Ryan Odor isn’t used to people not knowing who he is.
Odor, 38, is well-known in Spencer. He grew up and graduated high school here. He was even the Tiger mascot. Throughout his career, he’s held positions that have come with media time, currently as Arts on Grand executive director and before then as Clay County Heritage director.
However, as Odor campaigns for the Iowa House District 2 seat, up for election this year, the Democrat has found his name isn’t as recognizable outside of Spencer.
“I was at a Palo Alto (County) Democrats meeting and (former state Senator) Jack Kibbie said, ‘Nobody knows who you are,’” Odor said in an interview. “And I almost jumped up and said everyone knows who I am. Then I realized, wait, everyone in Spencer maybe knows who I am, but people in Emmetsburg, they have no idea who I am. That was a big realization for me.”
Emmetsburg, and the rest of Palo Alto County, are in District 2, as are Milford and other southern portions of Dickinson County.
Odor’s been hitting the summer parade circuit hard. The latest was this past weekend in Ruthven, in Palo Alto County, for Bully Bullhead Weekend. He’s working on an early August event in Dickinson County and other area events.
“We’re getting around to the time where it’s time to start knocking on some doors pretty quick here,” Odor said. “It’s just more me getting out there in the communities and allowing people to know who I am.”
Deciding to run
Odor’s opponent, Megan Jones, a Republican, doesn’t have the name recognition problem he’s tackling. She’s been District 2’s representative since 2013.
Jones first ran in 2012, defeating Democrat Steve Bomgaars, who is now a Spencer City Council member. She won again in 2014, easily defeating Independent Terry Manwarren. She was unopposed in 2016.
Odor said he’s running this year to better hold accountable Jones and others in state government.
“It’s time that somebody at least put up a little bit of a fight to hold some people accountable,” he said.
A couple of area Democrats first suggested he run for office in December.
“At the time, I kind of chuckled at the thought,” Odor said. “I thought, Oh, yeah, that’s cute. Thank you for thinking of me. But as time wore on, and to be honest nobody was stepping up, and more things were going on under that golden dome that were upsetting me, that it kind of drove me to a point to finally say, ‘Yeah, I’ll be your guy,’ and that I’d run.”
Specifically, Odor was not pleased with a second year of mid-year budget cuts and the Republicans’ tax cuts. Supporters of the tax cuts say they keep more money in Iowans’ paychecks and help farmers and small business owners, while opponents say the cuts benefit the wealthy and further harm the state’s already tight budget.
Odor recalled an Eggs and Issues forum held earlier this year in Spencer where a person asked whether the tax cuts were counterproductive when mid-year budget cuts also were needed.
“We were told by both Rep. Jones and Rep. Wills at that forum, they said, ‘We’re doing tax reform, not tax cuts. It’s not going to be tax cuts, it’s tax reform.’ And, at the end of the day, it was tax cuts. That just really bothers me.”
Odor’s aware he must have conversations about some of the more polarizing issues in politics today. That comes with having a letter behind the name.
In June, Odor attended a Coffee with the Editor held by the Spencer Daily Reporter. Most of the people there, many of whom he knows and has worked with, were Republicans.
Immigration came up, yet the conversation wasn’t heated.
“The conversation went a really cool way and the thing is there’s a lot of Republicans sitting around that table,” Odor recalled. “And then there’s me who walked in.”
Instead of Odor and the others sharing party-line viewpoints, they talked more about how the immigration system is broken, a point many find more agreeable.
“It all started with an individual who said when our ancestors came over, they came to Ellis Island, they signed a piece of paper and they were citizens,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a lot harder than that (now).”
Immigration has come up frequently for Odor since he’s kicked off his campaign in March. His goal with the issue, as it is with others, is to “change the conversation,” he said.
“As far as immigration, I want to talk more about path to citizenship, what it looks like, instead of sending a whole team of ICE agents in on a raid, throwing a bunch of immigrants in a paddy wagon, going down to Mexico and kicking them out the door,” he said. “Which I’m sure is an exaggeration of what really happens, maybe it happens that way. I don’t know. What would it look like if a group of people with clipboards, went in and said, ‘This is what you need to do to become a citizen of the United States,’?”
As he campaigns, Odor has looked for some sort of common ground in discussions about other issues, too, including abortion. That issue has become even more prevalent following this year’s signing into law a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and the Iowa Supreme Court ruling the state’s 72-hour waiting period on abortions as unconstitutional.
Odor said he believes abortion is “a decision between a woman, her family, her doctor and her god. It’s not my type of decision.”
“If there was better support for somebody to have a child, whether it be the ease of adoption or support once baby was born, I could see where you could argue more against abortions,” Odor said.
So where do advocates and opponents find common ground on abortion? Odor says he tries to focus talks on how to prevent unintended pregnancies.
“That’s where the conversation needs to steer more toward,” he said. “I think that’s where it really starts is sexual education, then move into contraceptives.”
Flipping District 2
Most of Northwest Iowa has built a reputation for electing conservatives, at least in more recent elections. Odor believes a Democrat can win in this district.
“There’s been plenty of Democrats who have won up here,” he said. “That can definitely happen. And I feel that I’m somebody who, yeah there’s a D in front of my name, but I’ve worked with a lot of Republicans. I had a lot of conversations with Republicans before I made this decision, as well, that made me feel that I can win here in northwest Iowa.”
Odor tries to strike up conversations wherever he goes. At parades, he finds his way to where people gather afterward.
Time will tell if Odor is able to flip enough of those conversations to flip House District 2 from red to blue.