By Crystal Defatte
I spoke with Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party candidate Jack Schuler to learn more about who he is, his analysis of what went wrong, and how he plans to help fix it.
CD: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, I know there is quite a lot our readers would like to know about each of the candidates. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
JS: I was born in Streator, IL, which is a rural industrial town southwest of Chicago. My mom has a master’s in poli sci from Illinois State, and she does work with the job partnership training act. My dad is a 101st Airborne vet, who served for 25 years as a corrections officer at state funded medium and maximum institutions in Illinois. I attended parochial schools, spent a year in Japan as an exchange student, attended Briar Cliff University, graduated in 2005 with a theater degree, worked for a year, joined the Marines as a cryptologic linguist, went back to Briar Cliff University in 2011, and graduated in 2014 with a degree in secondary education, history, and English. I currently teach at Lincoln High School in Des Moines. I currently am a Precinct captain for the DSM 83, a member of the 3rd District Central Committee, and was elected Presidential Elector. I also cosponsor my school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
CD: That’s quite the interesting life you’ve led. How have these experiences shaped your world views?
JS: I grew up in family living on the fringe of the middle class, often struggling to get by, so I can relate to what the working and middle classes are feeling…that feeling of being forgotten. My parents are both lifelong Democrats as well. My travels and military experience has helped me see the world and the struggles that people all over endure. It made me believe that social justice is important, living wages are important, unions are important…education, infrastructure, holding corporations responsible, and so on. I’ve seen firsthand the damage inequality, poverty, and authoritarianism cause.
CD: It sounds like you have a real passion for helping people, which is something that would have to manifest itself in your leadership should you be elected. Have you been in a leadership position before outside of the classroom?
JS: I was elected to student council when I was an exchange student. I was president of my university’s Gay Straight Alliance. I was a Corporal in the Marines but I always performed duties above my pay grade. I was a shift leader on my deployment with the 31st MEU, which is a Marine Expeditionary Unit. We roll out on Navy vessels and work together to accomplish various missions. I was on the USS Essex, which is a small aircraft carrier. I was collections manager for my duty assignment in South Korea. Right now, I am a Sergeant in the Army Reserve and an assistant squad leader.
CD: I, and I’m sure our readers, thank you for your service. Prior to your current positions as precinct captain, a member of the Third District Central Committee, and a presidential elector, how involved have you been with the Democratic Party?
JS: I registered to vote at 18, and I worked during the 2002 election as a canvasser. I was really fighting to get Paul Schomshor elected over Steve King. I did not volunteer while active duty because I felt it would be a conflict of interest to serve at the direction of the president while actively campaigning for specific politicians. I did exercise my vote. I got involved again in 2012 for Organizing for America, and I volunteered heavily up and down the ballot this past election. Specifically, I put in a lot of work for Kim Weaver and Andrea Phillips writing letters, knocking doors, making calls and so on.
CD: Now that you are free to be more politically involved, are you planning on running for any other office during your time as a vice chair should you be elected?
JS: Not during my tenure. I would like to run for something in 2020. I can see myself running for state house. There are many solid policies like anti-bullying legislation and hate crimes legislation that weren’t getting enough support in a Republican House and won’t see the light of day in a Red state. I also would like to strengthen protections for women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons, while combating eminent domain abuse. During my tenure I would like to focus on Vice Chair, rebuilding the party, reconnecting with the people we serve, and setting the standard for future Vice Chairs.
CD: What does rebuilding the Party mean to you?
JS: Refocusing on the people, listening to them, reminding where their home is. The GOP cares as much about the working class as it does about women, trans people, and people of color. I see a rebuilt Democratic party founded on populism and the people, drawing its funds from grassroots donors and not corporations or lobbyists. I’ll absolutely take a large donation from impassioned donors with the needs of the people in mind, but we’ve seen the power of $27. We need to get back to listening to the people we seek to serve. We need to drop our elitist attitudes and adopt an attitude where no town is too small, no voice is too insignificant, no county is too Red. Rebuilding the party won’t be easy, but we must knuckle down and get out there. We have to take our voters back. I adopt the attitude of Retired Gen. Jim Mattis, “I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.” We have to get ourselves out there, stop waiting for the voters to come to us, and we cannot quit until we’ve won. Even then, we cannot quit
CD: How would you suggest the party identify and tap into those grassroots donors you mentioned?
JS: Meet with them. Have conversations with them. If we go to them, they will begin to see that we really do care about them. I know I do. Their situations aren’t any different from that of my hometown, which is hemorrhaging jobs and dying day by day. We also need to scout and run more inspiring candidates. Bernie Sanders went from long shot to contender because he inspired people. They believed in him. He wasn’t afraid to let his passions show. We need more of that. I worked for Andrea and Kim because they inspired me.
CD: As I’m sure you know, the members of the Democratic Party you would be serving fall all over the left half of the spectrum when it comes to political ideology. Would you consider yourself centrist, left, or far left leaning?
JS: I consider myself an old school progressive in the Teddy Roosevelt fashion with a whole lot of new fangled social justice mixed in.
CD: Why do you identify that way? In other words, what “old school progressive” values do you hold?
JS: I believe in the rights and power of the working person. I believe they deserve fair wages, benefits, and treatment in return for their labor. I believe that regulation is necessary to protect consumers and ensure that they get the best quality product. I believe in preserving the natural beauty of our nation, so we can pass it on to our grandchildren. I do not believe in long-term damage for short-term profit. I believe that if you are making this country your home, you are protected by the Constitution and that the Constitution applies to people not corporations.
CD: In regards to the aforementioned spectrum, what distinctions do you see between progressive and so-called neo-liberal policies and politicians?
JS: I feel like Neo-liberals have allowed themselves to be pushed to the right to the point where they’re basically diet Republicans. The closer you start to the center, the further right you end up when you compromise. Progressives have to compromise as well, but they give up ground and still find themselves squarely on the left. I also would like to see Democrats find their fighting spirit again. We give in before we even start fighting. We need to dig in more and make the Republicans fight.
CD: How would the party “dig in” more?
JS: We take the GOP playbook and turn it against them. The Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare 68 times last I looked it up. They knew it wouldn’t happen, but it made it look like they were fighting for what they said they would fight for. We need to be aggressive like that. Send things up that we know will fail, and turn around and say, “Look at those obstructionist Republicans blocking progress. They don’t want to compromise.” The sit in about gun violence was great, but it wasn’t enough. We need that sit in times 100. We need to be aggressive and unorthodox and start fighting back instead of folding, shrugging, and saying maybe next time. We need to filibuster. We need to call out the GOP when they’re wrong. We need to stop trying to avoid conflict and start fighting no holds barred.
CD: So you believe that compromise with Republicans has brought many in the party too far right; how do you plan on finding appropriate compromises between neo-liberals and progressives that will bridge the gap and bring the party further left?
JS: I think that we have much more in common deep down than we realize. We want Iowa Blue. We want to help people. We want Iowa to be the envy of the nation nd we like it when Republicans lose. We need to get together and forget about our differences in the primaries and start focusing on winning and sending the GOP packing.
CD: Speaking of sending Republicans packing, the party failed to do just that and instead saw huge losses this year. What would you say were the biggest contributing factors to those losses?
JS: Leaving Republicans unchallenged, failing to adequately support our best candidates, and running candidates that it’s nearly impossible to get excited about.
CD: How would you as vice chair encourage people to run at their local levels and how would you help them win their races?
JS: Connecting with Dems all over the party, especially at county and local levels, scouting potential candidates and getting them training through specialized things like the Victory Fund if they qualify, and meeting with people in their local communities to see where we’ve dropped the ball and where we can help.
CD: Many are also contributing these losses to the two voting blocs the party lost, people living in rural areas and working class Americans. How do you propose the IDP reach out to them specifically and turn them blue again?
JS: Go talk to them. It’s that easy. Get out of the metros and the safe blue zones and talk to people in the so-called red counties. This past election only 6% of Iowa counties went Blue. That’s embarrassing, and we only have ourselves to blame. We gave up on certain areas as too Red. That’s ridiculous. We are the party of the people, and we need to stop ceding territory. We need to go on the offensive, get out there, and take our voters back.
CD: When you say “go talk to them”, what specifically does the party need to talk about? In order to be effective you would need to convince them that you are, as you said, the party of the people, so how do party members go about convincing them of that?
JS: Start the conversation and then listen. Really hear what they have to say. Ask for suggestions and turn those suggestions into policy. Then reconnect with the people. We need them to see that we are including them. It’s not enough to meet and greet once. We have to build relationships with our voters and restore their access to us.
CD: That could certainly help bring people into the party who would fall under the rural and labor constituency caucuses; how would you work with and support not just them, but all of the constituency caucuses?
JS: I believe that these groups are the arteries that connect us to our base. I want to work with members to scout candidates and connect with voters and communities. Furthermore, there are programs like the Victory Fund (for LGBT people) that help raise money for and promote candidates from groups these caucuses represent. We’ve got to do our research and start running candidates that truly represent us and the people we know and love.
CD: Switching gears a little, how committed are you to the current IDP platform and running candidates who will support it?
JS: Considering how progressive it is, I am all in behind it. Granted, there is room for improvement and clarification. For example the legalize all drugs plank really needs to be clarified. I believe in legalization, taxation, and regulation, as well as freeing nonviolent drug offenders and restoring their rights.. I think that is a vital part of ending the War on Drugs. That goes back to me being an old-school Progressive. I believe in ensuring that a consumer has a quality product that isn’t going to kill them and if a quality product can’t be provided then the product shouldn’t be legal. That’s just one of the planks that I believe needs to be clarified. I also think we should come out harder against pipelines and issue stronger language in favor of unions. Iowa should not be a Right to Work state because Right to Work is code for Right to Starve.
CD: Of course the platform is something shaped by the will of the people in the party, but would you personally be willing to support scaling back on some of the more progressive aspects of it in order to help bridge the gap between the neo-liberals and progressives within the party?
JS: I am not willing to give up Progressive principles for the sake of things that have been shown to not work or have been shown to alienate people. I am willing to work with the neo liberals to add clarity to the platform that we have developed together already.
CD: We’ve talked about a lot of important issues and ways to work towards solving them. What would you say are your top 5 first 100 days goals?
JS: 1. Set foot in every county and connect with the people there. 2. Draft a list of 2018 candidates to take the fight to the GOP 3. Select outreach chairs that live in the communities we most need to connect with. 4. Encourage State House and Senate Dems to go all in to fight everything the GOP does. The US congress tried to overturn Obamacare 68 times. They never relented. We need to be at least as dedicated to doing the right thing as they were to doing the wrong thing. 5. Begin push to raise grassroots donations through things like monthly auto debit and statewide efforts to give Dems a monetary stake in their party.
CD: I wish you luck in trying to achieve those goals, should you be elected. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about yourself, your goals, positions, or candidacy in general?
JS: I would also like to see the IDP increase inclusion by developing language that includes gender nonconforming people in their internal elections.
CD: That would definitely help to be more inclusive.
JS: Oh yes. Right now, a non binary person has to conform to a gender to run for some internal positions.
CD: It surprises me that it hasn’t been addressed yet. Do you have other ideas about how the IDP can be more inclusive?
JS: I think inclusion is a constant process. I think it’s important to engage marginalized communities, but when we do that we have to remember to avoid things like tokenism and to be aware of our own privileged going into marginalized communities. I think it’s best to not tell these communities what they need but let them tell us what they need. We should rely on members of the community to organize within their communities because if we just send our privileged selves into marginalized communities it’s not going to work. For example, a friend of mine was talking about how white college graduates from the coordinated campaign went into her African-American community and tried to dictate to them what they needed, as well as failing to understand the unique concerns and perspectives and needs of her community. We need to reach out to our marginalized communities in a way that recognizes our privilege. We need to reach out with humility.
CD: That’s all the questions I have for you today; you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you once again for agreeing to the interview.
JS: Semper Fi, and Go Cubs!
Crystal is a 32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism. She currently resides in Bettendorf, IA.