By Michael Sainato
October 29, 2017
2018 Candidate for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, Heather Ryan, has recently filed a defamation lawsuit against one of the leading Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Polk County Democratic Party Chair Sean Bagniewski, for rhetoric impugning her candidacy, and overtly taking sides in a Democratic Primary to be held in June 2018. The district is currently held by Republican Congressman David Young. The lawsuit is a symptom of the continued rift within the Democratic Party between progressives and establishment party leaders, who have presided over drastic losses of voters and elected offices due in part to their unwelcoming attitude toward those pushing against the status quo.
The Democratic Party in Iowa has been decimated over the past decade. During the Obama Administration, they lost two congressional seats, the Governorship in 2010, and their majority on the State Senate in 2016. Now Republicans have complete control of the state government, with majorities in the State House, State Senate, and Governorship, and both U.S. Senate seats are represented by Republicans. Since Trump’s election victory in 2016, in which he won the state after Obama had taken it in 2008 and 2012, the Iowa Democratic Party has been reeling on how to move forward to recoup their losses. Like many parts of the country, the party establishment has pushed back on efforts to welcome progressives into leadership positions as a part of that recovery process.
“As a non-establishment candidate with a colorful past, I expected to fight Republicans. I have been shocked to be fighting battle after battle with the Democratic establishment,” Ryan told me in an interview. “If I don’t fight back against the malicious lies spread by the Polk County Democratic Party Chair, then what kind of a Congressmember would I make?”
The lawsuit Ryan filed alleges, “Defendant engaged in both libelous and slanderous acts spreading falsehoods in an attempt to damage Plaintiff’s political campaign, perception of party loyalty and personal reputation. Bagniewski’s actions had a real and negative impact on those who read and/or heard and believed his defaming remarks.”
The remarks from Bagniewski stemmed from his decision to disallow Ryan to speak at a Steak Fry event hosted by the Polk County Democratic Party that featured appearances from several U.S. Congressional Representatives. The reasoning was that Ryan has sworn during previous speeches, specifically calling the Republican incumbent “an asshole.” The party eventually allowed Ryan to speak at the event, which occurred without any issues, but Bagniewski spread allegations and accusations against Ryan while defending the initial decision. Among the allegations he made on his Facebook account were claims that Ryan shared racist parody Twitter accounts, that she attacked the Steak Fry event, and that she abused a child in a local film project. Ryan denounced all the allegations Bagniewski made, citing they are “extreme fabrications.”
“Folks at the meeting said similar trolling behavior and foul language got Donald Trump in the White House, so it shouldn’t be a problem here. What really got Donald Trump in the White House were the hundreds of decision points along the way where people looked the other way, gave him a microphone, gave hima stage, retweeted him. What they really did was normalize his behavior. I firmly believe that we will not beat Trump by being Trump.”
Ryan isn’t the only Democrat to have issues with Polk County Democratic Party Chair Sean Bagniewski. Chair of the Progressive Caucus in the Iowa Democratic Party, Dylan Funk, criticized Bagniewski last month for failing to live up to his duties as chair. “I am committed to resolving the Clinton/Bernie past and moving forward with a unified front. But Sean’s personal agenda has not provided any unity, even created divisiveness,” Funk said in an interview with Progressive Voices of Iowa. ” His personal agenda is not big enough to meet the party’s needs. He has failed in his role as chair. Sean has been selfish and vindictive and his response to Heather Ryan’s situation has hurt our party.”