Earlier this year, Ryan Melton only had two months left to get his name on the Democratic ballot.
Although Melton said running for Congress was never a part of his life plan, he made the decision after realizing the risk of not having a Democrat in the race.
Despite initially turning down a run for public office due to working a full-time job while raising a family, Melton said he needed to run considering the political environment.
“It felt like it was something I needed to do for the people,” Melton said.
Wanting to take “the hard way,” Melton said he recruited volunteers and knocked doors to get his name out there, visiting cities such as Nevada, Ames, Forest City and Estherville.
“I think my message really resonated with them, that people are being left behind in this district,” Melton said. “Not only are they being left behind, but the politicians that are doing that are justifying that without being held accountable for the decisions they’re making.”
Melton, a Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, currently lives in Nevada with his wife and two sons. The area is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull).
Melton is originally from Nebraska, saying one of his first memories is watching a blizzard in Omaha.
He says he grew up in a “really tough” area of Omaha, where issues such as poverty, gangs and drug issues affected his family.
“There’s this narrative out there that they deserve that or that they don’t work very hard, but my experience living in poverty was the exact opposite,” Melton said. “The people in my neighborhood worked really hard. My mom worked really hard, despite all of the medical issues that she had and mental health struggles she had, she worked really hard to give us a home and to put food on the table.”
Melton earned his bachelor degrees in history and political science from Iowa State University in 2005 and in 2008, Melton graduated from Kansas University with a master’s degree in U.S. History, focusing on post-reconstruction, civil rights and environmental history.
Having attended college in the Hawkeye State, Melton said he stayed in Iowa for the people.
“Omaha will always be dear to my heart, but when I got to Central Iowa, I just really enjoyed the vibe,” Melton said. “I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed the mix between urban and rural. I felt comfortable here, and really felt from very early on that I wanted to start a family here in Central Iowa.”
His interest in politics started back in high school while being around other students different from him. Melton said his experiences during the time made him think about people from “different walks of life” and what they experienced that he wasn’t experiencing.
“A lot of that comes down to policy decisions that politicians make, it comes down to our history and those that have seen benefit from our history and those that have been hurt by our history,” Melton said.
Now, Melton is an advocate for increasing funding towards public schools. He said school vouchers will leave a downstream impact in local communities and will lead to more communities without a school and more school consolidation.
“Public schools give our kids and their families the opportunity to thrive,” Melton said.
Melton criticized Reynolds for signing a recent flat tax law, saying it will make “the wealthy wealthier and the poor poorer.”
Speaking with public education experts and child care advocates, Melton said these individuals shared a similar message on the tax cut, saying it won’t fix the budget gaps in Iowa.
“These are bedrock foundational concerns that are making it harder for our young people to build families here, and it’s making it harder for everyone in the state to feel secure long term in their communities,” Melton said.
Similarly, Melton voiced concern towards Feenstra supporting Former President Donald Trump’s tax cuts during his administration.
“The fact that Congressman Feenstra wants to make those tax cuts permanent is really alarming, considering all the problems we have in our district,” Melton said. “We can clearly identify the root causes behind why we’ve been seeing massive population decline, it’s because we’re not caring about our people.”
Furthermore, Melton condemned Feenstra for not discussing climate change, despite the Congressman calling himself “pro-farmer.”
“Our farmers know that — while there may be some disagreements as to the nuance of climate change — long term, farming in a climate change scenario is unsustainable,” Melton said.
While Melton is campaigning in a traditionally red area, he said he thinks he can find common ground with Republican voters.
He said Republican leaders are pursuing “anti-democracy,” citing issues such as the Republican National Committee declaring the January 6 insurrection as a political debate, calling the decision “absolutely ridiculous.”
“I think the Republican voters would agree with me that we need to do our best to preserve democracy and our democratic institutions, because it’s through our democracy that everyone has a fighting chance,” Melton said.