MASON CITY, Iowa - One of the races on the 2020 ballot in part of Cerro Gordo County: Iowa House District 53, which covers the entirety of Mason City, as well as parts of the county between Worth and Franklin Counties. The two candidates running for the seat - Democrat incumbent Sharon Steckman, and Republican challenger Simon Abela.
A former teacher, Steckman has represented the district since January 2009, and has served a total of 6 terms. During her time in the House, Steckman is noted for her work on the historic tax preservation bill, which provided a state income tax credit for historic preservation of buildings. In addition, she has served on the education committee, having helped reform education policy.
"I worked with Ron Jorgensen...he and I worked really well together getting some things done with education. I have been disappointed in the last several years in that education funding has gone downhill. We're not prioritizing education, whether it's K-12, community colleges or the regents, none of them have been prioritized in our budget, and that needs to change."
If re-elected, one of Steckman's priorities in the new legislative session is to tackle the state's response to COVID, including providing oversight on money being received, with Steckman pointing to the state receiving $26 million for expanded testing across the state as part of the Test Iowa program earlier this year, as well as providing some sort of incentive like a tax credit to go to small businesses that have been affected by the pandemic.
"We need to get a handle on that and make sure people feel safe. We want our businesses to open and open in a safe manner and to feel that they can have people in."
In addition, another issue that started work last session that she would like to see improved next year is access to childcare, and also the environment, including a focus on water quality.
"I think we need to incentivize the sustainable farmers, the ones that are practicing cover crops, set-asides. We need to incentivize those farmers to keep doing those great practices, which help our water quality and global warming. We had the derecho, the flooding. There are major climate problems that farmers are a big part in helping us solve."
With a growing political divide, and a seemingly growing dissatisfaction from voters, Steckman is committing to work with everyone on both sides of the aisle in Des Moines.
"I think it's important that we work with both sides and get things done, we have to. We're getting away from that in Des Moines, and that's why I'm very excited about running this time.
"Everybody can have a good idea. I don't care what party it is, they can have a good idea. And we need to look at those ideas and see if they're good for Iowans and go forward with them."
Coming to the U.S. from Malta 36 years ago, Abela has a background in the environmental engineering and occupational health and safety fields. In addition, he worked on and supported several projects for the U.S. Military's operations in Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Spain, and was responsible for all base closures in 2011. He's also served as an alderman in a small town in Texas, and also ran in a primary for an elected position in the Kansas City suburb of Gladstone, Missouri.
He, too, has also seen the need to improve the state's education standings.
"The education system in Iowa has unfortunately dropped. Also, in the United States, if you look at our education system, it's not as competitive. Russia, Bulgaria and Italy have a more robust education system than ours. We need to go back to the basics and teach our kids math, science, history and civics, and appreciate what America is all about. If we teach our children the core necessaries without political views and stick to the facts, I think our country will have better children coming up."
Abela is staunchly pro-life, and does not support using public funding for abortions. In addition, he supports lower taxes, a stronger entrepreneurship environment to bring more good paying jobs to North Iowa, and a modest increase in the minimum wage, to $9-10/hour. In addition, he vows to not support any legislation that would involve defunding law enforcement or first responders.
"If it's something else that goes beyond my principles, whether it's anything on defunding the police first responders, or funding abortion, I'm going to stick to my guns. But if there is something for the common person, without getting into the complications of local politics, let's get it done. Let's get it done for the people."
Like Steckman, Abela also supports water quality measures.
"We need to reinvest in our system. There are other techniques to bring water that you don't have to completely on rivers. You can create water from the air. That's something I was striving and working with in California in 2013. I also tried to put together a project in Africa."
If elected, Abela is determined to work on both sides of the political aisle.
"I truly believe you have to have dedication more than anything else, not the money or the fame. Run a project and have it accomplished, and I enjoy doing that.
"I want to people to know that I am here and ready to help."