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Poor Military Leaders Led Me To Pursue Pension Reform

State Central Committee member and state Treasurer candidate John Thompson speaks to Polk County Republican Women

WEST DES MOINES-State Treasurer candidate John Thompson spoke to the Polk County Republican Women on Thursday.  Thompson, a veteran and a graduate of West Point, is also a member of the Republican State Central Committee.  He shared his Army background and emphasized the importance of building a strong Republican grassroots coalition and the need for pension reform in Iowa.

“I enlisted in the Army when I was 17.  After West Point, I was assigned to an artillery unit and deployed to Iraq.  I was on a team with 11 guys, and we were all senior officers and NCO’s.  We would advise an Iraqi army, and train them to be competent enough to stand on their own.  We were on the border, and found out that there were groups smuggling copper plates in from Iran.  These were state-sponsored to penetrate our armor.  The guys we were advising wound up turning on us.  I saw my friend get shot in the head when he jumped out of the truck to try to rescue our team leader.  It was a somber wakeup, and I grew up overseas.”

Thompson told an especially emotional story about losing his friend Ulysses.

“In a convoy, the first truck was the most likely to get hit by a roadside bomb.  I was used to “leading with my chin” and driving that truck.  But one night, Ulysses said, “So, are you leading with your chin tomorrow, John?”  I jokingly responded that it was “someone else’s turn”.  He drove the truck that day and wound up with a gut full of copper.  At that time, I had a wife and a son who was only a few months old back home.  Ulysses’ wife had been pregnant three times, and two of them failed.  She was finally going to have a successful pregnancy and then lost her husband.  It made no sense, and I thought, “Why him and not me?””

Multiple deployments are often hard on families, and Thompson talked about how his family was torn apart.

“At that time, my wife was getting ready to go to medical school in Richmond, so I was pushing to get a job in the DC area.  I had a background in intelligence, so I became a special liaison in a special forces unit, and my job was to coordinate with the NSA and state department.  I was sent to Afghanistan for awhile, then my next assignment was at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  When I got back from Afghanistan, my wife informed me that she had married me with the goal of getting through medical school, and had no intention of staying married to me.  I was heartbroken, and she told me that she had been cheating on me while I was in Afghanistan.  In the state of Virginia, there is fault assignment in a divorce, which means that whoever is found to be at fault is required to support the other spouse.  I was able to get on our computer and find her dating profiles.  She became irate and started throwing pots and pans at me, so the neighbors called the police.  The police came, and they saw that I had a red mark on my neck, and she admitted that she had grabbed me.  In Virginia, there is a law that you have to arrest somebody if you have proof of physical aggression.  Since my wife was the aggressor, they arrested her and put her in jail.  Suddenly, I was facing this divorce, and was given emergency custody of my son.  But then I found out that if my wife was convicted of domestic violence, she would be thrown out of medical school.  We did have a son though, and I thought it was be in his best interest if his mother became a doctor, so I refused to testify against her.  While we were in court, her mother was in the back of the room with my son, and she fled the courtroom with him.  I came back to Fort Bragg without my boy, and then, she called ahead to her cousin who worked for the Secret Service.  She got him to call to report an Army officer who had a plot to kill his wife.  So they issued a warrant, and I was arrested.  My command knew that I was going through a hostile divorce, and that it was totally bogus.  But I was still put on house arrest, and I thought again, “Why did I get to come home instead of my friends only to be betrayed by my wife and then the Army?”  So I took a different direction, and started looking at grad programs.  I studied for the GRE and made that my focus.  By then, the prosecutors dropped it and my arrest was expunged.  I made the Major’s list, and at the same time, found out that I was accepted at Harvard.  But after two wars and a nasty divorce, I needed something different.  So I moved on to Harvard.”

While at Harvard, Thompson studied fiscal policy and electioneering.  He chose that path because of his passion for the Army and his growing frustration with corruption in that system, especially in regard to pensions.

“Bureaucracy isn’t inherently evil.  But sometimes they make mistakes, and they need to cover to save themselves.  In the Army during my divorce, even though they knew that something was wrong, they didn’t want to risk their careers over it.  In all these government systems, after about 10 years, the only reason that people stay in is for their pension instead of doing their job.  I watched my friends give their lives for their country, and I felt that I owed it to them to leave the world better than I found it and do something to make a difference.”

Thompson was given an assignment in one of his courses to help with a special election in Massachussetts.  He instead offered to help with the open Senate race in 2014 in Iowa where he grew up.

“I came back for the Reagan dinner and met Sam Clovis.  He was also an Academy grad, and we clicked, so I helped him with media, data, and fundraising.  At that point, nobody had filed to run for state Treasurer, so I was asked to run.  I was going to take a job at the VA in DC, but instead turned that down and decided to move back to Iowa.  Sam ended up coming in second in the Senate race, so we wound up switching places.  I helped with his Treasurer campaign and traveled the state trying to rally the Republican base.  But I became frustrated by how many races there were statewide where so many Democrats went unchallenged, even though it was a wave Republican year.  I looked at the precincts and knew that we could have won those based on the numbers.  So when there was an opening on the State Central Committee, I ran so that I could have an impact.  I’ve spent the last two years recruiting candidates.”

Thompson believes that the best candidates don’t want to be politicians, but instead have to be asked to run for office.

“The best candidates aren’t the ones raising their hands begging to run.  They’re teachers, and farmers, and business owners who care about making better policy.  Those are the ones I want to help win.”

The way to win elections is by using data, from county races all the way up to the White House, said Thompson.

“That’s how the Democrats used to win, and why Iowa used to be a swing state.  But the Democrats aren’t playing in Iowa anymore.  After they did polling during the 2016 cycle, they realized that they didn’t have an opportunity to win here, because Iowans weren’t ashamed to admit that they were voting for Trump.  So instead they switched their focus to states where they can try to influence after the census to try to win back the House.  But Iowa is the gold standard for drawing districts, so they knew they had no chance here, because Iowa is a Red state.”

Thompson thinks that it is still crucial that Republicans do not become complacent in 2018.

“Since we are a Red state and because of how we draw our districts, we aren’t going to get the help that we’ve had from the RNC since the 1970’s.  We’re going to be on our own, which is why the grassroots activism is so important.  That’s why I’ve been traveling the state recruiting candidates and teaching them and the county parties how to raise money.”

One of Thompson’s favorite things about helping candidates is mentoring them to be self-sufficient in running their campaigns.

“One of the things that I love most about helping someone run for office is that they become more independent and are better at doing what is best for their district.  When they can manage their own campaigns, they are more representative of the people who elected them and aren’t beholden to leadership or special interests.  We have great leadership in Iowa, but we still need people who will do the job that the people back home in their districts sent them there to do.”

Thompson puts in long hours building the Republican Party because he is passionate about leaving the world better for the next generation.

“The last two months before the election, my fiancée and I worked a Get Out The Vote effort in Cedar Rapids.  We would come in from long days of door knocking, and then I would be on the phone all night talking to people until 3:00 AM helping them file paperwork or compiling data.  I do it because we need to do something about our ballooning debt.  We’re sending our kids to college, and they wind up racking up massive debt that they’ll never be able to pay back.  They graduate only to find that they can’t find good jobs, and many of them wind up having to move back in with their parents while working wage jobs just to pay back their student loans.  The American dream is declining, and for the first time in a very long time, the next generation is not expected to have as good of a quality of life as their parents.  It’s hard to get people excited about things like pension reform or fixing the deficit.  That’s why I work with a variety of Conservative coalitions so that we can achieve results.  It makes me happy to see groups like this that bring like-minded people together to make a difference.”

MacKenzie Dreeszen is a legislative assistant in the Iowa House of Representatives and a political consultant specializing in fundraising.