Meet the Candidates: State House District 64

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Incumbent Anne Osmundson (Republican) and challenger Brian Bruening (Democrat) will face off in the Nov. 8 election to represent Iowa State House District 64. The district encompasses all of Allamakee and Clayton counties as well as Holy Cross in Dubuque County.

Incumbent Anne Osmundson (Republican) and challenger Brian Bruening (Democrat) will face off in the Nov. 8 election to represent Iowa State House District 64. The district encompasses all of Allamakee and Clayton counties as well as Holy Cross in Dubuque County. The two recently participated in a candidate forum hosted by the Times-Register and Monona Outlook newspapers, and shared their thoughts about key issues. Responses are included below, edited for length and clarity. Watch a full recording of the forum on the Times-Register YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xBdtdsj4AE. Find more election information at elections.claytoncountyia.gov/.

 

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Anne Osmundson has lived around Volga her whole life, and farms there with her husband. The couple has been married 46 years and has seven children and 21 grandchildren. She grew more interested in politics through weekly government meetings hosted at the Osmundson home and went on to clerk for State Rep. Kristi Hager. When Hager did not seek re-election, Osmundson ran for the position. “I felt like I could represent the values in our area: very conservative, farm oriented. I’ve been in the legislature four years and look forward to being there another two years,” said Osmundson.

 

Brian Bruening grew up on a family farm near New Hampton, where he learned about hard work and making do with what you have—qualities Bruening said prepared him for life as a small business owner. He moved back to Iowa from Boston and, 16 years ago, opened Schera’s Restaurant in Elkader. He’s been involved in the chamber of commerce and a sponsor of the arts. “I’ve learned a lot in Elkader, especially what is possible in a rural town. I hope to bring that experience as a representative for this district,” Bruening said.

 

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Many small Iowa communities struggle. What should be done to help small towns come back and help their businesses thrive?

 

BB: Bruening said Elkader has bucked this trend with its thriving downtown. A big part is one of the lessons he learned as a small business owner: You are not a successful business in a small town by doing it by yourself. “We have certain anchors in the town, but we’re all dependent on all the various businesses. People can see themselves having a business in Elkader, and there’s a lot of power in that,” Bruening said. “I think we need to try to replicate those things, to find what those anchor businesses are and to support them.” 

 

As a state representative, Bruening said it’s important to be a cheerleader and advocate for the area you represent.  “We are 3.5 hours from Des Moines, and it’s really easy for them to forget about us here. We need someone in Des Moines speaking out for us and making sure they never forget District 64,” he added

 

AO: Osmundson agreed it takes communities and businesses coming together. “Transportation has been great to be able to go places, but yet it’s kind of killed our small towns too, because you can go to the big box stores. We do have great economic development people who work with businesses and communities, to try and work with housing and employment,” she stated. “On the state level, if there’s regulations strangling businesses and keeping them from getting going, then I feel like that’s where we come in.”

 

 

Consumer prices rose 9.1 percent in the calendar year that ended in June. What can be done at the state level to keep inflationary pressure in check?

 

AO: Osmundson said inflation is a federal problem, due to the money pumped into the system, and it will be up to the federal government to fix it. Iowa was proactive, however, by lowering the tax code and removing the sales tax from feminine products and diapers, helping people keep more money in their pocket. “On the other end of the scale, we also reduced or took away tax on retirement, to keep those people in our communities and to keep them spending money,” she said.

 

BB: Bruening wants Iowa to use its status as an agricultural powerhouse. One of the biggest areas with inflationary pressures is food prices, and he claimed a lot of those food prices are due to the strangle hold some meat packers have on pricing. “Eighty percent of meat produced goes through four different companies. It is not an uncommon story to hear how companies have raised prices on products because they can,” he said. “It would be great if Iowa could get together with other states and work with the federal government to break up some of that stranglehold. Not only would it help lower prices for consumers, but it would also assure farmers get a fair price for the products they are bringing to market.”

 

 

Iowa bridges have been ranked among the worst in the country. What should be done at the state level to provide funding not only for bridge projects but other infrastructure needs?

 

BB: “Since the U.S. Congress passed President Biden’s infrastructure bill, there is a lot of money coming to the states and already being used,” Bruening said. “My restaurant is located outside the Keystone Bridge, which is under construction. Despite the fact construction has made it very challenging, I’m still happy it’s happening because it needs to happen. We cannot have strong economies with crumbling roads, with crumbling bridges.” 

 

As a state representative, it would be his responsibility to advocate for the area. “It’s really easy for that money to go to 380, 80, all these other big projects, but we pay taxes too and deserve our fair share of the pie,” Bruening said.

 

AO: Noted Osmundson, “The transportation commission sets the DOT’s annual budget. They identify which projects are the highest priority for construction or repair. We can make the commission aware of things in our area that need help. They use the road use tax fund—it’s proportioned out.” 

 

 

What should be done to enhance Iowa’s education system?

 

BB: Bruening’s older sister has been a teacher in Story County for 25 years and, according to her, the best support of education is to support teachers. “In the last session, the legislature was too focused on micromanaging everything that happens in classrooms,” he said. “We need to start putting trust back in our teachers. We can micromanage everything at the state level, but all it does is make teachers feel like they are under appreciated and like they don’t want to continue to teach here.”

 

Schools must also be adequately funded. A 2 percent increase, compared to 9 percent inflation, is a 7 percent reduction, according to Bruening. Schools can’t maintain themselves “on that pittance, especially when there’s been continuous bragging about the billion-dollar budget surplus we have,” he said. “When students don’t have school lunches, when rural schools don’t have adequate money to fund busing, when teachers have to run fundraisers in order to get enough equipment and supplies for their students, our government is not being successful. We need to change that.”

 

AO: Osmundson disagreed teachers are micromanaged. “You might be referring to not teaching divisive concepts, and I think that’s well within the bounds of the state legislature to be aware of what’s being taught. There are parents who are concerned about their kids and want them to be taught the basics. They don’t want them to be indoctrinated with some ideology,” she said. “Bring it back to local control, where local people have control over the curriculum.” 

 

Osmundson said the state gives money to the schools and it goes into different silos, designated for certain things. “And perhaps we need to open up these silos a little bit and let the schools decide where they’re going to spend their money.” 

 

Inflation will be considered this year. “The budget is already half taken up by schools, so schools are also going to have to look at their bottom line. We’ve got less students in schools, and we knew this was happening, and I’d hope schools had a 5-, 10-year plan to take that into account,” she said.

 

Osmundson hears from teachers and parents that discipline is a problem in schools. “A lot of times, when I’m talking to people about school, it boils down to we need God back in our schools again,” she said. “Years ago, we used the blue back speller, McGuffey readers, and they used biblical concepts all the way through. We didn’t have all the mental health issues, the discipline issues. Kids had hope, they had identity. “

 

 

What should be done to assure students and staff are safe in rural schools?

 

AO: Currently, schools are locked down and visitors buzz to go in. Osmundson said school boards are free to make these individual decisions because they can best handle it. “Maybe we need to stop and think why there are school shootings. What’s causing it? Social unrest, lack of pride in self, drugs—what’s happening?” she asked.

 

BB: “It’s fascinating to hear about local control for schools when the state legislature has specifically banned Johnson County and Polk County from allowing students to wear masks. You specifically came in and told those school boards you cannot require masks,” Bruening responded. “That is a safety issue for me, whether or not students are healthy. Returning local control to people is not demonstrated by the laws passed and that you have sponsored.” 

 

He said the best way to help protect students and teachers is for the legislature to stop attacking them. “Those divisive concepts, the language of that legislation is so wishy-washy that literally anything can fall under that. Teaching the Civil War as it actually is in text books could be considered a divisive topic. The world is a divisive topic most of the time, and we do not do our children any service by trying to cushion them from the nature of the world,” Bruening said. “That is not to say it should not be age appropriate. What we’re saying is to allow people who have studied child development to make appropriate lesson plans. 

 

He advocated for better protection of student mental health and funding for counseling. “If you look at the history of kids who have committed crimes in schools, they all have one thing in common: they were bullied. They were ostracized kids who felt unattached to their communities. We need to do stuff to help that, and that obviously takes funding,” he said.

 

 

Businesses of all types are facing staffing shortages. What should be done to help them fill open positions with quality workers?

 

BB: Bruening criticized the state legislature and governor’s office for slashing unemployment benefits, “to make it so painful to be unemployed that you’re going to force workers to take jobs they don’t want to do. To me, cruelty as a strategy does not work in the long term.” He cited low wages for paraeducators and childcare workers, stating dog walkers make more. “How are we going to encourage people to take these absolutely necessary jobs if we don’t actually fund them?” he asked.

 

He added that businesses are going to have to pay people more for the work they expect of them, because no one is working for free anymore. “That’s what the pandemic taught us. No one has to work for less than they think they’re worth,” Bruening said.

 

AO: Osmundson stated community colleges are working with area schools to prepare young people for the workforce, and legislation encourages college graduates to stay in the state. “And, yes, we did make changes to the state’s unemployment system, incentivizing Iowans to return to the workforce as quickly as possible,” she said. “I find it interesting that Brian says they may be forced to work a job they don’t want to do, but I think we all, in life, have had to do things we don’t want to do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to encourage people to get back into the workforce, especially when we’ve got so many jobs to be filled.”

 

 

What should the state be doing to support local farmers?

 

AO: Osmundson believes the state supports local farmers, and tries to stay out of the way and let them farm. An Iowa farm to school program features local products, and a farmers market nutrition program allows use of WIC dollars to purchase goods. There is financial assistance for conservation practices like no till and strip till. “So I do feel like we are helping the farm economy,” she said. “We also legalized growing hemp, for those farmers who felt like that’s what they needed to diversify. I’m open to hearing what we can do because our farm economy is important in Iowa.”

 

BB: Bruening felt one of the biggest challenges facing farmers is the price of land. “Unless you have a family that already has that land, it is really challenging for young farmers to even consider getting into farming. Going alongside that, so much of the land is currently owned by people renting to farmers, so they’re not actually farming their own land. They’re using it as rental income,” he said. “It is unsustainable over the long term when there’s only people renting land.”

 

Some of the most exciting farmers Bruening knows in Clayton County are young people who moved back to the area and found their own niches within the farm economy. “They have value added products such as organic or grass fed. Ideally, it would be great if the state could continue to support those because row crop farmers, they have a lot of support at the state level and also the federal level,” he said.

 

“We also want to make sure we have longevity to farms. A lot of farmers I know are older. Who’s going to take over those farms?” Bruening continued. “The state should really be working on trying to get younger folks into the industry.”

 

 

What is your long-term vision for Iowa?

 

AO: “I think we’re a pretty awesome state,” Osmundson said. “Farming is our biggest industry and we’re trying to attract people into our state. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that. I will continue to advocate for businesses in my area, farming in my area, and giving parents a choice in education.”

 

BB: “If you ask people why they decided to move to the state of Colorado, one of the main reasons is because there’s a lot of recreational opportunities for them. They have stuff they can do when they’re not at work.” Bruening said this part of Iowa has similar resources, with canoeing, hunting and fishing. “It is a great place to live. And with increasing broadband in our rural areas, there are more opportunities for younger folks to move to this area, to live that beautiful quality of life and still have access to their jobs.”

 

“There is a real opportunity for the state of Iowa because, in a lot of ways, there’s the natural beauty, but the cost of living is fairly low. We’re really easily accessible to major cities,” Bruening added. “However, young people do not want to go to a place where they think schools are under attack. They don’t want to raise their kids in a place where they think they might not get a good education. They’re not going to move to places where their health care is under attack, where, if god forbid they have rheumatoid arthritis, they’re not able to get the medication because the state wants to outlaw abortion drugs and those drugs may cause an abortion. It’s already happened...people can’t get the drugs they need because of shortsightedness.”

 

Bruening noted Iowa has a history of being open and welcoming, but felt it’s changed. “Now we can’t seem to have a civil conversation. That needs to change for the future of the state. We can’t encourage people to move here, you can’t encourage young people to stay here, unless they feel welcome,” he said. “My long-term vision is to make our state a more welcoming place for other people.”

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