When Jeff Ballenger graduated from Hardin-Simmons University, he came back to his father's auto parts business in Missouri Valley, Iowa, and began selling auto equipment on straight commission to people around the area, working as hard as he could to make a living in the small western Iowa town.
Now a Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District of the United States House of Representatives, Ballenger's goal is to work equally as hard in this campaign, he said.
Ballenger talked candidly with the Pilot-Tribune on Wednesday about a number of issues such as the need for an economic stimulus package and the issue of expanding Highway 20 from a two-lane road to a four-lane highway.
The 36-year-old businessman announced his candidacy for the open slot on June 21, and he has been on the road ever since, visiting all 32 counties in the sprawling district, and stopping in Storm Lake six times in six months.
He said that kind of travel schedule has been extremely helpful to him over the past few months, as he said he has been able to hear a variety of concerns from people in towns from Council Bluffs to Cherokee.
"My leadership style is very hands-on, which means I want to meet with as many people as I can and hear their concerns," Ballenger said. "Even in the age of e-mail and the internet, I still think it's imperative to look someone in the eye when talking with them and really understand what they are trying to say. That's why I've traveled so much. I'm trying to meet as many people face-to-face as I can."
Ballenger, who said he spends approximately two hours each night reading and studying topics ranging from farm policy to pension reform, said one of the core issues of his campaign is the need for economic stimulus in the United States.
"As a small businessman, I know what the economy is like, and I feel we have to get the economy moving and get an economic stimulus package passed," Ballenger said. "I think one of the biggest things we have to do is to try to help everyone get a good-paying job, and to do that we have to focus on economic development in all of the towns in western Iowa, big or small."
A second topic Ballenger is focusing on is the issue of Highway 20. While the national highway is four-lane across much of eastern Iowa, it is still a two-lane road around northwest Iowa, and the candidate said widening Highway 20 would also help boost the economy of the region.
"I'm ready to do a full-court press on the Highway 20 issue," Ballenger said. "I've spoken to many people who say they need Highway 20 to become four-lane, and in my view, I think that should become a reality. I think a four-lane highway would be extremely helpful to this area, and that's one of the areas I would be ready to work on from the start."
Ballenger also said he was trying to help citizens of western Iowa achieve some economic equality concerning medicare reimbursements, and said he would tackle that issue immediately in Washington, D.C. if he is elected.
"Medicare reimbursements are another big topic that I want to address," Ballenger said. "We have a mature population here in western Iowa, and our hospital reimbursements here only average around $3,000, while in Louisiana they average around $7,100. Why are we only getting 50 cents on the dollar? I'd like to take a look at that and see if we can make some changes there and help our population get more in that area than we're currently getting."
Ballenger said that he is excited about the potential prospect of representing the citizens of western Iowa and Storm Lake, and thinks the future is bright for everyone in the 5th District.
"I really believe the best days are ahead of us in western Iowa," Ballenger said. "Everyone I've met with has a burning desire to work hard and make their lives better through that hard work, and I'm convinced that western Iowa is going to grow in the future."