BETO O’ROURKE, a former Texas congressman, right, talked to voters and knocked on doors with Eric Giddens in Iowa. Photo credit: Danya Rafiqi
A man who says he learned the importance of public service, public education and civil public discourse in Grady County has been elected to the state senate in Iowa while sharing the national spotlight with several presidential hopefuls, including Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker.
Last night, Cairo native Eric Giddens won a special election to fill a recently vacated senate seat in Iowa.
“I am honored to be the senator-elect for Senate District 30,” Giddens wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page after unofficial results showed he had beat his republican opponent by about 2,000 votes.
Giddens, 45, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is an energy program manager at the University of Northern Iowa, and was serving on the Cedar Falls Board of Education when Sen. Jeff Danielson resigned unexpectedly less than five weeks ago and prompted a quick special election.
“This just happened all of a sudden and nobody expected this to happen. I got some encouragement from a few friends. . . if I was going to decide (to run) I had to do it really quickly,” Giddens said during a telephone interview with The Messenger Tuesday.
The 1992 graduate of Cairo High School said he soon realized he’d be sharing the campaign trail and spotlight with democratic presidential candidates. “It was pretty clear right off the bat that because we are getting into the caucus season here in Iowa and these candidates are already here – that it was going to be a perfect storm – that all the candidates were going to come and want to take advantage of the time to speak,” Giddens said.
Saturday, Giddens shared campaign time with Sen. Klobuchar, Rep. John Delaney and former Rep. O’Rourke. Sunday, he had an event with Sen. Booker. In the last several weeks, he has also attended events with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Gov. Steve Bullock and Rep. Eric Swalwell, among others.
“It has been incredible,” Giddens said of politicking with the national candidates.
Reflecting on his childhood in Grady County, Giddens points out that his paternal grandfather, Frank Giddens, served as a Cairo City Councilman, and that his maternal grandfather, the former U.S. Postmaster Francis Allen, served many years as a Grady County Commissioner.
“So, public service was a part of growing up, for sure,” Giddens said. “That certainly played a role in how I view community life and what I think you need to do to make your own community as good as it can be.”
He also points out that being the son of educators was impactful. His parents, Annette and Charles Giddens of Cairo, both retired from the Grady County School System. “Growing up in an education household really plays a big part in how I view the importance of public education, which is a significant issue here,” he said.
Giddens was an honor graduate and co-Valedictorian of his 1992 graduating class at Cairo High. That same year, he was also named a Top Ten student in his senior class, and at the CHS Spring Sports Banquet he won the award for most improved member of the golf team.
His South Georgia roots, he said Tuesday, helped him learn how to communicate with people of various political beliefs. “I don’t like how polarized things have gotten. I’m running as a democrat and I do identify with the democratic party; I don’t shy away from that. But, we’ve got to get back to working together. I feel like my background, my upbringing in Cairo, makes it easy for me to talk to all people, any kind of person. So, I’m proud of that, too, and I think that will serve me really well.”
Senate District 30 in Iowa includes Cedar Falls, Hudson and parts of Waterloo.
Giddens and his wife, Kendra Wohlert, are the parents of Henry, 13.
He said once the race results are certified, he will begin serving in the Iowa State Senate to finish out the 2019 session, which he said would wrap up some time next month.