Rep. Dave Loebsack looks to address rural broadband access, veterans’ mental health care

Rep. Dave Loebsack seeks to be re-elected for a seventh term to represent Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Elianna Novitch, Politics Reporter

After serving 12 years in office, Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is running for his seventh term with hopes of expanding rural broadband access and veterans’ mental-health care if re-elected.

The 2018 election marks the second time the 12-year Democratic incumbent will run against Republican candidate Christopher Peters for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses 24 counties of southeastern Iowa, including Iowa City.

Loebsack, 65, resides in Iowa City with his wife, Terry. He taught as a professor (now emeritus) of political science at Cornell College in Mount Vernon for 24 years before he unseated longtime Republican Rep. Jim Leach in the 2006 election. Loebsack and his wife have four children and three grandchildren.

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Loebsack was born and raised in Sioux City by a single mother, who struggled with mental illness, alongside three siblings. He grew up on and off of food stamps and moved in with his maternal grandmother in the fourth grade after his mother could no longer take care of him and his siblings by herself. He says his background shapes his priorities today, which include investing in opportunity for others.

“We grew up wanting to be in the middle class, never getting to the middle class until I got to college and went through college,” Loebsack said. “I fight for the middle class and opportunity for everybody.”

Loebsack previously served as a member of the Education and Workforce Committee and Armed Services Committee, and he is currently on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He has never served a leadership position on those.

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Some specific legislative priorities for Loebsack include rural broadband development, access to mental-health care for veterans, and ensuring the Pell Grant remains year-round.

Loebsack introduced the Rural Wireless Access Act as an addition to the fiscal 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act; the bill was signed into law earlier in 2018. The add-on instructed the FCC to develop more accurate wireless coverage maps to improve wireless voice and mobile Internet services in places such as rural Iowa.

Another priority for Loebsack is access to mental-health resources for veterans. If re-elected, Loebsack hopes to pass a Sgt. Brandon Ketchum Never Again Act prompted in response to the suicide of Iowa veteran Ketchum. In 2016, he was refused admission to a psychiatric unit at the Iowa City VA Medical Center.

The bill is one Loebsack co-sponsors with Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio.

“We can’t ever let that happen again,” Loebsack said.

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The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to honor a request of a VA-enrolled veteran entitled to in-patient psychiatric care at the VA facility closest to where the veteran lives if possible and if not, at a non-VA facility.

Loebsack has also advocated for affordable higher education.

In 2007, Loebsack wrote a provision that created year-round Pell Grants in the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which was signed into law in 2008. However, because of budget cuts, the year-round Pell Grant was eliminated in 2011.

Pell Grants are awarded by the federal government to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. The grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid, except under certain circumstances.

“The first legislative victory I had … I was able to secure year-round Pell Grants. The Obama administration took it away … It was the wrong thing to do,” Loebsack said. “We have to keep doing it and reauthorizing it, but I was really glad that we got that through.”

The fiscal 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill reinstated year-round Pell Grants eligibility.

Loebsack said he asks for constituents’ vote on the basis of his six-term record and love for his job.

“I’m somebody from Iowa, I’m of Iowa,” Loebsack said. “It’s my home state, and I love representing it.”