Norris: Get ‘back on a trajectory in being the best’

Norris

Experience, a return to excellence in education, strengthening mental health care, and honoring Iowa’s rural communities are some of the reasons John Norris wants to be Iowa’s next governor.

Norris, one of six Democrats vying for their party’s nomination, said in a recent interview with the Times-Republican that he’s prepared to move the state forward.

“I believe experience is a critical difference,” he said. “Voters are seeking someone with significant life experience, managing a business, a farm organization, serving as the chief of staff for (former) Gov. (Tom) Vilsack, chief of staff to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and representing the United States at the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program.”

Having grown up on a small farm and serving as president of the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce, Norris said Iowa needs to pay attention to small towns and not just the big cities in the state.

“Too much of our economic development efforts are focused on our urban centers — the Ames-Des Moines corridor, the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor. Unless you make a concerted effort to help the rural economic grow, it’s not going to rebound,” he said. “It’s to all of our benefits that the rural Iowa economy is self-supporting and self-sustaining.”

Norris said the state must work to provide more skills training at our community colleges, while being open and welcoming to new Iowans, including immigrants and refugees.

Education, the candidate suggests, needs to be the top priority for all Iowans of all stripes, all backgrounds.

“One of my sharpest criticisms of Gov. Reynolds is this acceptance of mediocrity,” he said. “Iowa has always been and has always been expected to be at the lead in education. But we cannot grow our economy by underfunding public education and stripping aways collective bargaining rights for our teachers. We’re not on the right path. We have to get it back on a trajectory in being the best.”

Norris said increase allowable growth funding for Iowa’s public school is necessary, given the fact that the students who are enrolled have many more challenges today than days gone by.

“Half of our students are food insecure, many are being raised by a single parents, layer upon that so many new English language learners — that demands more resources,” he said.

Norris also said that those students eligible for free and reduced lunches has doubled in recent years and that nearly half of Iowa babies born are eligible for Medicaid.

The candidate said more money needs to be directed at the state’s mental health system, which he says is tied to both education and the recent decision by the Branstad-Reynolds administration to privatize Medicaid.

“It’s the most dominant issue right now,” he said. “The fate of our mental health system is impacting everyone, employers, lost time on the job … We have to address the lack of mental health care services in Iowa. It was greatly compounded by the privatization of Medicaid,” Norris said.

He added the state must increase the number of mental health professionals, but noted that “it won’t do any good to graduate Iowans into the mental health system if they don’t want to practice here. We need to focus on education, but we also have to create an environment in which they can succeed.”

Norris said he’s also focused on discouraging tax cuts that only benefit large businesses, making sure water quality is at forefront of continued discussion, an increase in public research dollars are available and embracing diversity and raising wages.

The primary is Tuesday, June 5.

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Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or jhutton@timesrepublican.com