Living in Society

Politics and Real Zach Wahls

2018 will be an amazing year for Democrats, win or lose. Even so, I’ve been slow to engage, that is, until Zach Wahls announced his campaign for State Senate District 37.

First I said no politics until after the June 5 primary. An aging, low-wage worker doesn’t have bandwidth for everything and I know both my limits and what politics can demand.

That didn’t last long. I volunteered to be temporary chair at our Feb. 5 precinct caucus.

However, the 2018 political campaign began for me at 8:54 a.m. Jan. 13 with this.

Zach Wahls had been in Tipton for a morning meet and greet at D’Alicias Cupcakery and Cafe. He held his first campaign event in the City of Solon that afternoon.

Wahls is running in the June 5 Democratic primary against Janice Weiner to replace retiring State Senator Bob Dvorsky in the general election. The filing period doesn’t start until February, so there could be other candidates for this open seat. No Republican has declared in the race.

Janice Weiner in Tipton, Jan. 13, 2018

I was in Tipton to speak at a gathering of Indivisible Iowa and Weiner spoke as well.

Weiner’s credentials are impressive, especially her work for the U.S. State Department and as a Stanford intern working on policy for then San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Her uphill climb to a primary win will be a lack of name recognition, and articulation of her views and credentials. Wahls’ challenges are different and unique.

If people know Zach Wahls, it is likely from the speech he gave in Des Moines in 2011. As of today it has more than 3.2 million views on YouTube and created an internet sensation. He must balance internet celebrity with grassroots campaigning among people who may not have heard of him. He had a great start in Solon.

Zach Wahls and Marcia Gaffney in Solon, Iowa, Jan. 13, 2018.

About 35 people, young and old, gathered at Solon’s old middle school on a winter Saturday to meet and hear Wahls. Political pal and city councilor Lauren Whitehead and I organized the multi-layered event. Attendees who came and went during a two-hour period included a small group of boy scouts, school-age children, long-time political activists, local business people, a labor leader, Democratic central committee members and the president of the Solon School Board, a registered Republican.

Wahls gave a brief speech regarding his personal history and three legislative priorities: healthcare, education and workers’ rights. He took questions as long as people asked them and impressed with his depth of knowledge about policy issues that mattered to attendees. Wahls has experience in public speaking since the viral video but seemed genuine and unrehearsed in answering questions about tax policy, education, Medicaid, mental health, labor, law enforcement, water quality and other topics. He hung around after the formal part of the gathering to speak individually and take photos. He even helped clean up the room.

The real Zach Wahls literally hit the streets on Saturday where I met him. As district voters get to know him there is a lot to like. He gained at least this supporter in the process.