Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District covers 12 counties located in the central part of the state. The district is mostly rural and agricultural, but contains the state’s largest city as well. The terrain of the third varies from flat and open land in the north to hills and timber in the south to urban cityscape. The district is home to approximately 622,000 Iowans. 65 percent reside in Polk County. The county with the fewest residents is Monroe with some 7,725 residents.
The district is home to approximately 622,000 Iowans. 65% reside in Polk County. The county with the fewest residents is Monroe with some 7,725 residents. The majority of voters in Monroe County are registered as democrats.
Joe Judge: "There are some issues that are going to be different for us than they are for Polk County."
The son of Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, Joe Judge is the democratic chair for the county. He teaches government and history at Albia High School.
Joe Judge: "Our school is pretty much a county wide school and so when you're talking about four dollar gas and running buses everyday that's a significant impact to our school budget."
In the 1900s the population of Monroe County was nearly double of what it is today. People began leaving in the 1920s as the area’s coal mines closed.
Joe Judge: "We have some pretty good manufacturing established but the next step for our economic development is our main street. How are we going to keep retail business in the community?"
Albia businesses compete for consumer dollars that are being spent in nearby larger communities including Des Moines. While encouraging enterprises on Main Street can generate jobs, diversify the economy and add worthwhile local flare, the community also enjoys the benefit of its rural areas.
Hunting and fishing provide the county with significant revenue. Traditional cow calf operations are joined by newer livestock ventures including elk and Alpaca.
To the north of Monroe in Mahaska County Tassel Ridge Winery is another example of successful alternative agriculture. The 57 acre Vineyard provides 16 full time jobs and another 50 jobs during picking season. Mahaska County’s natural attributes make it well-suited for growing grapes.
Steve Richardson: "One of the things that we have in the area are nice gentle slopes. We get good sun exposure and the prevailing winds are from the south and so you get good air flow through the vineyards. So I would say that the topography is advantageous."
To the east of Tassel Ridge is Oskaloosa, a city of 11,000 about half of the county’s population. Duane Nollen is editor of The Oskaloosa Herald.
Duane Nollen: "People running for office need to keep in mind that yeah we're a forwarding looking progressive community, but we're pretty conservative too."
"In the Herald we have a question of the week that I pose and some of the biggest responses we've had were the really hot button issues like gay marriage. That had a lot of turn out and letters to the editor."
Iowa County on the eastern edge of the district is bisected by interstate 80. The majority of voters are registered as independents; republicans account for the second largest group.
DeRycke Farms located north of Victor is farmed by five different DeRycke families working together. Alice DeRycke, does the bookkeeping. Her sons are fourth generation farmers in Iowa County. Alice is also the Republican chair for the county.
Alice DeRycke: "Our legislatures have an idea that where the population is that's where the money should go but there isn't the population out in rural area because you need the space to grow things and so we need the bridges, we need the gravel, we need the culverts. Just don't forget us. That's the song that we're singing - don't forget us.
Benton County is situated in the farthest northeast corner of the third congressional district. The largest community, Vinton, is dealing with the aftermath of flood waters from the now tame Cedar River. The flood affected some 80 homes. Damage to the Benton County Law Enforcement Center was severe. Once the dispatch headquarters for all of the county’s 911 emergency calls, the center housed about 50 employees and up to 32 inmates. Most of the work is now being done from a temporary location in the town while the inmates are being held in neighboring counties. The cost of the dislocation is crimping county finances.
Sheriff Randall Forsyth: "Expense wise we probably spent close to two hundred thousand dollars, just getting into another building. Inmate wise we figure it's about three hundred and eighty thousand a year for just our inmates be housed in other counties plus the transportation back and forth and then the building itself we have an estimate from our engineer that the buildings got about 3.2 million dollars damage."
It could be more than a year before a permanent facility is complete and money is reimbursed from FEMA to the county. The aftermath of the flood is a drain on the community. But there have been some positive developments including the completion of a new high school and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School was selected as the new AmeriCorps North Central Region Campus.
Some of the more than 140 AmeriCorps youth volunteers housed at the school are helping with flood recovery in Vinton. One group is assisting with building a Veteran’s Memorial Park in an area previously covered by flood waters.