BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Three candidates up for election on Nov. 6, told Republicans Saturday night that the state is headed in the right direction.
At Saturday’s annual Lee County Republican banquet, candidates Jeff Reichman, James Steffen, and Joe Mitchell talked about how President Donald Trump has brought back jobs to America and how governors Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds have brought the state back from disaster.
Reichman, of Keokuk, said Lee County is open for business. He’s seeking to fill the District 84 State Senate seat currently being held by Jerry Kearns, a seat that Republicans haven’t had for three decades.
“At the state level, one of the key jobs will be to advocate for Lee County and let people know that Lee County is open for business,” Reichman said. “The president started this and it was great to see that. He was at Grant City at one of the steel mills and talking about bringing back the manufacturing jobs that the last president said were gone and weren’t coming back. They are coming back.”
Reichman, who’s a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp, said he had to have his arm twisted a little to run. He grew up in Keokuk and graduated from Southeastern Community College before joining the Marines. He moved back into the area five years ago and said he was concerned by what he saw on Keokuk’s Main Street.
“I was driving down Main Street with mom and wondered if I had been living with rose-colored glasses on, or if things had gone down hill that fast,” Reichman said.
“You can get $300 million per year in Lee County’s economy,” Reichman said. “We need to start building this county back up and take advantage of this turn we’re having right now with bringing some of these manufacturing jobs back.”
Lee County Republican Chairman Martin Graber said Kearns probably did the Republicans a favor by not running again, but he’s endorsed Fort Madison’s Jeff Kurtz for the seat.
“Jerry Kearns probably did us a favor by retiring. He’s endorsed his successor, but if you have been to any debates and listened to what he thinks and believes and what his issues are – he doesn’t talk about jobs too soon and he doesn’t talk about making the state better,” Graber said.
Joe Mitchell, fresh off a graduation this spring from Drake University, is trying to win Dave Heaton’s 84th district State Rep. seat. Both Heaton and Kearns have said they will not seek re-election in the fall.
Mitchell said Iowa is ranked No. 1 in the country, has the lowest unemployment rates in the Midwest, has the highest graduation rate in the country and attributes all those recognitions to the work of governors Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds.
Mitchell said this year it will be important for those in the Republican party to get out and talk to those fringe voters and not spend time on die-hard liberals who won’t change their minds. He said the state is going in the right direction, but that won’t continue if the Republicans don’t fight back what he called the “Blue Wave”.
“Democrats are trying to mobilize right now. And they’re trying to get many people out to take over the legislatures,” he said. “I”m sure you’ve all heard of the Blue Wave movement they’re trying to do. They think they’re going to take over all the state legislatures and they think they’re going to take over Congress and I’m sorry to tell them but I think that’s a false notion,” Mitchell said.
“I would think that was going to happen if we weren’t the No. 1 state in the country, with the lowest unemployment rate in the Midwest. If we didn’t have the highest graduation rate in the country. If we haven’t delivered on historic tax cuts for working class families and small businesses.”
He said the state does hold all those recognitions and when voters go to the polls they’re going to ask if they are better off now than they were eight years ago under Governor Chet Culver.
“Eight years ago we spent every single penny we had, drained our reserve funds, had record high rather than record low unemployment, and our state was going down and I just thank God for Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds for getting us out of that,” he said to applause from the 120 in attendance.
Graber said it was almost Mitchell’s race to lose when you look at demographics.
“He almost has to work real hard at losing that, but I always tell people don’t ever assume you’ve got a win because I guarantee you in politics it’s not always the best man or woman wins,” Graber said.
James Steffen is running for the Lee County Board of Supervisors to take the District 3 seat being vacated by Don Hunold at the end of his term.
Steffen said the county has been run by Democrats for too long and it’s time for more transparency and more accountability at the county level.
Steffen ran for the statehouse in 2012 losing to Kearns and said he stepped away from public office.
“I kind of stayed out of politics for a while, but I don’t like what is going on in Lee County. The focus on economic development doesn’t have to be just manufacturing. We’ve got 5G in Lee County now so we can have any type of technology jobs.”
He also said he was disappointed that the supervisors took $400,000 out of the budget for law enforcement.
“I support law enforcement. They took $400,000 out of the budget for the sheriff, but he ended up getting back most of it. One party has been in control of the entire county and I think there needs to be more transparency and accountability and I think I can bring that,” he said.
He also said education should be a priority.
“They told me to not worry about education, but children are our future and if we don’t provide them with a quality education with more emphasis on the STEM program, if we don’t provide them with that, then we are failing them and failing our state and county.”
Steffen said the county needs to let the department heads do their jobs.
“We have department heads for our county and lots of decision are made by the board and they don’t rely on those department heads. They need to utilize that better and rely on those people to do that job and if they can’t do that job they need replaced. Someone needs to hold those people accountable and it’s not being done now,” Steffen said.