Julián Castro in Solon

Julián Castro Photo Credit – Department of Housing and Urban Development

SOLON, Iowa — A group of local, Democratic activists met with former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro on Jan. 7 at the Solon Community Center.

Castro was staffed by long-time political operative and former Iowa Democratic Party chair Derek Eadon on a brief tour of Iowa with stops in Cedar Rapids, Solon and North Liberty. Castro said he plans to announce his intentions regarding running for president in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday. It was clear the announcement will be he’s running.

The chairs of the Cedar and Johnson County Democratic Parties attended, as well as three current and former Solon City Council members. The gathering was intended to be intimate. We each had our turn asking questions and commenting on the prospects of a Democrat winning in rural Iowa.

Electricity service went out shortly after we’d gathered around some tables that had been pushed together. The outage extended throughout the city and included rural areas. We continued to talk in a room only partly illuminated by candle and mobile device light.

Castro doesn’t plan to accept political action committee funds in his campaign. Is he bringing a knife to a gun fight? He said he’s not and that sufficient funds could be raised from small-sized donations from individuals. Mayor of Swisher and Johnson County Democratic Party Chair Chris Taylor confirmed that eschewing PAC money included taking none from labor unions. In addition to campaign finance, Castro’s priorities include affordable housing, healthcare and infrastructure — core Democratic values.

While attendees were curious about Castro he repeatedly turned the tables on us, asking what our friends and neighbors were thinking and saying about policy. He was there more to listen than to be interrogated about his potential candidacy.

When my turn came to talk about policy, I said policy is less important to a presidential candidate as long it reflects core Democratic values. I suggested he could follow the lead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regarding policy. Castro, who was sitting next to me, seemed somewhat taken aback by the comment as Pelosi has been a lightening rod of criticism of Democrats. It was hard to gauge the reaction of others in the darkened room.

What about rural voters? Media, including major Iowa news organizations, have cast a rural versus urban divide among voters. The flight of Iowa young people to our biggest cities and out of state is no secret. At the same time there are rural Democrats who regularly show up at the polls. Castro acknowledged the need for outreach to every voter.

Julián Castro seemed genuine, honest and engaged. Those are qualities we need in a president. I appreciate the unique, Iowa opportunity to sit down with him and discuss issues of the day. At 13 months until the first in the nation Iowa caucuses the county party is already lining up meeting rooms. While it is not yet time for them there is light on the distant horizon. We hope it is the light of change.

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