MASON CITY | For Fred Hubbell, the topic he's heard most about when campaigning for governor statewide isn't education, the economy or agriculture.
It's mental health.
"It just keeps growing all over. It's affecting every family, every neighborhood, church, school, business," Hubbell said. "And unfortunately, we're just not making much progress with dealing with it."
Hubbell and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, spent just over 20 minutes at the Globe Gazette, discussing multiple political issues ranging from health care to the economy.
Regarding mental health, Hubbell and Hart both emphasized the issue is compounded in rural areas, much like the small communities outside of Mason City.
Hart criticized the regionalization of mental health, which includes County Social Services — the 22-county region that includes Cerro Gordo County. She added it tried to create more efficiency but failed when regions didn't receive enough funding.
"Now, you've got these regions that are too large, and you're seeing the inequities across that system," Hart said. "It was cumbersome, and the funding didn't follow."
In a separate funding issue, Hubbell and Hart both believe that although Iowa's unemployment rate is low — currently 2.9 percent — a lack of high-paying jobs is creating fiscal issues at the state level.
Hubbell noted Gov. Kim Reynolds has borrowed $144 million from the state reserve fund to negotiate the funding shortfall. The overall issue, he added, is a lack of personal income growth during the past several years.
The issue is a common theme across rural parts of the state, according to Hubbell. He believes of the ways to combat that is by creating jobs in renewable energy — noting a recent surge in wind energy jobs.
"Those jobs aren't here because we give them big tax credits," Hubbell said. "They're here because we have good wind, and they pay well."
In response to Hubbell's comments, a spokesperson for Gov. Kim Reynolds emailed the Globe Gazette Thursday, citing a study released in April that ranked Iowa eighth in wage growth since the Great Recession.
"Fred Hubbell needs to check his facts, our state's budget is balanced and incomes in Iowa are currently growing faster than most states," Pat Garrett, Reynolds' campaign spokesman, said in an email. "There's more to do but we can't move backwards with the high-tax, bigger government proposals Hubbell wants to force on Iowans."
Hubbell and Hart have also been critical of Reynolds and state Republicans' decision to privatize Medicaid. Hubbell said the overhead cost for the system when it was a state-run program was 4 to 5 percent—now, it's running around 12 to 15 percent.
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He added the system needed to address the fact some are using Medicaid based on income, and others based on physical health and disabilities.
"You can't treat them both the same, and that's what the managed care organizations are trying to do," Hubbell said.
He thinks the Medicaid system could be a state-run model about a year after he takes office, if elected.
Another issue facing many rural communities in North Iowa is the lack of young people, especially as residents continue to age.
Hart believes quality of life and good jobs are important to keeping young people in communities, and a strong school system is a key part of that.
"People eventually settle down and raise children, and having a good school is a huge draw," she said.
Looking ahead, Hubbell and Hart said in order to combat many issues in rural Iowa — including a lack of affordable housing and mental health services — there needs to be more of an investment in those communities.
Hart noted her roots in rural Floyd County, having grown on a farm outside of Charles City. She added that people shouldn't have to drive to Des Moines or similar metro areas for various needs.
"It would be a shame for the state of Iowa to turn into a place where you've got vast emptiness and then a few big cities across this state," Hart said. "That's not what this state wants."
Hubbell added there needs to be more collaboration between local leaders and state officials — but that ideas about how to better communities should come locally, and the state should offer assistance.
He noted the decision last fall to allow over $200 million in tax breaks to Apple for construction of a data center near Des Moines.
"Let's spread it out and make a lot of smaller investments across Iowa," Hubbell said. "It's much less risky, you're betting on the local leaders knowing what's right for their community ... it's a commitment we have to grow the entire state, not just a few places."
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Hubbell believes there is a lack of low-paying jobs statewide, which should have read high-paying jobs. The Globe Gazette apologizes for the error.