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Smokey Row: Political Hot Spot and Coffee Captiol

Posted: January 14, 2016 | By: Rebecca Christopoulos Tagged: From the Campaign Trail
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Smokey Row coffee shop is a attraction for political candidates and media (above). Photo courtesy of Rebecca Christopoulos

Smokey Row, Des Moines’ caffeine capitol, is the coffee shop favorite of Des Moines’ natives and captives alike. Iowa is known nationwide for its caucuses, but we DSMers know the political scene does not end on Feb. 1. Des Moines, Iowa’s state capital, is a political hub, which over the years has developed its key political hangouts — with Smokey Row as the primary watering hole for both local and visiting politicians. Smokey Row has hosted numerous presidential candidates, news correspondents, and Iowa politicians who are there to discuss more than the famous “cheeseburger chowder.”

Smokey Row has been the place of several meetings between Executive Director of One Iowa, Donna Red Wing and President of the Iowa Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats. One Iowa is Iowa’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) organization that works toward equality for members of the community while Iowa Family Leader is a social conservative pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family organization. Despite party affiliation and values, both leaders met in order to start a civil dialogue and discuss politics, marriage, and religion.

The two first met after the passing of a mutual friend just a few years ago. Red Wing emailed Iowa Family Leader in hopes to meet with Vander Plaats, though she never thought he would not agree. At Smokey Row coffee on Cottage Grove Avenue, Vander Plaats and Red Wing sat down over a cup of Joe with no agenda. Now, for those not familiar with either organization leader, they are about as different as oil and water. In terms of ideology, the closest comparison I could give is like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders attempting to be civil before they’ve had their morning coffee—it doesn’t paint the most tranquil picture. Vander Plaats and Red Wing never attempted to change the other’s opinion but rather listened to one another in order to better understand the other side of the aisle. Not surprisingly, neither Vander Plaats nor Red Wing expected to like each other prior to their first coffee rendezvous; yet regardless of faith, politics, and views of marriage the two meet every few months for genuine conversation at Smokey Row.

Iowans — I write this blog to you not only to advertise one of my favorite caffeine destinations, but to introduce an idea many of us political junkies forget in the heat of election and caucus season: cooperation is key. Everyone has different values, beliefs, and political preferences — we should all practice the civility and understanding Vander Plaats and Red Wing have shown to each other despite party differences. In a play on words of Smokey Row’s motto, when there is good coffee there can be good politics.

IMG_1221Christopoulos is majoring in politics and broadcast journalism. She was born and raised in San Francisco but had to move to Iowa for sweet corn and caucuses. Follow her on Twitter.