Each month, the National Democratic Training Committee highlights the work of a local party leader who is doing outstanding work in their own community. This month’s local leader － Jeremy Dumkrieger of Woodbury County, Iowa － was nominated anonymously:
Jeremy has been working hard since becoming Chair to unite various factions of the party and to bring in new voices. And he’s been successful. Woodbury County consistently has highly attended central committee meetings, but beyond that, Jeremy has found new ways to keep people in his county engaged.
Most recently, Jeremy oversaw the volunteer efforts for a State Senate special election. In a district that Trump won by 41 points, our Democratic candidate lost by only 10. I firmly believe that Jeremy’s efforts to recruit and train volunteers, and to fill every shift, contributed significantly to that 31 point swing.
Jeremy was elected as the chair of the Woodbury County Democratic Party in 2017.
Woodbury County has just over 100,000 residents, and includes Sioux City. It’s on the far west side of Iowa on the Nebraska border. In 2016, Donald Trump won with a 20-point margin. In a recent special election for State Senate District 3, the Democratic candidate narrowly won the precincts in Woodbury County.
How Did You Get to Woodbury County?
I’m from a little town called Soldier. I went to Morningside College here in Sioux City. After that I stuck around, worked for some nonprofits, went back to school to get my teacher’s certificate and now I’ve been teaching art for a few years.
How Did You Get Involved With The Party?
I’ve always been interested. I’m kind of a dabbler I guess. I would come in for elections and help out. I canvassed with Clinton and Kerry. I was a precinct captain for Howard Dean and Barack Obama.
And when I was 26 I ran for county supervisor in a little county south of here.
But You Didn’t Win?
Right. But I realized how powerful it is to knock doors and write letters. I knocked doors and wrote letters — by hand — to every Democrat in my district. I ended up winning every precinct but my own. My opponent lived in the same precinct, and we joke that his family was just bigger than mine.
I learned that it matters, the work you put into it. Even if people know who you are, you won’t win if you don’t put in the work and build those relationships.
Where Did You Go From There, After The Campaign Was Over?
Life happened. I got a job. My wife got cancer. We ran out of insurance.
When you get a bill for $35,000 in the mail － that changes everything. It’s not really a hobby anymore. It’s an obsession. And if we can stop what happened to my family from happening to other people, it’s all worth it.
If this is what I can contribute this is what I’ll do.
How Did You Get From There to Leading Your Local Party in Woodbury County?
During the last caucuses, I was a precinct captain and “super volunteer” for Bernie Sanders. I organized a lot of events and trainings with them. I organized a lot of their campaign here. Even though he wasn’t the nominee we stuck on. We had work to do. There was a four-day depression mode and then we jumped back into it. Pretty soon after I was asked to run for county chair, and so I did.
How Did That Play Out After The Primary?
It was pretty heated between those factions [supporting Clinton and Sanders], but we decided early on we can’t have that here. We have to buckle down and get along. We have to win.
We became like a family right away. We earned each other’s respect and we never had issues.
Was The Chair Election Hotly Contested?
I was unopposed; I think people were happy with me. I think people knew that I would keep working for them. I feel a lot of pressure not to let them down, so I work hard to not let them down. Or my family. Or myself.
So tell me about your time as chair so far.
In the year I’ve been chair, we’ve organized over 100 events, meetings, and parties. We did an event a day for several weeks. We reach out everywhere, as often as possible. We attend every parade, every forum, and every festival from Pride to the County Fair.
We also just had back-to-back special elections, which killed us. It was super cold here － like 20 below zero. But people showed up－ on a couple of occasions we had 40 to 50 a day － to knock doors and make phone calls.
Your nominator said you saw a 31-point swing. That’s huge!
We recruited two really good candidates that fit those districts. The first [running for State Senate] was a former superintendent of schools from Plymouth County. He was a friend of teachers and people knew him. [The candidate for] state house was a former high school principal.
What has been your experience as a new chair at a pretty hectic time?
We have an advisory council made up of former chairs. They’re always there to help me through crises. I can always reach out to them. The state party is always helping us out, too. If we need something, we call them; we have a lot of support. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the best volunteers in the entire state supporting our efforts as well.
What have you learned over the past year?
I think the most important thing is not to get stuck in a rut. Making sure we have new ideas, and when people bring new ideas to us we’re open-minded and listen to them. We need to stay creative. My strategy is to always stay in the box. But I’m straddling one leg out, one leg in. We know door knocking works, but there are other things to try.
Last year we had the idea － let’s have a Hamilton Karaoke! Additionally, we have a mascot named “Woody Burros,” and the kids call out for him now at parades.
One of our state senators claimed he had a business degree, but it turned out to be a certificate from a company training. So we threw a “graduation party” as a fundraiser and gave fake degrees to donors. People had a great time and we made quite a bit of money for the party.
What do you love most about your community?
I love that we take care of each other. If a farmer gets sick and can’t take care of their crops, everybody pitches in to help them. When my family struggled with medical bills, my community helped us raise money to cover them.
When we’re not at the ballot box, we all work together and go to church together. We just let everyone know what we believe － hopefully they’ll start agreeing with us.
There’s a lot of people that want to be Democrats, who are Democrats, but don’t want to be a part of the party. This is a really conservative area, and people are afraid to have Democratic roots. Our goal is to say “We’re here.” We’re not afraid to say it, and we’re not going to be afraid to be Democrats anymore.
What do you do with your spare time?
Spare time? [Laughs] Probably watch a movie with my kids. I make them volunteer with me all the time. I collect political buttons. I’m in Iowa so I get to meet all the candidates.
So how much time do you spend on party business?
During the elections, it’s all I did. Forty hours a week, easy.
Any final words?
Work hard like your life depended on it because someone else’s probably does. We have to win those seats and fight for working families.
Is there a leader in your local Democratic Party doing great work the world should know about? Tell us about them–either comment below or email us at [email protected]