Government

Rita Hart prioritizing rural economic development - and all that it means

She is seeking Democratic nomination in southeast Iowa's 2nd District

Rita Hart speaks during the state Democratic Convention in June 2018 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The former state senator lives in a rural area — Wheatland in Clinton County — and says she will prioritize rural economic development as a matter of fairness. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Rita Hart speaks during the state Democratic Convention in June 2018 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The former state senator lives in a rural area — Wheatland in Clinton County — and says she will prioritize rural economic development as a matter of fairness. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Rural economic development and all that it encompasses is critically important to Iowa, says Rita Hart, who hopes to be the next U.S. House representative from Iowa’s 2nd District.

“That’s something I’ve worked on really hard in my district, my Senate district, and it’s something I think is so crucial to all of rural America,” said Hart, a former Democratic state senator from Wheatland in Clinton County.

For her, rural economic development is an umbrella covering many issues she talks about — and hears about — when campaigning. Although more than 40 percent of the 2nd District population lives in two counties — Johnson and Scott — the 24-county district is mostly rural.

“Is it different in Iowa City than it is in Columbus Junction? Sure,” Hart said. “But the way I look at that is that we all have certain things in common when it comes to big issues. Everybody has a certain baseline.”

As a congresswoman, her challenge would be to come up with “good solid policy that’s good for both rural and urban areas because that’s the only way this state is more successful.”

She called it a tragedy that a time when people should be able to live in rural Iowa, and have access to the same resources as in urban communities “we are creating a state that’s more and more urban and less and less rural.”

“You know, living in rural Iowa is a great pleasure,” she said. “Not everybody wants to live in the in a small town or in a rural place, but many people do. And when we get to the point where people cannot live there, because they don’t have access to the internet, because they don’t have accessibility to health care, because they don’t have a local grocery store ... those things keep them from living where they want to. That’s it that has to change.”

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So Hart, 63, calls it a matter of fairness to make health care, including mental health care, more accessible in rural communities.

“We’ve got to find some ways to incentivize health care professionals to be available in states like Iowa and in rural places like this district,” she said, adding that many women now have to travel too far OB/GYN care.

She also wants to ensure broadband and cellphone coverage everywhere so farmers and businesses have access to the same information and markets regardless of their location and that students can take advantage of the same educational resources regardless of where students live.

“Those are the things that I know are possible for rural Iowa, and we could stem this tide of shifting to the urban areas,” she said. “That’s how the entire state succeeds — when you are able to have the choice to live where you want to live, whether that’s in the city or the country.”

The 2nd District congressional seat is an open race in 2020, given the retirement of Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa. He has endorsed Hart, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 on the Democratic ticket with Fred Hubbell. Iowa City transportation engineer Newman Abuissa, 58, also is seeking the Democratic nomination.

Two Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination — state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, 64, R-Ottumwa, who ran unsuccessfully against Loebsack three times; and Bobby Schilling, 55, of LeClaire, a former U.S. House member from Illinois.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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