Democrats will take the stage Sept. 30 when Polk County revives the state’s long-standing steak fry tradition, but one female candidate has been asked to keep quiet.
Thanks to former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a fall steak fry fundraiser has become synonymous with Democratic Party politics and is an opportunity for rising stars to expand their burgeoning celebrity status. Polk County Democrats, in reviving an event dormant for three years, are taking a page out of Harkin’s book by inviting three not-yet-household-names but promising congressional Democrats to come, be grilled and chew the fat.
Attendees, as well as a C-SPAN audience, will hear from U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts as well as a bevy of local candidates.
But because of blunt brashness and a tendency toward public expletives, Heather Ryan, a Democratic candidate in Iowa’s 3rd U.S. House District, is being excluded. Some readers may remember I highlighted one instance of her style in a report from the Iowa Wing Ding event in Clear Lake earlier this month.
The Wing Ding also was billed as a night of “rising stars,” and it welcomed a slew of younger, non-traditional candidates. As I noted previously, this is a more confrontational group of candidates than Iowa has seen in the past. On the whole, they are unabashedly ambitious, self-assured and non-apologetic. It could be said that Ryan, a military veteran and business owner, is the poster child of this crop of non-traditionals — and proud of it. She admits her style likely will rub some the wrong way.
Not only has she referred to congressional Republicans as “a——s,” but has led audiences in chants of the same.
“When Michelle Obama tells folks when they go low, we go high, that works for her,” Ryan told the Wing Ding audience. “She’s very classy. I’m not.”
It was this attitude that has Ryan running afoul of Polk County Democrats tasked with organizing the steak fry.
Noting free meals are being offered to attendees under the age of 13, organizers said “the committee wants to make sure all people feel comfortable attending” and that Ryan’s style isn’t family-friendly and not welcome on stage.
Ryan didn’t take kindly to being censored by the committee, and isn’t shrugging off the snub. She’s right to be livid about the decision, and every Democratic candidate, up and down the ballot, should be standing with her.
If a county party is allowed to cherry pick the candidates it will promote, the tradition and requirement of giving all Democratic candidates equal access at party events is in jeopardy.
Clearly, no one would fault the Polk County committee if it chose to pull Ryan aside for a conversation to outline concerns and encourage tone-downed rhetoric. But, even if Ryan refused, the steak fry is a Democratic Party event, which has no authority to purposefully exclude Democratic candidates — even those who use naughty speech or are perceived as shining a less-than-favorable light on the event.
Party events are either open to all Democratic candidates or not. According to party policies, Democratic candidates seeking the same office need to be granted reasonably equal access at party-sponsored events. Excluding one requires an exclusion of all.
Sadly, it seems the event committee is poised to take their beef with Ryan to that extreme. Voicing concerns about “time constraints,” party leaders now are unsure whether any congressional candidates will be given an opportunity to address attendees. These candidates still can buy tickets, attend and support the fundraiser. There’s just no longer a guarantee, bylaws be damned, the county party will support them.
Seven Democrats are battling for the opportunity to face off against Republican incumbent David Young in the 3rd District. It’s the responsibility of Democratic primary voters, not a Polk County committee, to decide who is acceptable.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Sept. 3, 2017. Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette