Decision 2016 - Two square off for District 55 seat

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Michael Bergan

Pat Ritter

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

The Register concludes its series of feature articles on candidates in key county and state government races. The articles, which appear in Q/A format, have been complied using the exact answers given by the candidates to our questions. 

The final article in this series looks at the two people running for Iowa House District 55, which encompasses Elkader and the surrounding areas. They are: Michael Bergan (R), and Pat Ritter (D).

Michael Bergan

Tell our readers about you (where you were raised, where you went to school, where you live, previous careers/jobs, family, and anything else you’d like to share.

A lifelong resident of NE Iowa I was raised on a dairy and beef farm in Winneshiek County.  I am a graduate of Decorah High School and Luther College having earned degrees in Accounting and Economics.  My wife, Carol, of 32 years and I reside in our home adjoining her century family farm in Winneshiek County.  We have two grown daughters; Johanna (Joel Zook) Bergan and Clara Bergan.  We have two grandchildren, Margret and James Zook.

I have worked in Decorah as an income tax preparer for the past 32 years serving individuals and businesses in the area.  For the past 11 years, I have served as the Director of HAWC Partnerships for Children, implementing early childhood family support, child care and preschool services as well as child abuse prevention and intervention projects in Howard, Allamakee, Winneshiek and Clayton Counties.  I have previously served two terms as Winneshiek County Supervisor, participating on several area boards including Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health, The Spectrum Network, Northland Agency on Aging, Wellington Place, Winneshiek County Solid Waste Agency, and HAWC Partnerships for Children.  As an appointee of the governor, I have served on three state boards and commissions; the Iowa Mental Health and Developmental Disability Commission, the Iowa Empowerment Board, and the Iowa Early Access Council.

I enjoy operating steam engines and antique tractors, studying local history and genealogy, and celebrating my Norwegian heritage.  I am involved in many community and church activities.

What are your thoughts on Governor Branstad’s decision to privatize Medicaid?

Gov. Branstad implemented a managed care approach utilized by a majority of states.  The approach is expected to reduce overall program costs while improving health outcomes.  The short time frame of the change has caused concern and anxiety for Medicaid recipients and service providers.  The legislature has an oversight role in the program’s operations and effectiveness, a role of significant importance.  Efforts are needed though bi-partisan oversight to ensure that individuals qualifying for and needing health services can receive them.  

Many providers are reporting difficulties receiving Medicaid payments. According to a recently released survey of 400 Iowa providers, 46 percent say they’ll reduce their services. How will you help tackle this issue?

Iowa’s service providers need adequate and timely payment for services to maintain a comprehensive network of services.  Providing adequate state funds and oversight of the managed care organizations will help improve the timeliness of reimbursement and maintain our health services.  I will work with local providers and state provider associations to address the issue.  My experience has helped prepare me for this role.

Consolidating mental health facilities has also created problems. According to one survey, Iowa now ranks dead last in availability of mental health beds. Do you believe a mental health care crisis is looming and how would you address constituent concerns over this issue?

Iowa has been working through a mental health crisis in rural areas for several years.  Access to inpatient mental health care, for adults and children, continues to be a serious concern.  Efforts are needed to build collaborative resources for the development of community based resources.  Work to address a shortage of psychiatric care providers, telemedicine, and improved transitions from institutional to community care are all necessary approaches. Additional focus on substance abuse and addiction treatment options can also ease the crisis.

How will you ensure the rural school districts have an equal place at the table when it comes to education funding?

I will be present to advocate for our schools, working with local districts in understanding the needs of rural school districts.  I will advocate for timely funding local schools, address variances in transportation costs, and address needs for school infrastructure.  My concern for educational support includes early childhood education, children coming to school ready to learn, and secondary education opportunities.  Community colleges play a growing role in collaborative education experience of high school youth in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).  Community colleges also play a vital role in the development of job skills and training for a viable workforce in Iowa.

What are your priorities for keeping rural Iowa at the table for state funding for economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing?

I will pursue adjustments to our tax structure to improve Iowa’s position for expansion of jobs and the economic impact of Iowa’s manufacturing and value added agriculture.  Addressing investments in soil conservation and soil nutrient management in collaboration with federal, local, and private resources will help address Iowa’s water quality and add to economic improvement.  Iowa can continue to expand its options for alternative energy through the investment of private funds in wind and solar energy.  Improved energy conservation can provide savings in annual energy costs.  I look to continue initiatives in place to support first time home ownership, availability of financial literacy training, and savings plans.

Anything else you’d like to add? (Please limit your response here to 100 words or less.)

Iowa can do better.  I will work with local stakeholders and their state associations along with other representatives and senators to develop collaborative solutions to the difficult challenges that we face in Iowa.  I have learned that there can often be more than one right answer, so I will keep an open mind in working toward a common solution.  Most importantly, I will listen. I will listen to area residents and their local elected officials in defining Iowa’s needs and opportunities for solutions.

Pat Ritter

Tell our readers about you (where you were raised, where you went to school, where you live, previous careers/jobs, family, and anything else you’d like to share 

I was raised in Evansdale, Iowa. I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 years old and left service as a Sergeant to attend Grinnell College and eventually the University of Iowa College of Law. I currently practice law in West Union, where I live with my wife Chandra and our two children.

What are your thoughts on Governor Branstad’s decision to privatize Medicaid?

The privatization of Medicaid has not gone well. Service providers are waiting longer to be paid and having more claims denied. Patients are being denied services as a result.

3. If elected, I will work to fix the problems from the program’s hasty rollout. If the system cannot be fixed, we should return to our previous systems, which were not broken.

Many providers are reporting difficulties receiving Medicaid payments. According to a recently released survey of 400 Iowa providers, 46 percent say they’ll reduce their services. How will you help tackle this issue?

I believe that the closing of facilities does not save taxpayer dollars in the long term. When Iowans have untreated mental illnesses, they lean on other resources for help. Law enforcement, school personnel, health care workers, and our Judicial Branch officers spend countless hours - usually at taxpayer expense - trying to pick up the pieces of a broken system. We need to provide mental health services statewide.

How will you ensure the rural school districts have an equal place at the table when it comes to education funding?

Public education is my top priority. The legislature needs to pass a budget that funds our schools, and it needs to be done on time. I will push for policies that help our rural districts defray transportation costs. I will fight for our children and hold legislators accountable when they stand in the way of funding public education.

What are your priorities for keeping rural Iowa at the table for state funding for economic development, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing?

Iowa needs to target local businesses in Northeast Iowa instead of out-of-state corporations with economic development programs. We need to invest in our rural areas to attract good jobs and promote economic development. We also have an obligation to follow a disciplined, long-term plan for infrastructure improvement.

Anything else you’d like to add? (Please limit your response here to 100 words or less.)

We need to break partisan gridlock and move our state forward. I will work to fund public schools, clean our waterways, and bring good jobs to Northeast Iowa. I will pass a balanced budget as required by state law. I have experience as a Marine and an attorney working through disagreements to find common ground and accomplish the mission. That is the type of commonsense leadership we need in Des Moines.

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