis. My parents had to sell their hogs and their crop dusting business and never farm again. After that the school closed, grocery store closed, these are stories that we hear around the Midwest, and they drive 20-30 minutes to a grocery store, faith community, hospital, health care. If their little hospital closes they’re going to be going 50 miles, who knows? Or they won’t get the health care they need. These are real issues. You need health care? It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat.
BFIA: Would you say that’s your sharpest contrast with Ernst, on health care? I mean would you really make a difference?
GREENFIELD: Yeah. I will go back to the reason about winning. Her favorable rating is now down to about 39 percent in the state. So for me that just says Iowans aren’t loyal to her, and they are going to take a look at a good, strong Democratic candidate. That tells me Iowans are very open and this race is wide open. She does not have a lock on the race.
You know our differences definitely will (make a difference). I’m a “get ‘er done” person who has gotten things done. I want to focus on the things that most Iowans worry about. Health care is number one. Education. Folks worry about the economy and jobs here in Iowa. With net farm income being down 75 percent since 2013, I’ll tell you what, as I travel around this state, people have concerns. And you put on top of that the 85 ethanol wavers. Our farm economy, our manufacturing, our main street folks are very worried and I hear about that.
BFIA: What is your reaction to the president’s recent announcement that he would create additional subsidies for farmers hurt by trade policy? What are you hearing on the campaign trail from farmers who may have gotten some of that money?
GREENFIELD: Farmers I talk to want their markets back, that’s what they want. They want the future. They don’t want to leave a legacy of liability for their family with high debt. They want to leave a legacy of prosperity. They see continuing to get the markets back and grow those markets is what they want to do, and I get it. I grew up hard-working on the farm and that’s what farmers like to do: get up early, stay late, get the job done, and they want to earn a fair profit to do that.
BFIA: So you don’t see the impact, you see a different picture. What you see is the guarantee by the administration not having the desired effect because people want their markets back, people want to do the work, get paid for the work. Did I get that right?
GREENFIELD: Yes they do. But I’ll tell you what, the situation we’re in: bankruptcy rates are at an eight year high right now. It’s personal for me. When my parents had to sell the crop-dusting business, their hogs, and get out of farming, I went to auctions where families’ contents of the farm were put in boxes on hay racks and auctioned off for a buck or two, and no farm family should have to go through that again. Particularly when we can make a difference. That’s where I’m at.
BFIA: How did you decide to get into politics?
GREENFIELD: That’s a great question. I grew up in a little town, Bricelyn, Minnesota, right on the Minnesota/Iowa border. My parents were DFLers Democratic Farm Labor members. My Mom was the one who always marched in parades, went to county meetings, we door knocked. We didn’t phone call back then though because we had a party line… no robo calling. So it’s always been in my blood to be active in a certain way.
But then I got busy raising a family. I had some hope-stubbing experiences for sure. As my kids got a little older I was able to spent more time phone calling, door knocking. I’ve been a little active.
Remember I spent about 14 years working in community planning at the local legislative level — so planning commissions, neighborhoods, city council meetings, all of that. I saw potholes that needed to be fixed and filled — they aren’t Republican or Democratic — there was a problem that needed to be solved communities come together to do that. I’ll tell you I just decided we need some new leaders.
People talk to me all the time about wanting to end the divisiveness in Washington. We do it by making decisions like we do in our home towns, you know, where we come together. So it’s motivated me.
I really got into this race for hard work and family. I carry their struggles, their heart, and their effort to earn a living wage and provide for their families and have their American dream. For me it comes from being widowed at the age of 24. My first husband was a lineman for the power company. He was an IBEW member… we’re a union family. I will always stand tall with the unions. That’s for sure. They built the middle class and I don’t forget why my lights come on and who delivers my mail. I know those are union jobs.
When Rod died of a work place accident and I became a single mom — a 13-month old and another one on the way — I wouldn’t be here today without Social Security Survivor Benefits and hard-earned union benefits. I didn’t get here by myself. I certainly had family and friends and my home town and community.
Today people are struggling. They need leaders that know and appreciate what hard-working families are going through. That’s not what Senator Ernst does. She stands up and goes in line with her large corporate donors and leaves Iowans behind. So I got in the race.
She also talks about wanting to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare and Medicaid. The current Republican budget is very hard on those programs. I’ll tell you what. I wouldn’t be here without them. So this feisty farm girl, I’m getting in the fight.
BFIA: What were the lessons learned from your race in Iowa’s Third District?
GREENFIELD: What I already knew, but it became clear to me with the campaign for congress, is that there is a moral element to leadership. Voters and Iowans they want leaders who will do it right and they won’t look away from what’s wrong and they won’t put their own political gains first. And that’s what I did. When my campaign manager came to me a told me he had forged signatures on my petitions to be on the ballot I knew what the right thing was to do and we did it. I didn’t get a chance to be on the ballot at the end of the day but I can hold my head high and live in my community and respect and uphold our Democracy and election system. You continue to learn, and doing what is right is always right.
BFIA: Why does your experience best qualify you to win the primary?
GREENFIELD: Well it’s a combination of experience. It’s also a combination of doing the work and being able to build the team. Nobody wins by themselves; I say that every time I’m asked. I am running to do a job which is to represent people. When you bring them into my campaign with me and listen to them, that’s how we’re going to win. We have built an incredibly strong team in house but then have earned the endorsement of many, many of our unions AFSCME, IBEW, and others representing 65,000 union members in the state. We earned the endorsement and partnership of so many elected leaders around the state, including Christie Vilsack, Sally Pederson, Congressman Loebsack, and Congresswoman Finkenauer.
What I’ve done is really kept my head down and focused on building that team. I do it by going out and telling my story. Because I think Iowans want to vote for somebody, they want to see themselves in that person. They want to trust that you’ll do the right thing for them. May not always agree on a policy decision, but they know my character and they know my integrity, and they’re going to vote accordingly. We’re going to go out and compete in every county, in every precinct for every vote.
BFIA: If you lose the primary or the general would you consider a run against Senator Grassley if he runs again?
GREENFIELD: Oh boy! I haven’t even thought about that. Here’s what I can tell you though. If I lose the primary I will do everything I can to get our candidate elected.
(Editor’s note: The interview covered additional issues, including Greenfield’s approach to the climate crisis, auditing the Pentagon, foreign policy, and the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference. For more information about Greenfield’s views on issues, click here).