Three candidates vying for Iowa District 54 House of Representative seat

Voting has started in Iowa and for this year’s general election there will be three candidates vying for the Iowa District 54 State House of Representatives seat. With Representative Linda Upmeyer not seeking re-election there will be no incumbent candidate, leaving Republican Shannon Latham, Democrat Karen Koenig, and Independent candidate Bennett Smith competing to become the district’s new representative in the state house.

The candidates have participated in a brief Q&A to help voters decide which one they are most aligned with before heading to the polls.

Shannon Latham

Republican Candidate

What is your background and what will your experiences bring to the legislature?

I’m a wife, mother and an entrepreneur. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa. One of my biggest strengths is that I have 25 years of experience in business, which includes starting and operating two successful businesses in North Iowa. I know the risk involved with trading a full-time job with paid vacations and benefits for the responsibility that comes with making payroll. I understand how unnecessary laws and burdensome regulations prohibit growth and hamper our state.

I have a background in marketing and believe our state needs an aggressive plan to recruit new businesses and skilled workers.

I also have a strong work ethic. I get up before dawn and work well into the night because I truly cannot rest when work needs to be done. Rather than see obstacles and make excuses, I look for ways to seek solutions and get desired results. I know that people support what they help create, and that’s why I believe in collaborative efforts. I know that a rising tide lifts all boats; synergy is gained when we all work together toward a common goal.

What made you decide to run for office?

I want my kids – and your kids and grandkids – to dream big and live large in North Iowa. Strengthening communities, encouraging small business, promoting a strong educational system, and advocating for agriculture are more than my platform issue… they’re my passions. Today, more than ever, North Iowa needs leadership from someone who shares their values.

I’m growing increasingly concerned by the number of people who can’t connect Iowa’s crops and livestock to the strength of our state’s economy. I’m concerned by the growing number of people who paint our future as gloom and doom. I’m also concerned by the number of people who are quick to criticize but offer no solutions. I truly believe there is no better nation and no better state to raise a family or to grow a business, so I’m running for office to advocate for and to promote North Iowa.

It would be an honor to represent this North Iowa in the Iowa House. I was raised in Butler County, and I have raised my kids in Franklin County. I grew up traveling to Clear Lake for recreation. I want to encourage the next generation to live their dreams right here in Iowa.

How do you feel about the state’s response to COVID-19? What

do you agree with or what would you recommend the state do differently?

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of self-reliance. Fortunately, North Iowa farmers markets remained open. I applaud Iowa producers for working through local lockers to process meat, and for commodity organizations to form local partnerships to fill shelves in food pantries. This has been no small feat as the need has more than doubled for some local pantries.

The pandemic also has shown us that rural broadband and high-speed internet services are vital for telehealth, telecommuting and telelearning. Broadband is the great equalizer. It brings value to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, age or location.

All businesses are essential to the owners and employees who rely on those businesses to pay bills and support their families. As a business owner myself, it has been challenging to determine how to best handle the pandemic. We have frequently changed our company’s protocols based on new information. Each company owner and/or manager has the liberty to do the same because we live in the USA where we value personal freedoms. There is a delicate balance between public safety and personal freedom. I believe we need to continue to fiercely protect our most vulnerable citizens while keeping doors open to business.

What other issues impacting Iowans in this district do you hope to address in the legislature?

We must ensure our state has the resources in place to deal with ongoing issues caused by this pandemic. We must assist those who need medical treatment and the mental health care this pandemic has caused. We also need to address needs by businesses and schools.

Broadband needs renewed attention due to the increased need for tele-commuting, tele-education and tele-health.

I’ve met with business owners and managers, from construction to health care, who can’t fill job openings. In addition to recruiting skilled workers, we must encourage young people to stay here. The need for a homegrown workforce is why supporting community colleges is so important. More than 90 percent of North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) graduates stay in North Iowa.

Because small business is critical to the success of our state – and to communities across House District 54 – we must ensure business owners are equipped for success. I’m a product of, and a strong supporter of, programs like those offered through the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC).

Biofuels helps makes us more independent and creates market opportunities for Iowa-grown commodities, so this is also an important issue. Affordable housing and childcare also are important issues impacting North Iowans.

Bennett Smith

Independent Candidate

What is your background and what will your experiences bring to the legislature?

I was very fortunate to grow up in Clear Lake. My dad farmed and worked as a rural letter carrier and mom was a homemaker. So, I grew up helping dad on the farm and in high school was involved in Boy Scout Troop 30. I eventually made Eagle Scout and graduated from Clear Lake High School in 1983. I then went on to get an undergraduate degree in speech communication from Iowa State University and later a master’s degree in history from ISU.

I am currently an instructor in history and political science at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) as well as the chairperson of the College Senate at NIACC. I am also an instructor in various lifelong learning programs, including the NIACC Lifelong Learning Institute; the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Iowa State University (ISU); and the LIFE program at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC). I serve in leadership roles on several non-profit boards in the area and am currently the Second Ward City Councilperson in Clear Lake.

My experiences in teaching, providing leadership for the nonprofit boards I serve on and my service on the Clear Lake City Council form the foundation for what I would bring to being a good legislator. Having some experience as an elected official in local government, at the city or county level is essential for someone who wants to serve in the Iowa legislature.

What made you decide to run for office?

I am running for the Iowa House because I believe Iowans deserve an independent voice in the legislature. Our politics have gotten too partisan and ideological with the political parties responding primarily to their big donors and special interests. I enjoy politics and will bring a much more principled and pragmatic approach to solving problems for the common good of all Iowans.

I am also running because I have a commitment to public service. I was fortunate enough to grow up in North Iowa and I believe that I have the ability, experience, and judgment to make a positive contribution to the district by serving in the Iowa Legislature. I would also bring a commitment to the public good and a willingness to stand up to the powerful special interests that have so much influence in Des Moines.

How do you feel about the state’s response to COVID-19? What do you agree with or what would you recommend the state do differently?

In terms of political leadership, the state’s response to this crisis has been mediocre at best. The nature of a crisis determines the nature and scope of the response and in the case of a pandemic you need coordinated leadership from the top that can inspire the public to makes sacrifices for the common good. Both Federal and State responses were slow and uncoordinated which led to a dramatic surge in cases around the country and in Iowa. What was necessary was to mandate serious protocols much earlier which would have prevented more spread of the disease and saved more lives. It also would have kept our economy open because the key to containing the virus is all of us working together in adherence to the protocols of wearing masks, social distancing, and proper hygiene.

The response on the local level was much better with the leadership of the Cerro Gordo Department of Public Health and the Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management Agency along with various partners like MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center and our partners in surrounding counties to protect the public. We also took swift action on the economic front by working with the North Iowa Corridor to establish the Small Business Continuity and Recovering Fund to mitigate the local business disruption that occurred. These actions helped to save lives and jobs. It also made possible a smoother school opening this fall than otherwise would have occurred and I applaud the leadership of our local school boards, administrators, teachers, and others that educate and protect our children for their serious approach to this situation.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of the folks who are working on the front lines of this crisis around our State and in our area, particularly those health care professionals who bear the burden of caring directly for Covid-19 patients. We all have an obligation as good citizens to adhere to the necessary protocols to protect each other and to consider the impact our actions have on others. May God bless and protect them as they care for the rest of us.

What other issues impacting Iowans in this district do you hope to address in the legislature?

My biggest long term concern and the theme of my campaign is Growing Iowa for the Next Generation. Our economy is really constrained by the lack of skilled workforce that we need to grow and I think the key to growing Iowa for the next generation is to focus on those essential quality of life issues that will retain our current population, recruit former Iowans back to Iowa and finally, attract new people to come to our State.

The four key quality of life priorities that I want to focus on as a legislator are conservation of natural resources, reform of our healthcare system particularly Medicaid and mental health programs, improved educational outcomes for our kids and a focus on sound economic development in rural and small town Iowa. These four priorities can be an important source of competitive advantage for Iowa for the long-term that will grow our population. Our greatest strength is our people and the Iowa work ethic and if we commit ourselves to investing in these priorities then we can retain, recruit, and grow our population and the consequences will be faster economic growth and a higher standard of living across the board for all Iowans.


Karen Koenig

Democratic Candidate

What is your background and what will your experiences bring to the legislature?

I grew up in north central Iowa (near Green Mountain, then near State Center).  I graduated from West Marshal High School in 1983.  I went to Iowa State University, graduating with a B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology in 1988.  I worked as an environmental educator for ten years, in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, New Jersey, then Franklin County, Iowa.

I went back to school (Buena Vista University) and earned a B.A. in Elementary Education in 2000. I taught for two years in Sheffield and the last 18 years in Iowa Falls.

I acquired my M.A. in Science Education from the University of Northern Iowa in 2007.

My husband and I also have 25 acres, which provides for our Community Supported Agriculture program, which supplied 16 families with produce this summer. I also sell at the Hampton Farmers’ Market throughout the growing season.

These experiences reflect in my three main goals: supporting public education, improving care for natural resources, and increasing sustainable agriculture. I am not a politician. I am an educator.  As such, I know how to listen, research, learn, and do.  I do not have all of the answers.  I will do my best to find answers that best reflect my family and friends that I will represent in House District 54.

What made you decide to run for office?

My grandfather always told my brothers and me to return borrowed items in as good or better condition than when we borrowed it.  I want to improve our world for future generations. As an environmental educator and classroom educator I tried to do this, but I feel a legislator would have an even greater impact on the Iowa I leave behind.

How do you feel about the state’s response to COVID-19? What do you agree with or what would you recommend the state do differently?

I feel that the state’s initial response to COVID-19 was acceptable, however it could have been better.  I believe a mask mandate would have further slowed the spread.  I also think some businesses and events may have opened too soon.  I understand that some businesses and individuals are suffering. I understand that there has been a negative impact.  I would recommend another round of financial help to those who need it, including increasing unemployment for those who lost jobs due to COVID-19 (I would suggest $300 weekly, rather than $600).

What other issues impacting Iowans in this district do you hope to address in the legislature?

I believe that the use of renewable resources needs to be promoted. Tax incentives for using wind, solar, and alternative sources needs to continue.

Healthcare is another issue that needs to be addressed and improved.  I believe everyone needs to have access to affordable, reliable healthcare.

Farmers need incentives to improve their land for future generations. Crop rotation, cover crops, no/low till alternatives, integrated pest management, and increasing set-aside areas to improve water quality are all vitally important.

There are a multitude of issues that impact Iowans in my district.  I hope to address them one at a time, as I consult with my friends and family in District 54.


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