Mental health and Medicaid key issues

With election day 27 days away, challengers and incumbents worked to clearly differentiate themselves from their opponents Tuesday night at the Times-Republican legislative forum in Dejardin Hall on the Marshalltown Community College campus.

A large crowd witnessed debates between two-term incumbent state Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, and his challenger, Jeff Edler of State Center. Opposite them on the dais were two-term incumbent state Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, vs. challenger Nathan Wrage, a Democrat from the Gladbrook area. Moderating was Jeff Hutton, managing editor of the Times-Republican. The T-R and Iowa Valley Community College co-sponsored the event.


Incumbent Fisher is recently married, and lives on the family Heritage arm near Garwin, established in 1852.

Since entering politics, he has touted his strong business background, made possible by engineering and management skills applied for years at Motorola Co. in Chicago and elsewhere.

He said his extensive background in manufacturing, management, and farming makes it possible for him to relate to all constituents.

Fisher also spoke of ongoing personal attention to keep the state budget balanced with prudent spending for clean water, education, and transportation.

“I am proud of my work in securing bipartisan passage for the ‘Safe at Home’ legislation,” he said. The bill gives protection to domestic violence victims.

Fisher said he is also proud to donate his annual legislature per-diem to volunteer fire departments throughout his district.

Wrage is making his second run at Fisher.

His testimonial included spending his entire life in the district, working on a farm and in manufacturing, raising a family, and owning a home.

He and family live on an acreage near Gladbrook.

The two were in agreement on a number of issues, but

differed on water quality.

Fisher said he supports volunteer compliance, and cited work on his own farm to keep water clean.

Wrage, who has been active as a clean water volunteer, wants state lawmakers to take a more pro-active approach.

He considers water quality critical component for future development.

The two also had different approached to address burgeoning mental health issues.

Wrage was critical of Branstad for closing the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo and mental health institutions.

“Those folks should not be filling up jails and prisons, they should be receiving help,” Wrage said.

Fisher rebuttal said the state has 731 beds for mental health patients, and typically 100 beds are available.

“The problem lies with those who have dual diagnosis – a mental health condition coupled with substance abuse and other issues.

He also said he fought hard to keep the IJH open, and placed blame for its closure on the Des Moines Register and Disability Iowa.


Sodders spoke of his 26-year career in law enforcement, started at age 19.

He is a deputy with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.

He and his wife have two college-age children.

Edler is a farmer and businessman.

He and his spouse have five children.

Sodders repeatedly spoke of his ability to pass bipartisan legislation.

He also cited his election as Speaker Protem.

“I was elected by Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

Edler said if elected, he would bring “common sense” back to government.

Sodders said if re-elected, he would work to change the current Medicaid system which was taken from the Department of Human Services and given to three private companies.

“The current plan is a disaster,” Sodders said. “The three companies have three different forms, a number of Medicaid providers have not been paid in three months

and some have gone out of business.

Edler said the solution was to focus on program features which were working correctly, and then work on issues which were not.

Sodders criticized Edler for accepting an estimated $300,000 to date, some from out-of-state interests.

Edler claimed he had to outspend to earn name recognition.


Rep. Mark Smith D-Marshalltown, is unopposed.

He asked attendees for their votes to represent House District 71.

With no opponent to debate, he outlined his game plan once the legislature reconvenes January, 2017.

He said making education the number one priority again was a key objective.

Health care, mental health, and resolving the Medicaid payment issues are on the list too.

“Governor Branstad’s closing three mental health institutions was unconscionable,” said Smith.

Additionally, Smith and Sodders have co-hosted two meetings in Marshalltown in recent months attended by dozens of Medicaid providers and recipients, who complained extensively about no service, or poor service rendered by three for-profit companies selected by the state to administer Medicaid program benefits and payments.

Fellow House Democrats voted Smith House Minority Leader, and he ranked his ability to work with Republicans on many issues, as well as health care reform, as major accomplishments.

Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or