Candidates voice opinions at forum

KEOSAUQUA – Van Buren County residents were able to meet candidates for local and state offices during Thursday’s candidate forum hosted by Van Buren County Farm Bureau.

Candidates for supervisor, county attorney, state senate and state house were present. They were asked several questions, ranging from what their vision is for the county, the most pressing problems, school issues, medicaid privatization and road issues.


There are five candidates on the ballot this fall, independent Rob Caviness, Republicans Mark Meek and Dale House, and Democrats Taylor Sickels Trudell and Clark Whitaker.

They are vying for the two open seats. Meek is an incumbent. The other incumbent, Ted Nixon, was defeated in the June Republican primary.

Rob Caviness

Rob has a 21-year law enforcement background with the sheriff’s office, Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation and Motor Vehicle Enforcement, which gives him a “broad range of experience,” he said.

Caviness said he “wants to make sure all departments work together, not just at a county level, but with others like fire departments.” He would look at policy and procedures. He wants to make it easier for farmers to make a living here and give young people reasons to stay here. He says he wants to find more efficient ways of doing things and making county employees accountable for their time. He said safety of roads and safety from crime are the most pressing priorities in the county.

Dale House

House is a Van Buren graudate and a U.S. Navy veteran with 20 years under his belt. He worked for the Hot Rod Association and came back to Van Buren County six years ago. He worked at the engineer’s office for 3.5 years.

He “has a good working relationship” with the engineer. He is now a salesman for Feslers. He said he wanted to go into politics after attending Boys State in 1978.

“I wanted to get into politics when the opportunity presented itself. It’s not about party labels,” he said.

He wants to give law enforcement tools they need and have the county continue to meet the needs of the people. He has praised the new engineer who “knows more about design and building” than his predecessor. “The secondary road department is in much better shape with this engineer,” he said.

House said narcotic abuse is the biggest problem facing the county.

Mark Meek

Meek was born and raised in the Bonaparte area and lived there for all but two years when he served in the military. He is going for a third term.

His vision is to “provide the environment where businesses can succeed, make sure all offices work together and run the county efficiently. Roads are a priority and farm to market roads are the biggest priority. Drugs are the most pressing issue. A big problem that the supervisors face is unfunded mandates.

“I feel I have been a responsible steward during my first two terms in office,” he said.

Clark Whitaker

Whitaker farms near Hillsboro with his son. He has a cow-calf operation, raises crops and some hogs.

“I want to make sure that Van Buren County remains a great place to raise your family,” he said. “I would like to see the county keep taxes low and run the county as efficiently as possible. Bridges are a big expense to the county, especially with the number of county bridges crossing the Des Moines River.”

He said the most serious problem in the county is drugs.

“It certainly keeps the sheriff’s office busy and I think our job as supervisors would be to make sure his budget is covered to meet that need,” Whitaker said.

He would like the supervisors to continue to press the state for solutions on deer problems.

Taylor Sickels Trudell

Trudell is a resident “by choice.” She was introduced to Van Buren County through her boyfriend four years ago and two years ago “fell in love with the county.” She is recently married and they live north of Bonaparte.

“I love the county and saw room for improvement,” she said.

Trudell emphasized road maintenance and safety and use of tax money. She identifies herself as a “frugal spender.” She would like to see the county explore grants for entrepreneurs to expand business.

Her vision is for a “thriving economy, where people don’t have to go out of the county to find work.” She wants increased attention to tourism and have the county create a reason for youth to stay in the county after graduation.

Trudell said the county’s most pressing problem is underage drinking. She favors after-school programs at the elementary and a center where youth can congregate. She also said there needs to be more opportunities for young people to work.


Craig Miller

Prior to the 2014 election, Miller had been county attorney for 8.5 years, and has spent 16 years as a prosecutor in Van Buren County.

“The No. 1 goal is to keep citizens safer,” he said.

He said the county attorney is also the legal advisor to the board of supervisors, and the job entails a host of other duties. He sees the role of the county attorney to be “friendly and professional” and to help them meet their vision.

When asked about how the county attorney decides whether to go to trial or plea bargain, Miller said the county attorney’s office is “under the obligation to pursue justice, to look at the evidence and realize you are going to make an impact on that person and need to be sure that’s where the evidence leads you. Some of it is affected by the wishes of the victim and some is balanced by rehabilitating the person charged with the crime.”

Miller said the most pressing issue for the county attorney’s office is to “restore stability and confidence in the office.” He also said the influx of drugs, beyond that what was there 10 years ago, is a big issue.

“I feel my experience, stability and integrity will help make the office run as it should be,” he said.

Abe Watkins

Watkins is the current county attorney running for re-election. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned a district court judge ruling and re-instated Watkins as county attorney this summer.

“I made mistakes and I have sworn not to make them again,” he said. “I am confident in how I do the job and I have made a positive contribution to the county.”

Watkins said the better a county attorney is, “the more work that is created.”

“We are rebuilding where we were before,” he began. “I want to see there is no more catch-and-release. I back up the sheriff and I have made timely response to people. The sheriff’s office is firing on all cylinders.”

Watkins disagreed with some things Miller said.

“He stated that the victim’s wishes have an impact on prosecution,” he said. “Iowa law is clear that your client is not the victim, but the state of Iowa. I realize there is discretion, but my personal approach has been to be tough on crime.”

Watkins said the county attorney is the most pressing issue. He said when he was reinstated that the office was not as streamlined as it “was before.” Watkins said there is a drug problem in the county.

“I think my caring about the county and having the integrity to do the job well are the things I thought about the most when I had the time off and that’s why I am running for reelection,” he said.


Phil Miller

Miller is running for re-election for the Iowa House as a Democrat. He is a veterinarian in Fairfield and former member of the Fairfield school board.

He said he is “passionate about public education.” He sits on the House’s agriculture, education and transportation committees. He is also on the education appropriations subcommittee.

His other priorities include roads, hospitals and broadband. He said hospitals are facing “pressure from the privatization of Medicaid.” Miller said privatization has been a mistake and he favors putting Medicaid under state control.

He also favors continued support to back-fill the commercial property tax reduction and if the state doesn’t, that puts the burden on local governments. Miller said that a bill that would temporarily provide help to schools who are in the top half of transportation costs benefited Van Buren and Davis County schools.

Jeff Shipley

Shipley is running for Iowa House as a Republican. He is a sales consultant for Simpleray, formerly known as Iowa Wind and Solar, and is part of the Fairfield Arts and Culture community, where he dabbles in stand-up comedy.

He said he is “sick of the hostility and tired of the declining political culture.” He also says he is against the “political correctness” that keeps people from voicing opinions and he wants to “project a positive vision.” He said privatization is the most important issue, but “I don’t favor the old democratic plan, which would bankrupt our state. The most important thing is to drive prices down and have more transparency.”

On the question of transportation costs to schools, he said that there are “different ways to do education to drive costs down, instead of transporting students long distances.” He pointed out that a friend was homeschooled and is now creating jobs.

“That person took none of the $3.5 billion the state spends on education,” he said.


Mary Stewart

Stewart is running for Iowa Senate as a Democrat. She was raised by a single mom. Her grandparents on her mother’s side are Croatian immigrants and her grandparents on her father’s side farm in Missouri.

She is a former community college administrator with more than 33 years of experience in job training and economic development.

“I saw things in the last two years in the legislature that I didn’t like,” explaining her decision to run.

She said education is economic development. Other priorities are job skills and health care.

“Privatization of Medicaid has been a disaster. Providers and patients have complained and there have been no figures on savings,” she said.

She also said the state needs to fund transportation costs “more equitably.”

Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Miller-Meeks is running for the Iowa Senate as a Republican. Her father was in the U.S. Air Force, and she was born in California.

When she was 15, she received serious burns, and that experience prompted her to become a doctor. She began attending community college at the age of 16 and joined the U.S. Army at 18.

After her service, she applied to medical school and did her residence in Iowa. She has a practice in Burlington and lives in Ottumwa. Her resume includes being director of Iowa Public Health.

“I want the state senate to do things to enhance the place where we live, work and play,” she said.

Her priorities are jobs, education, health care, veterans and quality of life issues. Miller-Meeks said that privatization is a “defining issue that demands a bi-partisan solution.”

She said she has heard praises from patients and complaints. She favors more oversight.

“There is no quick solution,” she said.

On transportation costs for schools, Miller-Meeks said she favors state aid for transportation based on miles traveled rather than a per-student count.