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With deep Grinnell roots, Bly runs to represent it in House

By Emily Hackman

Politics is Rachel Bly’s passion. Being raised by politically-active parents, she participated in campaigns as early as middle school, door-knocking with her father. During high school, she served as a page in the Iowa legislature and was a co-chair of the Campus Democrats as a student at Grinnell College, class of 1993. Now Bly is trying to build off that passion by running for the Iowa House of Representatives.

Bly is currently the College’s Director of Conference Operations and Events. She also is currently serving her first term on the Grinnell City Council.

Her campaign for the Iowa House of Representatives began on Aug. 24, 2011 when she announced her intention to run, as a Democrat, for the 76th District of Iowa, which includes all of Poweshiek County and portions of Iowa County.

Her opponent is Republican David Maxwell of Deep River. Due to recent redistricting, the 76th District does not hold an incumbent. The seat has consistently gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Iowa’s relatively non-partisan redistricting has not produced gerrymandering, and the electorate is divided into thirds—Democratic, Republican and no party.

The close race has attracted much attention from state parties, and Bly has faced some negative campaigning by the Republican Party.

She is campaigning on her understanding of what is required to strengthen rural Iowa communities. It is her experience with the community of Grinnell that she feels will equip her in the Iowa House of Representatives. She expresses passion about education and making sure teachers are supported. In addition, she said education must be valued from preschool all the way through higher education.

Economically, Bly states that wealth needs to be spread more evenly and not concentrated in larger Iowan communities. She said promoting renewable energy and entrepreneurship can provide jobs and boost the economy, especially in rural areas.
“We need to not forget about the rural areas,” Bly said. “There are so many small towns that are getting smaller and smaller.”

She also said the intimacy and competiveness of Iowa elections provide a great opportunity.

“So many students from states other than Iowa, come to Grinnell and have a vastly different political experience than they would in their hometown,” Bly said. “That, to me, is one of the great aspects of campaigning at Grinnell…It is such a different experience for students who are not from states where it matters. They get to glimpse a campaign from a grassroots level.”

Not only are students simply able to view campaigns from a local level at Grinnell College, but they also have an opportunity to participate in them through volunteering or even employment. Michael Horecki ’11 serves as Bly’s full-time campaign manager. Bly has also received support from alumni across the nation who are following the race closely.
“They remember being engaged as students and it is one of them that is running to be the representative of ‘their place,’” Bly said.

Bly’s campaign includes current students as well. Joe Engleman ’14, co-chair of the Campus Democrats, has recently been employed by the Association of Federal, Municipal, State and County Employees (AFSCME) to work on the campaigns of Bly and Shelley Parbs, who is running for state senate. Engleman also volunteered for Bly throughout this summer.

Engleman said he is backing Bly because “she brings something to the table. She’s a smart, dedicated person who we have seen have a proven track record with the College…She has a long commitment to the College and what this place stands for. The campaign has a Grinnell focus and a Grinnell core, and that is why I am involved.”

Over his fall break, Engleman primarily door-knocked and was able to see much of rural Iowa that many Grinnellians miss. His volunteer activities included stuffing envelopes, placing stamps and handing out literature.

The last opportunity for early voting will take place this Saturday at Drake Library from 9 a.m. to noon. The campaign is encouraging students to vote early because it says there has been a history of challenges to student votes at the polls on Election Day.

Whether or not she wins, Bly says she had a great experience.

“I have learned so much,” she said. “It’s the people. It’s the stories that you hear, what people are really struggling with on a day-to-day basis. It is an advocacy piece. After knocking on doors, you have a much better sense of the needs of people and who needs to be advocated for.”

Now, after 14 months of campaigning, Bly has just four days until she will hear the results of her efforts along with the efforts of her family, supporters, staff and volunteers.

“Even if I don’t win, I will stay active because it is the right thing to do,” she said.

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