Candidate Profiles: State House District 56

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Lori Egan

Anne Osmundson

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Democrat Lori Egan and Republican Anne Osmundson will face off in the Nov. 6 general election for the opportunity to represent District 56 in the Iowa State House. The seat has been held for the past two years by Republican Kristi Hager, who chose not to seek re-election. State House District 56 includes all of Allamakee County and nearly all of Clayton County, excluding Marion, Highland and Boardman townships. Egan and Osmundson recently took time to share their thoughts on some key issues.

Lori Egan

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 VMH 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

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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