Greenfield hopes to take small-town values to Washington, D.C.
By James Grob, email@example.com
Des Moines businesswoman Theresa Greenfield is not a career politician, but she said her rural upbringing — along with some hard lessons learned from her life experience — will help her get things done in the U.S. Senate.
“We need leaders who will not only do what is right, but who will not look away from what’s wrong,” said the 55-year-old Greenfield, who is one of four candidates currently seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.
“I haven’t forgotten the lessons of my life,” she said. “I want you to know that my grit, resolve and resiliency to represent our values in Washington is rooted deep right here in rural America.”
Greenfield made a campaign stop in Charles City Saturday. About 30 people were gathered at the event at Jim Davis’s office in downtown Charles City, including some voters from Mitchell and Chickasaw counties.
She said her top priorities in Washington would be health care, education, jobs, getting big money out of politics and taking action on climate change. She said Ernst has failed to get the job done in each of those areas — and has also failed at keeping her biggest promise, which was to reduce government spending.
“Senator Ernst was going to be independent and different, and she was going to ‘make ‘em squeal,’” Greenfield said. “Our deficit has doubled since she has been in office. She has voted to double deficit spending.”
Greenfield said she was confident that if Democrats were to take the majority in 2020, the nation could once again reduce the deficit and pay down the debt.
“Historically, it’s been the Democrats that have managed to balance budgets, or at least narrow them, instead of expanding them,” she said.
Greenfield addressed a recent Associated Press report about Ernst that said an outside group founded by top political aides is working closely with Ernst to raise money and boost her re-election prospects.
“There’s a question of whether Senator Joni Ernst’s campaign has colluded with a dark money group,” Greenfield said. “You just can’t do that — that’s when the corruption starts, when our candidates are willing to look the other way from what is wrong.”
According to the report, some emails show Ernst fundraiser Claire Holloway Avella asked a donor for $50,000 for the group following an introduction by the senator. Ernst’s attorney says they followed the law, but some legal experts say the degree of overlap between the Ernst campaign and the nonprofit Iowa Values could violate the law.
“This is political corruption, plain and simple, and Senator Ernst owes voters a thorough explanation for her illegal tactics,” Greenfield said. “Iowans deserve a senator they can trust.”
Greenfield, who launched her campaign to unseat Ernst in June, said she raised more than $1.1 million in the year’s third quarter, while Ernst raised just under $1 million in the same span.
She said her campaign is refusing donations from corporate PACs, and said its average online donation for the quarter was less than $16. She also said donations to the campaign have come from all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
“I have taken a pledge to not accept one dollar of corporate tax donations,” she said.
Others Democrats running in the primary include Kimberly Graham, a Des Moines attorney; Eddie Mauro, a Des Moines businessman and Mike Franken, a retired three-star admiral from Sioux City.
In the 2018 election, Greenfield ran for the U.S. Congress in central Iowa’s 3rd District — the seat now held by Democrat Cindy Axne — but was removed from the ballot when it was discovered a member of her campaign staff faked some signatures on her nomination forms, leaving her short of the required number.
Greenfield grew up on a small farm outside of Bricelyn, Minnesota, a town of about 500 in Faribault County, west of Albert Lea. She said her family raised hogs, crops, and her father ran a business as a cropdusting pilot.
“That’s where I learned to work hard,” she said. “There were no boy jobs or girl jobs, there were just jobs that needed to be done.”
She graduated from high school in 1982, during the farm crisis, and said she takes the farm economy personally.
“I remember going to auctions where the families had entire contents of their homes put on hayracks, lined up along the fences and auctioned off, one box at a time,” she said. “Those families left and I never saw some of my friends again.”
She said it led to schools and businesses closing in her hometown, and she sees many of the same things that happened to farmers then happening again now.
“Today rural Iowa is suffering again, between reckless trade wars, reckless tariffs and the Ernst ethanol waivers,” Greenfield said. “Net farm income in Iowa is down 75 percent since 2013.”
She said Ernst is part of the problem.
“I am here to tell you, Senator Ernst is no friend of farmers,” Greenfield said. “I know that every one of you will help me fire her in 2020.”
Greenfield lives in Des Moines with her husband, and together they have four adult children. She attended college at Iowa Lakes Community College and Iowa State University before graduating from Minnesota State University.
She has worked with numerous communities as an urban planner, most recently as president of Colby Interests, a family-owned commercial real estate company based in the Des Moines area. The company has eight employees, and Greenfield called small business the “economic engine” of Iowa.
“I know how hard it is to keep those lights on, and I know what it’s like to sign those paychecks,” she said.
When Greenfield was 24 years old and living in Buffalo Center, her husband, Rod, was killed at work. At the time, they had a 13-month-old child and another on the way. Her husband was a journeyman lineman who was electrocuted on the job.
“We were on our way to the American dream, but all that changed one June day,” she said. “At about three in the afternoon the priest came knocking at my door, and he told me Rod had been electrocuted, and had died.”
She said that night union leaders from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers came to her home and told her about Social Security and other union benefits.
“I wouldn’t be here today fighting for this seat if it were not for Social Security,” she said. “The boys and I would have gone straight to poverty.”
Instead, Greenfield said she was able to go back to college, learn new skills and get a job.
“I also got my dignity back,” she said. “Absolutely everyone in America wants the dignity of providing for their families — even young widows.”
She said unions built the American middle class.
“I will never forget why my lights come on, who delivers my mail, why my streets get cleaned and who’s teaching my children,” she said. “I want to rebuild those unions because they have been under attack for a long time.”
After her speech, Greenfield addressed questions about deficit spending, tax legislation, women’s health care, gun regulation, infrastructure and many other issues.
“My promise to you is, I’m never going to forget where I’m from, how I got here and who I’m fighting for — and that’s you,” Greenfield said. “I’ll be putting Iowa first in Washington, D.C.”
She also vowed to protect Social Security, revisit the Republican tax cuts and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
Among the gathered Saturday was Dr. Nathan Bye, a veterinarian from Osage and old friend of Greenfield. Bye grew up on a farm near Greenfield’s family farm, and he said he hadn’t seen her in 35 years.
Greenfield appeared to be genuinely thrilled and surprised to see him there, and the two embraced in a tearful hug.
Bye briefly talked to the crowd, shared some stories from Greenfield’s youth, and vouched for Greenfield’s character.
“It really doesn’t surprise me that she’s here today,” he said, then he turned to Greenfield and said, “You’ll do fine. I’m proud of you.”