Notes from the road: My listening tour through rural Iowa

Follow along with my trip journal as I hear directly from families and caucus-goers.

Kirsten Gillibrand
Apr 17, 2019 · 16 min read

Saturday, April 20 – 10:30 am CT

Des Moines, IA

Yesterday we ended our tour with an arm wrestling contest and a drag show. A great reminder that we’ve got a long road ahead of us, but there’s no reason we can’t have some fun along the way.

Thank you to everyone who came out to join us.

Until next time, cheers!

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19–5:30 pm CT

Carroll, IA

When you’re running for office, you usually have a campaign team that helps you prepare for events. They tell you about what’s happening in the local news, remind you of which issues are most important to the families in the area. But from time to time, an issue comes up you never thought to prepare for.

In Carroll, IA, that issue was candy.

Luckily, I have some experience in that field from raising my sons. So, when two young boys, Sam and Eric, showed up at our event, I knew exactly how to win them over: I invited their family to join my son Henry and me on our journey to find the best candy store in Iowa. They were quick to agree.

However, in talking to their mom, I learned that their number one issue wasn’t candy; it was health care. Even at their young age Sam and Eric believe that when someone is sick or hurt, they deserve to get the care they need.

These young men have heart, but what their rural community needs is better access to quality health care and higher-paying jobs. I have an idea that can get them both.

If we establish a national public service program and a federal job training program, we can provide job training and education opportunities for rural communities like Carroll. Under these programs, Sam and Eric would be able to complete a year of public service, and in return, they would receive up to two years of education or vocational training (I like to imagine it’s in medicine in or public health — their number one issue is health care after all). Now imagine they’ve finished a degree but don’t have the skills to get that higher-paying job they want. Well, there’s a job training program they can enroll in to get them there. Suddenly we’ve created a pipeline of skilled, compassionate, service-driven young people ready to provide quality care for their local community. It’s a win-win.

Yes, there are other variables in this scenario, like the fact that rural hospitals are closing across the country because of skyrocketing costs. And I want to address that too. While Sam and Eric are studying up to become leading medical professionals, I plan to be tackling the corruption in Washington by taking power back from the insurance companies and lowering the cost of health care.

The truth is that saving rural communities is a complex issue with many, many variables, but I’m not afraid to take on the fights in Washington to get the job done. I don’t know that Sam and Eric understood my whole plan, but they did agree to hear me out — and that’s a great start.

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19–2:50 pm CT

Denison, IA

Our stories are powerful. They drive us out of bed in the morning and shape the little moments in our lives. I love hearing the stories of the people I meet on the road, and I love hearing their solutions.

If you sit a person down and ask them what problems they’re facing, and give them the time to really answer the question, they usually have a few ideas for how to fix them. It’s not that they haven’t tried to tackle them on their own, it’s that they lack the resources to take action or some kind of barrier is in their way.

That’s where I come in.

As a public servant, my favorite part of the job is taking someone’s story and turning it into action. Whether it’s sharing a story on the Senate floor or using a story to shape a bill I’m writing — stories are the most powerful tools a legislator can wield.

This is what my notebook looks like when I leave a community meeting. The pages are packed full of stories and solutions straight from the mouths of hardworking Americans. I don’t pretend to have the answers to everything — and I’m not afraid to say when I don’t. Building a stronger, more unified America takes all of us, and if I’m going to lead that change, I need to talk to as many people as I can. I hope you’ll be one of them.

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19 – 2:23 pm CT

Denison, IA

In Denison, caucus-goers told me about their concerns around immigration policy. It’s important to families here that we defend our national security without compromising our values on human rights. I couldn’t agree more. We can keep our nation safe without locking children in cages, and we can keep harmful drugs out of our communities without separating families.

I’ve been fighting for comprehensive immigration reform since I entered the Senate ten years ago, including a plan for a pathway to citizenship. I believe that immigration makes us stronger and that our diversity is our strength. As president, I’ll ensure that people seeking asylum in this country will have access to real immigration lawyers and judges, and make sure that process is humane. We don’t need a wall to keep us safe, we need better technology and tools.

The rhetoric coming from the White House is meant to divide us and turn us against one another. I refuse to let that happen.

Cowards build walls. Leaders build bridges.

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19 – 11:55 am CT

Harlan, IA

Today I became the first 2020 presidential candidate to meet families in Harlan, IA this year — one of the reddest areas I’ve been to in Iowa. I’m running for president to represent all Americans, no matter where they live or where they come from. So don’t be surprised if you see me in a red district near you. I’ve won in blue, purple and red districts because I’m not afraid to go where others won’t — and that’s precisely how I plan to beat Donald Trump.

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19–9:00 am CT

Council Bluffs, IA

Nothing like a good stretch to start the day! Today I’ll be in Harlan, Denison, Carroll, and Ames. If you’re free and want to swing by, you can find a list of all of our events at

— Kirsten

Friday, April 19–8:30 am CT

Council Bluffs, IA

Thanks for coming out, Council Bluffs!

— Kirsten

Thursday, April 18 — 7:00 pm CT

Council Bluffs, IA

Watch the Facebook Live from our event in Council Bluffs!

Thursday, April 18 — 5:40 pm CT

Atlantic, IA

To put it plainly, if an economic plan addresses unemployment but not underemployment, it’s not doing enough for working families. Many workers across America have full-time jobs — some even have two — yet they still can’t make ends meet. The Iowans I met with this afternoon at Iowa Western Community College understand that. The school here has developed an education-to-employment program that provides the public with job training to increase their employability even before they’ve had a chance to begin an education program. I joined caucus-goers to hear how the program has benefited their community and see how we can replicate their success through federal programs.

My big ideas include a national job training program that will provide job training to those who need it. By giving workers the training they need, workers can secure higher-paying jobs and work their way into the middle class. It’s one of the best ways to take on institutional racism and lift up the people who feel left behind because the economy isn’t working for them.

I also would like to establish a national public service program that would cover up to two years of secondary education or vocational training in return for one year of public service. A four-year degree would require two years of public service. Some people think my idea is too “outside-the-box,” but we’re already doing it with the GI Bill. Why not expand that program and ensure that all American families have the chance to pursue the education they need — without having to take on the immense burden of student debt.

It’s also important that we create a national public service program that can restore the values of service in our country. The hatred and divisiveness coming from the White House is tearing us apart, but by putting service first, we can start to change the heart of America in a generation.

— Kirsten

Thursday, April 18–3:35 pm CT

Clarinda, IA

Mental health is a serious issue to Iowans, particularly in Clarinda where one of their mental health facilities was shut down. So, I stopped at Garrison Coffee House to hear directly from caucus-goers on what they think can be done to expand access to mental health resources in their community.

When we spoke, there was one thing many of us agreed on: the biggest threat to mental health care in Iowa came when their governor privatized Medicaid. Just a couple weeks ago, over 425,000 poor and disabled Iowans found out they could be losing their health insurance because UnitedHealthcare had decided to leave the market. By jeopardizing their health care, Iowa Republicans have put the lives of almost half a million Iowan’s at risk.

I believe health care is a right — not a privilege — and that’s why I’ll continue to pushback on cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, and why I’m fighting tooth and nail to pass Medicare for All. I’m not afraid to stand up to the insurance companies to protect American families, and you shouldn’t be either.

— Kirsten

Thursday, April 18 — 1:10 pm CT

Creston, IA

Let me tell you about Creston. The families here, like families across Iowa, are patriotic, they’re kind, and they’re busting their backs to provide for their families — but the White House is only making it harder.

Communities in rural Iowa are still recovering from the fallout of Trump’s trade war with China, and many farmers and manufacturers are worried that the deals Trump is negotiating won’t lift the retaliatory tariffs hurting their bottom line. With flooding threatening crops across the state, the last thing these families need is a president who’s impulsive and reckless when it comes to trade. I’m brave enough to stand up to China and hold them accountable, but I’m also smart enough to know we can do it without hurting businesses in rural communities.

I want to thank the Iowans who came out to meet me in Creston. They weren’t afraid to speak their mind or tell me exactly how they felt about what’s happening in Washington. I respect that, and I want to honor it by using the notes I took today to find real tangible solutions to the problems they’re facing every day.

These people are working hard for their families and they deserve a president who will work just as hard for them.

— Kirsten

Thursday, April 18–12:10 am CT

Creston, IA

A quick message from the road:

Thursday, April 18 — 10:25 am CT

Indianola, IA

Our first event today brought me to The Corner Sundry where I took questions from the crowd. One question in particular really stood out to me. Margaret, a retired AFSCME member, worked for 45 years as a social worker and wanted to know where I stood on education.

As a mom of two young boys, I take education very seriously. Investing in public schools and raising teacher pay is critical to combatting systematic inequality and providing students with the resources they need to reach their fullest potential. That’s why I believe we can do more to expand STEM education in particular. We need to prepare our students for the jobs of a 21st-century economy. Not only can a STEM education provide a better life for our students, but it will train them to be the leaders who save our planet from climate change. It’s a win-win.

— Kirsten

Thursday, April 18–9:03 am CT

Indianola, IA

Started the morning with a quick workout and then I was off to meet Kay Henderson with Radio Iowa for a quick interview.

— Kirsten

Wednesday, April 17–9:35 pm CT

Des Moines, IA

I just got back from our awesome endorsement event with Kirsten Anderson. What a powerhouse! I’m so inspired by her story — speaking truth to power about rampant sexual harassment in her workplace at the Iowa Senate, filing a lawsuit when she was fired in retaliation, winning, spurring the Senate to update its policies and create accountability, and keeping up the fight as an advocate for all survivors and women!

It means so much to me to have her support in this campaign. It’s personal to me. I’ve been working on this issue in the Senate for years, fighting for accountability and justice on sexual assault and harassment in our military, on college campuses, and in Congress. Fundamentally, this is about answering a simple question: do we value women? If we do, we need to keep fighting for this issue — and neither I nor Kirsten are stopping any time soon.

It’s also poignant that our event happened during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. So I want to take a second to share some of my thoughts on how we can all do more to protect victims of sexual harassment and assault.

1. Believe survivors
Too often, institutions and systems of power are set up to protect their own, which means dismissing survivors who come forward about sexual harassment and assault. We must always start with believing survivors and taking their accusations seriously, so that there can be thorough investigations. It’s the first, necessary step to accountability and justice.

2. Value women
We also must strive to prevent sexual harassment and assault before it happens. It’s a matter of justice, but it’s also a matter of our values. As a mom of two young boys, I really believe that it’s on all of us — men and women — to draw clear lines and say it’s not okay for anyone to grope, hurt, or disrespect women. There’s too much evidence in our society that we don’t value women, and we need to fix that as a country.

3. Make this a policy priority
There are concrete steps we can take to put all of this into practice. I’ve worked on bills like the Military Justice Improvement Act to end sexual abuse in our military, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act to protect students from sexual assault on college campuses, and even bipartisan legislation to reform how Congress handles sexual assault and harassment cases. One in five women experiences sexual assault in her lifetime. We should create a national survey to get real data on this issue so we can propose concrete steps to stop this epidemic. This should be an issue we all make a priority as an issue of basic decency.

I’m going to keep fighting for this, and I’m honored to have advocates like Kirsten with me.

— Kirsten

Wednesday, April 17 — 8:40 pm CT

Des Moines, IA

Bravery. Courage. Strength.

When Kirsten Anderson was sexually harassed at work in the Iowa State House, she spoke up and stood out, knowing she might be dismissed or worse. Kirsten’s moment of bravery was retaliated against and she was fired, but she didn’t let that stop her from getting the justice she deserved. She sued her employers, won her case and now has dedicated her life to empowering women and protecting survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

Kirsten’s story inspires me and I was so honored to receive her endorsement tonight. Stories like Kirsten’s are what moved me to run for president in the first place. Men and women are taking brave and bold action all across America. It’s time that same brave and bold energy was back in the White House. With the help of Kirsten — and people like you, we’re going to make it happen.

— Kirsten

Happy Birthday, Progress Iowa!

— Kirsten

Wednesday, April 17 — 5:15 pm CT

Des Moines, IA

I have to take a second to tell you about the Drake University Democrats and community members who met me at Papa Keno’s this afternoon. I’m inspired by the way students are taking an active role in our democratic process by fighting for the issues they believe in, from commonsense gun reform to tackling climate change.

P.s. Thank you to Jaelyn and Amy for signing our commit-to-caucus cards right on the spot! I’m honored to have these young women on our team. 💪

Wednesday, April 17 — 1:07 pm CT

Pacific Junction, IA

Fran and Jason Parr showed me around their home to see the unbelievable flood damage. It’s hard to put into words what families like theirs are experiencing here. They’ve lost their homes, almost all of their belongings, their crops and their land is flooded with river water and sewage — they’ll have to start completely over. But Fran and Jason and all of the Iowans I met at the flood relief center aren’t broken down. They’re rallying to lift each other up and rebuild.

Leaders in Washington need to follow the example of these communities, and commit to action worthy of that bravery and determination. They shouldn’t have to rely on bare-minimum FEMA aid, they need a real package of emergency relief funding. It’s the responsibility of Congress and President Trump to make sure all Americans have the help they need when natural disasters strike, whether they live in the Midwest, California, the South, or Puerto Rico. And we have to be honest about the impact of climate change on the occurrence, frequency and severity of these disasters — and make policies and investments that will protect our communities and improve their resilience.

Most importantly, we shouldn’t forget these communities and what they’re working through when the cameras leave. I’m going to send some boxes of donated goods when I get home, and I told Fran I’d be back this summer to help families like hers as they repair their homes and start fresh. My heart is with Iowans experiencing this hardship, and I won’t stop fighting to help them in every way I can.

— Kirsten

Wednesday, April 17 – 12:10 pm CT

Glenwood, IA

Our first campaign stop in Iowa was to visit the flood relief center in Glenwood. This community is showing incredible bravery and resilience — they and every community affected by recent disasters need their leaders to set politics aside and provide the aid they need.‬

— Kirsten

Wednesday, April 17 – 11 am CT

Glenwood, IA

I’m so excited to be back in Iowa to kick off our rural listening tour. It’s critical to me that this campaign represents the interests of families across this country, which is why I plan on lots of tours like this to hear from people directly. My team is going to help me share live updates and stories from our trip right here, so follow along for what I’m hearing and seeing as I spend time with Iowans.

Today, I’ll be visiting some of the communities affected by the recent floods in Iowa. Then I’ll be sitting down with some journalists to talk about my campaign, and joining the awesome Kirsten Anderson for an endorsement event — I’m so honored she’s supporting my campaign as an advocate against sexual harassment in Iowa and beyond. Later this week, I’ll be meeting with Iowans for conversations about policies that can help rural communities, from an expanded GI Bill to rural broadband. (I’ll be taking lots of notes in my notebook, and will share thoughts here!)

If you’re in Iowa and want to join one of our events, find one near you at

See you out there!
— Kirsten


Your source for everything Gillibrand 2020.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Written by

Mom to Theo, Henry and dog Maple. Wife to Jonathan. U.S. Senator from New York. She/her.



Your source for everything Gillibrand 2020.

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