One of the longstanding frustrations of moderate Republicans and some independents in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District isn’t so much the incendiary things Steve King says; it’s instead what local issues he isn’t talking about. While King is complaining on Twitter about immigrants and touting far-right European political movements, small town economies in Western Iowa are struggling. Now Leann Jacobsen, a Spencer city councilwoman whose expertise is building up small business communities in Northwest Iowa, is thinking about challenging King in 2018.
“I have 30 years of business experience which provides a lot of passion around seeing business succeed, from start-ups to corporations to non-profits,” Jacobsen told Starting Line. “There’s such a need in small towns to have a thriving business community, because that’s where you get your tax base to pay for your education and a lot of the quality-of-life and government services.”
Jacobsen, a Democrat, stressed that she’s still in the early stages of considering a congressional run, but she’d bring a strong resume to the race if she did. Recently elected to the Spencer City Council, she served on the governor’s STEM advisory council and is a board member for Spencer Hospital. And for ten years she was the president of the Technology Association of Iowa, which helps grow and develop small businesses and brings together young entrepreneurs in the tech field.
After retiring from that organization, she took over StartupCity Spencer, a technology innovator and business incubator group that’s helped to attract new people and companies to the 11,000-person town in Clay County. She also runs her own coffee shop and wine bar.
“We’ve worked to create a place that brings interesting things to town and creates something different as a way to diversify opportunities for people living here or thinking about moving back some day,” Jacobsen said. “It really created a place of interest to young people in particular. Our efforts have been focused on revitalizing the community and how that can spread to other small towns.”
Jacobsen noted that she’s heard a lot of concerns from parents who have kids that are moving further and further away from the small towns in Western Iowa. But she hasn’t heard much on that concern from her congressman.
“We’re not seeing in Northwest Iowa anything coming from Congress,” she explained. “When you talk about education and economic development and creating thriving communities throughout the district, we’re not seeing any kind of help coming from Steve King.”
She’s already run for office and won once this year, taking a spot that came open on the Spencer City Council, becoming the only elected woman there. It’s the kind of thing she encouraged other women to do back when she started the Iowa Women in Public Policy organization, which was co-chaired by Sally Pederson and Joy Corning.
“I also ran to bring a different perspective as a woman,” Jacobsen said. “I have different life experiences, I have different priorities as a mother and a grandmother, and the need to want to see my kids locally, instead of having to get in the car, and create the communities they’ll want to come back to.”
A lot of that type of encouragement came from her father early on in her life when she lived in Minnesota.
“When I was growing up, my dad would inspire me by saying, ‘You’re not going to be the secretary, you’re going to be the boss. You’re not going to be the nurse, you’re going to be the doctor,'” she recalled. “Then as I was helping women in politics, inviting them and giving them the tools they needed to succeed and run, he was always asking me, ‘When are you going to run?'”
That decision on a 4th District run may still take a while, but it would help fill the void for Democrats after Kim Weaver pulled out of the race earlier this year. There’s also talk that another Democrat with Sioux City roots is considering the race, so the party could have a competitive primary before it takes on King next year.
by Pat Rynard