The Ottumwa Courier

July 15, 2013

What residents want

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — One problem sometimes associated with politicians is that they are out of touch with the will of the voters. A local Iowa senator figured he could solve that problem by asking.

State Sen. Mark Chelgren, whose district covers parts of Wapello, Davis, Jefferson and Van Buren counties, said he wanted to know what all voters were thinking, not just his supporters. He told the Courier he put together a survey with questions he thought would be important to all citizens.

"I wanted to find out firsthand the priorities of voters in my district," Chelgren said. "By keeping political affiliation out of the survey, it helped me understand what the voters want."

Almost 1,000 surveys came back completed, he said.

"There were answers on there that surprised me, answers I wouldn't have expected," he said.

When at forums in person, residents will often tell southeast Iowa elected officials that the No. 1 priority should be jobs. Chelgren's survey said jobs are No. 2.

"Of the following choices, which ONE do you believe should be the top priority of the State of Iowa over the next 18 months?"

— 32 percent: Balancing the state budget

— 28 percent: Creating jobs

— 25 percent: Reducing taxes

— 10 percent: Fixing our roads and bridges

— 2 percent: Improving our schools

— 2 percent: Stopping gun violence

Education, in that case, was tied for last place, which, again, is different from what some residents, and many political candidates, have claimed as their top priority.

However, some answers weren't necessarily a big surprise.

"With more than 900 answers, only one person said they felt they didn't pay enough in taxes," Chelgren said.

And, asked to rate roads in Iowa by choosing a score of excellent, average, below average or poor, last place went to "excellent," checked by only 5 percent of respondents.

Other percentages may have been harder to guess. When it comes to doing away with "straight ticket" voting, residents were split just about 50/50.

Nearly 90 percent of those polled believe citizens should have to show photo identification before voting.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.