Rural issues should be the concern of every Iowan, but the Iowa legislature has been leaving us behind by not putting working people and the health of the land and its communities first. I will work to amplify our voices and make Iowa a leader once again on the rural front. The fields and meadows and waterways and small towns of Benton and Iowa counties—as well as similar areas throughout the state—should be examples of how rural America can thrive, especially in the face of a changing climate.
Through my work as a small-town reporter, I’ve seen, heard, and memorialized the struggles of rural Iowans. And I’ve also experienced those struggles myself as a working mom who wants my children to be proud of where they hail from. I want to give the next generation a path to proudly remain here, because we live here, too. Let’s work together to pave the way to a sustainable tomorrow.
The Small Town
Iowa’s small towns and rural communities are hurting. We live here, too, so we deserve equal access to a sustainable future as much as those living in bigger towns and cities. Emergency medical services in rural areas should be considered essential services (similar to fire protection) and funded as community infrastructure. Rural hospitals should not suffer and close under mounting debt that has been made worse due to the privatization of Medicaid. Libraries should be strengthened as community-based resources—particularly in towns where no public school exists anymore. Rural Iowa should not lose access to postal services, polling places, and grocery stores.
Union wages afford rural Iowans a way to stay in place, to remain rural, to keep communities from disappearing. Workers have the right to unionize and should be supported in their endeavors. A living wage is important, too, for maintaining our communities—keeping Iowa’s roots strong. Small towns and rural spaces are stronger when working people stand together. The small town is worth fighting for because we live here, too.
The Local Public School
We need to strengthen school reorganization incentives and properly fund education in general to ensure small towns do not lose any more elementary school buildings—we’ve consolidated ourselves enough at this point. It’s time to protect our children, including their mental health, by keeping them in their local public schools. The loss of a school reverberates for decades in a community and often wipes out a community. Our children should be educated if at all possible in the spaces in which they live and thrive. We also need to remember our public school teachers live here, too. It’s time we stopped treating them as afterthoughts and restore collective bargaining rights under Iowa’s Chapter 20.
The Steward of the Land
Iowa’s water is not safe. Our children and pets can no longer safely play or swim in over half of Iowa’s assessed bodies of water due to contamination. In 2010, 63% of Iowans voted for a constitutional amendment to create the Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Trust Fund (Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, IWiLL). But to this day the fund sits empty. It’s long past time to listen to the will of the Iowa people and fund IWiLL. Such funding will ensure watershed protection, soil conservation, and habitat restoration to reduce runoff and protect our water. But IWiLL’s formula should be funded as it was originally designed with no alteration to ensure the health and vitality of Iowa’s people and pets. More importantly, the sales tax should not be raised to fund IWiLL if cuts to schools and other services are made elsewhere. This is not a magic show. Cleaning up our water and ensuring a sustainable future for Iowa shouldn’t be made on the backs of the poor and working people of Iowa.
To that end, when private wells do test positive for contamination in our rural communities, the Grants to Counties program needs to have access to funding to clean it up. Every Iowan has a right to clean water. We live here, too.
The Family Farm
Iowa needs to remember its roots and invest in sustainable agriculture, not agribusiness. We have boxed in our farmers by allowing corporations to eat up family farms. We’ve valued yield over everything else, even above the longevity of our soils. There are countless examples in Benton and Iowa counties of farmers being good stewards of the land and water—it’s time we made it easier and less complicated for farmers statewide to quickly implement conservation practices, including those who rent their land. We need to listen to Iowa’s 500 Soil and Water Conservation District commissioners and pass mandatory, meaningful regulations in the form of a saturated buffer law. To that end, Iowa would benefit from both an organic checkoff and a Farmers’ Bill of Rights included as part of a climate policy resolution. The issue of flooding in our state is not going away and farmers are on the frontlines in this changing climate. We need to protect those who steward our land and wild spaces. We live here, too.