COLFAX — Former Jasper County Party Chairperson Taylor Van De Krol was declared the winner Thursday night of a special nominating convention to replace Sen. Chaz Allen of Newton, as the Democratic Party’s nominee for Iowa Senate District 15.
Precinct chairs and party leaders from western Jasper and eastern Polk Counties voted at Colfax-Mingo High School in Colfax, selecting the 26-year-old to lead Democrats into November after Allen unexpectedly dropped his re-election bid July 20, to focus on what a statement said at the time was a “new business opportunity.”
Allen told the Newton Daily News Sunday, his exit from politics will allow him to focus on his role as executive director of the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation and his recent appointment to the board of directors for the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Traffic Incident Management Center in Jasper County. Allen said he’s not leaving Newton as previously reported by other media outlets.
Van De Krol is a Lynnville native and most recently the campaign chair for former State Sen. Matt McCoy’s bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2018 Polk County Board of Supervisors race.
Despite his Jasper County roots, one immediate issue Van De Krol will have to resolve is his residency requirement. A Des Moines resident, the Democrat does not currently live in the district, although he told Newton Daily News after his nomination Thursday he soon plans a move to Altoona.
Van De Krol received 55.8 percent of the precinct chairs’ votes Thursday night, edging out Southeast Polk school board member Lori Slings, of Altoona, and Jasper County Democratic Party volunteer Cindy Pollard, of Newton. Party rules state a candidate has to get at least 50 percent of the vote to secure the nomination.
In the contested convention Thursday, each precinct chair votes for their pick. Their ballots are weighted based upon population of their precinct and other factors. Jasper County holds the advantage in the district, 17 precincts to 16 in eastern Polk County.
Following Thursday’s vote, Van De Krol touted his rural, working-class upbringing and tried to rally Jasper County and Polk County Democrats to organize and campaign.
“I can’t win this without you guys. This isn’t my seat, this is your seat. This is Jasper County’s seat, this is our seat,” Van De Krol said. “I think we have a very strong opportunity this election cycle to keep this seat blue.”
Outlining his priorities, Van De Krol called student loan payments “the new mortgage” and tried to relate himself to the average voter, explaining how he grew up in a family who lived paycheck to paycheck.
“That’s what a lot of Iowa families are facing,” Van De Krol said. “At one point, I had four jobs just to make ends meet. I’m committed to make sure we have workers’ rights, wages, benefits and access to affordable healthcare.”
The Senate nominee also used his mother’s battle with mental illness — who sat in the crowd Thursday night — to make the issue an early priority of his campaign.
“My mom has suffered mental illness all of her adult life, and I experienced first-hand the struggles, the hardships and the effects that can cause,” he said. “I know that there are stigmas surrounding mental health. We have to make it a priority in this state. We are dead last every single year for the number of mental health beds and psychiatrists in this state, and that’s simply unacceptable.”
Van De Krol is now awaiting a Republican challenger, as former District 15 GOP nominee Tim Shay also dropped his bid last week in a “mutual decision” with party leaders. Republicans have an Aug. 25 deadline to fill their ticket.
“Depending on what the next chess move is in this game we seem to be playing right now in this district, he’ll have the party’s support,” said Michelle Smith, Jasper County Democratic Party chair.
Polk County Democratic Chairperson Sean Bagniewshi said he thinks Van De Krol’s age will match the demographics of voters expected to step into the voting booth in November — young, as well as more women voters and people of color.
“We know Taylor (Van De Krol) really well in Polk County,” Bagniewshi said. “He has been the assistant to Sen. Matt McCoy for a number of years. He comes to most of our monthly meetings and a luncheon he comes to every month. We’re energized about him. We saw people (Thursday) from both Polk County voting for him and Jasper County voting for Lori (Slings), so we’re happy with the candidate either way.”
If elected, Van De Krol would be the youngest member of the Iowa Senate, and with 95 days to go until election day, the 26-year-old has his work cut out for him. The 2018 midterms is an important election cycle for Democrats. With Republicans holding a 29-20 majority in the Iowa Senate, Democrats are struggling to regain control of the chamber, which they lost in 2016. Even with Van De Krol in place, Allen’s departure in July makes that possibility more difficult, despite analysts predicting a good year for Democrats at the polls.
Smith said Van De Krol was already out knocking on the doors of the precinct chairs in the days leading up to Thursday’s convention, and the party chairperson believes her new candidate’s experience as a McCoy page-turned staffer gives Van De Krol knowledge of inner workings of the Iowa Capitol that his eventual GOP opponent will not match.
“(Van De Krol) has the work ethic, that’s for sure,” Smith said.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.