VAIL, Iowa — A first-time candidate with family ties to a prominent Iowa Democrat is facing off against a 16-year Crawford County board member in the District 6 Iowa Senate race.
Democratic candidate Mary Bruner, 61, of Carroll and Republican candidate Mark Segebart, 62, of rural Vail are vying for the western Iowa seat.
The outcome could affect which party controls the Iowa Senate.
If Bruner wins, her victory could help the Democrats hold on to their slim 26-24 majority. If Segebart wins election in the newly created district, the Senate could flip to the Republicans.
Money has flowed in to help Bruner, a cousin of Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. Campaign finance reports indicate that Bruner received $14,289 between Feb. 1 and July 14. More recent campaign finance reports were not available.
Segebart, who won the Republican primary even though one of his opponents was endorsed by Gov. Terry Branstad, received $7,825 between March 23 and July 9. But $5,000 of that was a donation Segebart made to his own campaign July 9, according to campaign finance reports.
Republicans claim a solid majority of voters in the district, as they do across western Iowa. The new District 6 was created by redistricting following the 2010 Census. Much of it had been in District 26, a seat currently held by Sen. Steve Kettering, R-Lake View, who is retiring.
“Obviously, we are interested in maintaining a Republican in this seat,” said Don McDowell, spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Jerry Behn. “It's got a deep Republican heritage to it.”
The Democrats think they can pull off a victory in District 6, thanks to Bruner's longtime ties to the area. Both Bruner and Segebart have lived most of their lives in the area.
Bruner is married to former Carroll County Attorney Barry Bruner.
“She and Barry have been there forever. People know her. Her roots are in that community,” said Sue Dvorsky, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “It's a very personal kind of thing.”
Bruner downplays her connection to Gronstal, describing him as one of 33 cousins on her father's side. On the campaign trail, hardly anyone has inquired about her relationship to the Senate majority leader, she said.
“The voters are telling me they want the Legislature to get something done,” she said.
Bruner touts her years as a schoolteacher in both public and private schools. For the past 12 years, she has been the human resources officer at Carroll County State Bank.
“I would say the overriding hands-down issue is what is the economic future of our community and right along with that is what's going to happen to our schools,” she said.
Segebart, a farmer, won the June 6 primary over two other candidates, telling voters that he wanted to cooperate with Democrats to get laws passed but also saying he wanted to return the Senate to Republican control. A Republican takeover of the Senate most likely would put the entire Legislature, along with the Governor's Office, in GOP hands.
“It takes both ends of the spectrum to come up with a good compromise,” he said in an interview at his rural Vail home. “Where I think we're breaking down right now is one side (in the Senate) controls the discussion and won't allow the other to air its amendments.”
One example, Segebart said, is the refusal by Gronstal to allow the Senate to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a hot-button issue in the state since the Iowa Supreme Court overturned Iowa's law banning the practice in 2009.
“I'm opposed to gay marriage as a definition of marriage. I think marriage is one man, one woman,” he said.
Bruner said she's opposed to altering the Iowa Constitution. “I don't think we should vote on people's civil rights.”
Both candidates are opposed to abortion, though Bruner says there should be exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Segebart believes in an exception for the life of the mother.
Both are generally supportive of improving education, a priority item for Branstad, and support commercial property tax changes.
However, Segebart and Bruner have different issues motivating them in the race.
Segebart is concerned that the U.S. is becoming too accepting of abortion and also is worried about the ballooning federal deficit. The federal government provides Iowa with billions per year, he says, and the state must have its financial house in order in case that is drastically reduced.
“The federal budget really worries me more than the Russians and the nuclear bombs of the '70s and '80s,” he said.
Bruner was diagnosed with breast cancer 22 years ago, an experience that she says taught her to make every moment count and to try to make a difference. She touts her ability to bring people together, citing her experience in both business and in the classroom.
“I am a good listener, which is the first step in building a consensus,” she said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1310, firstname.lastname@example.org