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Neighbors Growing Together | Feb 24, 2018

Mary Stewart of Ottumwa runs for Iowa Senate District 41

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Feb 08, 2018
Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is running for the Iowa Senate Seat in District 41, occupied by Republican Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa.

Stewart, an Ottumwa resident herself, is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination, which will be decided at the June 5 primary. District 41 includes all of Van Buren and Davis counties, the eastern half of Wapello County and the western half of Jefferson County.

 

Education

Stewart makes it no secret that she is most passionate about education. It’s not surprising given her background. She worked at Indian Hills Community College for 33 years, in the college’s employment and training sectors, and as the dean of academic services for the final 15. She is now retired.

“I’m a strong proponent of public education, both for K-12 and higher ed,” she said. “When you decrease funding for education, you decrease opportunities for the citizens of Iowa because education is the starting point for all kinds of other things for people’s development.”

Stewart said cutting one type of education ends up hurting another because academic institutions are so thoroughly linked.

For instance, she talked about how many students graduate high school with many college credits or even a two-year arts degree thanks to community colleges.

She said funding for programs like workforce development need to be a priority, too.

“If we can give tax incentives to multimillion or even multibillion dollar corporations, we should be able to provide incentives for education first,” she said.

Stewart said education is one of many issues where she does not see eye-to-eye with Chelgren.

 

Water quality

Another issue Stewart is concerned about is water quality. She mentioned that Gov. Kim Reynolds just signed a $282 million bill to fund water quality improvements in the state. The money will come from an existing tax on metered drinking water, which currently goes into the state’s general fund, and gambling revenue, which now goes toward the state’s building and infrastructure fund.

“It’s a noble effort, and it’s nice that something finally passed that appears to have some funding behind it, but it falls short of what we need,” Stewart said. “The saddest part is that it robs Peter to pay Paul, like the money that comes from the fund to provide infrastructure to public schools.”

Stewart said one thing she’d like to see more of is a greater share of women in government. The Iowa Senate has 50 members and only six of them are women.

“I think it’s time for women to have greater representation,” she said. “Many issues deal specifically with women and equal pay. Iowa has been a leader in civil rights, but we’ve lost a lot of ground the past two years.”

Small towns

Preserving small-town life is an issue Stewart feels strongly about because she grew up in one. She was born and raised in Appanoose County, graduated from Centerville High School and from Indian Hills Community College in Centerville. She graduated from William Penn University in Oskaloosa with degrees in English and psychology.

“It bothers me when I see small towns struggling to survive,” she said. “If we can offer incentives to large corporations, I’d like to see incentives for small businesses in rural communities, too.”

Along those lines, she’s heard that one problem in attracting people to small towns is the lack of housing. The housing that exists is not energy efficient or it’s worn out.

“Communities are looking at grants to make better housing available, and I’m interested in that, too,” she said. “We don’t all want to live in Des Moines or Cedar Rapids. There should be ways for these communities to continue and thrive.”

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