At the age of 32, Deidre Dejear made history in June when she became the first African-American to win a major nomination in Iowa and on November 6, she’s aiming to become Iowa’s Secretary of State. Dejear’s main goals as Secretary of State are to restore Iowa’s progressive voting laws and to fight for fair access to the ballot box.
Dejear got her start in politics working on her grandmother’s campaign in Mississippi in the 90’s and since then, she’s worked on everything from Barack Obama’s first campaign as well as managing local school board races. But it’s Dejear’s business acumen that sets her apart from her challenger, current Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate.
In 2008, while a student at Drake University, Dejear started her own business with the main purpose of helping other businesses grow. Dejear’s company provided smaller businesses with support and helped them navigate through marketing and the filing process through the Secretary of State’s office. And now 10 years later, over 300 businesses are thriving in Iowa because of Dejear’s hardwork.
In an interview with ESSENCE, Dejear spoke about the changes that she would implement in Iowa and why voting rights and small business are the most important aspects of her campaign.
ESSENCE.COM: You’re 32-years-old, how did you get into politics at such a young age?
Deidre Dejear: I was a Broadcast News and Politics major when I was a student at Drake University and while I was there I had the opportunity of being a campus organizer for Barack Obama. I knew going to Drake would afford me a lot of opportunities to get connected with the political realm as a journalist and that was my goal before I caught the organizing bug while I was there. After 2008, I went and worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign state-wide. I’ve ran school board races and I do a great deal of voter engagement work on a non-partisan level.
Last year, during his farewell address, a call to action was issued: ‘grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.’ There is no greater purpose than making your community a better place for all, and that is exactly what I intend to do as Secretary of State pic.twitter.com/IYdzZia8ik
— Deidre DeJear (@DeidreDeJear) August 1, 2018
I just really think that engaging voters is so important and and it’s the office of the Secretary of State that really spearheads that. I knew in 2016 that I wanted to help get a new Secretary of State in Iowa elected, but I didn’t know that was going to be me at that time. But I did know that this role was going to be important as it relates to just re-instilling the value of the vote and getting people engaged, especially our communities that believe that their vote doesn’t matter or doesn’t count. We can change that myth in this office if we have a Secretary of State who truly wants to see people getting engaged and exercising their most fundamental right to vote.
ESSENCE.COM: What differentiates you from your challenger?
D.D.: I’ve been an end user of the Secretary of State’s office my entire career. I started my business my senior year at Drake and that business is getting other businesses and non-profits started and growing. Our Secretary of State is not only the commissioner of election and campaigns in Iowa, but they’re also the business registrar. Anybody wanting to do business in our state has to go through that office first, including our small business owners. Having experience from that vantage point with the office and the voter component, I just see a great need for improvement.
I know what it takes to get someone moved to vote. I’ve done the hard organizing throughout the entire state. I also know what it takes for businesses to thrive. I know the challenges that they have to overcome when they’re first getting started. That office has to really be more influential with our business owners and our voters, and there is a lot of need for improvement with the current administration. What I think differentiates myself from my opponent is that I’ve done the hard work and I know how to make the changes that are going to be really influential for all voters and business owners throughout our entire state.
ESSENCE.COM: What changes would you implement if you become Secretary of State?
D.D.: One key thing is to make sure that we have automatic voter registration in our state. Another is to communicate with voters. We have so many things going on in our lives as individuals that sometimes voting doesn’t always make it to our top five list for the day. I want to be that silent and vocal reminder for people to participate in our election.
We need to give people a reason a vote again — our democracy depends on getting more Iowans voting in every election! Thank you for all that you do @IowaAFLCIO to organize across our state! Let’s make this the #YearOfTheVoter! pic.twitter.com/hhrjTBykmm
— Deidre DeJear (@DeidreDeJear) September 20, 2018
I want them to understand that their voice matters and count, that we need to hear them at the ballot box. And that means that I need to be a Secretary of State that is reaching out to our voters and meeting them where they’re at. We have to infuse the grassroots principles that we know work, that cost little money, and using those principles goes a long way.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you plan on tackling the continued disenfranchisement of felons?
D.D.: In our state, the Secretary of State doesn’t have the power to change those laws. They adhere to the Governor’s request and administer that program. What I would do is ensure that the program is plain and easy to understand for folks who are trying to get their rights restored, because once you leave prison and you’re a felon, you don’t automatically get your rights restored. You have to go through a pretty egregious process to get that done. They make it sound like it’s simple, but those steps take a lot of work for someone who’s been in prison for some time. It’s also not free, it costs money.
I would want to be the individual that makes sure the process is easily understood. If we’re going to ask folks who are leaving prison and going back into our communities to add value to their community, to pay their fair share and to try to make a difference in their family, we can’t in the same breath take away their voice. I think that’s contradictory and doesn’t serve as a proper community development model. We can’t take away people’s voices away when we need to hear them.
This election has always been about you; about the issues that matter the most. From the beginning I knew I wanted to run a campaign I could be proud of, and that meant hitting the pavement to earn the support of people like you. pic.twitter.com/RKDA9vAJa0
— Deidre DeJear (@DeidreDeJear) June 6, 2018
ESSENCE.COM: Now let’s go back to June. How did it feel to win the nomination and become the first Black person to win a major nomination in Iowa?
D.D: It felt good. Every emotion that could have possibly come out of me that day after 9 p.m, came out. We all worked so hard to create a winning plan. It never dawned on me that it was possible to either win or lose. I’ve never thought about that. It was just like ‘work the plan, work the plan, work the plan’. That night I had to experience the emotions of either winning or losing. We had about 100 people gathered to watch the reporting and our race was the last race to be called because it was so close. The reporting wasn’t coming in quick enough, so we began to create our own war room and calling our auditors, trying to get the numbers to see where we were. It wasn’t until about 10:50 p.m., that we figured out we had won. But with all of us being young in this space, we were like ‘Ok, we won. Now what?’.
ESSENCE.COM: Why should the people of Iowa vote for you?
D.D: I want people to vote. I don’t care if you’re Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, whatever your party may be, we just need people to exercise their right to vote. I am always moved by those people who think that their vote doesn’t matter. I’m moved by them because I want them to feel as strongly about their voice as I do. I want them to know using their voice is going to make a difference. But we’re in that day and age where we can’t really force feed the vote to people. We can’t beat them over their head about it. We also can’t make them feel bad by telling them it’s their duty and that people have died. They know those things, but they also have a litany of issues that they’re dealing with.
We have to give people a reason to vote again. And giving them that reason, is probably the best way to win over a voter. You have to talk to people about what you stand for and what you want to do. We can talk about the negative things the other side is doing all day long, but in my experience talking about that doesn’t move people to want to do something. If we can just encourage and motivate them to do something, to get outside of their comfort zone and add value to this race, we’re going to see some awesome things to happen in November.
To learn more about Deidre Dejear, visit her website.