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The Scarlet & Black

Monica Vernon and Martin O’Malley Visit Grinnell

Martin O’Malley previously visited Grinnell in January 2016. Photo by John Brady.

Over 100 people filled JRC 101 on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 28 to hear from Monica Vernon, Democratic nominee for Congress in Iowa’s First Congressional District, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“We’re really excited to have them here to promote Democrats up and down the ballot,” said Austin Wadle ’18, co-chair of Grinnell’s Campus Democrats, in their opening statement. “Grinnell is a part of a very important swing district that will help us take back the House of Representatives.”

A recent poll commissioned by her opponent, incumbent Rep. Rod Blum (R) shows Vernon down by 7 percent. If elected, Vernon would become the first woman to represent Iowa in the House of Representatives.

O’Malley has been in the area campaigning for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but also wanted to lend his efforts to Vernon’s campaign while in Iowa. Introducing Vernon, O’Malley praised her courage and determination as a leader throughout her political career.

“She had the guts to step up in an uphill fight and run as Lieutenant Governor for Iowa with Jack Hatch,” O’Malley said. Commenting on Vernon’s time as Mayor Pro Tempore of Cedar Rapids during the flood of 2008, O’Malley continued, “She had to pick people up of the mat, shake your neighbors, remind them that they’re still a strong people and they’ll come through this and come through this together.”

Before turning the mic over to Vernon, O’Malley stressed the importance of becoming involved in this year’s election cycle, both on the local and national level.

“If you’ve never been involved in a campaign before, get involved in the next 72 days … by getting involved in Monica’s campaign you can not only make history here in Iowa, you can make history for our country, and you can make our country a better place for yourself, and your kids and your grandkids.”

Throughout the next 30 minutes, Vernon discussed her upbringing and her involvement in public service. Vernon attended the University of Iowa before going on to start a small market research business while raising three daughters. She cited her experience as a market researcher, in which she identified the current conditions and needs of individuals and families, as something that qualifies her for Congress. It was during her work as a researcher that Vernon stumbled upon the quiet but significant issue of homelessness in Iowa, particularly among women and children.

“Experts were saying that ‘we don’t have a homeless problem,’ because they expected them to be laying out on the streets,” Vernon said. “What is happening was that they lost their homes … when [a] family would split up, they ended up — many times it was the woman — whoever was left ended up way in debt. They ended up moving in with family and friends. And you’re just one squabble away from ending up in your car.”

Recognizing the large-scale community issue at hand, Vernon gathered people and worked to fund and found the Madge Phillips Center, a homeless shelter for women and children. However, Vernon quickly realized one shelter would not be able to solve the state-wide problem.

Martin O'Malley previously visited Grinnell in January 2016. Photo by John Brady.
Martin O’Malley previously visited Grinnell in January 2016. Photo by John Brady.

“When women and children go in to homeless shelters, they can only stay 90, 120 days … that’s just three or four months … so I started looking into affordable housing in Iowa and started working on that,” Vernon said. “I also realized that these women were under-trained and underemployed, so we worked together with the community college and organized labor. One thing led to another and I was working with about half the board and commissions in our community, and I decided that the real action was at our city council.”

Vernon went on to serve eight years on the Cedar Rapids City Council, where she chaired both the Council’s Community/Economic Development Committee and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. She offered particular advice for the diverse crowd of college students and adult community members.

“I … encourage all of you to run early for something and get involved. But if you don’t do it by a certain point, don’t give up.”

Vernon spoke about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, achieving equal pay for equal work and paid family leave, providing accessible and affordable education and reforming existing student loans as central issues in her campaign. But she also spoke about the general importance of voting

“I can’t do any of it if we don’t get good Democrats elected, if you don’t help me get to the house.”

Campus Democrats are working on bringing to campus other political figures to campus such as Patty Judge, the Democratic candidate for United States Senate from Iowa.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure students are informed and active in phone banking and door knocking in the greater community and registering their fellow students,” Wadle wrote in an email to The S&B. “Students should email [democrat] to find out specific volunteer opportunities.”

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