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Why DSM is the Best Place to Get the Facts

Vote Smart in DSM USA

October 22, 2019

Vote Smart moved headquarters from Montana to Iowa in the early months of 2017, trading mountain snows for — well, Iowa ice. I had been working as an educator (first in a classroom, then for Vote Smart’s online resources) in Virginia, the UK and Montana but hadn’t yet found my way to the heartland. Neither had Vote Smart; we were looking for a home that was passionate about politics, receptive to our nonpartisan principles and that would help every American get the facts on their politicians.

Drake University Hooks Vote Smart

Our national search got plenty of bids from universities across the country thanks to the professional and academic opportunities we provide. And although California sunshine sounded nice, it was Drake University that made the biggest splash. President Martin made the trek out to Montana to see our research operation first-hand. We were both impressed: Drake was a great fit for the citizens it prepares and the national political responsibility it takes during the Iowa Caucuses.

When our board voted to make the move to Iowa, I did what the rest of our millennial staff did: jumped straight to the internet rankings! I remember the surprise among the staff, myself included, who would make the move: Best Place for Millennials in the Midwest? Most Incredible Farmers’ Market? One of the Best Places to Start a Business? We were adventurous for joining Vote Smart in Montana; maybe moving Vote Smart to Iowa would be an adventure of its own.

More than 150 students and staff have given their efforts to Vote Smart since we opened shop in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) in 2017. Their dedication has allowed us to cover national elections (from state legislators to president) at an impressive scale (over 18,000 candidates in 2018 alone). Their research into who politicians are, what they say, how they vote, who pays them and how they’re rated reached 11 million users in 2018, all for free at VoteSmart.org.

Working in Iowa has also helped us find where presidential candidates stand on the issues. Although the number of candidates responding to our Political Courage Test has declined to record lows, we had several major presidential candidates take our test this year. A little pressure — or a lot of grease — at the Iowa State Fair seemed to help. We enjoyed the Polk County Steak Fry, too, where we had the chance to interact with hundreds of voters who told us how they vote smart - “ask questions,” “keep it nuanced,” “teach my daughter” and (unprompted) “using Vote Smart!”

An Organization with Global Talent

And it’s not just Iowans pulling the weight! Staff and interns from across the country (California, Washington, New York) and the world (New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia) all bring with them the idealism our project needs. In Des Moines and Iowa, I’ve found a community that has embraced the serious work we do because of the serious work they do: vetting politicians who want to be hired to do the all-important work of governance.

[Learn more about Global Talent in DSM.]

I’m excited, as 2020 fast approaches, to help Iowans and the whole country evaluate these candidates. We’ll be promoting the facts alongside the Caucus Consortium, Drake University, media outlets and others. If you can, help us out: come by our offices at 1153 24th Street to learn more. And if you can’t, at least use us for free at VoteSmart.org as we all do our part to make DSM the Best Place to Get the Facts.

The Partnership's Public Policy team engages with local, state and federal officials to create public policy that generates economic growth, business prosperity and talent development in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The Partnership is a nonpartisan organization.

Walker McKusick

Walker McKusick is the national director of Vote Smart. He is originally from Charlottesville, VA, where he graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in history and economics. After graduation, he taught American politics in the UK. He joined Vote Smart in 2015.