Congressional hopeful visits Storm Lake with word of warning for 5th District.
Fifth Congressional District candidate Brent Siegrist would like more time to campaign this spring, but said his duty to Iowa is as Speaker of the House.
Siegrist attended the Ag Expo in Storm Lake, and sat down with the Pilot-Tribune staff.
With the legislative session starting this week, Siegrist said the budget will be the central focus, not politics.
"It's mostly about the budget. There are some tough decisions to be made going into this," he said. "There's no way around it."
December revenue projections show $50 million in new money coming into the state, Siegrist said, while the state's budget calls for an automatic $500 increase in state spending for schools, Medicaid and state employee raises.
Siegrist said Iowans should be ready to see a reduction of services in some areas.
"We've experienced the lowest state revenues back to back that we've had in 50 years," he said. "Forty-five states face a deficit."
While cutting budgets is never fun, Siegrist said it does provide opportunities.
"We can use this session to reconfigure and streamline state government," he said.
This time around, though, Iowa is in a better position to recover, Siegrist noted.
"Ten years ago when we faced the same situation the state had no money," he said. "Now we have a lousy economy, but we have no debt and we have money for cash flow so we can pay our bills on time.
"When the economy turns around, we'll be able to recover quickly."
This is Siegrist's 18th year in the state legislature and it will be his last. He has his eyes on the Republican nomination for the 5th District Congressional seat.
Siegrist announced his run in July of last year, saying he felt it was time to move on. The Council Bluffs Republican was first elected to the Iowa Legislature in 1984, and has been in leadership positions for the last 10 as both the majority leader and the Speaker of the House.
"The 5th District is very diverse and huge. With 32 counties, it takes a special kind of person to represent the diverse area, from the very rural to cities like Council Bluffs and Sioux City and the cities in between like Spencer and Storm Lake," he said.
Siegrist is focusing not necessarily on economic development, but rather "job creation."
"The creation of wealth is what we need in this district," he said.
The 5th District is geographically the largest congressional district in Iowa, covering the western third of the state. Siegrist warns it could grow even larger.
"Because of the decline in population in many parts of the district, if we don't turn it around the district will contain 50 counties in 2010," he said.
Siegrist said he has a track record in the Iowa House that shows he can work with others to promote economic development. He pointed out legislation passed last year which influenced MidAmerican Energy's decision to locate a $1.4 billion generating plant in Council Bluffs.
He feels he can take those same skills to Washington, D.C., to help Iowa.
"With agriculture, industry or manufacturing, it's a matter of using what the federal government has to offer," Siegrist said.
Siegrist said production tax credits are necessary as well as a reduction in regulatory red tape. "Let companies be innovative," he said.
For agriculture, Siegrist said Iowa and the nation need to focus on developing markets, increasing value-added products and continuing research into biotechnology.
This election year one issue in the forefront is the military and defense spending. The terrorist attacks against the U.S. made Siegrist more mindful of what he is asking Iowans to elect him to.
"I was sitting in my office after Sept. 11, and on Sept. 14, the Thursday after, it hit me as to what I was running for," he said. "If elected, the decisions I make affect the whole world."
As Siegrist campaigns, he feels people recognize him because of his roles as House Majority Leader from 1992 to 1999 and as Speaker of the House for the past three years.
"But that doesn't mean people are going to vote for me," he joked.
It is a full race for the 5th District Congressional seat, which most likely will be decided in the Republican Primary. Since District lines were redrawn last year, there is no incumbent in the 5th District. With Siegrist there are three others seeking the Republican nomination. They are Jeff Ballenger, a Council Bluffs business owner, State Senator Steve King of Kiron, and State Senator John Redwine of Sioux City.
Siegrist said Republicans in the 5th District have an important decision to make among the four nominees.
"It's good for voters to have several candidates and it helps us (the candidates) to define what we're talking about," he said.
Before running for the Iowa Legislature, Siegrist was a teacher and a coach. He and his wife, Valerie, have two school-aged children, Evan and Harriet. They live in Council Bluffs.