Q&A: House District 51 candidates

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EJ Photo/Travis Charlson

November 6 is Election Day, and one of the key races on the ballot will be the State Representative seat for House District 51.

State Rep. Jane Bloomingdale (R-Northwood), the incumbent, faces off against Democratic challenger Tim Knutson.

The EJ asked the candidates a series of questions, so our readers can get a feel for where the candidates stand on the issues before you head to the polls on Tuesday:

Tim Knutson (D) Jane Bloomingdale (R)

 

What skills/qualifications do you bring to the job?
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I am a graduate of Northwood-Kensett HS.  I hold a Bachelors Degree from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD and a Masters Degree in Healthcare Administration from The George Washington University, Washington, DC where my focus was healthcare finance.  I am a Fellow (retired) of the American College of Healthcare Executives.  I have considerable experience in leadership positions. During my most recent employment I successfully worked with over 150 physicians with many temperaments and personalities and chaired multiple committees.  I have a deep understanding of the budgeting process.  I have served on two church councils, Chairman of the Music and Worship Committees for both, President of a church choir, and most recently chaired a committee at First Lutheran Church, Northwood, reviewing the need for restoring our pipe organ.  As your Representative, I have built relationships and worked with other legislators to address and solve problems.  As an accountant, I have experience balancing budgets, allocating funds, and prioritizing expenditures.  I have also served Northwood as a city council person and mayor.

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What’s the number one issue facing our area?
  The number one issue throughout the state and District 51 is cost of private health insurance coverage and the privatization of Medicaid. There seems to be two or three “number one” issues.  In this part of our district, I have heard a lot about the workforce shortage, with education and healthcare close behind.
What would your first step to address the issue be?
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The cost of ACA compliant plans that cover pre-existing conditions in Iowa are double the cost of the same level of plans and coverages as they are in neighboring Indiana. That is due to two factors – 1.  The number of people in the ACA compliant plans is too low due to competing “skinny” plans floating around Iowa, and 2. We have too few insurers competing for these insureds. We need to take a serious look at overhauling this system to increase the number of folks in the ACA compliant plans that also will attract additional insurers. I also propose a “Medicaid Buy-In” option that would allow healthy Iowans whose incomes do not qualify them for Medicaid to purchase comprehensive health insurance from the state at a reasonable cost.

On Medicaid, we need to return control and oversight of Medicaid to the state rather than leaving it in the hands of for profit insurance companies.  In that process, by instituting a managed fee-for-service model the state can improve the system, leaving more dollars for Medicaid recipients rather than administrative costs as well as simplifying the system and providing greater transparency.

We need to continue to look for ways to improve workforce training opportunities, making sure Iowans have the skills to fill the jobs available.Future Ready Iowa, legislation we passed this year, will further connect our K-12 schools with community colleges and local businesses to provide students with work-based experiences and hands on opportunities.With 70% of our jobs requiring a two-year degree or certificate, the collaboration between businesses and our area community colleges has been invaluable in filling good paying jobs.As your Representative I will continue to work with our community colleges and work within the legislature to make these opportunities available, not just to our traditional college students, but also for the non-traditional students looking to increase their skills or change their careers.

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Budgeting — what areas/items deserve priority?
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Rather than giving tax breaks to out-of-state corporations and special interests, we must begin funding our public schools at a level that, at a minimum, keeps up with inflation rather than the paltry 1% increase provided by the most recent legislature making this a priority in budgeting. We then can begin to rebuild our schools’ reputation. Iowa was once ranked #1 in education based on student test scores. Today, on test scores alone Iowa has fallen to 29th in the country, while consideration of other factors places it 17th in some surveys. But we are long way from that #1 position that made us so proud for so many years.

For community colleges, we need to invest in them rather than cutting their budgets given the worker shortage that is deepening in Iowa. And for our universities, we must stop this incessant cutting and transferring of the costs to the backs of our kids. We currently are funding our universities at a rate less than they were funded at twenty years ago.

When it comes to the budget, it is difficult to say one area is more important than another.  It often depends on who you talk with and how their life is affected by government programs.    Education is over half of the state budget and has always been a priority.  Medicaid and care for our most needy is equally as important as education.  Mental healthcare, need awareness and treatment, is a very important issue.  Sustainable funding for water quality improvement and Funding the Trust, which includes parks and recreation and soil conservation is important.  One program or department is not more important than another, some are just more expensive to implement and administer.

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Where can the state cut back?
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By cancelling the contracts with the private companies currently managing Medicaid we can regain control of millions of dollars now being paid to these companies and re-allocate those dollars to fund the healthcare, including mental health, that remains an area of high need.

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When we talk about waste in government, the state continues to look for duplicity in work done. We may have two departments overlapping in duties and unaware they are doing this.  We have committees and boards that may not still serve the purpose they were set up to serve.  As a member of the Administration and Regulation Budget Subcommittee, we meet with each department head and discuss their budget, staff and technology needs, and where they feel they can save money.    We also discuss time frames for major improvements and try to budget accordingly.
At the state level, what will you do to help boost economic development in your district and bring much-needed growth to north Iowa?
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This is a complex, multi-faceted issue that has been years if not decades in the making and will not be resolved quickly but we must take steps now to sustain our rural communities.  First and foremost we must support our existing small businesses in our rural communities. These are the businesses that will most benefit from tax breaks and credits instead of the large businesses that have recently received the largest share of those breaks in Des Moines.

Second, an educated workforce is one of the most significant factors in attracting new businesses/employers to northern Iowa. From minimal funding increases in our pre-k through grade 12 education system to drastic cuts in state funding for community colleges and our universities, the decline in our public education ratings has economic consequences that will be felt across Iowa for years to come. We must place education at the top of our budget priorities for Iowa’s economic well being as well as for the sake of our children.

Other factors that must be addressed to boost economic development include:

Affordable housing.  We have a shortage of affordable housing options across Iowa that is worse in our rural communities. We must partner with non-profit housing agencies across the state to find innovative ways to renovate and expand our existing housing as well as exploring opportunities for federal funds that may provide incentives for investment in new housing options

High speed internet.  A business today cannot survive without access to high speed internet. We must ensure high speed broadband is considered an essential part of infrastructure in rural communities. In addition, many jobs today allow employees to work remotely, going to an office once a month or once a quarter.  But high speed internet connectivity is imperative to attracting these employees to our communities.

Increasing farming profitability.  With the thin margins in farming it may take thousands of acres to be consistently profitable. New, young farmers cannot afford to start out with that kind of capital investment.  We need to improve the profitability of farming with new markets, new crops and sustainable farming that will attract and retain young farmers to our area.

Recreation.  A new bike trail under construction in SE Minnesota will end at the Iowa border.  The people who bike and hike those trails spend money in the towns along the way.  We need to connect and expand the existing bike trails currently in place in this district to build on the biking reputation that the RAGBRAI has brought to Iowa.  Likewise, Iowa once was a destination for pheasant hunting.  With changes in farming contributing to decline in habitat, the pheasant population has plummeted.  Most of those hunters now head to the Dakotas or Kansas and collectively spend millions of dollars in those states.  Farmers in those states have found it quite profitable to lease their fields for pheasant hunting in the fall.  In conjunction with the federal government we need to financially encourage farmers to re-establish habitat that will grow the pheasant population and bring those hunters with their dollars back to our state and district.

If elected, I will pursue all of these avenues to boost the economies of our district.

Governor Reynold’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, established this summer, will seek to find concrete solutions to the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in rural Iowa.  The Initiative creates three task forces, each with a specific area and charged with identifying policy changes and developing recommendations for the Legislature.  The task forces include Investing in Rural Iowa, Growing Rural Iowa, and Connecting Rural Iowa.

I have recently been appointed to the Connecting Rural Iowa Task Force, focusing on expanding broadband connectivity in rural Iowa.  Rural communities are the heart of Iowa and ensuring they have access to high speed internet enables people to live and work anywhere.  The potential for growth is limitless.

With unemployment in our area below 2%, we currently need to expand our skilled workforce and increase our available housing.  Investing in Rural Iowa Task Force will focus on improving access to quality housing.  An increase in workforce means an increase in housing.   A bill passed through the legislature this year makes changes to the workforce housing tax incentive program by reserving specific funds for small communities.   Increased housing will also increase our tax base and lower our property taxes.   With this growth in our communities, we will bring more customers to our businesses and more students to our schools.

The Growing Rural Iowa Task Force will focus on identifying ways to encourage leadership development and strategic planning.  As a former mayor and council person, strategic planning is the most difficult and most important part of economic development.  It is key to prioritize short and long-term goals and develop a plan to achieve those goals. 

As we look for new business and industry, we must continue to support our existing businesses and assist with their growth and expansion. 

Although much of economic development starts at the local level, as your Representative, I will continue to work on economic development incentives and   specifically designating funds for our smaller communities.  I will communicate with local officials and economic development groups discussing their needs and any new programs or changes to existing programs.

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Why should voters support you?
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I am not a politician in the traditional sense. I have the ability to work across party lines to get things done for the people of this District and of Iowa. I’m willing to work with any one of any party who is working to improve the lives of Iowans rather than for large corporations and special interests. I have the experience, education, temperament, and personality to truly represent the people of House District 51.

Most importantly, I’ve heard your stories during the course of this campaign. I’m honored by your willingness to share your lives with me. Now I’m asking for your vote to give me the opportunity to carry those stories with me to Des Moines to put this state government to work for you.

I have worked hard to be accessible to my constituents, listen to your concerns, communicate with local government and schools, and address your priorities in the legislature.  I love this job and the people I have met working for you.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as your Representative and I would appreciate your vote on November 6.  Thank you.

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