FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce held its first legislative briefing of the year Saturday, which was conducted virtually over Zoom.
The only local legislator to participate was Iowa Sen. Jeff Reichman of Senate District 42, which covers all of Henry and Lee counties and portions of Jefferson and Washington counties. About 15-20 people participated in the forum online, including several local students. Three ninth-graders from Maharishi School joined the call: Zoe Soares, Ishita Mukadam and Sage Jarmosco. Their principal, Richard Beall, asked them to prepare a question for the forum.
During his comments, Reichman spoke about how he struggled to find a job after leaving the military, and spent six months unemployed. Mukadam asked him if he ever considered abandoning his job search and returning to the military. Reichman said he did not, because he felt that quitting his job search was the “easy way out.”
Reichman shared a personal experience that changed his attitude toward quitting in general. As a freshman in high school, his track coach made the team run a lot, and Reichman didn’t care for that. Worse yet, the coach asked Reichman to compete in the 2-mile run, not exactly his cup of tea. One day Reichman approached the coach to tell him he wanted to quit.
“He just said, ‘Turn in your stuff,’” Reichman said, shocked that his coach didn’t try to persuade him to stay.
That reaction left a bad taste in Reichman’s mouth and it made him realize that motivation to succeed must come from within. He also realized that he didn’t gain anything by quitting the track team. He told the audience to follow the advice of the character Dory in “Finding Nemo:” Just keep swimming.
Jarmosco asked Reichman what he is most excited about as he begins his four-year term as a state senator, and what his biggest challenge is. Reichman said he’s pleased to be working with so many bright people in the Capitol that have already taught him a lot in a short time.
“You can’t soar with the eagles if you hang around with the turkeys,” he said.
Reichman said the most difficult part of the job thus far is having a mountain of emails to respond to.
A few of the people on the call, such as Richard Beall and Margaret Dwyer, asked Reichman about the state’s promotion of rural broadband internet. Beall said his school has a few students who live outside town and, despite the best efforts of companies like Natel, they have problems with reliability and bandwidth of their internet. Beall said he hears in his regional superintendent meetings that surrounding school districts face the same problem.
Reichman said he agrees that increasing rural broadband should be one of the state’s priorities, and noted that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds committed to expanding it in her Condition of the State address to the tune of a $450 million investment over the next few years.
Dee Sandquist, a Jefferson County Supervisor, said the various state departments – from economic development to mental health to corrections – need to work together to improve Iowa’s workforce. She spoke about the need to “break down silos” to foster a culture of collaboration. Reichman agreed with her assessment and said every branch of the state “needs to row in the same direction.”
Dwyer said she was pleased to hear that Reynolds was investing in rural broadband, but she didn’t hear anything in Reynolds’s Condition of the State about reversing Medicaid privatization. Dwyer said such a reversal might help with mental health and the other issues Sandquist mentioned. Reichman said he’s heard no indication that Reynolds is interested in reversing Medicaid privatization.
Reichman said promoting economic growth is one of his top priorities, and he added that the state could do more to drive businesses into struggling portions of Iowa. He said he was worried about the number of businesses moving out of southeast Iowa.
Fairfield Economic Development Association Executive Director Joshua Laraby said businesses go where they can find talent.
“Talent is the new currency,” he said.
Laraby said the way to attract and retain businesses to the area is to understand the barriers that stop people from moving here. He said some of the well-known ones are affordable and quality housing, childcare and quality of life.
Fairfield Community School District Superintendent Laurie Noll asked Reichman to support an increase of 3.5 percent in the supplemental state aid for schools. Gov. Reynolds announced an increase of 2.5 percent, though Noll said that was a little misleading because an unusually large number of students chose to do homeschooling due to the pandemic, about 6,000 in Iowa. She said the 2.5 percent increase only generates about $20 million in new money for school districts, when they have been getting about $95 million in new money each year.