State Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, asked how many were or had been teachers in the crowd of more than 30 at a Fayette County Democrats event Wednesday.
About half of those seated on the terrace at Heaven Boutique Winery in Fayette raised their hands.
Mathis, who joined the contest with U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, for the redrawn U.S. 2nd Congressional District seat this fall, thanked them.
Other speakers at the event included Fayette County Attorney Candidate Nathan Lein, who is uncontested on the ballot; John Norwood, who is challenging Republican Ag Secretary Mike Naig; and Tim Lecander, who is challenging state Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, for the redrawn House District 63.
Mathis told the crowd that to address the worker shortage, the first need is to address the teacher shortage.
“Who teaches workers? Teachers do,” she said.
Mathis has served in the Iowa Senate since 2011. The Democrats held a 26-24 majority her first four years, she told the Daily Register. Since then, the Democrats have been in the minority and their efforts to address issues such as the teacher shortage have been shuffled aside.
“I put a bill in about a task force to look into it, dismissed,” Mathis told the crowd. “I put … the same bill the next year, no. The chair of education … said you can do these round tables on your own, so I did. I brought the bill back in and I said here’s how we’re going to solve it. She said that’s nice and put it in the drawer. So the bill didn’t even see the light of day and all the Senate Democrats signed onto it.”
She went on to review the latest Legislature.
“We had quite a state Senate session, and we heard people call teachers sinister and librarians sinister,” Mathis told the crowd — before taking the show of hands.
“We had not much of an increase in K-12, at least not to meet the demands of a starting teacher’s salary at $33,000 a year,” she said. “We need to increase that.
“We need to get more teachers in the pipeline, how are we going to do that when Republicans keep hounding on education and doing all these things.”
Mathis is the daughter of two World War II veterans. Her mother, once a schoolteacher, became a Cadet nurse.
After returning from the service, her father farmed and was an early adopter of no-till practices thanks to an Iowa State University course.
She attended the University of Iowa and worked as a journalist for 27 years including as a TV news anchor in Eastern Iowa. She spent her next 13 years as information officer for a nonprofit with over 1,000 employees that offers residential treatment, foster care, adoption, case management, school suspension classrooms — and offers trauma-informed care to more than a dozen school districts.
She just finished her last state Senate session.
“Last year at this time, I didn’t like the way Ashley Hinson was voting,” Mathis told the Daily Register. “I had been asked to run several times. I thought, if anybody’s going to run, it’s going to be me.”
She opened with not liking that Hinson voted not to investigate the events at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“She voted against the Violence Against Women Act, she voted against the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, she voted against COVID recovery for children and families, she voted against infrastructure and then took credit for it, she voted against an insulin cap,” Mathis said. “I think she should be voting yes for this district on several of these things.”
Mathis noted Hinson was quoted at a town hall saying she had been in private meetings about privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
“Those are earned benefits,” Mathis said. “You put money from your paycheck into Social Security, and you should be able to get that back.”
Mathis said she is running to be a voice for “people whose voices are not heard.”
She told the Daily Register that if elected, her top three interests in committee assignments in the U.S. House would be health, agriculture and economic development helping small business.
“I would really like to start on a bill to make sure there is access to mental health in rural and urban areas,” Mathis said.
She noted Iowa’s shortage of psychiatrists — only 150 in the state — and the shortage of state beds.
“My proposal is that we would have greater access for people to be seen immediately if they’re having a psychotic episode or issues. And there’s a way to do that.”
Gun violence legislation is working its way through Washington, D.C., in the wake of the latest mass shootings.
“The public has certainly gotten the attention of legislators,” she said. “But we have a long way to go.
“I’d like to see universal background checks passed,” Mathis said, after noting this was included in a recent bill that passed the U.S. House.
“I believe in the second amendment, especially, I believe, for hunters and people who trade — collectors, and people who have guns to keep themselves safe,” Mathis said. “But I hope that the gun owners take seriously gun possession and the safety around that, making sure their guns are locked up when they’re not in use and that children are safe if there’s a gun in the home.”
As for agriculture, she emphasized the importance of soil health, soil retention and yields; clean water and greater ability for farmers to grow what’s demanded in a changing climate.
“Whatever we talk about, farmers have to be at the table and lead the discussion,” Mathis said.
Mathis said farmers are interested in making sure their soil is healthy.
“The Farm Bureau is leading the discussion on it, wherever that goes,” she said.
“Whatever hand that climate deals us, we’re going to have to be flexible,” Mathis said. “So making sure our soil is healthy and making sure we can grow several different types of commodities is good for us and thinking about the future when we do that.”
Mathis highlighted biofuels legislation that recently passed the Iowa Legislature, and the administration’s role in E15.
“We need to keep small-town main streets alive,” Mathis said. “I’d like to work on a plan where we do that.” She pointed to Decorah and Marshalltown as examples of towns that have focused inward and taken advantage of economic development dollars to enact community visions.
Funds are available from sources such as USDA Rural Development and Iowa Economic Development Association, whether or not a town has a Main Street Iowa program, she said. She also promoted the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) available to businesses through IEDA.
Mathis noted she voted for the commercial property tax credits.
“We cut the taxes, then we had backfill, then we had arguments about the backfill,” she said.
She noted the importance of affordable housing and childcare options that are needed for businesses and schools to flourish.
“People are really worried about their pocketbooks, they’re worried about home expenses and they want government to do something about it,” Mathis told the Daily Register. She pointed to President Joe Biden opening up strategic oil reserves in an attempt to bring down gas prices.
Mathis has shown willingness to put in the preparation required of a lawmaker.
“I’ve been debating for 10 years on the Iowa Senate floor,” Mathis said. “You never ask somebody a question that you don’t know yourself, that’s the key to debate.”
She is also well-read.
“I get up at 5 in the morning and just start reading, I read the Gazette, the local papers, the national papers, the Washington Post,” she said. Then she searches each issue of interest for the latest news online.
Brian Schoenjahn spoke well of Mathis’ dedication in his introduction, saying when he was in the state Senate, Mathis was there very early and worked very late at night.
“I think she’d make a great representative,” Schoenjahn said.