Candidate Profiles: House District 56

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Lori Egan and Andy Kelleher are vying for the Democratic nomination for State House District 56.

Lori Egan and Andy Kelleher will face off in the June 5 Democratic Primary Election, with the winner becoming the Democratic Party’s candidate for State House District 56 in the November 2018 General Election. To date, no Republican candidate has emerged to contend for the seat, which is being vacated by Kristi Hager. State House District 56 includes all of Allamakee County and 19 townships in Clayton County. Marion, Highland and Boardman Townships are not in House District 56. Egan and Kelleher both took time to share their thoughts on some of key issues.


Lori Egan

Lori Egan is a lifelong resident of Allamakee County, and she and her husband, Mark, have raised three children—Kaila, Colin and Brett. Egan is in her 31st year of nursing, a profession she chose due to a calling to serve others. She has worked in hospitals, clinics, public health and long-term care. Egan is a lifelong learner who, while working full-time and with three kids, went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Egan has been an active community member. She and her husband were in the core group of individuals that worked on the wooden playground in the Waukon city park, she is part of St. Patrick’s School Parents-In-Action and the Waukon Jaycees, and served a three-year term on the Waukon Athletic Booster Board, the last year as president. She has served as a former 4-H leader and taught religious formation classes. Currently, Egan serves as a Red Cross volunteer, a member of the board of HAWC Partnerships for Children and on the Northeast Iowa Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse. She was also involved in the initial implementation of the Food & Fitness funding.

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 them to learn about jobs we have in rural Iowa so that they know there are career opportunities available. These observations would educate students about what additional continuing education they may need, whether it be at 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 state funding for economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing?

It is imperative that we keep our youth here and attract new workers to our rural life. 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. Legislation can address improved access to broadband Internet services, which would allow more individuals to consider residing in a rural community. 

Housing is a priority. We need people to fill the skilled workforce and the jobs 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 that there are funding streams. 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. 

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?

NICC and education stakeholders in Allamakee County have established a cohort to start identifying business community needs and how to address those needs. Community colleges serve as the hub for addressing working shortages in rural Iowa, which can be supported through legislation. I would build off this established framework to serve as a model for the state along with finding ways to encourage employers to participate in this process. 

The Walz Energy 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation currently 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 any legislation we create needs to address the need for our local farmers to compete and, at the same time, protect our communities and our natural resources in this karst topography. Commodity prices for corn and soybeans are so low, farmers are selling them for a loss, and livestock is a main way independent farmers support their families. 

I believe we need to find more ways to support our independent farmers. We, the consumers, need to support our local farmers who are producing fruits and vegetables, free range chickens, pigs and beef by paying the market price for these items. This means that folks have to be making a living wage in order to pay more for their food. If we want our independent farmers to continue to be a vital part of rural Iowa, we must pay them a fair wage for the food produced by their labor. We must facilitate the development of markets where farmers sell more directly to customers so they retain more of the profits from their labor. Our friends and neighbors who choose to dedicate their lives to farming shouldn’t also have to get a job in town just to be able to afford to farm. There is something inherently wrong with that picture. Farming is a big part of Iowa’s history and I believe we can find ways to continue to support our farmers; we just have to make it a priority.

What are your thoughts on the latest tax legislation considered by lawmakers?

I believe we need to take an honest look at what our priorities are in Iowa. If we want to ensure our children have the best education in the nation with the options to join the workforce after graduation, continue their education at a community college or attend a four-year college, then our state budget should fund education programs rather than giving more tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest among us. If we believe Iowans deserve health care and services to improve their quality of life, then the state budget should prioritize fixing our broken health care system rather than tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest among us. If we  want to ensure our drinking water and streams are clean and free of contaminants, then we should fund programs that take care of our environment rather than tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest among us. I think we need to take a hard look at what we really want Iowa to look like in future years, and that is how we decide what our tax legislation should be.

How do you feel about the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s) 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. Local hospitals, clinics and providers of services for the developmentally challenged are losing thousands of dollars per month because of denied claims from privately run Medicaid insurance. It has never made sense to me how this change was going to save the state money when we went from one source of payment 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 case workers who knew the people they were serving. Instead, a private company with case workers from another state or, if we are lucky, Des Moines determined which services were provided. 

I believe improving the health of all Iowans must be a priority for our state government. Without good health, we can’t be productive members of our society. The old saying still works : “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Citing a lack of volunteers and tight budgets, EMS providers are pushing to have EMS identified as an “essential service,” just as fire service is, by the state of Iowa. Would you support this?

I am in full support of legislation recognizing EMS providers as an essential service provider. Unfunded mandates currently exist requiring these volunteers to obtain certifications and trainings to maintain skills. 

Additionally, we must allocate funds to support the daily work these volunteers are doing to save lives throughout our state. 

Gun control is a hot topic nationwide. What, if anything, would you like to see enacted at the state level?

The vast majority of gun owners in Iowa are responsible, and legislation should not be a barrier to these people. As the wife of an avid hunter and gun owner, I will only support the enactment of common sense gun legislation—closing the gun show loophole and improving the current background check system.    

Anything else you would like to add?

Our current Republican-led legislative body has proven they are not fiscal conservatives. I will work to ensure the taxpayers of Iowa are getting the return on their investment in Iowa. I will work to ensure “Putting People First” is the priority of new legislation, in an effort to improve the well-being of the residents of this great state. We have seen what an agenda with corporate interests and big donors does to legislative efforts in our state. We need to bring moderation and common sense back into the governing of our state. 


 

Andy Kelleher

Andy Kelleher has lived in New Albin since the 1990s, when his family moved to the area. After graduating from Kee High School, in Lansing, he spent years working with Christian organizations. Kelleher served on the staff at Village Creek Bible Camp for over half a decade, ending his time there as the lead programmer. He also traveled the county assisting groups in creating new college ministries and developing new church congregations. Kelleher currently serves on the New Albin Public Library Board and volunteers every Wednesday with his church’s youth group. Although not a member of many local organizations, he helps out at events, including building a playground, planting trees, river clean-up and distributing food to people in need.

How will you ensure rural school districts receive the support they need when it comes to education funding and education-related legislation?

Many of the funding problems for schools comes down to declining enrollment, which leads to less money from the state. This is actually the issue that made me want to run for office in the first place; my old high school, Kee High, has been suffering from declining enrollment for years, and I never want to see the day when it would have to close. At the state level, we need to do everything we can to make sure rural schools get equitable funding, despite a lack of population. According to the area superintendents, the biggest ways to tackle this are through continuing or improving transportation equity, operational sharing incentives and the SAVE fund. I will continue to listen to school leaders in order to be a fierce champion for rural schools. However, funding solutions are only addressing a symptom; the declining enrollment is the true problem we need to solve. 

What are your priorities for making sure rural Iowa receives adequate consideration when it comes to state funding for economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing?

This question is really speaking to the core of my campaign. Our economic development is relatively stagnant; we aren’t attracting any new large job providers, and many of the businesses we do have can’t find enough workers to fill their positions. Our infrastructure is aging into obsolescence, and most of our towns can barely afford to maintain what they have, let alone make improvements. And affordable housing ties back into economic development. According to Clayton County Development Group, the biggest reasons businesses can’t find workers are a lack of housing, a perceived lack of things to do in the area and a lack of child care. To assist the housing problem, we need to work with developers and make it economically feasible to work and build here, potentially through credits that they could use for future development. 

As for economic development and infrastructure, I think the easiest way to make sure rural Iowa is remembered is to adjust how grants are distributed. Many grants have tiers for different population sizes that state what kind of grant you can receive, but the entire program is only funded by one pot of money. Oftentimes, larger population centers take most of the money before smaller towns can get their hands on any. I suggest that we separate the programs and set aside a portion of money specifically for rural areas. If we restrict that specific grant to towns with low populations, then we can guarantee that small towns will see that money.

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?

Some people in the area suggested to me that the lack of qualified workers could be due to schools not placing enough emphasis on those trade jobs, but I researched and found that not to be true. Perhaps it was in the past, but, right now, the area schools are doing a fantastic job of showing their students all the options available to them, as well as providing workplace shadowing. According to surveys, the biggest reasons that businesses can’t find workers are a lack of child care, a perceived lack of things to do and a lack of ideal housing. 

Since I already covered housing, I’ll address the other two. Child care is huge, because if someone wants to work while also having a family, they need somewhere to send their kids during the day. School preschool programs are underfunded (taking us back to education needs), and a lot of towns only have a couple of day care providers. With preschool funding, we can look at increasing those dollars. With private child care, we can always look at ways to incentivize people who get licensed, as well as offering more aid for healthy food and activities. But what we really need is willing providers, and I can’t make a law that forces someone to offer child care. 

The third reason businesses say they can’t find workers is the perceived lack of things to do, which is another core issue of my campaign. I think we need to attack the idea that there’s nothing to do here; with all of our waterways and parks, there’s always something new to discover. The state doesn’t directly offer any tourism development funds; the only way to receive tourism money is through county budgets or through grants (many of which require you to match funds). But we could revitalize our area if we had the means to advertise ourselves. We could bring in new workers; those workers could start families; those families could increase the school enrollment. It’s an interconnected cycle.

The Walz Energy 10,000-head cattle feedlot and biogas operation currently 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 ground around the site is incredibly porous; on top of that, Bloody Run Creek is an Outstanding Iowa Water, and should therefore have stronger protections in place. I know Walz Energy has claimed that there will be no runoff or discharge. However, I personally believe that the economic impact of the site doesn’t come anywhere close to counteracting the potential environmental devastation that could occur. As for what I could do in Des Moines to address this, the biggest thing would be requiring even stricter regulations around any OIW, in an effort to protect our natural resources. 

As far as small farms, I think it’s a tragedy that they are becoming less and less viable. I have known plenty of people who can’t find enough money to start a sustainable venture. Iowa was built on the backs of farms, so the consolidation of farms is robbing us of our heritage. It’s also contributing to our population problem; less farms means less families. As a legislator, I think it is our duty to provide assistance to small farmers. They started many of our communities, which I think has earned them the privilege of sticking around.

What are your thoughts on the latest tax legislation considered by lawmakers?

I think tax cuts are the last thing we need right now. Rural bills are always expensive, and cutting the revenue directly hurts us. The state assembly very blatantly had budget problems last year, and tax cuts won’t help with that. One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered while campaigning door to door is that I haven’t come across a single person who asked me to lower taxes. In fact, their main complaint tended to be that they wished more of their tax money would show up in their own communities. With the state budget in such an unhealthy place, I can’t support a tax cut.

How do you feel about the state of health care in Iowa? Which area(s) would you like to prioritize and why?

We could do much better. The biggest things that constituents have asked me to prioritize are mental health and Medicaid. The most heartbreaking issue with mental health is the fact that there is a severe lack of places for patients to go. A hospital administrator shared stories with me of people who have intentionally harmed themselves in front of hospital staff just so they could be guaranteed a bed. Constituents have shared stories of how much they struggled to get care for their family members. Mental health is as real as any other medical problem, and should be treated as such. 

Constituents have also asked me to address the privatization of Medicaid. The biggest issue is that many claims are going unpaid, or, if they are being paid, they are coming incredibly late. Which is obviously difficult on hospitals and doctors, but I’d like to focus on an aspect that is often left out of this conversation. When I visited different groups that assist people with intellectual disabilities, I learned that they receive over 90 percent of their funding from Medicaid. Clearly, a claim payment problem doesn’t do wonders for their bottom line. But more than that, it makes it difficult to provide enough care for their clients, especially when the MCOs are the ones deciding how much care a client needs. No matter the pros and cons of Medicaid privatization, it’s clear that the whole process has left one of our most helpless groups of citizens in the lurch.

Citing a lack of volunteers and tight budgets, EMS providers are pushing to have EMS identified as an “essential service,” just as fire service is, by the state of Iowa. Would you support this?

Absolutely. I was first tipped off about this last year by the mayors of Garber and Elkport, and I couldn’t believe that it hadn’t come up before. I actually arranged for Kip Ladage, the Bremer County Emergency Management Coordinator who has been traveling the state raising awareness for this, to come chat with me one-on-one about the needs in EMS and potential solutions. The tagline of his presentation really drives home the no-brainer aspect of this: “Where you live should not determine if you live in a medical emergency.”

Gun control is a hot topic nationwide. What, if anything, would you like to see enacted at the state level?

I currently have no plans to draft any sort of gun-related legislation. Very few constituents have mentioned gun control to me as something I should prioritize. My sister lives 30 miles away from the Parkland shooting, so that does hit close to home, but my opinion doesn’t matter as much as that of my constituents. Whenever a gun control bill would happen to come up, I’d reach out to the voters and ask them what they want me to do.

Anything else you would like to add?

Since I don’t often have a chance to say this, I might as well mention it here. I haven’t solicited a single donation during my entire campaign. I found it incredibly hypocritical that politicians would complain about how politics is a money game, but then they’d say that they couldn’t do anything about it and would ask for money anyway. I didn’t want to launch my campaign by looking at a problem, declaring it impossible, and bowing down. So I decided to take action and run a campaign without asking for a penny.

To bring this all full circle, I mentioned that I wanted to run for office because of the declining enrollment at my old high school. But it’s more than that. I’m watching my home start to evaporate around me, and I desperately don’t want to see that happen. Our population is dwindling. Our schools have funding problems. Our infrastructure is aging into obsolescence. Our economic growth is stagnant. We are at the top of a downward spiral, but we can do something about it. I don’t want to simply save my home; I want to help it thrive. And I would be honored if you gave me the chance to do so while serving you in Des Moines.

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