Campaign manager Dodi Reilly, left, and Sarah Smith, candidate for House District 76 representative
By Michael McAllister
Following Sarah Smith’s official announcement party—she’s running as a Democrat for the District 76 seat in the Iowa House of Representatives—when the signatures were tallied, 76 people had registered their support.
District 76 and 76 signatures. A numerologist might see some significance in that likeness. Smith sees a coincidence and, more importantly, an encouraging debut for her campaign.
The campaign is new, but the idea to run for office is not.
Dodi Reilly, Smith’s campaign manager, references a time five years ago when she and Smith were discussing an issue. “If you ever want to run for office, I’ll be your campaign manager,” Reilly promised.
“I loved working with her at Imagine Grinnell,” Reilly adds. “She just runs a great organization.”
Reilly was not the only person to suggest Smith run for office. Because of Smith’s involvement in community affairs, other people offered encouragement. It was an idea Smith herself had nurtured since visiting the Iowa legislature as part of the Poweshiek Leadership Program.
Smith recalls the specific issue under consideration—a tax on electric cars. The presentation of both sides fascinated her. Why should the owner of an electric car have to pay a tax for taking steps to protect the environment? On the other hand, the car would be driven on roads, but because the driver would not be fueling up at service stations, road use taxes would be avoided.
What is fair? That is often a complicated question, but it’s one that the candidate is willing to tackle.
Smith cites her background of employment and community involvement as a solid foundation on which to build her campaign. Currently Director of Outreach Programs and Events at Grinnell College, a position she has held since 2015, Smith undergirds her bid for office with a diverse spectrum of experience ranging from stay-at-home mom to Executive Director of Imagine Grinnell. She currently serves on the board of Unity Point-Grinnell Regional Medical Center.
Smith promises to bring “a different energy and focus” as a state representative, and her background of employment and community service lends credence to that claim.
Because Grinnell lies at the western edge of District 76, Smith is aware that she must make herself known to residents to the east.
Current campaign plans call for the equivalent of the Full Grassley in Poweshiek County and the portion of Iowa County that House District 76 covers—that is, at least one stop, and preferably several stops, in each town.
Smith calls “getting out there and meeting people” one of her priorities and will make the most of community celebrations in the coming months.
In March, Smith will join Ivy Schuster of Searsboro, candidate in Senate District 38, on listening tours throughout the area.
“I do really care about people,” Smith emphasizes, and talking to as many as possible will be one of the guiding principles of her campaign.
Smith recently spent some time with Our Grinnell and addressed several issues.
Active in past school bond initiatives, with a husband in his second term on the Grinnell-Newberg School Board, Smith is well versed in school funding issues both locally and statewide.
She understands the tax burden that accrues to members of the agricultural community, however.
“I still believe that we should improve our schools and school facilities, but what really started to be hard for me to take was … the burden on the farmers,” she explains. She would like to explore revised ways of funding local improvements.
She praises the organizers of Grinnell-Newberg bond efforts for reaching out to the community, for listening to concerns, and for taking those concerns into consideration. School bond issues can be divisive, she acknowledges, but observes, “We can’t all succeed if we put each other down.”
On the state level, Smith notes that reduced school funding from the legislature in previous years has contributed to a dearth of improvements that needs to be corrected. Merely matching the rate of inflation is not enough.
She applauds educational initiatives but feels that they should not come at the expense of current, effective programs.
In short, “more money to the schools” is near the top of her list of priorities, and she hopes to be “a voice for Iowa rural schools.”
On the Iowa Caucuses
In the wake of national criticism regarding the Iowa caucuses, Smith is supportive—particularly of the organizers and the volunteers who instructed attendees, monitored procedures, and tabulated results. These dedicated workers should not be blamed for failed technology, she stresses.
As for Iowa’s demographics and the extent to which the state may or may not represent the country, Smith feels that Iowa presents a unique stage on which candidates can present themselves to thoughtful, concerned voters. The degree to which people become involved is heartening, she notes, referencing a neighbor who hosted a reception for Bernie Sanders.
She does not want Iowa to lose its first-in-the-nation status.
Smith comes down firmly on the side of the environment regarding issues that affect it. “I will want to make sure I have a strong voice in protecting” the environment, she states, mentioning water quality and air quality specifically.
But she also emphasizes fairness. When the matter of concentrated animal feeding operations is raised, for example, she calls for a balance between environmental impact and agricultural economic opportunities.
She has researched the matter of CAFOs and their impact, but she acknowledges that she needs to investigate further. Regarding research, she stresses the use of primary sources, meaning the study itself as opposed to someone’s interpretation of the study.
“Anything that has a negative effect on the environment—I’m not going to be happy with it,” she concludes.
A member of Unity Point-Grinnell Regional Medical Center, Smith is well positioned to recognize the difficulties faced by medical facilities the size of Grinnell’s. Such establishments lie between small rural hospitals and large urban facilities, and reimbursement rates are often not enough to keep pace with the cost of services.
Maternity care is a special concern. “It’s alarming to me—the number of hospitals that are closing maternity wards,” she states.
In addition to seeking higher reimbursement, Smith recognizes a need for doctors and specialists to come to the area. Loan forgiveness is a method of recruitment that she feels can be used more fully.
Mental health, too, is an issue that has drawn Smith’s attention. She mentioned a specific case involving lack of service and another resulting in suicide. When a person who needs mental health services must wait, “that is not OK,” Smith asserts.
On Reproductive Rights
Smith does not shy away from sensitive issues. On the topic of abortion, she is quick to advocate for women’s rights. “It’s a woman’s right to decide,” she states, stressing that “no woman ever wants to be in that position.” Her stance is built on the premise that a woman has the right to make decisions about her body; such decisions should not be made by someone else.
Smith maintains a Facebook page and a website at www.sarasmithforiowa.com.
She is encouraged by the level of interest sparked by her campaign.
Referring to her announcement party and those 76 signatories, Smith reports, “Everyone said, ‘What should we be doing?’” High school and college friends and former classmates have reached out to offer support.
While the outcome of the campaign lies in the future beyond our view, the new energy and the new focus that Smith promises are fully on display.