October 18, 2021

HD29 Candidate Q&A: Steve Mullan

Special election to be held Oct. 12, absentee voting begins Oct. 4

Name: Steve Mullan

City: Newton

Office sought: Iowa House District 29

Occupation: Retired teacher, Newton City Council member, small business owner

Education: BA in English speech, Upper Iowa University; MA in English education, Truman State; post-graduate work at Iowa State University, UNI, Drake and University of Iowa

Elected offices held: Newton City Council 2005-present, president of Newton Community Education Association

1) Introduce/Reintroduce yourself to voters and explain why you want to be a representative of the Iowa Legislature.

I am a native Iowan who moved to this district in 1967. I’ve been married 43 years, have 4 grown children, 14 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. I was a teacher for 37 years, with 30 years in teaching in Newton. I’ve taught close to 10,000 Newton students over those years. My wife and I have always been concerned about giving back to our community through volunteer work and public service; that led me to a run for city council. I’d like to be a Representative to help the state of Iowa address its 21st century needs including broadband expansion to statewide availability, address our many environmental issues through improved stewardship, and increase access to health services.

2) School districts across the state have been reacting to a recent federal court decision halting any enforcement of the state’s ban on mask mandates. Prior to the restraining order, some school boards felt they could not adequately address these issues. Do you believe school boards should be provided more local control when managing their districts’ health concerns?

We fostered local control of our schools for many years and I see no reason to change that. Yes, school boards should be able to make decisions about mask mandates that reflect their local knowledge about COVID conditions in their area. We are talking about life and death; better dialogue needs to take place between local schools and legislators. As a legislator, I would make it a priority of mine to ensure that respectful and constructive conversation takes place. Schools should be able to decide that for the safety of their children and community that mask mandates may be necessary.

3) Finding affordable preschools can be difficult for some families. Public schools can offer preschool education but the state’s funding per pupil is cut in half for preschool-aged children, which is only exacerbated when the state is seeing declining enrollment numbers. What more can be done to address preschool funding in the Iowa Legislature?

Pre-school years are very formative years for these children. If we invest wisely now “upstream” the benefits of a high-quality pre-school education have been shown to pay off “downstream” in substantial ways. When we invest in children at this age, we see greater success in Kindergarten, better high school graduation rates, increased college success, and even further life achievement.

By investing in school funding now, the state will save money in future years because we will be giving these children the tools to succeed. Studies show that when we invest in early childhood education and community services that the communities are healthier and safer; this is what we want to build for children in HD #29 and across Iowa.

4) Small businesses were hit hard economically ever since Iowa was declared a pandemic. Even now employers are having difficulties retaining or finding a steady or reliable workforce. How would better address the job market in Jasper County and across the state? What can be done to help small businesses thrive and retain workers?

There is a need for increased job apprenticeship, training, and community classes to assist the workforce in developing skills. Any legislative action that would improve rural Iowa’s quality of life would lead to increased opportunities in HD #29. Jasper County is no exception to major changes in the world of work and employment. Unless small businesses adapt to these changes we will not attract new workers. Increased broadband accessibility is hugely important, as is maintaining quality schools. Workers are more likely to stay at their job if employers respect them and recognize the value of their work.

5) Health care is an important issue for the citizens of Jasper County, a large sum of which are older and have a need for quality and affordable medical care. What needs to be addressed at the Iowa Legislature for people to have access to affordable health care? How would you approach this issue?

One of the important aspects of quality healthcare in our community is keeping our local hospital. Rural hospitals have been closing all over Iowa. It could happen in Newton. One legislative priority would be to ensure increased and timely Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement so that our hospital can survive. Ever since the advent of privatized Medicaid several years ago by the Branstad/Reynolds administration, providers have struggled to get adequate reimbursement. It would be helpful to return the administration of Medicaid back to the state-administered public system.

Another issue to address for quality medical care in Jasper County, especially for our older residents, is that Iowa needs more nursing home inspectors to conduct more spot inspections without prior notice. The number of inspectors has been reduced significantly in recent years.

6) Mental health care continues to be an issue. Resources are available in Jasper County/Iowa House District 29 but there are still challenges to overcome. Finding beds for individuals with extreme cases is still difficult. We continue to see individuals with mental illness finding shelter in the local jail, and although they have access to services it may not be the best environment for healing. It also puts a strain on staff. What does the statehouse need to do?

The Iowa legislature has established 6 mental health access centers geographically disbursed across the state. These were designed to provide immediate short-term assessments for people with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders and to determine where they could be taken to in-patient care and have access to continuous care in the community. These centers have not come to fruition and have not been able to function as triage centers. They have a lack of specialized staffing and there is some ambiguity in the law’s language. Those problems have made access centers unable to properly serve those in need. There’s also a lack of access to in- patient care due to a lack of beds.

These problems have forced our correctional facilities to address mental health and associated substance abuse issues. That forces local counties to bear the financial burden instead of the state and also doesn’t provide care for those in need.

By providing adequate in-patient care and then continued monitored care, people with mental health/substance abuse problems will get the care they deserve while minimizing repeated stays in local correctional facilities and hospitals. It’s another example of investing “upstream” and lowering costs “downstream” that would build safer communities in our district.

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.