SIOUX CITY -- For the first time since she was a graduate student in her 20s while in college in Texas, Jackie Smith will be living outside Sioux City.
Smith has an apartment that is three miles from the Capitol in Des Moines, for next month when she begins a new stint as an elected official, this time as a state senator.
"I'm excited to get started," Smith said.
There was only one incumbent Northwest Iowan who lost a November re-election bid for the state Legislature. Smith, a Democrat, defeated two-term Republican Sen. Rick Bertrand in Senate District 7, which takes in the west and north sides of Sioux City.
Smith had 51 percent, compared to 48 percent for Bertrand, a Sioux City businessman and developer, to win a four-year term that runs through 2022. With registered Democrats holding a slight edge in the district over Republicans, it turned into one of the most contested Senate races in the state, as the candidates and other groups spent heavily on campaign ads.
The time after the election win saw a severe loss for Smith. Her father, Darrell Strong, died at age 96 a few days before Thanksgiving, leaving her with no parents. Smith's mother was Betty Strong, who for many years was a top go-to Democratic Party official in Woodbury County.
Smith said it has been bittersweet as she thinks about her father. She went to a senator orientation in early December, and was sad because she couldn't share those observations with him.
But she was glad he got to see her campaign play out to full fruition, even as he became weaker and was hospitalized.
"I was able to see the results come in at the hospital (with him). He knows I won ... That's what makes me happy," Smith said.
Marty Pottebaum is a Democrat who serves as a Woodbury County supervisor and is a former policeman and Sioux City councilman. Pottebaum said he predicted Smith would pull out the win over Bertrand.
"She'll do a great job. She's really articulate, intelligent and always digs into the issues," Pottebaum said. "Sometimes she's a bulldog."
Smith served two terms on the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors before losing her re-election bid in 2016 to Republican Keith Radig.
Smith, 63, is a retired educator. For the first year out of office in 2017, she traveled to see family in Colorado and Texas, and pondered what might come next.
By 2018, she was committed to running for the Legislature for what looked to be an open seat, after seeing Republicans holding all state levers of power and pursuing changes Smith couldn't approve. Those included changes to the public employee collective bargaining law and seeing low levels of education funding, which she said are driving up K-12 class sizes.
Smith said the race had an atypical factor, as two Republicans were officially her opponent this year. She said Steve Stokes had little campaign presence before dropping out to attend to his business, then Bertrand veered from his March decision not to seek re-election, then ramped up the rigor.
"He ran a good media campaign. I thought our campaign strength was in the grassroots," Smith said.
She didn't like the "last ditch" spending by outside PAC groups, including one that made the "nasty" assertion that Smith was anti-gun and "was going to take away the guns."
In finance reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in late October, Bertrand brought in $144,700 for the period. Meanwhile, Smith received the far smaller total of $29,815 for that period.
The Senate swung to an even stronger hold by Republicans, from 30-20 to 32-18 in 2019. Smith said she's resigned to knowing that being in the minority means Democrats won't control the agenda.
"My plan, with those odds, is that we will be doing a lot of constituent work. We want to be accessible," Smith said.
As she began knocking doors to speak with people in the early stages of her 2018 campaign, Smith said she learned there is a huge desire for more ways to get affordable housing and to boost stagnant wages.
From her county work, Smith said she learned how to prioritize budget expenses and became well acquainted with rural resident needs, such as clean water in watersheds.
The session gavels in on Jan. 14, and is slated with a 110-day calendar that runs through May 3. While serving on the Education, Local Government, Transportation and Natural Resources committees, Smith said she's looking for ways to enact bipartisan measures. She doesn't know a lot of senators at the moment, but she's discussed with state Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, "to work as much as possible to help Sioux City and the surrounding area."
"I come with some local experiences. I have contacts here in local government, I know people involved in the education field. I am ready to hit the ground running," Smith said.
More personally, Smith said she's been advised not to run life's errands from Monday through Thursdays, which comprise the main days lawmakers are gaveled into session. The days can run from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Smith has gotten some advice: "Plan that your life is at the Capitol. I am sure I will get in a rhythm and probably will love it."
WASHINGTON — Three confidantes of President Donald Trump, including his departing chief of staff, indicated that the president's signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would not be fulfilled as advertised.
Trump sparked fervent chants of "Build that wall!" at rallies before and after his election and more recently cited a lack of funding for a border wall as the reason for partially shutting down the government. At times the president waved off the idea that the wall be anything but a wall.
However, White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Sunday that Trump abandoned the notion of "a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."
"To be honest, it's not a wall," Kelly said, adding that the mix of technological enhancements and "steel slat" barriers the president now wants along the border resulted from conversations with law enforcement professionals.
Along the same lines, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called discussion of the apparent contradiction "a silly semantic argument."
"There may be a wall in some places, there may be steel slats, there may be technological enhancements," Conway told "Fox News Sunday." "But only saying 'wall or no wall' is being very disingenuous and turning a complete blind eye to what is a crisis at the border."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is close to the president, emerged from a Sunday lunch at the White House to tell reporters that "the wall has become a metaphor for border security" and referred to "a physical barrier along the border."
Graham said Trump was "open-minded" about a broader immigration agreement, saying the budget impasse presented an opportunity to address issues beyond the border wall. But a previous attempt to reach a compromise that addressed the status of "Dreamers" — young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children— broke down last year as a result of escalating White House demands.
Graham said he hoped to end the shutdown by offering Democrats incentives to get them to vote for wall funding and told CNN before his lunch with Trump that "there will never be a deal without wall funding."
Graham proposed to help two groups of immigrants get approval to continue living in the U.S: about 700,000 young "Dreamers" brought into the U.S. illegally as children and about 400,000 people receiving temporary protected status because they are from countries struggling with natural disasters or armed conflicts. He also said the compromise should include changes in federal law to discourage people from trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
"Democrats have a chance here to work with me and others, including the president, to bring legal status to people who have very uncertain lives," Graham said.
The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 after Trump bowed to conservative demands that he fight to make good on his vow and secure funding for the wall before Republicans lose control of the House on Wednesday. Democrats remained committed to blocking the president's priority, and with neither side engaging in substantive negotiation, the effect of the partial shutdown was set to spread and to extend into the new year.
In August 2015 during his presidential campaign, Trump made his expectations for the border explicitly clear, as he parried criticism from rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor.
"Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a 'fence,'" he tweeted. "It's not a fence, Jeb, it's a WALL, and there's a BIG difference!"
Trump suggested as much again in a tweet on Sunday: "President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!"
Talks have been at a stalemate for more than a week, after Democrats said the White House offered to accept $2.5 billion for border security. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence that it wasn't acceptable, nor was it guaranteed that Trump, under intense pressure from his conservative base to fulfill his signature campaign promise, would settle for that amount.
Conway claimed Sunday that "the president has already compromised" by dropping his request for the wall from $25 billion, and she called on Democrats to return to the negotiating table.
"It is with them," she said, explaining why Trump was not reaching out to Democrats.
Democrats maintain that they already presented the White House with three options to end the shutdown, none of which fund the wall, and insist that it's Trump's move.
"At this point, it's clear the White House doesn't know what they want when it comes to border security," said Justin Goodman, Schumer's spokesman. "While one White House official says they're willing to compromise, another says the president is holding firm at no less than $5 billion for the wall. Meanwhile, the president tweets blaming everyone but himself for a shutdown he called for more than 25 times."
Happy New Year!
As we ring in another year, we want to be among the first to wish you the best in 2019.
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