By Crystal Defatte
I spoke with Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party candidate Michelle Servadio to learn more about who she is, her values, and how she’d like to unify the party.
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?
MS: My name is Michelle D. Servadio. I’m a Christian. I have five children, I’m an RN, a US Army Veteran, and I believe in serving others out of love without expectation of anything in return. I have a deep love for Iowa, our people, and the lands. I’m Vice Chair of the [state] Veterans Caucus and I’m chair of the Veterans Caucus in Muscatine County. As an RN I’ve fought for Iowans to have access to medicinal cannabis in Iowa and helped found the Iowa Hemp Association. I’ve fought against racism and bigotry in our state as a Veteran. I am a true progressive and I stand for the values Democrats hold dear, boldly so.
CD: I, and I’m sure our readers, thank you for your service. Where does the dedication to bringing medicinal cannabis to Iowa come from?
MS: The sickest and poorest among us have the least ability to fight for medicine; they have no voice in Des Moines. There is a disconnect from constituents that happens when legislators caucus and vote along a party line instead of listening to what the people that elected them have said they want as law in Iowa. A cancer patient can’t tolerate a trip from Muscatine to Des Moines to petition Gary Carlson to vote yes on CBD oil but I can, and as an RN, I can educate and advocate, so I did for people that asked me for help. I became certified through the American Cannabis Nurses Association in Cannabis Nursing. I’ve given a presentation on medicinal cannabis to the Senators of the State of Iowa and to several of our Representatives. I’ve driven to Des Moines countless times advocating for Veterans rights, access to mental health care and review of legislation and qualifying conditions for last session’s Cannabis bills, working with Reps and Senators and Lobbyists. I wrote the IDP platform amendment on medicinal cannabis at State Convention this summer and debated it. It passed unanimously and I was so overwhelmed I cried. I thought: “Thank you, if our group, so diverse can unify, there is hope.”
CD: It sounds like you’re really leading the fight for medicinal cannabis here in Iowa. Speaking of being a leader, can you tell us a little bit about your leadership within the Veteran’s Caucus?
MS: Being Vice Chair of the Veterans Caucus allows me the honor to serve on SCC. I’ve been able to use this forum to speak on behalf of veterans needs to key legislators at events over the past several months. With several veteran suicides occurring, two of them exactly four months apart out of the Iowa City VA facility, I have been asking for a bill here in Iowa that would be similar to Congressman Loebsack’s bill. With the new election, there are new legislators for me to meet and speak with about this. Basically, instead of a veteran having to drive all the way to the VA when they are in crisis, my idea is they get access to care anywhere they seek it and are never turned away. I’m the opposite of the GOP’s ” suck it up buttercup!” […] I’m a veteran; I’ve actually earned the right to do something about this. Veterans’ creed. We never quit.
CD: That’s very admirable and certainly a very important matter that needs to be addressed. Besides your current positions within the Veteran’s Caucus, what has your involvement been within the Democratic Party?
MS: I’m new. I was brand new and joined to caucus for Bernie. So that’s all I’ve done until now. I’ve been very busy this past few months! I’m also a founding member of and Chair of Veterans Affairs for the Progressive Caucus. The Progressive Caucus believes in upholding civil liberties and basic human rights, clean environment, free speech, dedication to health care needs, education for all ages, diversity and inclusion, and a celebration of what makes us unique and diverse. We are a party of inclusion. I’m drawn to these values. I believe many Iowans are.
CD: Some might question whether you would have the dedication necessary to be a Vice Chair of a party you only recently joined. What would you say to those critics?
MS: Dedication to be a vice chair because I’m new? I was dedicated to serving my fellow Iowans long before I put on a party hat. This isn’t about me. This is about how we as a group navigate Iowa together and serve the people of Iowa. I’ve observed meetings that lose sight of the fact that none of this is about us. My life’s work has been service to my fellow human being through service to country and now as a Registered Nurse. This is another way to serve the good people of Iowa. I’m not done yet.
CD: Your commitment to serving is quite commendable, would you be looking to serve in another capacity by running for any other office during your time as a vice chair, should you be elected?
MS: No this is not a launching pad. The Veterans of Iowa need a voice pushing to get them access to expedient care, and Iowa’s sick and suffering need access to medicinal Cannabis in Iowa so they are not forced to be criminals. I’m committed to keeping my promises to those who have already sought me ought or elected me to leadership in SCC. I’m not out to increase personal gain, but to serve others. I have to choose how I can be most effective and apply my efforts this way. If, over time, I earn the respect of my local county and district through service and I can effect true change, and I am asked to serve, that is different than me just planning it as a trajectory. But clearly I am exactly the voter the Democratic Party needs to reach. I am the single mom living off about $2000 a month. I can’t afford to send my kids to college. I lost my house to bankruptcy. I have Ehlers Danlos, I’m an RN, a Veteran. I love my country and am looking to my party for a leader who speaks to my specific socioeconomic cultural needs, diversity, and there is a giant vacuum. Be the change you believe in. I love these words. I live this.
CD: The party did certainly seem to, as you said, fail to speak to the needs of the people, as evident by the huge losses it saw this election cycle. What other factors, if any, would you say led to these losses?
MS: We can rehash and rehash; it will only multiply our dysfunction. It’s the past. Our goals must be to move forward in a GOP world that is moving forward with brutal speed and will attack the Constitution, will chip away at personal freedoms, healthcare, education, and basic needs in Iowa. We must unite quickly and work tirelessly to reach out to each county to strengthen, especially within our schools where I believe the impacts will be the strongest. “Suck it up buttercup” aimed dead center at our youth and schools. We should see that as “shots fired”. As leaders, we should fundamentally understand that as a body, we can’t stand for this. This is where we fail, when we look the other way and miss big and fight over small things. It’s like the guy at one meeting who stood up and shouted how we were going to lose an election because we were not door knocking because we were debating the Standing Rock Pipeline resolution. If SCC is going to be relevant in election cycles, we need to have a firm understanding of who our voters are and what they care about. We have to be progressive. We can’t just keep doing the same old things and repeating the same mistakes because that’s how it’s always been done. I wonder had we allowed constituency caucuses to endorse and really launch via social media some key candidates, could we have made a difference? Why not do new versus door knocking. The hard to reach voters. Etc. We were ineffective because leadership refused to incorporate or leverage new ideas. Their compromise was not a compromise that could work; it killed the idea to the point candidates could not use it. I guess I have to be critical of our own party. We were ineffective. We must change and make room for opportunity for growth and improvement.
CD: You mentioned understanding voters and what they care about, how would you speak to and convert two crucial voting blocs, rural and labor, that the party lost this cycle?
MS: Give them their voice back. Go to them. Our legislative leaders hold forums, coffees; we need to coordinate efforts, meetings, go to their meetings, and hear their concerns and needs. Ask them what they are having issues with. Start there. That is the heartbeat of how legislation is crafted to meet their needs. We lost our majorities but we can still tack on amendments to bills during session this year. The only way to effect true change is to put boots on the ground, humble yourselves, and go to them.
CD: Of course these groups are represented within the party through the constituency caucuses that correspond to these voting blocs. What do you see as the role of the constituency caucuses, not just these, but all of them, in the party and how would you support them in that role?
MS: The Constituency Caucuses provide a balance when we vote as SCC. We ensure that diversity, that inclusion, of all voices that a true representation of Iowa’s population and our IDP platform are held to as we vote. It is imperative that these caucuses are maintained and grow, and I’d like to see them have more power, the ability to reach out to those hard to reach voter bases. That can be a way we grow the IDP in an age where people seek out an identity and an emotional connection with their politics. People are looking for a way to build a better world. Let’s give them one.
CD: Going back to turning losses into wins, fundraising is an important part of growing the party and winning elections. How would you suggest the party increase fundraising and identify/tap into new donors?
MS: I’m going to be honest. I would have to ask for help. I know how to do little fundraisers but I don’t know. I want us as a party to break ties with elitism. I want us to invest in funds that are environmentally safe and not in pipelines. I’d like to see us move towards choices that in the future, when a donor leaves us a bequest, we invest the money in green energy that benefits Iowa. But like I said, here is where, to be honest, I would need help. My integrity comes into play. If a person believes in what we are doing for Iowa and is willing to give, then we are doing our job right.
CD: So you’d want to see those funds invested outside of the party instead of invested into candidate races?
MS: We have a very large budget and candidate races are only part of it. I was so discouraged to see that candidates were not helped or did not have access to VAN that needed it unless they paid giant fees. We literally ate our own. This must stop. We must lift up and magnify our candidates in every way, including with our constituency caucuses. I would invest in our candidates. Looking at a district, like Kim Weaver for example; I’ll use her. She was told her race was unwinnable. She got no help, but we should have went to battle for her because her opponent is a racist bigot and intolerant. Plus she is a woman and Iowa needs a woman of her talents and skills. Her opponent has never passed anything. Why did we not stick up for the oppressed people in her district? It was never about the people. Are we not the party of inclusion? We did not fight for the 13%, and this is why we lost Iowa. We don’t value people. They know it. Only 13% of Kim’s district is Dems, but way more than that voted for her I think.
CD: Switching gears a little, you’ve already stated that you identify as a progressive and given us some of the reasons why you do so; what differences do you see between progressives and so-called “neo-liberals”?
MS: I hate labels. I’d rather find common ground and peace, Crystal. We have to move forward and work together in the SCC. We must stop the Us versus Them. We can’t accomplish anything without unity. We must continue on with true reform, activism, and service to our fellow Iowans that brings forth change that makes their lives better. My works speak for me. Regardless of what positions I hold, who I fundamentally am and what is accomplished will continue. This is what sets me apart from ambition versus service. I think Jack [Schuler] is the same.
CD: The platform saw a profound shift to the left during this year’s convention, with many of the planks and plank amendments being seen as too progressive by some and not progressive enough by others. This serves as a prime example of the division within the Democratic Party. How do you plan on helping to heal the divide between neo-liberals and progressives and achieve the unity you speak of?
MS: Listening to both sides. It is not about us. The convention was delegates sent to represent the voices of all of Iowa. I wrote the Amendment for Medicinal Cannabis. I was interviewed by Barry Schwartz from USA Today for breaking the glass ceiling in Iowa on Cannabis and for being first female vice chair of Veterans Caucus, first female to have Iowa Hemp Association in Iowa, and the first RN to present to Senators on medicinal Cannabis. I deferred the article because I didn’t accomplish this due to my gender. I didn’t want all this publicity inflaming issues here in Iowa. It’s not about me. To heal, we do the work; we do [it] over time, working on a common goal together. Barry said that Iowa’s medicinal Cannabis platform is the most progressive in the USA. Guess what? It passed unanimously!! Iowa did that!! The article I agreed to do instead was on industrial hemp and it ran locally in the Des Moines Register last month. I’m passionate about saving our environment. But to heal the divide we listen to Iowans and quit bickering amongst ourselves. We are here for them.
CD: Given how controversial it has been, how committed are you to recruiting candidates who will support the platform?
MS: A strong candidate overall is what is most important. If the candidate can win and is strong in the community. Like a purity standard? There might have to be some basic absolutes. Like they can’t be a racist.
CD: What would be some other absolutes, in your opinion?
MS: Service must be fundamental to character. I believe in separation of church and state, but I’d really like to see a candidate who loves God but who also does not force religion into politics; one who celebrates diversity, tolerance, all genders, all religions, faiths, and cultures; one who supports medical freedoms, living wages, and economic reform; one who believes corporations are not people and that any company with more than 50 employees overseas shouldn’t get tax loopholes; one who supports veterans rights, veterans expedient access to healthcare; one who wants to put an end to CAFOs In Iowa; one who supports industrial hemp legalization and medicinal cannabis comprehensive.
CD: How would you as vice chair recruit people like this to run in order to leave no race uncontested, and how would you help them win their races?
MS: I’d attend local forums; that is where the people speak up. City council meetings is another. That is where your little champions are hiding. The voices waiting to break out, scout for community activists and see who is doing the work, who touches the local hearts. In Wilton, Bobby Kauffman ran unopposed. Now he is writing unconstitutional legislation. We have a problem. I would encourage and campaign, come to events, help with public speaking, social media, and ask the constituency caucuses to help out. Basically unite the SCC behind our candidates and try a new approach. I don’t think making a poor, young, new candidate pay thousands to access the VAN is a good way to win races. I think we should find new ways to win. Our current ways eliminate economically disadvantaged candidates who are bright and talented. We stamp out diversity because of poverty and we create the vacuum. You have to somehow have $60k to run. I could never run; I live off $2000 a month. I can assure you that I am perfectly capable of legislation, though, much better than that guy from Wilton. The only way I can make a difference is this: my peers.
CD: We’ve talked about a lot of important issues. What would you say are your top 5 first 100 days goals?
MS: We must stabilize our party, it should be before legislative session starts. I must build new relationships in the SCC and with our new Legislators. Working on and passing legislation for: 1. Medicinal Cannabis, 2. Veterans Expedient Access to medical Care, 3 Industrial Hemp. Healing tensions between Liberals and Progressives. Continue to manage and grow my Veterans Caucus.
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?
MS: This will give me the voice and opportunity to greater serve Iowans for which I will be truly honored and grateful. I will use my experience as a Veteran and as an RN to respect the thoughts and ideas of others and to be respectful and diligent in my duties. I will be truthful and reliable. I am a forceful advocate for all that the IDP represents and I will fight for all of us. I will not be silent and I will not back down in the face of bigotry, racism, intolerance or any threat to our constitutional rights. I also will never censor any one of you just because your opinion is different than mine. I will demand there be a free expression of ideas in SCC.
CD: That’s very admirable and I wish you luck. That’s all the questions I have for you today; it’s been a pleasure getting to know you and your ideas. Thank you once again for agreeing to the interview.
32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism.