Meet the candidates 2024: Iowa House District 51 pt. 2

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series.)

Ahead of the June 4 primary vote, the Times-Republican sent questionnaires to all of the candidates in contested races for county, state and federal offices. Our first feature is on Iowa House District 51, which encompasses about ¾ of Marshall County and roughly includes the northeast, northwest and southwest quadrants along with most of Story County outside of Ames. The city of Marshalltown and the southeast corner of the county are part of House District 52, where incumbent Democrat Sue Cahill is seeking her third term unopposed.

In HD 51, two Republicans, Brett Barker and Marty Chitty, and one Democrat, Ryan Condon, all of Nevada, are in the running to replace retiring Republican Dave Deyoe. The second half of their questionnaire responses are printed below. Barker and Chitty, along with Iowa Senate District 26 GOP hopefuls Gannon Hendrick and Kara Warme, will appear at a forum sponsored by the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, May 23 from 6 to 7 p.m. at Dejardin Hall on the Marshalltown Community College campus.

The state currently has a record surplus. What, if anything, would you propose spending that money on?

Brett Barker: We should continue to return surplus funds to taxpayers while ensuring that our state services are delivered cost-effectively.

Marty Chitty: The dollars accruing in the Iowa Taxpayer Relief Fund, an estimated 3.5 billion in the coming fiscal year, should be used to help offset any need in providing for 3.8% flat income tax and any lower voted amount. Use it as it’s named.

There are many infrastructure needs throughout the state, i.e. bridges. Paving roads with clearly demonstrated excessive traffic volumes is a public safety need. No Iowan should be put at risk going about their daily lives by our known substandard road network. Also, dollars to our state’s community colleges to provide education in the trades is clearly in all our best interests.

Ryan Condon: The “surplus,” like so much else in this state, is an illusion. $500 million of that is from underfunding education in the terms of real dollars. That “surplus” is from not backfilling counties and towns. That “surplus” is a result of federal monies paid during the COVID pandemic. That “surplus” is being depleted even as we speak is going to private schools in the forms of vouchers. We need to fully fund the state’s obligations to counties, cities and towns- reduce property taxes, invest in families, real middle class families- invest in free lunches for all Iowan children, invest in affordable childcare, invest in keeping young middle class families in Iowa.

Should the state of Iowa legalize marijuana for recreational use? Why or why not?

Barker: The use of products with high concentrations of THC are shown to have significant risks to mental health, especially in young adults. I would not support full legalization, but I would support a data-driven review of lower concentrations.

Chitty: No. It is a gateway drug and moderation in use is a self-proving fallacy.

Condon: Absolutely, and for several reasons. One, almost all of our neighboring states have legalized it, so Iowans can go get it there- so instead of keeping that revenue in Iowa, we are just giving it away for no reason. Two, many of the law enforcement professionals I have spoken with support it as it will free up real resources to pursue other actual crimes and dangerous drugs. Three, marijuana can be monitored and kept safe, as opposed to a black market item that may have much deadlier substances in it.

9. What, if anything, do you believe the state legislature should do to help catalyze economic development and growth outside of the Des Moines area and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor?

Barker: While it’s great that Des Moines is the fastest growing metro in the Midwest, much of the growth is at the expense of our rural communities. Ensuring our rural areas are able to thrive for future generations is the core driver of my campaign. The state has made significant investments through Empower Rural Iowa, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, Main Street Iowa, and a host of other programs. Many communities struggle to navigate the red tape to take advantage of these opportunities. The state should make it as easy as possible for communities to apply and should also look at additional technical assistance for small communities to identify and apply for opportunities. I am looking forward to use my extensive background in rural economic development to help our legislature enact policies that help our smaller communities.

Chitty: Investment in infrastructure throughout rural Iowa is one of the most effective tools to enhance economic development and growth throughout Iowa. One of my first priorities will push for completion of a 4-lane Highway 30 across Iowa. Completing this project will not only alleviate traffic pressure on Interstate 80, but it will also serve as a valuable connector to rural Iowa.

Additionally, we need to continue to support the expansion of broadband internet throughout Iowa. Access to high speed internet is necessary for economic development in all areas of Iowa, it provides additional opportunities for our farmers to more effectively market their grain and manage their farm operations, and it provides additional educational and training opportunities for our K-12 students.

Condon: First, stop with this culture war. Second, invest in middle class families as noted above, give some incentive to the middle class to remain, businesses will follow. Third, legalize marijuana. Invest in start up businesses like child care centers or restaurants. Fourth, embrace legal immigration, like Bob Ray did. Iowa needs the people desperately.

10. If elected, how would you address the childcare situation in Iowa?

Barker: Every community is struggling with childcare, which has gotten worse in the current inflationary environment. Family budgets are tighter, but wages to attract childcare workforce are continuing to rise. In addition to state incentives, many communities are providing local incentives for childcare providers. The state should consider expanding incentives and tax credits for childcare providers while also expanding child tax credits to taxpayers to help empower and strengthen families who are the future of our state.

Chitty: Wraparound childcare is a job and career limitation to many in this state. I am a longtime board member at the Nevada Community Resource Center, an old church that the school district purchased in 1996, which houses early childcare in a pre and post school day setting. We are space limited even after spending much to remodel and improve it. We provide summer care and host the Head Start program here as well. We could take in 10-20 additional families if space and staff provided. I believe this is both a private and public need that hinders our state’s growth efforts, and possible State dollars should be considered for expanding coverage.

Condon: As I noted above, make grants for the start up available, programs to offset for middle class families to get some relief not just the low income earners. This would be easily done as we have a unit already in place in the state, it just takes the will to allow middle class families to get a little help as well.

11. Are there any major agricultural policy changes you would suggest if elected?

Barker: Iowa feeds and fuels the world and agriculture is the bedrock of our state’s economy. We must continue to allow our farmer to innovate and lead the way on sustainable practices, which have included voluntary programs of no till and cover crops. We should continue to support renewable fuels and the cost-share of infrastructure and maintain funding for the nutrient reduction strategy. Iowa’s grain indemnity fund is in need of modernization. Iowa must also continue to ensure that foreign adversaries are not able to control our valuable land.

Chitty: Strengthen Right to Farm with the State Legislature enacting a 90% threshold of voluntary easements which must be met before eminent domain can even be brought forward for consideration.

Improve the Grain Indemnity Fund to better protect grain farmers due to a grain elevator failure through no fault of their own.

Expand the Beginning Farmer tax credit programs administered through Iowa Finance Authority.

Condon: I would encourage hemp production, it is a growing trend in the US and a fantastic crop not needing much in the way of fertilizer. Legalization of marijuana and its cultivation. We need to stop the poison spilling into our waterways. We pay for it in some way guaranteed- either through dollars, loss of life, disease, or land. I would prefer to not subjugate people to cancer when other options are available. Iowa is second in the nation in cancer rates, we don’t need to try for first.

12. If it hasn’t been asked yet, what’s another topic you’d like to address once you take office?

Barker: Iowa’s community pharmacies are continuing to struggle resulting in a significant number of communities losing their local pharmacies. These closures are the direct result of abusive practices of the middlemen known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). Iowa should continue to reform PBMs to provide more transparency to the system and more protections for Iowans, employers, and local pharmacies.

Chitty: First, we need an education-only, state maintained, online platform for all education jobs for all school districts in Iowa. No co-mingling with other jobs, education only.

Second, as a county supervisor I saw real gains in water quality improvement with adjacent septic systems being upgraded when located near a recreational body of water. The current cost of septic systems is substantial and can quickly become cost-prohibitive for many families. To address this, I would propose a water quality block grant from the State to the local county governments with a required County match to utilize to assist low-to-middle income families with replacing or upgrading septic systems.

Condon: Above all, term limits and campaign finance. Right now we have people that are older than the invention of the chocolate chip cookie in office (this is a fact, by the way). Big money donors run our government, and that’s why next to nothing is done for the middle class. We aren’t important to them. We need to fundamentally return politics as a form of service to the people, not a stepping stone to someone’s next political move or a way to get rich. This is a problem that plagues us. I took a demotion and a reduction in my family’s income because I believe this, that’s what it should be — a service.

13. Why are you the most qualified candidate for this seat?

Barker: During my time as Mayor of Nevada, I have prioritized strengthening our community through economic and community development, Main Street revitalization, and quality of life opportunities. Nevada has experienced unprecedented job growth through small business, industry, agriculture, and renewable energy, and can be a model for Iowa communities.

I am running for Iowa House because my depth of experience in economic development, healthcare, rural revitalization, and foster care will help our state enact policies to make Iowa a place where families can thrive and the next generation will be proud to call home. I will use this experience to fight for policies that are right for you and will move Iowa forward. My record as a leader is full of big dreams turned into reality through bringing the right partners to the table and having the persistence and tenacity to see them through. These are the same qualities that I hope to use to effectively champion conservative policy in Des Moines that improves the lives of all Iowans.

Chitty: Although my career has been in the private sector for much of my adult life, I first entered public service in 2007 when elected to the Nevada School Board. Since then, I’ve had the honor of serving a total of 15 years on the Nevada School Board, including 12 years as Board President. Of note, my wife and I, as well as all three of our children are graduates of Nevada.

I have worked very hard to bring improvement in faculty, academic offerings and facilities. Education speaks its own language and has its own cadence. Far too many evaluate education by the dollars being spent. Build a great staff, give them great facilities and you will likely get great outcomes parents desperately want–but it requires transparency in order to build the necessary trust with the parents of children in the School District, which has been a priority of mine from Day 1.

In fiscal year 2023, 56% of the state budget was spent on education. I have labored hard in advocacy for the dollars and the support to make Nevada Schools better. As a School Board President, I will be able to be a voice to strengthen education at the State House and will work to implement more effective tools to evaluate educational effectiveness. As there are eight school districts located in House District 51, I look forward to working with their leadership to strengthen our education in Iowa.

I also served as a Story County Supervisor from 2016-18. Story County is one of the larger counties in Iowa with over 100,000 residents. Through my role as a County Supervisor, I was directly engaged in evaluating and establishing the Country’s budget, directly oversaw several department heads, and worked everyday to implement conservative policies at the County level.

The diversity of my experience in that time extends beyond the elected roles to serving in various capacities, as well as advocacy for, regional mental health initiatives, agricultural literacy and economic engagement, wraparound childcare and historical preservation amongst other things in my community.

House District 51 is primarily a rural district, with agriculture being the economic engine in our area. Through growing-up on our family farm, I know first-hand the challenges facing agriculture today, and having served as a Story County Farm Bureau Board Member where we advocated for all farmers on various issues, I look forward to being a champion for agriculture as we work to preserve our way of life as your State Representative for House District 51.

Condon: Because I am an everyday, regular middle class Iowan. I don’t have hidden assets or large dollar donors. I have one income anyone can look up or I will tell them- if I ever make more, call me on it, there is something wrong. My money has mostly been raised from the 51st and the immediate area. I want real Iowans to have a voice, middle class Iowans. I have seen the holes in state government and can offer real solutions to not only save taxpayer money but make it more efficient and benefit far more people. I beleive in term limits the most strongly. No more than 3 terms for any position, at any level. There should be a cap on fundraising and campaigning. The system needs a jolt of regular Iowans wanting to serve, not professional politicians.


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