With work underway at statehouse, two candidates look to fill House District 54 seat next year

CLEAR LAKE — With Linda Upmeyer starting her final session in the Iowa House, two candidates announced last week they will seek her House District 54 seat.

Republican Shannon Latham of Sheffield is making her second attempt at running for a seat in the legislature after a narrow 500-vote loss to incumbent Democrat Amanda Ragan in the 2018 Iowa Senate District 27 race. First-term Clear Lake city councilman Bennett Smith has also entered the race as an independent candidate.


== Latham is co-owner of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds in Alexander, and says she learned a lot during her 2018 campaign and in this campaign she wants to get out and meet with more local residents and business owners to hear their concerns. “I knocked more than 8,000 doors last time, had a chance to meet with so many people, listen to them one-on-one, and to me that’s just authentic, I really enjoy meeting people. If you’re going to be a representative, I believe you need to know what the issues and concerns are of those residents. I plan to do more door-knocking, and also this time around I’m going to be doing more of my own radio ads so that it can be my voice talking with people, and using social media, using video so that I can do some more personable videos to give people a chance to get to know me even better.”

Latham says she’s passionate about helping north-central Iowa prepare for the future. “As a mom of two kids who will both be graduating this year, I know how important it is for them to have those opportunities upon graduation so that they are encouraged to stay here, raise their families here, and just helping keep those graduates, those skilled students here in North Iowa where we need them.”

Latham says there’s several issues that were discussed during her 2018 campaign that still need to be addressed two years later. “One of them that came up time and again was healthcare and mental health. That’s certainly an issue still today, especially as we’ve had continuing low prices for farmers, also now we’re going into wintertime, which we know in a northern climate is another time when we really hear a lot more about mental health, so that’s certainly a concern. Also property taxes.”

Latham says she knows as a business owner that accessibility to broadband in rural areas also needs to be addressed. “Reliable internet and fast internet is something that is not only an issue for us, but I know it’s an issue for other residents and small business owners across this district. Another reason why it’s important is because agriculture is just so technological these days. Farmers can farm literally by the acre, adjusting hybrid, adjusting plant food, adjusting as they need to go acre by acre, but they need access to technology to be able to do that. So if we’re not connected throughout rural areas, than that technology obviously doesn’t work, so that’s definitely something that we need to continue working on.”

== Smith is in his third year serving on the Clear Lake City Council and is an instructor of history and political science at North Iowa Area Community College. Smith says he started looking at running for the legislature after Upmeyer announced that she’d not be seeking re-election. “I had quite a few people recommend to me that that I take a look at the race, and I thought it would be an opportunity to look at some of the issues on the state level where I believe we can enhance the quality of life for all Iowans, issues that I care about like conservation, like healthcare, like education. That’s what motivated me to take a real look at the race and explore a campaign, and then the response that I got from the public was really exciting. That’s one of the things that led me to say ‘you know my hats in the ring here’.”

Smith says he sees positives as running as an independent. “On the negative side, it’s going to be harder to raise money when you’re not part of a political party, so that will be a challenge. The upside is really interesting, because I think people are tired of the excessive partisanship of the parties. The parties have gotten more to their extreme wings, so I think there’s a tremendous opportunity here in the vast middle to run is an independent, and I think that we’ll have some distinct advantages.”

Smith believes he could help build a coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents who want to move Iowa forward in a positive direction. “I think at our heart we’re all Iowans, and there are a lot of issues that simply require pragmatic solutions, where we focus on problem-solving, whether it’s water quality or health care. It’s not an ideological issue so much as a pragmatic problem-solving issue. I think I will be promoting some proposals for some of these things that I think both Democrats and Republicans can support, and so I think a lot of these issues are more like that versus real ideological issues.”

Smith says he’s heard about a number of issues that people want to have addressed. “The key ones that I have heard relate to education, healthcare and conservation, and of course economic development, tax-and-spend issues. Those are the kinds of themes that I’ll be focusing on during the campaign.”

The House District 54 seat covers Clear Lake, the western third of Cerro Gordo County, all of Franklin County, and the northwestern part of Butler County.