OTTUMWA — Mary Stewart is making another run for an Iowa Senate seat she narrowly lost in 2018.
That year, Stewart, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by about 800 votes in the race for District 41 of the Iowa Senate. Two years later, Miller-Meeks won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, creating a vacancy.
Democrats in the district nominated Stewart during a virtual convention in early January, and she will run against Republican Adrian Dickey in a special election next Tuesday.
Stewart said she never ruled out running again after her loss in 2018. This time around, she didn’t have much time to decide, with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announcing the special election in late December.
“I talked to my family, and my husband told me, ‘If you want to do this, we’re behind you 100 percent,’” Stewart said.
Stewart did not seek office in 2020. Instead, she devoted her time to helping elect kindred spirits. She’s been active in both partisan and nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters, a group she was president of until stepping down to run for this office. She’s worked with a group called Public Citizen to promote voting rights and serves on a local historic preservation commission.
The No. 1 issue before the state Legislature is education, Stewart said, and she’s going to make funding public education her top priority if she earns a spot in the Capitol. She said good education is key to everything else the state wants to do.
“It’s a tool for economic development. It’s a law-and-order tool. And when people are educated, they make more money on the job,” she said. “I know public schools have had a tough time dealing with COVID. I want to make sure they’re funded to levels where they can get back on their feet and implement strategies to reach every student.”
Reynolds announced an increase in supplemental state aid (SSA) of 2.5 percent this year. Stewart said she doesn’t have an opinion on what the exact number should be, but she said she’s talked to a lot of school superintendents who say the number needs to increase.
“There are not many more cuts they can make,” Stewart said. “Our schools face a lot of challenges. Rural schools have transportation costs that are oversized compared to more metro areas.”
Stewart said she’s worried about health care, especially the fate of rural hospitals. She said several hospitals in southeast Iowa no longer have maternity wards.
“Hospitals and schools are central to rural communities,” she said. “They make a huge difference in our quality of life.”
Stewart resides in Ottumwa with her husband, Tom. She retired as the dean of academic services at Indian Hills Community College. She hopes to work on legislation to benefit community colleges if she wins on Jan. 26.
The Union asked Stewart if she was open to participating in a forum with her challenger, Adrian Dickey. Stewart said she wanted to do a forum, and agreed to participate in a forum the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce was attempting to organize on Jan. 21. However, Dickey did not commit to the forum. Dickey said he did not feel he would have time for a forum given his other commitments.