WEST UNION — Kayla Koether plans on running above the crest of a prospective blue wave.
Koether, 28, is running as a Democrat for the Iowa’s 55th representative district against Michael Bergan.
Koether doesn’t want to be elected because there is a ‘D’ behind her name on the ballot or because she’s a woman. She wants to be elected because she’s doing the work.
“I don’t give too much shrift to the year, or my gender, or my party being some incredible advantage in this election, because that’s not how I look at it,” Koether said. “I think women have come out and run because in the past they maybe hadn’t been encouraged or hadn’t felt like this was a role they were traditionally seen in or there are all these rules that you have to live by in order to be a successful candidate and they don’t feel like they don’t fit that mold. “
Koether doesn’t think much of the prospective Democratic wave that’s being predicted or the “Year of the Woman” title that’s been used to discribe the upcoming election.
“My back and forth with the voters has been about the issues, and the fact that I’m a woman isn’t something that’s really addressed or comes up often,” Koether said. “Now and then people will say ‘it’s good to see a woman running’ or ‘we need more women in the state house’ but I don’t think I’ve run this campaign based on my gender, and I don’t think that voters are particularly focused on that either.”
Koether decided to run well before predictions of blue midterms started, she said.
“I’m really happy women are running for office, but I’m not taking either of those ideas for granted,” Koether said. “I think ultimately the work that needs to be done is going out and talking to people and bringing them into political engagement.”
Koether said women are now on “clean-up duty.”
“Things feel really chaotic, it feels like our governing institutions are a little out of control. and we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves to come in and do the really unglamorous, unglorious work of trying to right it again,” Koether said.
The Year of the Woman is more about women seeing that their participation is really needed, Koether said.
“I think women who previously wouldn’t have thought of themselves because of some of the ego and the money and the rules that you feel you have to fit in to run for office are now saying ‘I don’t care about any of that stuff. I’m going to roll up my sleeves and get to work, because somebody has to and if it has to me, so be it.’”
She grew up in Giard near McGregor and went to Grinnell for a degree in international agriculture and rural development before settling in Decorah.
In high school, Koether lobbied for beginning farmer programs in Washington D.C.
Koether had considered politics as a career in high school, but didn’t take it seriously until lately.
“I didn’t see running for office as a career path because I was cynical and it felt like career politicians were career politicians and I didn’t want to spend my whole life trying to have two sentences written into a bill to get them reversed the next year.”
From there she worked with Americorps on the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness initiative to help teach kids how to eat healthy.
Then she took six months to farm in New Zealand and had the chance to climb Mount Doom, or at least the volcano that stood in for Mount Doom in the “Lord of the Rings” films.
She then came back to Iowa and worked for the Winnieshiek Energy District and helped property owners reduce their energy usage from 2014 to 2016.
Since then she’s worked at the Iowa State University Extension office as a food systems specialist.
“I think people should vote for me because I’m credible from here and I have vision for how this place should look moving forward,” Koether said. “I think a lot of people share that vision, and not only do they share that vision but they’re just looking for an opportunity to have a vision together.”
She wants to hear from constituents and bring their voices into the state house conversation, Koether said.
“I’m much more of a collaborative person, a lot of my work has been facilitating conversations to make productive dialogues and get people working together,” Koether said. “I think that’s exactly the approach we need to get rural Iowa together and going and vibrant again.”
One of those issues is “the backfill,” which is a piece of legislation that in 2013 froze commercial tax rates with promise from state that it would reimburse municipalities for that loss.
For two consecutive years, the Iowa Legislature has considered reversing the backfill.
“I think when a state has made promises to the smaller communities, you need to keep them,” Koether said. “I’m willing to work with people to figure out how best to keep those promises.”
She’s heard concerns from residents about the backfill being reversed.
“I think the backfill needs to stay or we need to find a way forward that makes sure these towns have the budgets they need,” Koether said. “I think it’s really unfair that a lot of these pieces of legislation that we’ve seen in the last couple of years have come up without much warning and without much collaboration with real constituents and municipalities.”