The first & the last — my decision to not run for office again.

Ruby McAllister Bodeker
6 min readAug 13, 2021


“This time was the first and the last.”

The author’s campaign signs ready for distribution in rural Benton County, Iowa in the summer of 2020.

That’s my official statement in answer to the question, ‘Will you run again?’

It was my first run and my last.

In 2020 — here in rural Iowa — Benton and Iowa counties — I just wasn’t the candidate people wanted.

Numbers don’t lie.

I earned 5,907 votes in the 2020 election for Iowa House District 75 to the incumbent Republican Thomas Gerhold’s 10,377 votes.

Just under 6,000 folks voted for me.

This essay is for them.

Iowa House District 75.

To everyone who voted for me: I am sorry I lost.

I’m sorry enough rural Iowans just didn’t seem to want a candidate who cared about planting more milkweed —

Stopping small town school consolidation —

Keeping public funds in public schools —

Protecting blue collar workers —

Bringing more beginning farmers to the land —

Reversing the trend of dirtier and dirtier water —

Being a candidate not particularly beholden to a party and its power —

Someone who fought just as fiercely against her own party’s disinvestment in rural Iowa as she did against the opposing party’s love affair with corporate agriculture and the resulting havoc it has spewed across rural Iowa for decades.

The author.

And that’s ok.

But I am still sorry.

Running for office put so much stress on my already strained marriage that it didn’t survive the campaign.

Soon I will no longer be Ruby Bodeker.

I’ll be Ruby McAllister, back to my birth name.

My world crumbled in so many ways when the campaign ended.

I should probably write something about regretting running for office, but I can’t.

Because I don’t.

My dad raised me to invest in the communities you find yourself planted in — whether its northwest Wisconsin where my mother’s German-American family laid down roots long ago and where I was born and raised or the southeast Texas Gulf shore from where my dad hails or northeast Iowa where I’m raising my own four little Iowans.

The author’s grandfather in northwest Wisconsin.

You invest where you’re planted.

And that’s what I plan to continue to do going forward.

Not by running for office. I can’t do that ever again.

Not with the Iowa Democratic Party in the condition it’s in today anyway. Lip service at best to the rural spaces — outright ignorance at its worst as to the real issues plaguing the so-called rural divide that has now poured into the once reliable urban strongholds.

It is because of community journalism and small town newspapers that I was able to come to this decision.

And that is said with love.

Two small town newspaper editors in particular helped me arrive here.

One — Art Cullen — whom I have never met but who affected my view of rural Iowa deeply following the premier of the documentary STORM LAKE which follows his life as he and his family try like hell to keep a small town newspaper alive.

Two — a dear friend and Iowa newspaper editor — who brought me out of a state of bereft confusion following my campaign by giving me a job as a full time newspaper reporter in a trio of rural farming communities in Tama County. Told me at the time — you can still change the world even if you don’t run for office.

There is so much work to be done, he said — here.

A photograph from one of the last stories the author covered as a newspaper correspondent in Benton County, Iowa.


Working to record the arc of history in rural Iowa is a noble space to occupy, even if no one ever reads your words.

Because someday they will.

I read the words of those who came before me every day.

Newspaper archives will never cease to fascinate, to comfort, to confuse me —

Leave me wondering where we went wrong —

And then smiling at where we went so right, once upon a time, and can again.

I’ll keep telling the stories that gave many folks in Iowa House District 75 — across party lines — comfort.

Stories that made them check the box for RUBY in the voting booth because they saw me as a messenger who believed with all she had that they mattered.

Knew their struggles and their joys were part of the American fabric and deserved a voice. And that sometimes the joy was found in the struggle.

Belle Plaine, Iowa, part of Iowa House District 75, following the August 10, 2020 derecho.

Many of them crossed those party lines and voted for a Democrat for the first time.

But because many of the folks who didn’t vote for me still like it when I tell their stories, I’ll keep doing that.

To round this ballad out, thank you to those 5,907 people who trusted me with their vote.

I would have been a legislator a lot of people didn’t like, I fear, because it never would have been about me. It would have been about this space and its people.

A pioneer cemetery in Iowa House District 75.

A legislator for those whose families made it through the ’80s farm crisis — and those who didn’t — only to turn around in 2011 or 2020, dig a hole, and burn so much of it because a storm took away even the possibility of yesterday-tomorrow returning.

Derecho damage near Atkins, Benton County, Iowa, 2020. This barn no longer exists.

And now all we have in many of our rural spaces is a solitary barn quilt standing next to the road.

The barn itself long gone. Will those barns return? That is an eternal thought lost to the humid winds of Iowa’s cornfield horizons now.

Those stories and so many more I would have carried with me to Des Moines.

But others carry these stories, too. Read your local paper and look for them. When you spot one, be sure to proclaim it for all the world. Especially on Facebook where the rot of our country runs deep — then spills out into the voting booth and poisons our spaces even more.

Tell them who really cares about the little guy in rural Iowa.

An abandoned homestead in Tama County, Iowa, 2021, part of the author’s commute to work everyday.

Spoiler: It’s not the GOP.

Maybe it’s not the surface of the Iowa Democratic Party either — but deep in the dirt, it is. I know it is. The urban power structure just stomped us rural Democrats out.

Left us flailing out here, watching our horizons change and our voter rolls bleed a shade of red we had never seen before.

Being a blue dot is a noble act. Never once stop believing that. Even if Iowa cannot find herself in a state of purple again — we are still here.

Telling the stories.

Remembering the truth.

Helming our local parties — something I will continue to do.

Thank you for letting me be your blue dot in 2020. Remember what that felt like — hope is never a waste of time. To be human is to hope.

Rural Newhall, Benton County, Iowa, 2020.

Publicly tending to the grassroots will forever be a brave — gutsy — thing to do in rural Iowa. And so necessary.

Because like my dad says, someone has to step up, and I raised you to step up.

Keep connecting those blue dots.

Keep seeing the beauty as well as the beautiful potential in rural Iowa.

And in America.


One final time — thank you — 5,907 times, thank you.

You live here, too.

We live here, too.



Ruby McAllister Bodeker

A prairie voice for working people and rural spaces. Co-host of the podcast