Elections

Chelgren to challenge Loebsack for Iowa 2nd District congressional seat

Republican state senator from Ottumwa says he'll stand up to both parties

Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa announces that he will run against Representative Dave Loebsack in the 2nd Congressional District at The Airliner in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.   (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa announces that he will run against Representative Dave Loebsack in the 2nd Congressional District at The Airliner in Iowa City on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — State Sen. Mark Chelgren, an Ottumwa Republican, is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, for Iowa’s 2nd District congressional seat in 2016, Chelgren announced Tuesday at the Airliner bar in Iowa City.

The two-party system has left politicians feeling powerless to affect change due to the pressures of their own party, Chelgren said. He vowed to be an independent actor and not conform to the whims of his party.

“It takes somebody willing to stand up to both parties, to stand up on their principles because they love the state and the country, to articulate their message,” he said. “It’s time we start moving beyond the parties and work for betterment of the country.”

Chelgren would have run as an independent if not for straight-party voting for Democrats and Republicans in Iowa, he said.

The 47-year-old state senator first was elected in 2010 and was re-elected last year. Chelgren plans to retain his state Senate seat during the race.

Chelgren calls himself an entrepreneur and is president and chief executive of Frog Legs Inc., which makes parts for wheelchairs. The native Californian moved to Iowa after meeting his wife on RAGBRAI, the popular annual Iowa bicycle ride, and they have four children and four grandchildren.

He has opposed raising the gas tax, although did not vote the day the gas tax was approved earlier this year. He also has criticized traffic cameras and was part of a committee that backed expanded regulation of such programs.

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During his speech Tuesday, Chelgren spoke against government using eminent domain to take land, which is being sought to build the Bakken crude oil pipeline through Iowa, including in Ottumwa.

He promised to focus his platform on creating jobs and rooting out corporate tax breaks and money for special interests.

The setting for the announcement helped convey his tone that he would not follow the traditional political pathway in his campaign, he said.

Chelgren wore a plaid red sports coat, the colors from his RAGBRAI team, and spoke with a beer at the podium with a backdrop of bar stools and beer taps at the Airliner bar, his “place of preference” when he is in town for Iowa Hawkeye games.

“I have five years of proof I don’t do what I’m told,” Chelgren said. “I do what I think is right, even at expense of my own career.”

Patrons at the Airliner tuned in, and a few came to get a look at Chelgren, including Mark Decker of Iowa City.

“I’m hoping to control taxes and reduce the size of government,” said Decker, noting he didn’t know much about Chelgren but likely will support whomever is the Republican nominee.

Chelgren said the odds are against him unseating the five-term congressman, but someone needed to challenge Loebsack and make him address the issues.

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“Too often we have legislators and politicians who go up there and do what they are told,” Chelgren said. “Their party tells them what to believe, and they have no idea why.”

Loebsack released a statement welcoming Chelgren to the race and saying he will continue working to protect Social Security and Medicare and create jobs in Iowa.

The Iowa Democratic Party released a separate statement attacking Chelgren as “another vote for the Tea Party in Congress.”

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