Meet the candidates Area voters watching two House races

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Anne Osmundson (R)
Anne Osmundson (R)
Lori Egan (D)
Kayla Koether (D)
Michael Bergan (R)
Michael Bergan (R)

Clayton County voters will be paying close attention to two hotly contested Iowa State House races in the November 6 general election. In District 55, which includes the town of Elkader and a few surrounding townships, Democrat Kayla Koether is challenging Republican incumbent Michael Bergan. Democrat Lori Egan and Republican Anne Osmundson will vie for the opportunity to represent District 56, which includes most of Clayton County.
Register Editor Pam Reinig and North Iowa Times Editor Audrey Posten had an opportunity to present questions to all four candidates. Their answers follow.

Iowa House District 55

Michael Bergan (R)
Briefly tell readers about yourself. I am a graduate of Luther College with degrees in Accounting and Economics. A native of the Decorah area, I have been working as an accountant and income tax preparer for clients during the past 34 years. My career includes 12 years employed as accountant with the Miller Law Firm in Decorah; 8 years in an elected office as Winneshiek County Supervisor, 12 years as director of early childhood and child abuse prevention services with HAWC Partnerships for Children, and the past 2 years as the area’s elected representative in the Iowa House of Representatives.
I live near Highlandville, with my wife Carol, adjacent to her family farm.  We have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.
How will you ensure rural school districts receive the support they need when it comes to education funding and education-related legislation? During the past session, I worked to ensure that no cuts were made to funding for our area schools. Most of our schools in NE Iowa are facing declining enrollment. Simply increasing state supplemental aid does not guarantee any increase in state funding to these schools. I have worked to implement transportation funding of over $11 million statewide to offset the cost of getting children to school. Over $1 million has gone to nine school districts with students in House District 55. I will continue to work to increase transportation funding, keeping education as a priority in Iowa’s budget.
What are your priorities for making sure rural Iowa receives adequate consideration when it comes to economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing? Several actions taken by the legislature specifically address rural Iowa. One example is reserving a portion of the tax credits to spur housing for use in rural counties and small cities. I look to expand options to support renewing and expanding affordable housing stock in rural Iowa.  
Iowa needs a sound and predictable approach to our state budget and tax policies to spur economic development.  Economic development is not limited to employment opportunities, but also relies on infrastructure of our roads, bridges, and utilities, including high-speed internet services. Additionally, quality schools, access to medical services, and arts and recreation have a role in the overall success of economic development in our communities.  Policies need to be equitable and reliable over time so that cities and counties can develop a consistent strategy in utilization of incentives for growth.
What is your take on the elevated incidence of job vacancies in area communities and the shortage of qualified individuals to fill those positions? How would you work to facilitate connections in these areas? Future Ready Iowa legislation was enacted to address workforce needs.  Funding and processes will be implemented by the collaborative effort of our local businesses, Iowa’s community colleges and Iowa Workforce Development.  There will be an expansion of work-based learning with apprenticeships and internships, as well as “earn while you learn” opportunities for high school students, community college students and adults in career transition.  We have established the policy to address job skill development to fill shortage areas already identified by local businesses.
I am working with Early Childhood Iowa stakeholders in developing child care options to support our workforce. 71% of adults not in the workforce are caring for a dependent.  Building child care capacity and ensuring quality care will help expand Iowa’s workforce.
What are your ideas for attracting and keeping young people in Iowa?
An initial step in keeping our young adults in Iowa is to make our youth aware of options for career development in our own communities.  Providing youth with the understanding of how they can start a career right out of high school while obtaining a career pathway certificate or associate degree through a community college is a viable route to a career here in Iowa.  Establishing these links early can also impact students that attend traditional four-year colleges for degrees, to return home.  Ensuring that we provide a quality education will provide value to our youth and community in the long term.
What are your thoughts on the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s)—such as Medicaid, mental health, insurance, nurse/doctor shortages—would you like to prioritize and why? I will prioritize establishing a children’s mental health system in Iowa.  While we have extensive children’s services, we lack a coordinated system, uniform expectations and processes for screening and assessing children with behavioral challenges.  Legislative action taken this year to address complex needs in adults with mental illness is a comprehensive approach to meet the needs of individuals in crisis.  Work will continue to be needed to increase community-based services that support recovery.
We need to ensure our Medicaid system is managed so that it can be maintained for the future.  Federal law, the Affordable Care Act, requires that states utilize managed care for the expansion of Medicaid to include single adults, age 19 to 64.  We must offer individuals choice in a managed care organization and in care providers.  Through legislative oversight, I will work to ensure uniformity in processes, compliance with federal rules, and adequate funds are budgeted for low income Iowans dependent on Medicaid.  It is imperative to be fiscally responsible to ensure Medicaid is affordable and available over the long term.
I will work to maintain efforts to support the Loan Repayment Program for primary care medical, dental and mental health practitioners.  The program is administered by the Department of Public Health in collaboration with the University of Iowa and Des Moines University in securing young professionals to serve in needed areas.

Kayla Koether (D)
Briefly tell readers about yourself. I grew up on the Koether family farm in Giard (near McGregor), Iowa, where I developed my love for raising livestock and farm management. After graduating from MFL MarMac High School, I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Agricultural and Rural Development from Iowa’s Grinnell College.
My mother and both my grandmothers were educators. They helped shape my conviction that all our young people, whether they live in the city or in rural Iowa, deserve the best educational experience if they are to be prepared for the competitive world ahead.
I live in Winneshiek County. Currently I am a specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach (based in Allamakee County) providing technical assistance to businesses and beginning farmers across Northeast Iowa on best business practices, sustainability, production, marketing and innovation.
Prior to this, I served as AmeriCorps educator for Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative teaching children in Clayton County schools where food comes from and how to live healthier lives. I also worked in program management for Winneshiek Energy District, an organization helping homeowners, small businesses, and farmers save money through energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy.
Landon Corlett, my high school sweetheart, and I have a goal of operating our own livestock farm in Northeast Iowa. My many nieces and nephews span the Iowa educational spectrum- from elementary students at MFL MarMac to college students at the University of Iowa.
How will you ensure rural school districts receive the support they need when it comes to education funding and education-related legislation? I will fight to prioritize education funding in the state budget. Funding for our K-12 schools has been far too low for far too long. For example, during the 2017 legislative session, politicians in Des Moines decreased real overall spending on education in Iowa; they increased funding for K-12 schools by 1%, which, because it was well under the rate of inflation in Iowa, was actually a cut. While the state’s per pupil investment declines, rural schools are facing declining enrollment. With fewer students and less state funding per student, this is putting an incredible pressure on rural schools to keep the doors open and educate our children.
Furthermore, our rural school districts have disproportionate transportation costs, and as a Legislator, I would work for a long-term solution to cover those costs.
What are your priorities for making sure rural Iowa receives adequate consideration when it comes to economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing? Much of the current legislature’s attention is paid to powerful special interests, many of them out of state. The treasury writes them reimbursable tax-credit checks from our tax dollars. Instead, we should be providing incentives to Iowans in our communities to become entrepreneurs, start small businesses, and build successful farms- including transitioning our land to the next generation and building markets for innovative farm products. To be truly successful, our district and rural Iowa  needs improved infrastructure--not only better roads and bridges, but also widespread access to broadband internet. I would be a strong champion for rural Iowa in the legislature, making sure we have the resources we need to revitalize our communities and bring the next generation back home.
What is your take on the elevated incidence of job vacancies in area communities and the shortage of qualified individuals to fill those positions? How would you work to facilitate connections in these areas? Time and again, I’ve heard from employers who are having difficulty filling positions. We have demand in Iowa for middle skill jobs (jobs that require training certificate, associate’s degree, or an apprenticeship); 55% of jobs are considered middle-skill jobs, but only 32% of our workforce has this skillset. The Legislature, in a unanimous, bipartisan effort, passed the Future Ready Iowa Program in 2018.  Some of the key pieces of this legislation include an apprenticeship program and a scholarship and grant program to help Iowans boost their skill-sets. We must put the funding behind it to make it successful--something the Legislature will tackle next session.
Community colleges are a huge partner in this effort, but they continue to be underfunded. After cuts from the state legislature in 2017, those colleges had to make up the gap by raising tuition. If we expect Iowans to build their skill-sets, we need to provide robust state-funding for higher education so that those wanting additional education don’t fail to enroll because of high cost or fear being mired in student debt for years. I will work to both fund the Future Ready Iowa Program and to improve our funding for community colleges.
What are your ideas for attracting and keeping young people in Iowa? I hear from people in my generation all the time who would like to come back to the community where they were raised. We know why they want to live in Northeast Iowa--for the high quality of life we all value. We have tight-knit communities where people are safe and look after each other. In the not-so-distant past, Iowa had a reputation of having the best public education anywhere. Here in our neck of the woods, our landscape offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation and a lot of beauty.
Yet, many young people face the strain of student loans, and recognize that they need to live in bigger urban centers where they can make higher wages to manage those debts. They also want to remain connected.
Therefore, we have to provide the high quality-of-life that the next generation expects, including world-class schools, bountiful and healthy natural resources, and vibrant small-town social institutions. We must also address the very real and prohibitive problem of student debt. We should build broadband access in our small towns and rural areas, and help support good-paying jobs with benefits. Finally, we need to provide incentives for creative entrepreneurship and help our youth consider how they might craft a meaningful career in the community of their choice.
What are your thoughts on the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s)—such as Medicaid, mental health, insurance, nurse/doctor shortages—would you like to prioritize and why? Healthcare is one of the biggest challenges we face in Iowa. First of all, Medicaid privatization has been a disaster, especially for elderly and disabled Iowans, and we need to fix it immediately. Since privatization, Iowans have been denied care by the out of state, for-profit companies now running Medicaid. Our local hospitals and care providers are struggling to get paid for their services. This has put a lot of financial strain on our small rural hospitals and providers. We need to bring Medicaid back under control of the state and make sure Iowans are getting the care they deserve.
Second, we need to make sure health care is both affordable and accessible to all Iowans. That means the state needs to partner with our local providers to improve health care locally and the state needs to take make sure that health insurance companies can’t deny coverage to Iowans with pre-existing conditions.
Regarding mental health care, medicaid privatization has been a challenge for caregivers in this field as well. The Legislature did pass a bipartisan bill expanding services at critical access points for those in mental health crisis. While this is a good step, the state will need to appropriate funding to this program in the future for it to be successful. Further, we need to expand access to mental healthcare providers so that people can seek consistent treatment, stay healthy, and avoid crisis situations. Expanded access should include treatment for addiction.

Iowa House District 56

Lori Egan
Briefly tell readers about yourself. I am a lifelong resident of Allamakee County. My husband Mark and I raised three children: Kaila, Colin and Brett. I have been a nurse for the past 31 years. I feel the profession of nursing chose me as a calling to serve others. I am a lifelong learner who went back to get my bachelor’s degree after having three kids while working full-time. I have worked in hospitals, clinics, public health and long-term care. I have been an active member of my community. My husband and I were in the core group of individuals to work on the wooden playground in the Waukon city park, we were St. Patrick’s School Parents-In-Action members, Waukon Jaycees and served a three-year term, the last as presidents, on the Waukon Athletic Booster Board. I have served as a 4-H leader and taught religious formation classes. Currently, I serve as a Red Cross volunteer, member of the board of HAWC Partnerships for Children, on the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging Advisory Committee and the Northeast Iowa Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Abuse. For many years, I was involved in the implementation of the Food and Fitness Initiative in northeast Iowa.
How will you ensure rural school districts receive the support they need when it comes to education funding and education-related legislation? Iowa must address the disparity in funding between urban and rural school districts. For years, rural districts have had to stretch their dollar much farther than urban districts due to allocating thousands of dollars in extra transportation costs. Legislation needs to include a continuous stream of funding to rural schools to address their transportation needs. I would also support funding that provides juniors and seniors in high school with on-the-job learning opportunities such as apprenticeships. This would allow students to learn about jobs we have in rural Iowa so they understand there are career opportunities available. These programs would also inform students about what additional continuing education they may need, whether a two- or four-year program. To ensure we have a qualified workforce, Iowa must prioritize funding community colleges, because we need young people to fill the trade jobs in the next 15 to 20 years in our rural communities.
What are your priorities for making sure rural Iowa receives adequate consideration when it comes to economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing? If rural Iowa wants to entice new employers, supports need to be in place to allow for success for small business owners. When offering tax credits, we must prioritize small- to medium-sized businesses in rural communities, and they must be willing to invest in those communities by offering good-paying jobs with benefits. Rural towns can generate new revenue from increased population growth when homes are purchased.
Investing in infrastructure and renewable energy is going to continue to offer our state viable options for economic growth. We must first invest in our educational system to ensure we have an educated workforce to fill those jobs. Investing in infrastructure is key to increasing job opportunities and offering living wage jobs for more Iowans. I believe a better investment of our taxpayer dollars is in our teachers, nurses, police and construction workers in order to build vital infrastructure—all of which will benefit everyone in our state, including those in farming, manufacturing and other service sectors. I believe one of the goals of our state government is, collectively, to raise the necessary funds to make the essential investments in Iowa’s future. We are all in this together. My hope is to retain as many young Iowans to live and flourish in Iowa’s future. We must keep them in Iowa to increase economic growth for everyone.
Another way to improve our economic growth is to invest in our broadband technology to make our rural communities more appealing to individuals who can telecommute for their jobs. I must emphasize the need to build high-speed, high-quality internet and cell coverage over the whole state—especially in the more rural regions. This is the infrastructure of the future and future Iowa workers. For just one great example, the many people who are currently working to do medical coding from home is a job many could do from Allamakee or Clayton County if we could ensure consistent broadband services. Broadband would attract workers to our rural communities and let them remain in the smaller communities they want to live in but remain connected to larger communities. People are looking for communities that are going to offer them an improved quality of life, which rural Iowa has those opportunities in abundance.
Housing is a priority. We need people to fill the skilled workforce and other jobs that are already available. Employers are saying they need a skilled workforce. So, we need to make sure there is sufficient affordable housing for the skilled workforce to buy, rent-to-own or rent. The state can do a better job to ensure there are funding streams for affordable housing. The state must generate enough revenue to address the priorities of the rural residents of the state. As a legislator, I will support improving our utilization of current funding streams for addressing housing projects. I think we need to start thinking outside the box for ways to address our housing needs in rural Iowa. We need to look at offering free lots in rural towns for people who want to build. We also need to find ways to expand the lease to purchase programs for lower income individuals and families once more houses are available to purchase.
We must also recognize the need for additional high quality early childhood day care. Since the majority of our families have one or both parents working, we can ensure our children are receiving excellent day care from trained early childhood professionals and that this service is available and affordable in our rural communities.
It is imperative that we keep our youth here and attract new workers to our rural life. It is encouraging to learn from Ben Winchester, University of Minnesota Extension, that our rural population is growing in the 30- to 54-year-old age group. People are moving into rural areas because we offer a great quality of life, simpler pace of life, increased safety and security and lower housing costs.
What is your take on the elevated incidence of job vacancies in area communities and the shortage of qualified individuals to fill those positions? How would you work to facilitate connections in these areas?
We definitely have been experiencing a “brain drain” in rural Iowa for many years now. Many of our young people have chosen to leave rural Iowa and seek other opportunities in urban Iowa or even to leave our wonderful state. We need to focus our efforts on ensuring that young people know there are many opportunities for them to earn a living wage and enjoy the great quality of life we enjoy in rural Iowa. A partnership between our public high schools and community businesses is one of the best ways I know to address this issue, like the effort NICC is making with the Allamakee County businesses to collaborate on an effort to establish the opportunity for high school juniors and seniors to have career learning opportunities while in high school. This type of opportunity offers our youth with time to learn about different careers and gives them a better idea of what these careers are all about before they decide to make the financial and time investment to obtain higher education in that field.
As a state representative, I will support the investment we need in Iowa to offer our youth the opportunities to succeed as adults in our communities. Offering apprenticeships through a public/private partnership is a great way for people to learn about jobs. There are going to be a number of careers in high demand in rural Iowa in the near future. These jobs will continue to grow our communities and keep our main streets vibrant.
The Walz Energy 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation under construction outside Monona has sparked a lot of debate. Some citizens feel state laws regarding these facilities don’t do enough to protect natural resources. Others worry about the state of agriculture in Iowa, that farmers are turning to operations like this to remain viable. What are your thoughts on the situation, and what would you do as a legislator to help?
I believe we need to review the master matrix and revise it to allow for the regional topography and environmental issues currently facing each region of the state to ensure that regulations take into consideration the potential environmental impact of these large animal operations to any given area of our state. This can and should be done in a way that is not burdensome to our farmers, our stewards of the land.
My knowledge and understanding of CAFOs continues to evolve. I understand the reality of the jobs made available in this industry. I understand CAFOs are a part of the accepted practice of raising hogs. Technology continues to offer our agricultural economy a number of opportunities for progress and I am definitely in support of progress and finding ways for our farmers to be successful and independent growers and producers.
I am also concerned about protecting our waterways and ensuring my grandchildren have access to clean water to drink. I want to find ways to ensure northeast Iowa streams/rivers/lakes can be safe to enjoy and here for all to recreate in for generations to come.
What are your thoughts on the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s)—such as Medicaid, mental health, insurance, nurse/doctor shortages—would you like to prioritize and why? As a nurse for the past 31 years, I have seen many changes in our healthcare system. Honestly, we can do much better for the residents of Iowa. My first priority is to help reverse the privatization of Medicaid, which has negatively affected many of our most vulnerable populations who may be elderly, differently abled or facing mental health issues. Local hospitals, clinics and providers of services for the developmentally challenged, such as TASC, are losing thousands of dollars per month because of denied claims from the privately run Medicaid insurance. It has never made sense to me how the change to privatized Medicaid was going to save the state money when we went from one source of managing healthcare coverage through Iowa Medicaid Enterprise to three private insurance companies. There were initial reports of an immediate increase in the administration costs from 4 to 12 percent. We saw the loss of county caseworkers who knew the people they were serving. Instead, a private company with caseworkers from another state or, if we are lucky, caseworkers in Des Moines, are now determining what health services to approve for payment.
In order to ensure we have the work force in the health care field, we are going to need to look at providing loan forgiveness for working opportunities in our rural communities to healthcare professionals. We are currently facing a provider shortage in our Waukon Mayo clinic. This directly impacts the health care our community is able to obtain; there are fewer providers able to provide pregnancy care and deliver babies locally. We could be looking at the loss of OB services at our Veterans Memorial Hospital, not unlike the loss of those services this past year at the Guttenberg hospital. Without these services available, these communities become less attractive to people looking to relocate. People look for good healthcare close to home and good schools when they want to look for a new job. If we do not have those two things in our counties, it is going to be very difficult to attract young people/families.
I believe improving the health of all Iowans must be a priority for our state government. Without good health, we cannot be productive members of our society. The old saying still works: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Anne Osmundson (R)
Briefly tell readers about yourself. Clayton County has been home my entire life. My husband, Steve, and I farm near Volga, and own and operate an agriculture-based business. I have been blessed to work from home in our business while raising our seven children. I am currently a member of the Clayton County Planning and Zoning Commission and serve on the Judicial Magistrate Appointing commission. For the last two years, I clerked for Rep. Hager, gaining a valuable understanding of the Iowa legislature.
How will you ensure rural school districts receive the support they need when it comes to education funding and education-related legislation? The additional transportation funding the legislature approved last session needs to be permanent, allowing more dollars to funnel into classrooms. Funding flexibility is another important factor for our rural schools. It allows school administrators the ability to fit dollars into the areas our schools need.
What are your priorities for making sure rural Iowa receives adequate consideration when it comes to economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing? I will work with the Economic Development Authority to ensure programs are fully funded and fairly awarded to our rural Iowa communities and then get pertinent information to economic development directors in my district.
What is your take on the elevated incidence of job vacancies in area communities and the shortage of qualified individuals to fill those positions? How would you work to facilitate connections in these areas?
It is important for schools, community colleges and universities to work together with local businesses to make sure we all understand what kinds of jobs are available and what skills are needed to fill those jobs. The connections between schools and businesses need to be strengthened and encouraged. We need to provide students, at all levels, with valuable first-hand experience to create and nurture a workforce talent pipeline.
The Walz Energy 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation under construction outside Monona has sparked a lot of debate. Some citizens feel state laws regarding these facilities don’t do enough to protect natural resources. Others worry about the state of agriculture in Iowa, that farmers are turning to operations like this to remain viable. What are your thoughts on the situation, and what would you do as a legislator to help? The concept of this project I find intriguing, as I heard in the past that the model farm of the future needed to produce not only food and fiber, but also home grown renewable energy from multiple sources, including animal waste. I get the sense it is the size of this operation, not the operation itself, that has people wondering about its environmental impact. I admit I have more to learn about this operation, but two points I have been told are: one, that the animal waste will be treated daily and upon treatment dramatically reduces its potential for negative environmental impact. Second, these cattle would be fed somewhere and much better fed in a controlled environment rather than an open feedlot where all the manure is at risk of being washed away with every rain event. I will pledge that, if an issue with this operation comes before the legislature, I will base all my decisions on the facts.
What are your thoughts on the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s)—such as Medicaid, mental health, insurance, nurse/doctor shortages—would you like to prioritize and why? Mental health is an area that is important in both rural and urban areas. Iowans with mental health needs should be able to access services near their families and communities. Opioid addiction and abuse has infiltrated our state and has a devastating impact on families and communities. Over-prescribing needs to be reduced and Iowans need to be educated on how to avoid opioid abuse. One solution to limited access to doctors in rural Iowa is expanding telehealth services.
 

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