Dave Leshtz was inducted, along with David and Marian Coleman and Mel Stahmer, into the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame on July 9. These are excerpts from his acceptance speech. You can watch the full video of all of the 2021 Hall of Famers’ speeches here or scroll down.
I want to talk for a minute about another Hall of Famer, one by the name of Hank Aaron. Aaron’s career began in the Negro American League when baseball was still segregated. It peaked 23 years later when he broke the beloved Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record, despite racism, intense pressure, and death threats that required constant security.
After entering the Baseball Hall of Fame, Aaron was asked to explain his success. He said, “My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.” I think the great activists in the Johnson County Democrats Hall of Fame would agree with Aaron’s motto.
• The Jo Co Board of Supervisors, afraid of transparency, didn’t want their meetings televised. We kept swinging.
• When the Chair of the Central Committee wouldn’t allow us to carry the Democratic Party banner in the first Pride parades, we kept swinging.
• When county officials used to be housed in the old courthouse, and an elected official said, regarding a county election, “there will never be an n-word in the courthouse,” we kept swinging.
• When everyone thought state legislators had the votes to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa, we kept swinging.
• When County Supervisors said satellite voting stations and extra staff for absentee ballots were too expensive, we kept swinging.
• When state legislators refused to add sexual orientation to the Iowa civil rights code, we kept swinging.
In all of these battles, we kept swinging–and we won.Many Johnson County Democrats have stepped to the plate and kept swinging over the years. This is my chance to publicly thank a few of those who inspired me to keep swinging too.
• The person I’ve been friends with the longest in Johnson Co. is Orville Townsend. We met at the old Quadrangle dorm, and he’s been my mentor ever since. I always walk away from a conversation with Orville with new insights and perspectives. And Mrs. Townsend too!
• Tom Slockett was Johnson County Auditor for an astonishing 36 years. No single person was more responsible for initiating and pushing for early voting and satellite polling stations, long before they became so popular in Johnson Co. and the state of Iowa. Tom’s the guy who first introduced me to county politics.
• Dick Myers, more than anyone, taught me about politics at all levels of government. Slockett and Riley Grimes and I spent many a Sunday morning literally sitting at Dick’s feet out at the Hawk-I Truck Stop, learning from the master.
• Former Co. Supervisor Carol Thompson was my boss at Johnson County Social Services for eight years when it was out on North Governor St. Carol taught me that there are a lot of rules, but rules are “just a starting point.” You have to know them, so you can know how to bend them, to help someone in need.
• It was Jeff Cox who, as Chair of the County Central Committee, lured me into representing the Fighting 18th Precinct. I did that for 23 years, usually with my Precinct 18 partner in crime, Sarah Swisher. Jeff also got me involved in my first presidential caucus, working for Alan Cranston. And we co-edited the Prairie Progressive for 35 years.
• Working for Jesse Jackson in the 1988 caucus was my most exhilarating campaign experience. I have John Norris to thank for including me in many meetings and rides with the Reverend. I firmly believe that campaign plowed the ground that made Barack Obama possible twenty years later.
• Another exhilarating caucus experience was the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Jeani Murray hired me, and we shared many ups and downs in a roller-coaster year. One of the downs was when I was driving Gov. Dean and Jeani to an event in Des Moines. AP reporter Mike Glover was also in the car. I took a wrong turn, and before we knew it, we wound up almost in Nebraska. Glover never let me forget it.
• I spent the last 14 years working with Dave Loebsack and Rob Sueppel. A better pair of colleagues and bosses I could never hope to find. I’m proud to have been part of a team that kept a congressional seat in Democratic hands for 14 years!
I’ll finish with a few words of advice, based on what I’ve learned from so many of you.
• Be kind to each other.
• Try not to hold grudges.
• Don’t be afraid to bend the rules once in a while.
• If you find yourself heading for Nebraska, turn around and shake it off.
• And above all, keep swinging!
From the August 2021 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The PP is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived issues.